You remember the story of the Exodus, right? How the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and Moses asked the Pharaoh to “Let my people go”, but the Pharaoh was like “Nuh-uh!” and Moses had to unleash ten increasingly-horrible plagues on Egypt before the Israelites could pack up their stuff and escape?
So yeah, there are a couple of bits that don’t get mentioned very often.
Exodus 9:11-12 (the plague of boils):
11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.
Well, okay, maybe that was just a figure of speech. Maybe in the original Hebrew, the phrase “The LORD did X” is akin to “inshallah” in Arabic, and would have been understood by the people at the time as meaning something closer to “and it came to pass that X“.
So let’s look at another example, like Exodus 10:1-2:
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them 2 that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.”
Okay, so the “figure of speech” explanation doesn’t really work. Here we have God explicitly saying that he’s messing with people’s brains so that he can show off properly.
By the time the plague of darkness comes along, the Pharaoh is ready throw in the towel (Exodus 10:16-20)…
16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”
18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. 19 And the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.
…but God won’t allow a peaceful, if delayed, resolution, because he’s not done showing off yet.
The Plague of Darkness, comes along, and once again, the Pharaoh’s ready to give up: Exodus 10:24-28:
24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the LORD. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.”
25 But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the LORD our God. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the LORD our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.”
27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. 28 Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”
Finally, we get to the plague on the firstborn: Exodus 11:1-3:
1 Now the LORD had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. 2 Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” 3 (The LORD made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)
Moses then tells the Pharaoh what God told him about how he’ll murder the firstborn sons of Egypt, from the Pharaoh’s son to that of the most menial slave, and of all the cattle as well. (Is it just me, or is it funny that God can’t be bothered to tell the Pharaoh himself, even though the whole point of this exercise is to say, “Hey, look at me! I’m badass!”, but has to go through a human intermediary?)
At any rate, Exodus 11:9-10 then says:
9 The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
If anyone ever gives you that clichéd line about God not providing proof of his existence because that would violate people’s free will, point them at the story of the ten plagues. If there’s a more insidious violation of people’s free will than reaching into their heads and making them want different things, I don’t know what it is.
And I think this post just ensured that I will never, ever be invited to a Seder.