The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

In the Book of Exodus, there is a report of a fascinating occurrence that is lost to most modern readers of the English Bibles and those not familiar with the Hebrew language and ancient Egyptian religion. Over and over again, the author of Exodus talks about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. On the surface, it would appear that the only message is that Pharaoh was really stubborn and was determined not to let the children of Israel go. That indeed was true, but there was much more going on than is apparent to the readers of English Bibles.

I was made aware of this ‘inside information’ while sitting in Dr. John D. Currid’s seminary class at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Jackson, MS in 1997. Dr. Currid is, at the time of this post, serving on the faculty of the Charlotte campus of RTS and is currently an adjunct faculty member at the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies in Jerusalem, Israel. Dr. Currid has served as Project Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel since 1995. In his first book, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, Dr. Currid relates the relationship between the condition of Pharaoh’s heart and the prevailing Egyptian religious beliefs at the time. In the afterlife, the Egyptian was judged based on the condition or weight of his heart. Dr. Currid relates an incident taken from The Book of the Dead (the Papyrus of Ani) in which the deceased Ani is standing in the hall of judgment. Ani’s heart is placed on a scale and is weighed against the feather of truth and righteousness. If the heart is too heavy, Ani will be adjudged a sinner and devoured. But, if the heart achieves balance with the feather, Ani will receive the reward of eternal life.[1]

Now, here is the real interesting thing in regard to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as it is related in Exodus. In the English Bibles, every occurrence is translated as ‘hardened’ or ‘harden,’ but in the Hebrew text, the writer actually used three different Hebrew terms! The first term; ‘qashah,’ is found only once at Exodus 7:3, where the text records Yahweh as saying: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” (New American Standard Bible: NASB) The term means, ‘to be hard, to be severe, to be difficult’ and refers to the stubbornness of Pharaoh’s heart not to let Israel go. The second term, chazaq, is found twelve times. Eleven times in direct reference to Pharaoh and once in reference to the Egyptians in general (Exodus 4:21; 7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:12, 35; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). This term means, ‘to be strong’ and bears the idea of Pharaoh having a strong, determined will not to give in to Yahweh’s demand to let Israel go. The last term is the one that is most significant for our discussion. It is ‘kabad’ (also translated as ‘glory’ and ‘honor’ in other places in the English translations of the Old Testament), which means, ‘to be heavy.’ This term is found six times in Exodus. (Exodus 7:14; 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34; 10:1) Each time, it is a verbal form; five times with Pharaoh as the subject and once with Yahweh as the subject.

The theological point of this discussion is centralized in Exodus 9:34. The text says: “And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.” (KJV) Pharaoh ‘kabad’ his heart! Pharaoh made his heart heavy or weighty and in doing so, he tipped the scales to seal his own destruction and damnation according to his own religious system! When the text says that Pharaoh ‘sinned yet more,’ I don’t think the author was just talking about sinning against Yahweh, I think the author was also saying that Pharaoh sinned against his own religious system! Pharaoh sinned to the point that his own gods condemned him! Dr. Currid notes: “The assertion of the Exodus writer that Yahweh made Pharaoh’s heart heavy has added dimensions for us when we take the Egyptian background into account. Obviously, the God of the Hebrews was serving as the judge of Pharaoh. Yahweh was weighing the heart of the Egyptian king, and then proclaiming the results for all to see. Pharaoh was adjudged an imperfect being worthy of condemnation. This is especially striking in light of the ancient Egyptian belief in the purity of Pharaoh. . . Yahweh’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was a polemic against the prevailing notion that Pharaoh’s character was pure and untainted. . .Yahweh assaulted the heart of Pharaoh to demonstrate that only the God of the Hebrews is the sovereign of the universe.”[2]

Thank you Dr. Currid (or ‘Dr. J.D.’ as we used to fondly call you in class) for your excellent scholarship in this area. There wasn’t a day we sat in your class that we were not amazed at the great treasures of biblical knowledge you shared with us!

[1] John. D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, Baker Books House Company, 1997, 96-103.

[2] Currid, 102-103.

Lying on the devil and the Lord

In John 8:44, Jesus characterized the devil as a liar and the father of lies! But did you know that many who preach the Gospel are guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord? Let me show you what I’m talking about!

In John 10:10, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV) Now, I am sure most of you reading this have heard this text preached and taught and nine times out of ten, you heard the preacher or teacher say that the thief in that verse is the devil. Often, I have heard preachers refer to the text by saying: “The devil comes to rob, kill, and to destroy, but Jesus came that we might have a more abundant life! Yes! The devil wants to rob and steal your property! But, go and shake three people’s hand and tell the devil: ‘I’m taking it back! You can’t have my stuff!’ Can somebody shout: Glory!” But is that really the message of the text? I am suggesting to you that it is not and when that text is preached or referred to in that manner, the preacher or teacher is guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!

First of all, look at the context of the verse. The first mention of the thief is in verse one, where Jesus describes the thief as anyone who does not enter the door of the sheepfold, but climbs up and tries to get into the sheepfold any other way. In the next verse, Jesus says, the one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. So, the contrast is between the thief who tries to get access to the sheep by some way other than the door and the shepherd who comes through the door. Note that the thief is not after what the sheep have; the thief wants to steal the sheep! In verse eight, Jesus says all who came before him are, or were, thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. So, we can surmise from verses 1-8 that the thief, the thieves and robbers were trying to get access to steal the sheep. Contrasted with the shepherd, who comes through the door and coupled with Jesus, who calls himself the good shepherd (verse 11), we can deduct the thief, the thieves and robbers that Jesus was talking about were illegitimate or false shepherds! By the way, another term for “shepherd” is the term “pastor.” So, in proper context, in this passage, the thief, the thieves and robbers, (bad) shepherds, and (bad) pastors, all refer to the same person or group! Note that Jesus made no reference whatsoever to the devil or demonic forces! He was making a contrast between the thieves and robbers (bad shepherds, bad pastors) and himself: the good shepherd! In keeping with the context and unity of the passage, the thief in verse ten must refer to the same person or group of persons mentioned in verses one and eight!

In looking at the Greek text, performing a word study helps to further clarify who the “thief” is in verse ten. A word study on the word, “kill” reveals the following: In the English, the word “kill” in any form, is found only 10 times in the entire Gospel of John. Of those 10 times, 9 times, the Greek word, “apokteino,” which means, “to kill in any way whatever,” is used. However, in verse ten, the word for kill is “thuo,” which means, “to sacrifice.” This definition holds true for the usage of the word in other places in the New Testament (NT). It only occurs 13 other times, besides in our text in the NT and our text is the only occurrence in the Gospel of John. In every case, the word is used to denote the killing of an animal for the purpose of offering up a sacrifice or of eating a meal in connection with a sacrifice. The use this particular word for “kill” in verse ten, seems to suggest that the thief does not just kill, but rather the thief’s killing is for or in connection with making a sacrifice as an act of worship. With that being the case, we can deduct from our word study and by observing the proper context of the text that the “thief” in John 10:10 is NOT the devil, but rather is a religious person. This ties in perfectly with Jesus’ depiction of the thief as being the religious leader(s), who was (were) sacrificing the people for his (their) own personal benefit and profit. Oh! Do you see that? We’ve been lying on the liar and the Lord! The thief in John 10:10 is not the devil, but rather the pastor or religious leader who illegitimately gains access and kills (sacrifices) the sheep for his own personal profit and gain!

In verse 11, the contrast changes from the good shepherd and thieves and robbers to the good shepherd and the hireling or the hired hand. Jesus said in verses 11-15: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (ESV) Again, Jesus makes a contrast between himself and the religious leaders of that day who came before him. He describes himself as the good shepherd in comparison to the religious leaders, who he called robbers, thieves, and hired hands who didn’t care anything for the sheep, but were just in it for the money! If the devil is implied anywhere in this discourse, he could possibly be the wolf in verse 12, but he is definitely not the thief in verse ten!

In addition to the evidence presented, stealing is not the devil’s M. O! The devil’s bread and butter are lies and deception! There was an interesting conversation that took place between Jesus and the devil during the wilderness temptation. In Matthew 4:8-10, we read: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (ESV) Did you notice Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim of ownership of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory? If Satan was lying and all the kingdoms of the world and their glory were not his to give, Jesus would have known it and the temptation wouldn’t have been a temptation at all! I brought us to this text to point out the fact that the devil doesn’t need to “steal our stuff” because he has already stolen and has all the kingdoms of the world and their glory to give to us if we would just fall down and worship him! The devil already has all of that and we think he wants to rob us of our two cents! Seriously?

Besides that, the abundant life that Jesus came to give in John 10:10 is denoted by the Greek term; “zoe.” Zoe refers to the quality of life, not the quantity of life. Jesus didn’t come so that we might have more stuff in life; Jesus came that we might have more meaning and purpose in life! Jesus said: “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NET)

In conclusion, I think the reason why we have lied on the devil and the Lord in John 10:10 is because many of us do not study the text for ourselves; we merely preach and teach what we have heard others preach and teach. Instead of a voice, many pulpits are occupied by a parrot! Preacher, teacher: If you hope to be approved by God in your handling of the word, you must wrestle with the text for yourself! Don’t even take my word for the conclusions I have drawn in this post. Do the research for yourself! We all should be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and study for ourselves to see whether the things we hear is the truth! If we don’t, if we uncritically accept and repeat everything we hear others preaching and teaching, then we, like them, will be guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!