I’ve been reading through the Exodus story the past couple of days, and I’m struck by how God chooses to show his power to Israel and Egypt.
The first thing that got me thinking about this was the two signs God gives Moses to show how he will back up his word with miracles (Ex 4). The first sign is God turning Moses’ staff into a snake– a creative miracle, although a somewhat ominous one. The second is turning Moses’ hand leprous. So these signs show God’s power to create and destroy (and then he goes on to tell Moses that he will turn the water of the Nile to blood– not a nice-sounding sign either).
Then, before Moses even begins to meet with Pharaoh, God lays out the whole scenario that’s about to commence:
And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'” (Ex 4:21-23)
So already God’s planning to harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he knows how the story will end.
This pattern continues throughout the narrative: God announces his plan to show his power by bringing terrible plagues upon Egypt, but also tells Moses that he will continue to harden Pharaoh’s heart. The plagues come just as God promised, and Pharaoh remains unmoved, just as God promised.
But the most chilling sentence of all comes in 9:16, when God tells Pharaoh: “For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (emphasis added). God’s very purpose in creating Pharaoh was to demonstrate his power, and he chose to do this not by doing great things for Pharaoh (as he did for Israel), but by doing terrible things to Pharaoh and Egypt– all the while protecting his own people from the plagues.
I think this is what Paul is talking about when he says that God has created some people to be “vessels of wrath” (Rom 9:22). I don’t think the American church has much of a place for this in our minds, but it’s right there in our Bibles. God is a great God. His power is shown not just in the wonderful things he does, but in the terrible things he does as well. As Pharaoh and Egypt learned, he is to be feared above all others– which is what makes it so amazing that this same God allows us to call him our Father.