“Let My People Go”: YHWH’s Part in Pharaoh’s Hard Heart

“Let My People Go”: YHWH’s Part in Pharaoh’s Hard Heart

1.  Introduction: Having Fun with Biblical Videography1

One of the most interesting features of biblical narrative is what specialists in this genre call the camera eye. “Biblical narrative . . . narrates like film,” says Adele Berlin. “The narrator is the camera eye; we ‘see’ the story through what he presents. The biblical narrator is omniscient in that everything is at his disposal; but he selects carefully what he will include and what he will omit.”2 Similarly, Yairah Amit imagines the narrator as a movie director with a film crew. “The director decides what is to be filmed, for how long, where, and how. He or she is the final authority, and we the viewers depend on it and on the work of the film crew. The final product reflects the director’s interpretation, viewpoint, and preferences.”3 Since we are completely at the mercy of the narrated details and perspective on the Bible’s characters, places, and events, recognizing the narrator’s point of view, or from which angle the camera is shooting, is, according to Berlin, “the first step in discovering the meaning and purpose of the story.”4

Of special significance is multiple viewpoint, where, within the same story, the narrator’s camera “shoots” from several different angles. Says Berlin, “The Bible excels in the technique of presenting many points of view and it is this, perhaps more than anything else, that lends drama to its narratives and makes its characters come alive.”5 Examples abound: the intensifying suspense effected by the shifting camera lens among the family members (Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau), all of whom are out of sorts with one another in the deathbed blessing episode of Genesis 27; the dramatic tension that mounts in the Joseph story (Gen 42–50) over the identity of the “Egyptian savior” who delivers his brothers from famine, culminating in the explicit contrasting of human and divine perspectives: “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good. . .” (50:20); the contrasting viewpoint between the Israelites, reposed on the plains of Moab, and the king of Moab frantically scurrying about for an international super-prophet to zap a curse on a people who have no intention of lifting a finger against his territory anyway (Num 22–24; cf. Deut 2:9); the conflicting perspectives of godly Susanna (who knows her innocence) and two lustful elders (who fabricate a cover-up), and the wisdom of young Daniel to sort fact from fiction (Dan 13); the difference between what the disobedient prophet Jonah and we the readers know about the storm and what the sailors do not know and are desperate to find out (Jon 1); the deliciously entertaining variations in viewpoint between the Persian king, the Jewish queen, and pitiful Haman in the Esther story; the profoundly moving drama played out in the contrasting perspectives of the father and the younger and older brothers in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15); and the tragically humorous different angles at play in the story of Jesus’ healing the man born blind (John 9). Sometimes this feature of multiple camera angles resolves large interpretive conundrums, as in the conflicting accounts of Saul’s death in 1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1.6

I do not know of a finer illustration of this feature of biblical narrative than the way in which the Exodus story depicts the confrontation of viewpoints shared by YHWH, Moses, Aaron, and the readers on the one hand, and the pharaoh of Egypt on the other concerning the thriving throng in his midst, and why it is that his extreme measures of population control do not work (Exod 1–6) or his kingdom is suddenly plagued by devastation and misery (chs. 7–12). As hilarious as it is tragic, even Pharaoh’s hardened heart turns out to be incurable; he thinks he can oppose Moses and his God at will, when in fact not even his own willful resistance is (entirely) his to control! However readers go about sorting out the theological mysteries here, one thing is certain: The sovereignty of YHWH, God of Creation and Lord of Covenant, overrides the power of Egypt and the Egyptian king. But rather than bringing down the mighty monarch and his magicians in one crushing blow, they are teased along, almost as if by “power magic,”7 through plague after plague––ten in all––with sufficient “success” to bolster their self-confidence, until the wavering pharaoh and his wise men are brought finally and tragically to their knees.

The shifting camera lens through the plague cycles––now focused on YHWH and his servants, now on Pharaoh and his––effects a marvelous tension between YHWH’s irresistible will and the king’s failed resistance. From the get-go, readers know who will prevail in this mismatch, that YHWH will flex his muscular arm, if need be, to fulfill his promise to Abraham; but we have no idea how it will come about––no inkling at all that Pharaoh and his army, engaged in a contest they had no chance of winning, will be fatally dunked in the Yam Suph (Sea of Reeds, or Red Sea). There would have been other ways to record such an event, but none more effective in registering the point of view expressed in Exodus 9:14: “there is none like [YHWH] in all the earth” and exclaimed in 15:11:

“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”

But contained in this familiar and fantastic story is a whole lot more than mere entertainment with the Bible’s video camera. It is at once both profoundly humorous and deadly serious. On one hand, narrator and readers have a good time, at Pharaoh’ expense, “who in the end turns out to be a pitiful character––indecisive, foolish, and self-destructive.”8 On another hand, the stakes are high, for both Israel and Pharaoh.

Especially mindful of the camera lens, my intent in what follows is to get at some of these more serious elements in the plagues narrative of Exodus by way of some reflections on two important questions: What is YHWH’s part in Pharaoh’s hard heart, or, in other words, if YHWH somehow hardens Pharaoh’s heart, then why is Pharaoh held responsible? And, if YHWH intended simply to rescue his people Israel from the Egyptians, why did he use such drawn-out procedures to get the job done, and why does the Bible go to such lengths in telling us about it?

2. Pharaoh’s Hard Heart: Whose Responsibility?

This has long been a theological and philosophical conundrum, posed in terms of a perceived conflict between divine determinism and human freedom. Specifically, does God determine Pharaoh’s behavior by maintaining total control of the events from beginning to end, or does Pharaoh maintain and exercise a freedom of will to the end, or is it neither, or perhaps both? Apparently this problem in biblical theology is not just a modern concern, as it surfaced within the pages of Scripture itself (see St. Paul’s discussion on divine sovereignty and salvation in Romans 9:14-29). My intent is not to relieve the mystery, at least not in its entirety, which even the apostle apparently saw no need finally to resolve, but to offer a few observations of a linguistic and textual nature in the interest of reading this story a little more attentively than we might otherwise read it.

To begin, the vocabulary of ‘hardening’ in the plagues narrative involves three primary terms which occur a combined total of 20 times with specific reference to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Ḥazaq (12x; Exod 4:21; 7:13, 22; 8:19 [MT, 15]9; 9:12, 35; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17) depicts Pharaoh (or his heart) as strong, firm, or tough, or as being made such (in the sense of ‘strengthened’ or ‘firmed up’ or ‘toughened’). So we read in 7:13, “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the LORD had said”; or in 9:12, “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them; as the LORD had spoken to Moses.” Kabed (6x; Exod 7:14; 8:15, 32 [MT, 11, 28]; 9:7, 34; 10:1) graphically describes Pharaoh (or his heart) as heavy, dull, or unresponsive. For example, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuses to let the people go’” (7:14); or “But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go” (8:32 [MT, 28]). Qaša (2x) connotes being or making difficult or obstinate, akin to what we mean when we say that someone is pig-headed. “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you” (7:3-4a). Again, “For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of cattle” (13:15a).

While these three terms are used somewhat interchangeably in the plagues narrative, they are not for that reason synonymous or merely redundant. Sometimes it takes more than one word to communicate various facets of the same basic idea, such as ‘praise’ in Psalms (also ‘laud’, ‘extol’, ‘bless’, and so on), or ‘wisdom’ in Proverbs (also ‘prudence’, ‘insight’, ‘discretion’, and so on), or, in the case of Pharaoh, ‘hard-heartedness’ (also ‘tough’, ‘unresponsive’, or ‘obstinate’). Multiple terms enable us better to diagnose the true condition of Pharaoh’s spiritual arteriosclerosis.

There are a few additional observations we should make on the use of these terms. First, it is significant that neither ḥazaq nor kabed is intrinsically negative; and, as we shall soon see, both the positive and negative potential of these terms will be exploited with powerful effect in the plagues narrative. Second, in ten of the twenty occurrences of these three terms, YHWH is depicted as the subject or active agent. Two of these ten are predictive or future referring, before the plague cycle begins (what YHWH will do; 4:21; 7:3), and the remaining eight occur well along in the story in association with plagues 6-10 and in the incident at the sea (13:15; 14:4, 8, 17). Third, of the remaining ten occurrences, four depict Pharaoh as the subject or the active agent (Pharaoh hardened his heart); six do not specify an agent, but simply describe Pharaoh’s heart statively as ‘hard’. Of these latter ten, seven fall in plagues 1-5, two in plagues 6-10, and one in the overall summary of 13:15.

Although more is involved in such a study than mere word occurrence and usage, some interesting points relative to Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness begin to emerge simply from close attention to the vocabulary we have surveyed. First, the entire narrative is written in such a way as to highlight that both YHWH and Pharaoh are active agents in the hardening, so that neither a mutually exclusive nor equally valid alternative explanation will do. “Thus it was,” according to St. Augustine, “that both God hardened him by His just judgment, and Pharaoh by his own free will.”10

But within the larger pentateuchal plot, the plagues narrative is told from YHWH’s perspective––history as his story. YHWH is in control, and recalcitrant Pharaoh is at fault for refusing to acknowledge YHWH’s rule and for mistreating Israel, YHWH’s “first-born son” (4:22; cf. Acts 2:23). Of course, as concerns YHWH’s victory over Pharaoh, there is no glory here if it is only a matter of his “outwitting a windup toy. If Pharaoh is an automaton, a ‘puppet in the hands of God,’ then God is not shown to be much of a God at all.”11 Hence the significance of Pharaoh’s hardening his own heart. The conflict in delivering a people from bondage to freedom is a genuine one, at the heart of which is a very real power struggle over who rules the world and governs the earth, including Egypt.

Second, the first two terms above, the ones with both positive and negative nuances, set up a rich irony with powerful dramatic effect. The ‘strengthening’ of Pharaoh’s heart enables the display of God’s ‘strong’ hand (13:3, 9, 14, 16); and the ‘heaviness’ of Pharaoh’s heart displays the ‘weight’ of YHWH’s ‘glory’ (14:4, 17-18).12 Alas, Pharaoh’s hardening leads to God’s honoring!

Third, it is clear from 3:19 that YHWH knows he will have to strong-arm the resistant Pharaoh, and from 4:21 and 7:3 that YHWH will toughen or make Pharaoh’s resolve more difficult in the process. But in the actual plagues narrative, Pharaoh first hardens his own heart before YHWH actively hardens it. This is a crucial observation. In fact, Pharaoh was given at least five chances (plagues 1-5) to “soften” before YHWH acted on the state of his already hardened condition (plagues 6-10). It turns out that YHWH’s hardening activity further intensifies Pharaoh’s own obduracy as the confrontation escalates. The narrated sequence is as follows:

  1. YHWH predicts that he will harden the king’s heart (4:21; 7:3).
  2. Pharaoh hardens his own heart (plagues 1-5) (7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32 [MT, 11, 15, 28]; 9:7).
  3. YHWH hardens the king’s heart (plague 6) (9:12).
  4. Pharaoh continues to harden his own heart (plague 7) (9:34-35).
  5. YHWH further hardens Pharaoh’s heart (plagues 8-10) (10:1, 20, 27; 11:10).

We are reminded throughout that everything is coming to pass according to YHWH’s word (7:6, 13, 22; 8:13, 15, 19, 31 [MT, 8:9, 11, 15, 27]; 9:12, 35; cf. 9:20-21, 35), that YHWH’s prediction is being fulfilled; but we are never explicitly told that YHWH caused this state of affairs, that Pharaoh weighed down his heart because YHWH made him do it. There is never any indication at all that Pharaoh would have let the Israelites go if God had not stopped him by overriding his autonomy. YHWH did not force Pharaoh to do something against his will, but precisely the opposite: He granted Pharaoh’s free will, even strengthening and reinforcing Pharaoh’s willful determination to keep the Israelites enslaved. Pharaoh hardened his own heart in defiance of the activity and word of YHWH. In this connection, there is a fourth term ma’en, ‘refuse’, worth mentioning for its six occurrences (4:23; 7:14; 8:2 [MT, 7:27]; 9:2; 10:3, 4), three of which use conditional (‘if’) language, as in 8:2 [MT, 7:27]: “But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs” (also 9:2; 10:4; cf. 8:21 [MT, 17]). Clearly these conditional statements place responsibility on Pharaoh’s shoulders, while preserving YHWH’s providential control to the end.

Fourth, it is noteworthy that hardening does not always function as the direct cause of the plagues. In fact, sometimes “the hardening appears as a reaction to the plagues, or more specifically, to the removal of the plagues,”13 as in 8:15 [MT, 11]: “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them; as the LORD had said.” To put this in the context of the main function of the plagues as revealing the knowledge of YHWH, sometimes Pharaoh’s hardness describes his downright refusal to hear and heed; the state of his resistant heart, in other words, prevents his reacting positively to the wonders, and so explains the failure of the plagues to achieve their assigned task or intended effect. And because Pharaoh does not “get it,” YHWH multiplies the plagues as signs of judgment.14 We will return to these points below.

Fifth, it is important to remember that ‘to harden’ does not necessarily mean ‘to make evil’. Obviously, it is evil of Pharaoh to exalt himself against YHWH’s people (9:17) and to harden his heart against YHWH’s rule and YHWH’s command to let his people go (so ‘sin’ in 9:27, 34; 10:16); but just as obviously YHWH cannot be charged with evil on the basis of his activities here. YHWH remains righteous in all his ways, regardless of our full comprehension (cf. Rom 9:14-29).15 When YHWH’s actions are judged unjust or unfair or unrighteous by humans, it is evident that the distance between the Creator and the created has collapsed, or rather, that the roles have been effectively reversed. We, the created, assume the position of God, the Creator.

Sixth, the story of God’s dealings with Pharaoh does not finally exist to fill our theological boxes with interesting data or to test our ability to solve ethical puzzles, but to display YHWH’s glory and irresistible will at the very center of the entire biblical presentation of salvation. Read within the larger canonical story, the plagues narrative stresses that YHWH is the one who saves, and nothing can thwart his plans and purposes. In this way the entire operation displays YHWH’s power and glory. If theological and ethical mysteries remain, it is best that we simply live with them in holy wonder and humble worship. John Goldingay gets to the heart of things:

In the course of events as a whole, then, Yhwh’s decision stands as the background to what happens, yet it does not force people to take a path they would not otherwise have taken. Even if Yhwh had done nothing, the opening of Exodus suggests that the king likely had quite enough stupidity to resist a change of policy. So Pharaoh is responsible for his acts, yet they take place within Yhwh’s purpose. . . . [W]hile declaring the intent to toughen the king’s resolve, Yhwh does not implement this intention until after the king weighs down his own mind. . . . In understanding the relationship of divine sovereignty and governmental sovereignty, the narrative invites us to let each have its own integrity and not pretend to resolve the relationship between them. . . . The genius of the narrative is to do that in such a way as to imply some comment on the interrelationship of key factors without implying a claim to tie everything together neatly but oversimply.16

In sum, any strain put on our theological conceptions by the hardening-of-Pharaoh’s-heart story is relieved by looking at things from the perspective of God’s view of the world, including those things not intended for our understanding from a vantage point outside that vision of reality.

3. The Mighty Plagues: What’s the Point?

A long time ago one of my professors noted that while skeptical minds often raise the could question (How could God do such and such?), the more interesting, and interpretively enlightening, question is the would question (Why would God do such and such?). There is no problem, in a worldview where God is welcome, acknowledging that YHWH could perform the ten mighty acts against Egypt and her hard-hearted king. YHWH of the Exodus is, after all, the God of Creation; so the sorts of feats he performed with water, frogs, gnats, flies, cattle, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death are not problematic from the standpoint of ability. YHWH can mobilize all of Creation to effect the deliverance of his “first-born son” if he so wishes. But why would God act in this way? More specifically, why is it such a drawn-out affair instead of a single blow, and why are we told about it in such a long-winded fashion? These are not the same question, and the second is not answered simply in saying that, well, because that is how it happened. That it did I am not disputing. But biblical narratives do not function that way; they are never merely history-informing, providing the facts on how things happened back then. Biblical narratives, like all biblical genres, are theology-shaped and theology-shaping; they are revelatory of the triune God.

At least four functions are served in the wonder-signs of YHWH against Egypt, and these have further implications for why they are recorded in the way they are for later generations of readers like us.

First, even before the plagues cycle begins, YHWH gives Moses two powerful signs to establish his credentials for leadership (staff to snake and back again, hand to leprous and healthy again), the promise of a third (water from the Nile turned to blood) (4:1-9), and the further commission, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power” (v. 21). One of the purposes for the mighty acts of YHWH, in other words, is to prove Moses’ calling as YHWH’s appointed deliverer (so 4:30-31; 7:8-24), not unlike the way miracles function to authenticate messianic and apostolic claims in the stories we read in the Gospels and Acts. If this were the only intent, however, we might judge YHWH’s method as overkill and only partly successful––an extreme measure of heavy-handedness on the one hand, and a largely ineffective remedy of the people’s doubts and complaints on the other. For subsequent readers, in any event, the miracle stories associated with Moses’ role in the Exodus are instructive for the light they shed on how divine actions are accomplished through human agency, which, of course, reaches its zenith in the Incarnation of our Lord.

Second, YHWH acted this way, prolonging a confrontation which he might have ended in a single knockout punch, in order to persuade obstreperous Pharaoh, through many ways and over many days, to let his people go. “It is not just a matter of the liberation of Israel; rather, the ever-worsening ‘plagues’ that overcome the Egyptians . . . are a response to Pharaoh’s arrogant challenge of Yhwh.”17 This seems to be the point in such passages as Exodus 3:20 and 6:1. Of course, YHWH could have intimidated Pharaoh and accomplished Israel’s deliverance by means of fewer plagues, in less time, or through other means entirely. But he prevents Pharaoh from giving in too easily and too early for a reason. Brueggemann explains: “If Yahweh were to quit hardening the heart of Pharaoh (stop propping him up as an agent of resistance), Pharaoh would immediately collapse and the story would end with an uncontested triumph for Yahweh. The reason for continuing to keep this fragile, dependent character afloat is to give Yahweh more opportunities to enact signs and to commit powerful gestures of solidarity with the Hebrews.”18 Moreover, in this way Israel then and we now are given a glimpse of YHWH’s manner of dealing with those who stand initially outside and against the covenant. Here is the patience of YHWH on display, albeit not in this instance with a view to Pharaoh’s or Egypt’s salvation (cf. 2 Pet 3:9), but divine patience all the same. Still, if this were the only intent, we would again have to judge YHWH’s method only partly successful, as Pharaoh remains willfully hardened and resistant to the end.

Third, and most centrally, the plagues and the story written about them are meant to function as a revelation of the knowledge of YHWH, the means by which both Israel (6:7; 9:16; 10:1-2; 11:7) and the Egyptians (5:2; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22 [MT, 6, 18]; 9:14-16, 29; 14:4, 18) and future generations of readers come to acknowledge who YHWH is. It is he, rather than the Egyptian gods, represented in the anti-God Pharaoh himself (12:12; 18:10-11; cf. 15:1-17, esp. v. 11; Num 33:4), who rules the universe as its Creator, whose dominion extends over Israel and the nations, who is able to move heaven and earth to redeem his people.19 The witness of the text is unmistakable: The recognition of YHWH is the main goal of the plagues. This is as much a story about the manifestation of Israel’s God (“that you may know that I am YHWH”) as it is about the emancipation of Israel (“let my people go”). We could say that the story of the plagues has a revelatory, even evangelistic, purpose. In one sense these mighty wonders aim at supplying what Pharaoh self-confessedly lacks––the knowledge of YHWH (5:2; so 7:5, et al.). But, as Brueggemann explains, this “is only the penultimate intent of the narrative. Behind that is the hope that the children and grandchildren should come to know . . . that ‘I am Yahweh.’ . . . The purpose, astonishingly enough, is not to convert Pharaoh or to liberate the slaves, but to recruit the next generation of Israelites into this daring scenario of courage and confidence, passion and faith.”20 This point is stated explicitly in 10:1-2:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your son’s son how I have made sport of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them; that you may know that I am the LORD.”

It is in the context of the exodus/deliverance, or more specifically, of the exodus/deliverance story, that God most fully makes himself known as YHWH (cf. Exod 3 and 6). And this no doubt explains why the plagues narrative receives so much space in the Book of Exodus. The knowledge of YHWH is at stake––not just for the Israelites and the Egyptians who were alive at the time and who witnessed these mighty acts, but for future generations of readers and hearers. And that makes all the more tragic the fact that, while hundreds of years later the Philistines are still talking about these events (1 Sam 4:1-11; 6:1-9), as were the people of Jericho earlier on (Josh 2:8-14), a generation of Israelites had arisen “who did not know the LORD or the work which he had done for Israel” (Judg 2:10). That tragedy is matched when present generations of readers are able to read the exodus story and miss the compelling implications of creation theology (“that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s,” 9:29; cf. 19:5; Pss 24), or redemption theology (“that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel,” 11:7; cf. 8:22 [MT, 18]; 9:4), or mission theology (“so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth,” 9:16; cf. v. 14).

Fourth, the plagues narrative is written to show that blessing comes by way of obedience to the word of YHWH (7:6, 13, 22; 8:13, 15, 19, 31 [MT, 9, 11, 15, 27 ]; 9:12, 35; 9:20-21) and through the chosen people of YHWH. In connection with the latter, we could say that the plagues narrative has Genesis 12 written all over it: Moses prays for Pharaoh (8:8, 9, 28, 29, 30 [MT, 4, 5, 24, 25, 26]; 9:28; 10:17, 18; cf. Isa 19:16-25); Pharaoh curses God’s people; he bids Moses “bless me also!” (12:32), thereby acknowledging that Moses and Aaron are the key to blessing; and he effectively commits himself and his people to the final curse at the Red Sea.21 In these respects the plagues narrative presents YHWH’s and Pharaoh’s relative activities in a manner that closely resembles and perhaps anticipates YHWH’s and Israel’s later activities, as reflected, for example, in the Prophets or in Psalms (e.g., Isa 6; Jer 5; 18; Zech 7; Pss 81:11-12). When God’s people behave like Egypt or Canaan, by refusing to do the will of the Lord, they will be treated like Egypt or Canaan.22 Perhaps it was here that St. Augustine found a lesson for us all: “God makes good use of bad hearts for what he wishes to show those who are good or those he is going to make good.”23 From bad-hearted Pharaoh and how YHWH dealt with him, we can learn how not to be as those who would experience the good heart of our Lord.


  1. This article was riginally published under the title “‘Let My People Go’: Fresh Reflections on a Familiar Story,” MIQRA 7.1 (Winter 2008): 4-9, here slightly revised.

  2. A. Berlin, Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 44.

  3. Y. Amit, Reading Biblical Narratives: Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 94.

  4. Berlin, Poetics, 82.

  5. Ibid., 70.

  6. The discrepancy in the two accounts of Saul’s death is resolved by observing the contrasting points of view, one reliable (1 Sam 31) and the other a fabrication of a young Amalekite opportunist who thinks that by telling a fib about his own heroics in dispatching David’s nemesis once and for all he will thereby gain the king’s favor and receive a generous reward (2 Sam 1). (There is, of course, a world of difference between the Bible’s telling lies, which it does not do, and the Bible’s recording the lies of those who do.) The young man’s fate at David’s command stands as one of the Bible’s most tragic examples of miscalculation. His expectation backfires completely, as he is rewarded alright, with his own death (vv. 13-16); for David is not like Saul, or like most in our day who rejoice when their enemies fall.

  7. W. Brueggemann, “The Book of Exodus,” NIB, 1 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 740.

  8. Ibid., 723.

  9. ‘MT’ represents the Hebrew Masoretic Text. In a number of places throughout the Old Testament, there is variation between the Hebrew and English verse numbers. In this instance, English v. 19 = Hebrew v. 15.

  10. St. Augustine, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” XXIII.

  11. T. E. Fretheim, Exodus (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1991), 102.

  12. ‘Glory’/‘honor’ translates Heb. kabod; hence YHWH’s glory = his ‘weightiness’ in the sense of worthiness. The play is not lost in Paul’s “eternal weight of glory” in 2 Cor 4:17.

  13. B. S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 171.

  14. Ibid., 172-74.

  15. “Inasmuch as Pharaoh hardens his own heart before God is said to intervene, we are led to see that (1) Pharaoh is no innocent victim or pawn manipulated by a higher power (i.e., inculpable for his actions) but is one who has defiantly opposed the Lord’s plan from the start and that (2) divine hardening is a response to human stubbornness, not the initial cause of it. Most likely, divine ‘hardening’ is a metaphor to describe the withdrawal of God’s mercy and grace from the sinner, which could otherwise restrain his brazen rebellion. This is sometimes described in Scripture as God ‘giving up’ or ‘handing over’ the sinner to follow the godless desires of his heart (Acts 7:42; Rom 1:24, 26, 28)” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Exodus [San Francisco: Ignatius, 2012], 22).

  16. J. Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel (vol. 1 of Old Testament Theology; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 357.

  17. R. Rendtorff, The Canonical Hebrew Bible: A Theology of the Old Testament (trans. D. E. Orton; Leiden: Deo, 2005), 44.

  18. Brueggemann, “The Book of Exodus,” 762.

  19. “[A] strong case can be made that, in its ancient Near Eastern context, the ten plagues should be understood as a form of theomachy, or ‘divine combat’, between the one true God of Israel and the many gods of Egypt. As is well known, the ancient Egyptians divinized nature and worshipped [sic] various elements of their environment––the sun, the moon, the sky, the earth, the river Nile, their livestock, and various wild animals––as gods. . . . Seen in this light, the plagues are not just remarkable displays of divine power over nature by the God of Israel. Even more, they are a systematic and public display of divine power over the Egyptian gods, designed to show that the Lord is God and that the gods of Egypt are not” (John Bergsma and Brant Pitre, A Catholic Introduction to the Bible. Vol. I: The Old Testament [San Francisco: Ignatius, 2018], 173). That the plagues served this function in the ostensive world (at the level of the historical event) is confirmed in a general way by the biblical witness (so the references in the preceding parenthetical note). That the biblical narrator expected his readers to know this history and to make all the correlations between individual plagues and specific “gods” is less certain (see the charts in Bergsma & Pitre, 173; and Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Exodus, 26). The polemical aspect of the exodus story as written functions for readers in a way that is different from the meaning of the plagues for the Egyptians.

  20. Brueggemann, “The Book of Exodus,” 763.

  21. Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, 294.

  22. Ibid., 357-58.

  23. St. Augustine, “Questions on Exodus 18”; cited in J. T. Lienhard, ed., Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (ACCS, 3; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 39.