In all the years that I have worked at Bible camps, I have only had to send one person home. This was a young lady who had organized her cabin into a gang and had successfully terrorized another cabin of girls to the point that they were afraid to leave their cabin. One of the staff also witnessed this girl stealing items out of the target cabin. The items were found in her possession. We spent hours trying to work with her; trying to find a way for her to stay at camp. She stubbornly refused to admit to any wrong doing and we sent her home with sad hearts. We all felt a burden to protect those other girls. But that wasn’t the only burden on our heart. We also wanted the young lady to be able to pull away from bullying and stealing; to improve her life. We were all wrung out because she kicked against the goads with such pride and stubbornness that we had to send her home. I wonder if God was saddened by Pharaoh and Egypt’s stubbornness.
In Exodus 9:13-35 there is good evidence that Pharaoh was in full possession of his free will. Again, Moses is told to get himself up early in the morning and have a coming to God meeting with Pharaoh. Notice that the message is often simply “release my people so that they can work for me.” This time the message comes with a warning; “Now I will send all my blows on you and your servants and your people.” Basically God tells Pharaoh that up until now he has been holding back; that he could have cut off the whole lot of them from the earth. He wants them to know that there is no one like him in all the earth. He is not just some other god among many gods. In the remaining mighty acts, they are about to witness his terrible power. Yet Yahweh knows that they will continue to lift themselves up against his people. Why give this warning if he is not wanting them to give in and release the Israelites? God knows that they won’t, but he is burdened with pleading with them anyway. You and I know what that’s like don’t we?
Yahweh warns them that the seventh mighty act will be a hailstorm like nothing they have ever seen. Two of my sources tell me that Egypt rarely received hail and lightning. Imagine huge hail slamming into the earth while lightning constantly flashes and strikes accompanied by thunder and rain. This is a divinely dangerous storm. And Yahweh tells them to get their livestock and their servants and themselves out of the field. God informs them how they can save lives. And when Moses stretched out his hand and staff out to heaven and God sent the storm raging on the land some of the Egyptians listened and got their animals and servants to safety while others kicked against the goad and allowed their animals and servants to be pummeled to death. The storm killed everything left out in the field. The flax and barley were destroyed, which tells us this mighty act took place in February or March. The wheat and spelt, which are harvested a month later survived. And because this was a God storm, the land of Goshen was spared.
Notice Pharaoh’s words when he sends for Moses and Aaron; “I have sinned this time.” The word “sinned” means “miss the mark, go wrong.” At the very least, Pharaoh is acknowledging his culpability. This is not a confession that leads to any kind of conversion. This is a person admitting to the parole board that they were wrong so that they can get out of prison earlier. Pharaoh is saying what he believes he must to make the storm end. So, he acknowledges that Yahweh is righteous and he and the people are evil. And maybe he even believed it for a moment while the storm was raging. He asked Moses to pray to put the storm to an end. Moses agrees, making it clear when he will pray so that there can be no doubt that it is God who ends the storm. And Moses also lets Pharaoh know that God is not fooled. He told him, “I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.” Pharaoh is backed against the wall and he is willing to humble himself if it will make the storm stop. But there is no true respectful awe of God here. And sure enough, when the storm is sent packing, Pharaoh takes back his promise and hardens his heart.
Maybe it is just me, but I see Pharaoh making choices here. I don’t find it hard to believe that a person would be so obstinate after such grand displays of power. I see it all the time. Sometimes I have seen it in myself. Jesus called this kicking against the goads in Acts 26:14 and it saddens God’s heart. It is more than just a stubborn refusal to submit; it is a kicking back; an angry shaking of the fist; a barrage of curses. But this is detrimental to our well-being. Don’t kick against the goad. Don’t be Pharaoh. Peace.