Today’s chapter details Pharaoh’s greatest mistake. The disgusting discomforts of the bloody Nile, the frogs, the gnats, and the swarms weren’t enough. Neither were the livestock diseases, the skin inflammations, the hailstorms, locusts, and darkness. And it looked for a moment like the death of all of Egypt’s firstborn might be enough, but then Pharaoh changed his mind and wanted his slaves back. So, today he and his chariots come after Israel in hot pursuit. Throughout the book of Exodus, but especially here, Pharaoh is the picture of anti-repentance.
If there’s one phrase for which the book of Exodus is known, it’s “Let my people go.” But if there are two phrases for which the book of Exodus is known, the second one is “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” Or “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Or “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” There are a lot of different ways that the phrase shows up, and they’re even more diverse in the original Hebrew, so let’s take a look at some of them.
Congratulations! You pushed your way through the obstacle course of names that is Esau’s genealogy. Or maybe you skipped it. Look, I don’t know your life. But however you got here, now you come to the beginning of Joseph’s story. And if Genesis broke stride for Esau’s family tree, here it picks up the pace with a vengeance.
Behold: where we find the actual tale of the Tower of Babel! This is another favorite for the Sunday school classes. After all, it provides children with a narrative explanation of why some people speak using all kinds of strange words they don’t understand, and it also contains a cautionary tale against pride. But as I read it today, I found myself wondering what exactly motivates God to thwart the intentions of these would-be tower-builders. “Pride” may be a simple answer, reasonably accurate and easy to comprehend, but the reality may prove to be more nuanced than a single word.
We’ve seen the sorts of parables Jesus tells to the general populace and to his disciples. But what sorts of parables does he tell to the Pharisees? Apparently, he tells parables about people who disrespect the servants of those in power and who, as a result, face the master’s wrath when he learns of their misdeeds.
Y’know, I’ve had something on my mind lately: sometimes I’m wrong about stuff. My background’s in English, and I know just enough theology, philosophy, and history to be dangerous. In all these fields, time and time again I’ve thought one thing was true, only to read or hear the actual fact of the matter and find my perspective overturned. I’ve never liked Socrates’ adage “I only know that I know nothing,” in part because it violates the Law of Non-Contradiction, and if there’s anything I know, it’s that. But even then, some days I find myself doubting that A is not non-A, whether that’s because of the weakness of my own mind or the viability of the notion that something could really, truly be what it isn’t, which would of course undermine all possibility of rationality and logic. But all of that is a roundabout way of saying that as we open up Matthew 8 today, I’m going to talk about first-century Judaism and the Roman Empire, so watch out.
Welcome to Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament. We’ll be saying goodbye to it before we know it, but in the meantime, let’s see what we can dig up. It’s primarily a prophecy of judgment against the nation of Edom, although it also mentions the southern kingdom of Judah.