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.
We’ve got a short one today. This chapter serves as prelude to the last plague, the calm before the final storm. It calls back to several events that God predicted previously, so we’re going to look back at those previous passages, in the interest of actually having something to talk about. Ha! I’m not being entirely facetious.
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.
For better or worse, the text of the Bible doesn’t generally come with content warnings, so I feel like I should begin with one. The story in today’s chapter deals with sexual violence, and the victim is in all likelihood a minor. I often make flippant or lighthearted remarks here on Chocolate Book, but I’ve had to scrap more than one incomplete intro here because the tone wasn’t appropriate to the subject matter. The story of Dinah, Shechem, and Simeon and Levi’s revenge is intended for mature audiences, in that if you or I aren’t going to treat it with the gravity it merits, we have no business discussing it at all.
I hope you like more bad behavior from bad people, because Genesis has got it in spades. This book is not afraid to show its protagonists’ faults and shortcomings. I don’t think I need to recapitulate all the bitterness between Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael, or how Noah and Lot both exit the narrative on a low note, or Abraham and Isaac’s habits of lying to kings. I don’t need to, but I will. The account has got no qualms about making you ask yourself, “What is wrong with these people?”
Maybe it’s just a function of growing up evangelical, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from reading Genesis as a battleground for fundamentalists and skeptics. Here we are, about to go into a giant flood and a giant boat intended to preserve eight human beings and every kind of animal, while an ostensibly omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity kills every other living thing because the world has gone south. If it strains your credulity, then it strains your credulity; I get it. It’s weird. And it’s a story about God’s direct involvement in the world; true or false, you can’t expect it not to be big. But there is a time and a place for apologetics, and to me at least it doesn’t seem that today’s entry is that time or place.
In yesterday’s chapter, as a consequence of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, death became a fact of life. Today, we witness the first recorded human death, and not only is it a murder, it’s a fratricide.