How hearts grow hard

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‘Holy Spirit, make my heart receptive to the Word that I am about to read and reflect on.’

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Bible passage Exodus 7:14–24

The Plague of Blood
 14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. 16 Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened. 17 This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’”

 19 The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood.’ Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.”

 20 Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. 21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.

 22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said. 23 Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart. 24 And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile to get drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the river.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

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The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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Matter of the heart
The Exodus narratives sometimes sound contradictory. Was God responsible for hardening Pharaoh’s heart (4:21b; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1; 11:11)? Or did Pharaoh deliberately harden himself against God (8:15,32; 9:7,34)? God’s sovereignty versus human responsibility has long been the subject of debate. Today’s passage can’t resolve the debate, but it does offer valuable insights into both God’s heart for the lost and human hardness of heart.

Although Pharaoh’s heart was ‘unyielding’ (v 14a), God hadn’t given up. He sent his messenger Moses with a reminder of his power (vs 15,16). Then he issued a warning, accompanied by another sign (vs 17–21).

To change or not to change?
The subsequent plague warnings, and indeed the plagues themselves, were, in reality, moments of grace – for they offered repeated opportunities for a change of heart.

On Pharaoh’s side, he was unwilling to ‘listen’ (v 16b). Even in the face of national disaster (v 21), he chose to rely on other powers (v 22) rather than turn to God. Despite God’s many overtures, Pharaoh remained stubbornly unmoved (v 23b). One thinks of Cain who, when God confronted his bad attitude, turned down the opportunity to make an acceptable offering and instead sulked, became stubborn, and fell into grave sin (Genesis 4:4–8).


‘Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it’ (Genesis 4:7). How might this warning apply to you today?

Tanya Ferdinandusz

Deeper Bible study

The next few chapters of Exodus, dealing with ten God-sent plagues, do not make easy reading; particularly for those of us – and my guess is that includes most of us – who prefer to talk about love and forgiveness rather than about justice and judgement. Before we begin to look at the plagues, however, there are a number of things to take into account. First, this was not just a leader but also a whole society systematically persecuting – even to the point of genocide – a significant minority of their population. This had to be stopped in the same way that, in more recent times, Hitler and other modern Pharaoh equivalents needed to be stopped. Even when individual societies tolerate such dreadful injustices and world powers do little about it, in the end God will intervene; and cruel and unjust empires will fall. Second, attempts to resolve the situation through diplomatic means had been tried more than once with only negative results. Third, at least six of the plagues, possibly all except the last, were announced in advance, giving Pharaoh and the Egyptians a chance to avoid these consequences of their intransigence.

The account of the first plague is typical. God speaks to Moses. Moses relays the message, making sure that Pharaoh knows it is God’s words he is recounting. Pharaoh ignores it. God does what he says and everyone suffers the consequences. The first plague made the Nile, which sat at the heart of the Egyptian economic system, undrinkable. However, Pharaoh’s own team of magicians could do that (v 22) and, in any case, water was available through digging wells along the river (v 24), so presumably Pharaoh and his officials were not personally affected much. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, Pharaoh continued to set aside this threat to his authority.

Mary Evans

Bible background: Why ten plagues?

The significance of the number ten
The number ten is common in Ancient Near Eastern literature, due partly to the decimal system used in the area at the time, a natural consequence of simple calculation on the digits. Sometimes ten was used in a vague way as a convenient round number for a number greater than a few (see Genesis 31:7).

In the Bible, the number ten may be seen to indicate completeness (though this is even more true of the number seven). There does not seem to be any special significance in there being ten plagues, though they were followed shortly by the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). The tithe was later of importance in Israel’s law (see Numbers 18:21,26).

A more telling significance
One aspect of the plagues which is often not appreciated is that their purpose was to show clearly the reality and power of Israel’s God, and in contrast the impotence of Egypt’s gods. This is made explicit in Exodus 12:12 and Numbers 33:4. The plagues showed both to the Egyptians and the Israelites that ‘I am the Lord’ (Exodus 3:13–15; 6:2–8; 7;5,17), that the power of Israel’s God was infinitely greater than all the power of Pharaoh (who was regarded as divine) and his kingdom (see Romans 9:17,22–24).

Egypt’s gods were often associated with the forces of nature. But ‘Ha’pi, the Nile god of inundation, had brought not prosperity but ruin; the frogs, symbols of Heqit, a goddess of fruitfulness, had brought only disease and wasting… and the light of the sun-god, Re, was blotted out.’1

1 K Kitchen, ‘Plagues of Egypt’, IBD vol 3, IVP, 1980, p1236

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  • Rachael Hampton | Tuesday, 14 February 2017

    GILVIN, maybe like our neighbours Pharoah had heard of God but didn't consider Him relevant or worth actually knowing. ADAM, thank you for your post, the quote from Peter and the moving clip from the movie Selma. What a comforting word that is for those grieving, and wondering if God even cares. 'God was the first to cry' at your loss. JULIE, good to hear from you and praise God the little fellow not only got to share Christmas but is going ok at present. Wooo DAVID, what a lot of health challenges in your family. Thank you all for your sharing and comments. Blessings and prayers for good rest and a joy filled day when you wake.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    #Respond ‘Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it’ How might this warning apply to you today? It seems to apply to me every day. Noticed more since reading 'The highest created throne God can sit on is the soul of a believer'. I am learning though that it's not striving but yielding that is the best way to get/keep self off the throne.

  • Angela Munday | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    How can God's voice and spirit penetrate people who put a protective shell around themselves to preserve their manufactured self? Pharoah became encased in his own self-made importance and felt this was being threatened. Pharoah, like other mind-led people, could not receive the truth.

  • Elizabeth Sadler | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    #Biblebackground:Whytenplagues?When I last read this passage on WL some years ago,it was stated that each plague challenged a particular Egyptian god,some of which are mentioned here.....

  • Adam Julians | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    Racheal, isn't that just a powerful clip about God being the first to cry. Deeper talks of love and forgiveness as opposed to justice and judgement. I see these as two sides of the same coin. How can God love if he is not also just? How can he forgive if he does not judge something needing forgiveness? Tough situations call for tough measures. Angela you wrote, "how can God's voice and spirit penetrate people who put a protective shell around themselves to preserve their manufactured self?" Well, we see with pharaoh an obvious oppression. He wanted power over the Israelites and feared being overthrown by them. Faith without works is dead faith and there is nothing new under the sun so what do we face today with these kinds of issues in me, in you and in others? I would suggest culturally there is a form of Marxism masquerading as equality which if it had it's way would eliminate all forms of religion and Christianity especially from public life. I think the response in the church is often to be "nice" and experience a form of oppression then perpetuating the same. We can't change others but we can participate in transformation that the Spirit can do in ourselves. So what is the "protective shell" I might have, what is it that you might have? When you talk about "manufactured self" I would go back to a veneer or what Gilvin talks of with "Satan's fodder". And there is darkness within all of us in that sense in our nature. Only by being willing to recognise and accept there is that darkness, and be kind towards ourselves, submit to God and bring the darkness into the light can we be light and obedient to Jesus in shining our lights in the power of the Spirit. And if necessary to be tough! Ready to fight the good fight of making things beautiful to the glory of God!

  • Oakley Bookworm | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    GILVIN, yielding not striving. What a simple, yet powerful truth!

  • Lynda Spencer | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    When we are full of our own importance there isn't any room for God. I totally get what you are saying, ANGELA. I see it in myself - whenever I become proud and self-important God is pushed to the perimeter of my thinking and behaviour. GILVIN, I find your comment immensely helpful - we do not keep God on the throne by striving, but by yielding. is my prayer.

  • Derek Forster | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, and wonders of His love.

  • Barbara Sabin | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    Friends as you all know we have recently commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day my husband and I went to our British Legion meeting and were read an account of the liberation of Bergen /Belsen written by one of the Military servicemen who were there. The most harrowing account of how men women and children were found and the piles of dead bodies showing how they had been systematically starved to death. Many people would say why didn't God step in before all these barbaric murders. But God did step in to save his people .I feel such sorrow for the Jewish people who have been persecuted for so long, but they are stoical and faithful. Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were so helpful and faithful. I pray for the peace of Jerusalem as scripture instructs and for the Jewish people. GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE, AND HE WILL REMEMBER HIS OWN; THOUGH TRIALS MAY PRESS US AND BURDENS DISTRESS US, HE NEVER WILL LEAVE US ALONE; GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE, AND HE WILL REMEMBER HIS OWN; HIS PROMISE IS TRUE, HE WILL NOT FORGET YOU, GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE.

  • Roger Hall | Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    I think Barbara, a lot of us have Corrie ten Boom as wonderful model of The Love of God in action. She's one of those who used every moment, and worked so hard on the wrecked Germany left behind by the God forsaken Nazis. Love that chorus, too!

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