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Exodus 9:27-35 – I Have Sinned

Summary

Pharaoh admits his resistance is wrong and asks Moses and Aaron to pray for him, but when the plague subsides he again refuses to release the Israelites.

Analysis

"This time I have sinned." If the narrative were truly interested in character development, the reader might think the character of Pharaoh is reaching a turning point. He even seems to understand the character of the conflict in which he is engaged. He does not say, "Israel is in the right," in contrast to, "I and my people are in the wrong." Rather, he states, "The LORD is in the right," in contrast to, "I and my people are in the wrong." God is operating on behalf of Israel, but the conflict is not between Israel and Pharaoh. Israel, it should be remembered, can do little beyond groaning and crying out (2:23-25). In the plagues, God distinguishes Israel from Egypt; Israel does not distinguish itself. From the beginning of the plague accounts, the text has held out no hope for Israel in a changed disposition in Pharaoh. Moses agrees to intercede that God would end this particular plague; the cessation of this plague is as much the act of God as is its beginning from the point of view of the narrative. It is one more act that, looked at over the long term, will indicate that the earth is the Lord's. Pharaoh does not come to that recognition; he again hardens his heart. The text also says that his heart "was hardened." Pharaoh is both subject and object. The language of sin acknowledges Pharaoh as subject, but he is not autonomous. God is at the same time at work liberating Israel, including the act of hardening Pharaoh's heart. The text refuses the dichotomy set up in many modern interpretations which sees the issue as either Pharaoh is autonomous and brings about his own demise or Pharaoh is a puppet being manipulated by God. There is more "both/and" than "either/or" in this narration.

Exodus 9:27-35

27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28Pray to the Lord! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.’ 29Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. 30But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.’ 31(Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they are late in coming up.) 33So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to the Lord; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down on the earth. 34But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials. 35So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.

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10 February 2011

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