Exodus 9:27-35 – I Have Sinned
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.
"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.