Yet, multiple times in the past few weeks I have come across a portion of Scripture I thought I knew and suddenly found a new note or cross-reference that sheds a whole new light and I can see, mentally, a puzzle piece clicking into place as I think to myself, "That makes SO much more sense now!" As though I had previously been tossing aside those pieces, thinking they just didn't go anywhere, and now, as they fall into place, there is one complete picture and I realize there is nothing unnecessary in Scripture.
He did it again this morning.
I have been working through, with my Bible Study ladies, Angie Smith's first Bible Study: Seamless. In this study, we are, once again, covering the entire story of the Bible from cover to cover. As opposed to our time in the 66 Love Letters, this study is a quick survey of the entire Bible, so we're mainly hitting the highlights, but in chronological order, which is a bonus.
Last week, we covered the ten plagues God sent to the Egyptians while Pharaoh hemmed and hawed over releasing the Israelites. Something that has bothered me for a long time on this subject is the phrase "and God hardened Pharaoh's heart" - which we see happening repeatedly after each of the plagues.
Why would God do this?!
If Pharaoh is ready to release God's people and that's the whole goal of this operation, why would God harden his heart so everyone involved has to endure so much more hardship?
One answer with which I had satisfied this query was that perhaps God was working to show Himself to the Egyptian people. I had heard that because of this period in Egyptian history, the word of God's power had spread through much of the ancient world, so that many feared Him and His people,
the Israelites. After all, we read this to be true when Joshua's spies encounter Rahab who declares their Lord the God as "God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11). Because of what happened in Egypt, the residents of Jericho were living in fear, their hearts melted - which paves the way for the successful conquest of Jericho and the beginning of the Israelites' claim to their Promised Land.
Certainly that was a factor.
But, as I was reading through this Bible Study, Angie pointed out something I hadn't recalled hearing before (or maybe I had, but it had certainly been buried under mounds of other things I'd heard and forgotten): Each of the ten plagues specifically addressed the Egyptian gods and the aspects of life they supposedly had control over. It was the God of Israel's way of showing His power over these false Egyptian deities. Note the following chart (or click the link here to see it as a PDF).
Well, again, that's certainly fascinating. So, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so He could specifically display His power in all arenas supposedly controlled by other gods. That seems to make a little more sense. But, still, why?
Was it because the Egyptians would come to fear and respect the God of Israel, as well? Was this a foreshadowing of His welcoming all peoples into His people? I felt as though I remembered reading somewhere that this theory may have been accurate.
But, overall, it was a piece that just didn't fit. And because my brain couldn't figure out what to do with it, I chose to overlook it and move on.
And then we got to today's study. We're in Joshua now, where we addressed the above story of the spies visiting Rahab and consequently God destroying the city of Jericho and from there, all of the Promised Land. All of the Land is now given to the Israelites as He declares to them, "I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant" (Joshua 24:13). All of these He gives to His people, not because they have earned it (if you question that, read all of Exodus and Numbers, trust me, Israel does not deserve any of it), but because these are His people and He has made a promise to Abraham that He intends to keep.
Then we move on the next verse: "Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:12, emphasis added). I'm sorry, what?!
The descendants of Israel making their home in Egypt, later oppressed by the Egyptian ruler into slavery, had been serving the Egyptian gods?! Now, maybe this isn't news to you. You're thinking, "Yeah, Angela, we all knew that." But I certainly had not heard that little tidbit before.
I had always lived in my ignorance, fully imagining that God's people weren't annoying and unfaithful to Him until after they escaped Egypt and were sad that they had to leave their happy little homes of slavery. I imagined them slaving away in Egypt, worshipping their God, faithful to Him and wondering when He was going to keep His promise to rescue them, counting down the 400 years He told Abraham they would be waiting. And it's entirely possible and probable that many were. But there were at least some who had chosen the gods of the locals to be their gods, as well. Probably in addition to the God of their father Abraham.
And here is where the puzzle piece clicked neatly into place. God didn't send ten plagues just so His name would be feared among the nations, or just so the Egyptians could see His power. He needed to harden Pharaoh's heart time and time again, provoking ten specific plagues, so the Israelites would see His power over the Egyptian gods. So the Israelites could see He had control over every aspect of life that they had begun to depend on the false gods of Egypt to protect.
He needed to show them Who He was, not just so Pharaoh would let them go worship their God, but so that they would want to do so. He had to make life hard where they were so they would get uncomfortable enough to leave for the something better that He had planned for them.
Well, oh. My. Word. Doesn't that just tell a whole different story? Doesn't that one little verse in Joshua just bring a whole new reality to this story we've heard since we were children?
And don't our hearts beat raw to realize He still uses that tactic today. Because we are an unfaithful people who would rather live in the darkness, where it sometimes feels safe, than escape into the Light where He has such glorious lives awaiting us. We would rather seek comfortable living on this earth, where we are bound as slaves to the things of this world, than look ahead eagerly to the land that has been promised to us - our homes in Heaven. We often opt for comfort over going out to serve a God who has proved Himself faithful.
And once again I see how these Israelite people of the Old Testament were always meant to be a picture to us of who we are - the ways we wander, the ways we vacillate between obedience and unfaithfulness, the ways we fail and the ways we turn back to Him.
Thank you, Lord, for caring enough to bring us out of darkness, even when we do not, in the least deserve it.