Christianity 201

January 19, 2015

Pharaoh Asks Moses to Bless Him

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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NIV Exodus: 12:31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”

Did you catch those last four words? We often skip over this in the Exodus story, but Pharaoh asks Moses for a blessing before they leave.  Why?

In the book Slow Church, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison write,

A good chunk of the biblical story of Exodus is, in essence, the story of Pharaoh’s fearful brutality against the Israelites.  It’s only after repeatedly failing to subdue the Israelites that Pharaoh gives up in exasperation.  He summons Moses and Aaron and tells them to take their people and get out of Egypt.  But before they leave, Pharaoh asks them to bless him. (p. 162)

They then quote Walter Brueggemann from an article called “The Liturgy of Abundance. The Myth of Scarcity”:

The great king of Egypt, who presides over a monopoly of the region’s resources, asks Moses and Aaron to bless him.  The powers of scarcity admit to this little community of abundance “It is clear that you are the wave of the future.  So before you leave, lay your powerful hands upon us and give us energy.”  The text shows that the power of the future is not in the hands of those who believe in scarcity and monopolize the world’s resources; it is in the hand of those who trust God’s abundance.

In Exodus: A Biblical Commentary, Victor Hamilton writes:

Maybe what Pharaoh wants from Moses’ blessing is a cessation of this plague, but vv. 29-30 suggest the plague has already done its work and run its course.  Does he, in making such a request, hope for some ‘payback’, some sort of quid pro quo, for releasing the Hebrew people?  Is this the prayer of a man at his wits’ end?  Can we hear Pharaoh say something like Jacob says to the ‘man’:  “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen 32:26b)?  Predictably, Pharaoh desires a blessing but repenting for his disgraceful, arrogant behaviour never crosses his mind.   p 193

Three things I noticed about Pharaoh’s request:

First of all, this is not a conversion story. It was a polytheistic culture and in conceding that Moses’ God had won the day, so to speak, he is not discarding the gods of his own people, but simply adding Moses’ God to his list of gods now that he feels the Hebrew God has proven Himself. Pharaoh is admitting that God had the ability to bless or curse, but there’s nothing that goes beyond that admission. That can be true of us as well. We say we trust in the atoning work of Jesus for our lives, but we rely on materialism for comfort or on technology to solve problems. We are all, to some degree polytheistic, but we would never think to put it on those terms.

Secondly, the feeling is momentary. He changes his mind again and sends his army after the people, the result being the familiar story of the parting of the Red Sea. To whatever end Pharaoh converts, it’s a short-term conversion. That can be true of people today. Many go forward at major evangelistic crusades, but, to refer to the parable, the seeds are choked out by weeds, wither in the sun, or are scattered by the wind. People are very sincere in the moment, but return to the old mindset. We say we want to rid ourselves of a particular sin, but fall back into it.

Thirdly, Moses does not respond. David Zucker writes:

At an earlier occasion Pharaoh had turned to Moses and said, “Plead for me” (other versions, “pray for me,” Exod. 8:28 [8:24 Hebrew]), and the Bible says that Moses did so (Exod. 8:29, 30). Now, Pharaoh asks again, but Moses is silent.

Pharaoh, representative of Egypt itself, may be pleading on behalf of his empire. Tell me that we will get past this terror!

Or, perhaps Pharaoh is pleading as a parent, a person in pain, a human being hurt by his own hubris. He is seeking a moment of compassion. It is clear that Moses has access to greater power than do the Egyptians. He asks for comfort in his loss, recognition for his pain, and some soothing word of consolation.

Or, perhaps, Pharaoh is seeking life itself? One Jewish teaching suggests that he himself is a firstborn. Bless me that my life will be spared is what he is asking…

Zucker then offers other possibilities for Moses’ silence, and I encourage you to continue reading at Ministry Magazine.

 

 

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