I sat in the office chair clenching and unclenching my fists beneath the table. Breathe in. Breathe out. Stay cool. Don’t shout. Be gracious. Take the heat. Don’t respond in like manner. Be humble. Breathe.
Me: “God, what on earth is going on here?”
God: “I have hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”
The Biblical narrative tells us that God promised Abraham a land for his descendants to dwell in. Abraham moves there and in time, his son, grandson and great-grandsons establish themselves in the land. But then there’s a famine and everyone has to leave. We don’t know why there’s a famine but God provides a place of safety and respite for Abraham’s children in Egypt. Specifically, in the land of Goshen, a lush, fertile area. Time moves on and the descendants of Abraham end up overstaying their welcome and they are enslaved. God sends a messenger to command Pharaoh to release his people. Pharaoh refuses. The narrative actually states that God was the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. After much trial and tribulation, Abraham’s descendants leave Egypt and return to the Promised Land where they were always meant to dwell.
Back to my situation in the office. I sat there having my character and my professional work ethic assassinated for 45 minutes by people whom I respected and honoured as Godly men and women, in a place that I felt like God had provided for me just when I needed it. It was confusing. As I silently cried out to God for rescue and the grace and wisdom to know how to respond, I received the strong impression that God had hardened these people’s hearts against me in order that I might leave. It was strange but as I considered my situation, I realized that I had been feeling for a while that I was a square peg in a round hole, and that this place was probably not meant to be my home. This was a place of reprieve that God had graciously provided, and it was a place that seemed like a good fit, at first. But as time went on it became increasingly clear that this was not a good match for me or for them, and in truth, it was already beginning to degrade my personhood. I apologized for the disappointment I had caused and returned to my desk shell-shocked but clear-headed. It was time for me to go. Like the Israelites, I had been unwilling to do that which I most desperately needed to do. And so God stepped in and got my attention. I resigned the following day.
When it comes to free will, I don’t exactly know how it works for God to harden people’s hearts. But I’ve pondered it for a while and I can imagine something like the following taking place in Ancient Eqypt:
God: “Hey Pharaoh, I bet you think you’re pretty great.”
Pharaoh: “I am Pharaoh, I am the sun and the moon. Witness the works I have created.”
God: “Yeah, see though, those works were built on the backs of my children, who I established to be a blessing to the nations, and I brought them to your land in the first place. I don’t think you could have done it without them or without me.”
Pharaoh: “I am Pharaoh. Test me and try me.”
God: *rolls up sleeves*
I suspect that God knows us well enough that he can work — within the bounds of our free-will — to bring about his plans and purposes in our lives without ever violating said free-will. We are more free than we think but perhaps not as clever as we think.
We all have the capacity to be both Pharaoh and slave but we were not made to be either.
Sometimes we experience famine and we must depart from the life we are meant to live, for a time. If we stay in that land of reprieve too long, however, we will become enslaved to it. If necessary, God will give us a push to move us back into our destiny. I hold nothing against those who God used to give me a push. If anything, I am thankful.
You were always meant to be powerful and free and on a great mission. Your promised land awaits. Forgive your Pharaohs, let go your slavery mindset, and walk freely into your future.