It is always a bit dangerous to imply motive on biblical characters when the text does not do so. But for this post I am going to live on the wild side.
Have you ever wondered why Pharaoh would have gone after Israel after ten plagues (Exodus 14), the last which cost the first born of every house and animal in Egypt? The texts says in various places that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (sometimes it attributes this hardening to God and sometimes to Pharaoh). But a hard heart is not a unique condition in Scripture. In many ways it is the common cold of biblical diagnoses.
I would like to offer a possible motive for Pharaoh’s decision. One that I believe is plausible, but that also might cause modern readers of Exodus to pause and see themselves in Pharaoh.
Motive: I want a return on investment for my sin.
Consider the following modern examples as illustrative of this same motivation.
- The teenager who has spent six months in a bad relationship, but does not want to break it off because he might learn his lesson and become a good boyfriend or girlfriend for someone else.
- The adult who feels guilty about their recurring sin (i.e., over spending, pornography, over eating, drinking too much) and thinks, “If I am already in trouble, I might as well enjoy it.”
- The child who knows they are going to get a spanking or grounded, but figures they might as well enjoy their current behavior while they can.
Now let’s go back to Pharaoh. He has already lost a year’s harvest, his supremacy in the eyes of the people of Egypt, and his first-born son. What does he have to show for it? Nothing. Pharaoh wagered all of that to keep Israel as slave labor. Now he “comes to his senses” (again, I am assigning motive to actions) and thinks with a hardened heart, “Am I so foolish as to lose grain, power, my son, and my labor force? No, I paid dearly to keep them. They will be mine!”
This is where the instruction comes in for you and me. Sin never pays. When we try to get a payoff from our sin, we are thinking with hardened heart logic. That mindset should send off powerful alarms in our conscience.
Warning: The mental formula “I have experience [negative consequence] so I should [double-or-nothing and/or reckless decision]” is an age-old formula. It is the logic of addiction and the thrill of a casino. It drips of death; not because it necessarily immediately destroys life, but because it is the first step into the downward spiral of a hardened heart.
Regardless of whether this was the precise motive of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, use this post as a warning for your own moments of temptation. Realize that temptation always makes sense to us in the moment, but in retrospect is as foolish and indefensible as Pharaoh’s decision to go after Israel.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Character” post which address other facets of this subject.