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Shemot/Exodus 10:3 Thus says the L-rd, the G-d of the Hebrews, "Until when will you refuse to be humbled before Me? ..."
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Coming at the start of this week's parasha and in the introduction of the eighth of the ten plagues - the plague of locusts - this question is asked of Pharaoh through the offices of Moshe and Aharon who have just come to Pharaoh to announce the next plague. The phrase - Thus says the L-rd - is one of the standard authority formulae, later to be used extensively by the prophets as they spoke to the people of Israel in the L-rd's name. Because He is here speaking to Pharaoh, rather than to Moshe and Aharon or the Israelites,HaShem's title is - G-d of the Hebrews - rather than the title He uses for family communications: The G-d of Abraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov. While the latter is a well-known and significant title to the Israelites, connected to and anchoring them in the words and promises that G-d has spoken in their past, it has no such meaning to the Egyptians, who simply refer to the Israelites by their tribal name - the Hebrews - first given to Avraham, the boundary crosser (B'resheet 14:13).
The word , ahapax legomenon in this form - contracted from the more obviously recognisable 1 - is a Nif'il infinitive of the root , to be afflicted or humbled. Pharaoh, in spite of the huge loss of life, crops and cattle already inflicted upon the Egyptian economy was refusing not only to humble himself but even - in the face of overwhelming force - to be humbled. He had hardened his heart and was refusing to face the fact that he was completely outclassed, outgunned and out-maneouvered. His advisors pleaded with him to acknowledge defeat, but he refused to hear them in his irrational and - to modern hearers - insane response to the L-rd's demand for His people's freedom. Such is always the way when a man is confronted by the overpowering pressure of G-d: either he has to capitulate or insanity (or worse) results.
ObadiahSforno makes an interesting comment about the interrogative - literally "until when" but often translated "how long" or "for how long". The Sforno suggests that since Pharaoh has not repented yet, he was always unlikely to surrender to the force of any one great plague. "Perhaps," he comments, "you will repent from the force of their constancy over a long period. Therefore, it is proper to ask, 'Until what time will the constancy of your refusal match the ongoing constancy of the plagues?'"
Unlike Pharaoah, who refused to humble himself, the Bible records several examples of kings in the later history of the Israelites who did humble themselves before G-d and so received mercy. When Ahab, king of Israel, heard words of judgement spoken about him, "tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently" (1 Kings 21:27, NASB). Because of this, Elijah heard from G-d, "Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the disaster upon his house" (v. 29, ESV). When the Sefer Torah (Scroll of the Law) was found in the temple during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah, and read before him, Josiah realised that he and the people had not been obedient to G-d. He repented immediately and when he sent to ask the prophetess Huldah whether the L-rd would forgive them, she replied, "'Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God, when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes, and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,' declares the L-RD" (2 Chronicles 34:27, NASB).
The apostolic writers urge us to humbles ourselves before G-d. James writes, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up" (James 4:10, KJV); words which have been set to music in a simple canon or round so that it can be easily sung individually and shared in a group. Similarly, Peter wrote, "Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the right time He may lift you up" (1 Peter 5:6, CJB). Notice how both writers emphasise that we humble ourselves so that G-d may - and will, at the right time - lift us up. We submit to G-d joyfully in all things, confident that He will use us and glorify Himself through us at the right time.
We need to be aware of worm theology and refuse to hear that lie of the enemy that seeks to rob us of the power that comes from humbling ourselves by believing that we are worthless. Humility - as epitomised by Moshe: "the man Moshe was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth" (B'Midbar 12:3, NASB) - involves agreeing with G-d about His assessment of us, confessing our weaknesses and tendency to sin while acknowledging that we are made in His image and justified by our faith in Him. Moshe had his faults, yet was nevertheless the appointed leader of the Israelites for forty years: he administered justice and taught G-d's words to the people, he wielded enormous power on a daily basis throughout the camp and was clearly no doormat; nor was it intended that he should be. Yes, we may have been sinners, but - in Messiah - we are no longer sinners, we are saints. We are re-born, we are a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17); we are justified; we have already "passed from death to life" (John 5:24); there is "no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua" (Romans 8:1). When we come to know Yeshua, we bring nothing of our own making to the table, but we do bring those things that He has already worked in our lives (while we did not yet know or acknowledge Him): gifts, abilities, skills, training, qualifications. Just as the servants who were left the sums of money by their master while he was away, we are expected to polish and refine those initial talents and use them in His service; this pleases Him and enables Him to affirm the servants: "Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share My joy" (Matthew 25:21, paraphrase). This happens both before and after being in relationship with G-d; a young man may spend years training to be a doctor, healing and comforting people, then come to faith in Yeshua, then continue to use that training and experience in medical practice for many years.
The prophet Zephaniah spoke of a time when G-d would purge His people of those who were proud and arrogant, those who refused to acknowledge Him. Instead, G-d said, "I will leave among you a humble and lowly people, and they will take refuge in the name of the L-RD" (Zephaniah 3:12, NASB). This makes an important point: the humble take refuge in the L-rd rather than defending themselves: "ADONAI is good, a stronghold in time of trouble; He takes care of those who take refuge in Him" (Nahum 1:7, CJB). The proverb writer confirms which position is better: "It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud" (Proverbs 16:19, NASB).
Just as Pharaoh had a certain freedom of choice - to or not to acknowledge G-d and be obedient to His command to let the Israelites go out from Egypt - so we also have a choice whether to acknowledge G-d in our lives, to trust Him or to trust in ourselves. Just as Pharaoh's heart was hardened, so that as he refused to acknowledge G-d, it became more difficult for him to repent, so we become set in our ways of sin or righteousness, as the Sages said "The reward for a precept is a precept; the reward for a sin is a sin" (Pirkei Avot 4:2). Once set in sin, it is more difficult for us to turn and find G-d again or for the first time. Heaven forbid that we should need to hear G-d say to us: "How much longer will you refuse to humble yourself before Me!"
1 - although not actually used in the text of the Hebrew Bible, this is the form that would be expected for a Nif'il infinitive.
Further Study: Psalm 10:17; Matthew 11:28-30
Application: Where do you stand before G-d? Are you hearing Him loud and clear, or has His voice become muffled by the choices and life you live? Now might be a good time to check that your communication channels are still open and in good working order.
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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