These three chapters of the book of Exodus are incredibly pivotal moments in the narrative of the Israelites. This week’s portion, Bo, has the final confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh. The last of the plagues are sent upon Egypt by God because Pharaoh refuses to negotiate the release of the Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh remains entrenched in his world view even though God’s might and strength and power have wrecked havoc with the daily life of Egypt.
The first of the plagues that were visited upon Egypt in Parshat Vayera only made temporary impacts upon Pharaoh and his court. Pharaoh would immediately retrench and renege on his promise to let the Israelites go free when the threat was removed. “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he reverted to his guilty ways as did his courtiers (Ex. 9:34).”
Thus God sends Moses again to Pharaoh to once again try to negotiate the release of the Israelites, “Go to Pharaoh.” Moses doesn’t wait to be summoned. He goes. He doesn’t wait for Pharaoh to change his heart and mind. Moses goes at the bidding and command of God. Moses accompanied by Aaron faces Pharaoh and challenges his thinking, challenges his very being. “Thus says Adonai, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?”(Ex. 10:3). Though God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh, the mighty king, who is so powerful, does not exert his own free will to overcome that hardening. Pharaoh stays put in his same mind set- a leader who does not learn from his mistakes.
God wants Pharaoh to understand his place in the world. Not as a god but that earthly kings are just that, earthly kings. But this threatens the whole of Egypt for the Pharaoh was a god. And so the greatest plague, the tenth plague of the death of the first-born is the answer to the cruelty of a Pharaoh that would order the deaths of the Hebrew boys at the hands of the midwives, Shifrah and Puah. The death of the first-born of Pharaoh who would inherit the Pharaonic throne along with the crying and outpouring of all of Egypt who was touched by this disaster of mega-proportions is the final blow to the Pharaoh’s omnipotence. Moses and Aaron are summoned in the middle of the night and in haste the Israelites leave. The leader of the Egyptians is finally moved. But he changed his mind only when death and destruction defeated him.
All who are in leadership should take a moment to learn from these grave errors in judgment. When change is knocking on the door, when a new world view is about to unfold, a real leader pays close attention. A real leader looks deeply at all sides of the story and shouldn’t wait for death and destruction to be the order of the day. We can learn from Pharaoh’s mistakes and errors in judgments. And perhaps learn to listen to the voice of God shaping our own reality. Imagine if Pharaoh had embraced the glory and strength and power of God. Imagine if we would too.