God gave the command and he didn’t negotiate it. Obey it, or die. He repeated that command over a dozen times. he gave Pharaoh chance after chance. But he didn’t change his mind. Obey it, or die. Those are the options. And Pharaoh chose to die with his whole army rather than bend the knee.
And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)
The account of the plagues that came on Egypt is one that has occupied my mind and my imagination since childhood. Imagine how many frogs there were! And the swarms and the lice!
And you also marvel and the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. How stupid can a guy get? Ten times he hardens his heart and refuses to let God’s people go. And even then, at the end, he changes his mind and chases after them—right into the Red Sea where he and all of his armies drown!
What kind of madness drives a man to this point, where reason and prudence go out the window? What kind of madness drives a man into his grave like this, where he would rather lose everything than concede defeat?
This morning, it struck me. In Pharaoh’s mind, HE was god. He was the absolute ruler, placed on the throne by the gods themselves. He made the law. He did not let Jehovah’s people go, because to do that would be to acknowledge that there is a greater god than he, a God who commands obedience, who doesn’t negotiate the terms, who doesn’t compromise. A God who simply commands and must be obeyed.
When Jehovah says, “Let my people go,” there is only one proper response.
But to Pharaoh, this was unthinkable. No one commands Pharaoh. The Israelites were Pharaoh’s people, not Jehovah’s. “I can treat them as I please, for they are mine, not yours. I have the right given to me by the gods to do as I please with what is mine.”
For Pharaoh to submit, Pharaoh would have to give up everything he believed about himself, about Egypt, about men and women, and about God.
And God didn’t negotiate it with Pharaoh. The nerve! Pharaoh tried again and again to modify the terms. “I’ll let you go a little ways. I’ll let just the men go. I’ll let you go, but the livestock stays here.”
Pharaoh was willing to treat Jehovah as an equal and compromise and come to an agreement. He was willing to use diplomacy.
But Jehovah doesn’t negotiate. The command was simple, unchangeable, and there was only one proper response. “Let my people go.”