Exodus 23

There seems to be something about a seven-day cycle that is hard-wired into us, and Genesis 1 implies that this has something to do with being created in the image of God. (I read the other day that, during the 1930s, the Soviet Union experimented with using five- and six-day weeks, but eventually abandoned these in favour of the traditional seven-days. )

As humans we benefit from having our lives ordered by times and seasons, and this is reflected in the laws God gave in Exodus 23:10-19. We benefit from a work-free day each week; we benefit from longer times of rest and celebration during each year; and (something which has survived in the practice of giving church ministers seven-yearly 'sabbaticals', but not in many other contexts) we benefit from building special periods of rest and redistribution into our community life every few years.

If we try to do without these ways of ordering our time we may burn out or dry up - physically, mentally, emotionally.  And also spiritually - because these laws also reflect God's concern about our relationship with him. The Hebrew language uses the same word for worship as for service, but the Bible also encourages us to see worship as being linked to both rest and the ordering of our time.

Time is not simply money. It is a gift from God - which we can use, abuse or waste. And it is one of the most precious things we can offer back to him.

Two questions to pray about:

  1. How do you worship God in the way you use and plan your time?
  2. How can we as a church community ensure that we practice a good balance of service, order and rest?

Exodus 22

This blog series is working its way through Exodus, chapter by chapter. However, it's worth remembering that the chapter divisions in our Bibles were not there in the original text - they were first added by an Englishman in the Middle Ages.

The chapters sometimes begin and end in odd places - for example, almost everyone agrees that the division between Genesis 1 and 2 comes a paragraph earlier than it should. And the first half of Exodus 22 seems to continue the theme of the previous chapter, while the second half is linked to the beginning of the next chapter.

The section which spans chapters 22 and 23 is all about protecting the vulnerable from injustice, and begins and ends by repeating the reason this should matter to God's people: You know what it feels like to be unfairly treated - remember how it was for you in Egypt (see 22:21 and 23:9). This section considers various sorts of vulnerable people (widows, orphans, poor people, foreigners). It also recognises that anyone in a minority is often vulnerable.

Thus we read in 23:2, Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong ... do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd. Most of us find it tempting to follow the crowd - it feels safe, and is the path of least resistance. It avoids having to think too hard - if everyone else is doing it, surely it must be OK. 

Some of us may like to think we are independently minded - but it takes a special person to stand up for what's right if there is personal risk involved. Yet all God's people are supposed to be special people: You are to be my holy people (22:31) - and 'holy' basically means 'special'.

When was the last time you stood out from the crowd in order to defend a vulnerable person or group of people?

Exodus 21

This chapter begins a section of detailed laws, which God gave to Moses and which he in turn 'set before' the people (v.1). They are probably more like 'principles' than what we would call 'laws', because they do not cover every conceivable scenario - so wisdom would be needed in actual cases.

Implicit in these laws is the fact that the people will not be able to live up to the 10 commandments in the previous chapter. God is a realist, and their failures will not come as a surprise to him, so he lays out provisions for dealing with those failures.

Many of these laws may appear to us arcane, and the punishments harsh. But by the standards of the day they were progressive. For example, unlike the legal codes found in many other ancient civilisations:

  1. They show comparable respect to the lives of men and women, rich and poor, adults and children, slaves and free
  2. Although the existence of slavery is taken for granted (mainly as a way of dealing with people who get into massive debt), slaves have rights. Most significantly, people cannot be held in slavery for more than six years (v.2), unless they love their master and choose to stay for life (vv.5-6)
  3. They place limits on the level of punishment or retribution which can be applied, so cycles of escalating vengeance are prevented

To ponder:

  • In what way has God already made provision for your future failings? How should that affect your attitudes and prayers?
  • Does your commitment to justice exceed that of the people you live and work amongst?
  • Are you involved in, or aware of, any 'cycles of escalating vengeance', and how should you respond?

Exodus 20

We recently thought about the 10 commandments in our morning services so I'm not going saying anything about them here (if you missed them, the sermon recordings are here). But as far as I can see, the giving of the commandments is the only time in Exodus when God spoke directly to the people as a whole (rather than via Moses and/or Aaron) - and they did not enjoy the experience. Immediately afterwards they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (v.19).

This raises the question of whether any of us really want to hear God's voice. One attraction of someone else speaking to us on God's behalf is that we can always ignore what they are saying on the grounds that they aren't really speaking God's words.

Moses responds, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (v.20). Notice how Moses tells them not to be afraid but also tells them that some fear of God would be quite a healthy thing! This reflects the rather nuanced attitude the whole Bible has towards fearing God:

  • Being frightened of God (because you are unsure whether he might do something crazy or unpredictable) is not encouraged. After all, he is not a tyrant.
  • Being in awe of God's glory, and having a concern not to disrespect or offend him, is strongly encouraged. After all, he is God.

In Exodus 1, fear of God made the midwives disobey Pharaoh; in Exodus 3 it made Moses hide his face; in Exodus 14 it made the people trust God; and in Exodus 18 it qualified some of the people for leadership.

Do you have a healthy fear of God and his word?

Exodus 19

The Israelites arrive at Sinai where they will stay for several months for some concentrated teaching from God. This will cover the rest of the book of Exodus, the whole of Leviticus and the first part of Numbers, so (if we go by the amount of space the Bible devotes to it) this is the most significant period of time in human history, until the period of Jesus' earthly ministry as recorded in the Gospels.

In Chapter 19, God reveals something of himself to the people in a terrifying volcano-like revelation. And he says these words of introduction to the people:

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

After their long and scary trek through the desert, the people may have wished they literally had been carried on eagles' wings. But although they had to put one foot in front of another, there was a sense in which God was carrying them. We are given similar images elsewhere in the Bible, perhaps most famously at the end of Isaiah 40 where we read that:

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

There may be times when we feel weary and faint, but as we look back we so often see the way in which the Lord has borne us up.

Sadly the Israelites didn't manage to live out all that God was to teach them at Sinai. It was left to a single Israelite to fulfil God's purposes and to draw all humanity into God's blessing. Thus the Apostle Peter can assure those who have placed their trust in Jesus (both Jews and Gentiles):

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Take some time today to worship God for making you one of his treasured people through Christ.

Exodus 18

Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was not an Israelite. In fact he was a pagan priest, and so we might not expect him to be portrayed very positively. But the opposite is the case; in this chapter he gives some wise advice about delegation, which Moses accepts (vv.13-26), and more importantly he listens to all that Moses tells him about the Exodus experience so far (v.8).

And then he responds:

  • He 'was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done' (v.9)
  • He exclaimed, 'Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you' (v.10)
  • He said, 'Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods' (v.11). This is particularly remarkable, because as we have already seen, it took a long time for both the Egyptians and the Israelites to come to 'know' that the LORD is God - but Jethro seems to have got there in an instant.
  • He made a sacrifice to God (v.12)

The Holy Spirit is not mentioned, but clearly someone was at work in Jethro's heart. It all started in v.8, when Moses gave an account of what God had done for him and his people. He did not pretend that things were easy, but he brought God and his salvation into the conversation:

Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done ... for Israel's sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them.

What a model this is for how God can use his people to impact those around us with the good news of God's salvation. How can we follow Moses' example in our encounters this Christmas with people who do not yet worship the Lord?

Exodus 17

My family will tell you that I am a bit strange, and one of my strange habits is to read Bible commentaries in my leisure time. (I also have a strange job, which means that the distinction between work time and leisure time is pretty blurred.) A result of this is that I am now reading Exodus through for the third time in three months, and am on my third Exodus commentary. And a result of that is that I am starting to recognise patterns in the text and am realising that God is saying some things to me (and perhaps to HHBC).

Exodus 17:8-16 is an example of this:

Firstly, the Israelites came under attack and they needed to respond - this required some planning and direction on the part of their leaders, and some bravery on the part of the fighting men. They had to do battle.

Secondly, while they had to do battle, they couldn't win the battle. Only God could win the battle for them - and he showed this using a prop. The prop was one he had used before with Moses (a wooden staff), but this time it was to be used differently (it just had to be held up in the air).

It was basically the repeat of a situation the Israelites had already found themselves in several times already in Exodus: they needed to step out in faith and do the thing God was telling them to do - but they also needed to trust God to bring about the result he had promised.

Refusing to fight is not the right approach. But neither is expecting to win the battle ourselves. God asks us to be faithful, not successful - and to trust him for the success. A long time afterwards, David recognised this: we went out to fight Goliath, but he declared, the battle is the LORD's (1 Samuel 17:47).


  1. Is there a thing you need to do, a step you need to take or battle you need to fight, in obedience to God?
  2. Is there a result, destination or victory which you need to trust God to provide?

Exodus 16

God had taken Israel out of Egypt, but taking Egypt out of Israel was going to be a longer-term project. Physically they had been delivered, but the old untrusting attitudes they had learned during their captivity were still very much alive and kicking.

So they were already looking back with rose-tinted spectacles on what they had left behind. And they grumbled; the grumbling was directed at Moses, but really they were grumbling at God - as Moses pointed out. Nevertheless, God was extraordinarily gracious - their grumbling was answered with the provision of abundant quantities of food.

In vv.6-8, Moses tells the people that 'you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt ... you will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat'. And in v.12, God says 'then you will know that I am the LORD your God'.

We have seen before that God was particularly interested in people knowing him (see Exodus 6:7, 7:5, 7:17, 8:10, 8:22, 9:14, 10:2). So surely the people of Israel did know the LORD by now, and did know that he would not let them down - hadn't they seen the ten plagues and experienced God bringing them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea? Yet somehow they didn't yet seem to have placed their trust in him - hence all the grumbling.

On Sunday I was preaching on the words Zechariah prophesied when John the Baptist was born, and we especially looked at Luke 1:77 where we read that people will be given 'the knowledge of salvation'. Salvation can be something we know about in theory, but has it permeated our hearts? Do we have assurance that God has saved us and is on our side?  Do we know God or do we just know facts about God?

If we're not sure, let's ask him to give us what he has promised - the gift of the knowledge of his salvation.

Exodus 15

The people now sing a great song (vv.1-18) following their deliverance - the first such worship song in the Bible. It sets the tone for all true worship songs ever since: it's about God (not about us) and what he's done to save us (and recognises that we can't save ourselves).

Count how many times the song says 'the LORD' or uses the words you / he / etc to refer to God. Now say a prayer (or sing a song) of your own which addresses God that many times, perhaps ending as the people of Israel did with these words:

The LORD reigns for ever and ever (v.18)

Verses 19-21 seem to be a recap of the whole event, suggesting that the preceding song may have been written and led by 'Miriam the prophet', who right from an early age had a knack for finding the right words for the occasion (see 2:7)!

Sadly this great worship event is immediately followed by three separate instances of the people grumbling (15:24, 16:2, 17:3). Oh dear! 

How can we make sure that our times of corporate worship set the tone for our whole lives, rather than there being an inconsistency between what we do on Sunday and during the rest of the week?

Exodus 14

A few weeks ago I preached on vv.14-15 of this chapter, which say:

'The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.'  Then the LORD said to Moses. 'Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.'

These words were spoken to the people of Israel as they were in a panic. The armies of Egypt were behind them and the Red Sea was in front of them. I felt, and still feel, that vv.14-15 were words for me personally and for HHBC at the current time. They present us with two aspects of what it means to trust God, which we need to learn to hold in balance:

  1. We need to be still. (Other translations say 'be quiet' or 'be at peace'.) We need to trust God to win the battles for us. We need to recognise that we are powerless to do much about most of the things which really matter, and we need to learn to hand those things to God. That's easier said than done, but it's not just advice - it's a command from God to his people.
  2. We need to move on. Being still is not an excuse for being passive and lazy. Being still before God is an attitude of mind which will then result in us taking specific steps forward in obedience to God. We are to keep walking, taking the next step as he reveals it to us - which in the case of the Israelites meant stepping down onto the sea-bed.

What do these twin aspects of faith look like in your life, and in our church life today? How can we make sure that we stand and allow God to fight for us?  How can we make sure that we move on in obedience to him?

Exodus 13

We’ve reached chapter 13, and in one sense ‘the Exodus’ has already happened – Israel has left Egypt for good (12:51). But this is just the beginning of the Israelites’ journey as they learn how to become what they are: Exodus people. To paraphrase the closing words of CS Lewis’ The Last Battle:

For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in Egypt had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which goes on for ever.

And their new life as the free people of God begins in two ways.  Firstly, God gives them ways to keep on remembering and re-enacting what he has done for them (vv.1-16). They will need these living reminders when things get tough and they are tempted to forget God’s salvation.

Similarly, as God’s people today we are commanded to remember and re-enact the way in which God delivered us ‘with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1 Peter 1:19).

Secondly, God guides them. He does not take them by the direct route (vv.17-18), but he is with them day and night (vv.21-22).

We may be frustrated when God does not take us via what appears the most straightforward way. We may kick against his will or try to manipulate events towards an alternative outcome. But God has a plan which we do not see, and he will lead us if we place our hands into his hand.

Are you ready for God’s next chapter for your life?

Exodus 12

As I write this post, I have just been reading 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul says that we are God's fellow-workers (v.9) - which is an amazing privilege when you think about it.

In Exodus 12 (and all of Exodus, for that matter) we find that it is God who does the real work. God speaks so that his people know what to do (vv. 1, 43); he strikes down the Egyptians (vv. 12, 29), passes over the Israelites' homes (v.13, 23), makes the Egyptians favourably disposed towards them (v.36), keeps watch over them (v.42), and leads them out of captivity (v.51).

Other than the verses referred to above, most of the rest of the chapter is taken up with what the people of Israel are asked to do. But it is easy by comparison with what God does: basically all the people have to do is listen to what God tells them through Moses. Then they have to prepare a meal in a particular way, put some blood on the door-frames of their houses, get ready to march and to celebrate, and remember to explain to their children all that God has done.

The Bible as a whole paints a similar picture:

  • God rescues his people from bondage - and all the real work is done by him: he sends his Son into the world to deliver us from the dominion of darkness, and then he sends his Spirit to live within us.
  • He asks us to walk with him in obedience, to celebrate what he has done, and to tell others the good news. It's not much to ask really - yet God graciously calls us his fellow-workers.

Exodus 11

This short chapter serves as a conclusion to the ten plagues and as an introduction to the final plague which will be described in more detail in chapter 12. So this gives us an opportunity to look back over all ten plagues and to note a couple of themes:

Firstly, a key purpose for God bringing about these signs and wonders was that people might know him as Yahweh - the name he had revealed to Moses at the burning bush and which is normally written as LORD (capital letters) in English bibles - see 6:7, 7:5, 7:17, 8:10, 8:22, 9:14, 10:2. The word know is a relational word - this is not just about being aware of facts about God, but knowing him as a person (it is the same Hebrew word which is often used as a euphemism for sexual relations).

Secondly, God repeatedly says that the reason Pharaoh is to release the Israelites is that they might worship him (7:16, 8:1, 8:20, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3, 10:7). This is a theme which is take up later in the book as his people learn how to worship God. In fact the word worship could also be translated serve - in Hebrew thinking the two things (worship and service) are the same - and God was not going to release his people from bondage just so that they could do whatever they felt like, but in order that they might worship/serve him.

Our circumstances are different from those in Egypt 3,500 years ago, but God's purposes for us are the same: more than anything else he wants us to know him personally and to worship/serve him wholeheartedly.

Exodus 10

We have reached the eighth and ninth plagues, and things are getting very dark in Egypt. First the locusts cover the land so that it is black [literally: darkened] (v.15), and then it simply becomes utterly dark (v.22). Living in South-east England, most of us never experience absolute darkness - but I once went down a coal mine, and when they turned off the lights the darkness was overwhelming - you could almost feel it (v.21).

In Exodus, the presence of God is often symbolised by fire - a source of light as well as heat. For example, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush (chapter 3) and later in a pillar of fire (chapter 13). But his glorious presence was so terrifying that he would sometimes also surround himself with a dark cloud so that his people were not overwhelmed by his burning holiness. Thus we read that 'the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was' (Exodus 20:21).

Some people in HHBC are going through some dark times at the moment, but although darkness is sometimes used as a metaphor for the absence of God, we must remember that God may be closer to us in the darkness than at any other time. When Jesus hung dying on the cross, 'darkness came over the whole land' (Mark 15:33) - but was there ever a time when God was closer to his children?

Francis Rowley's great hymn 'I will sing the wondrous story' contains this verse:

Days of darkness still come o’er me,
Sorrow’s path I often tread,
But His presence still is with me;
By His guiding hand I’m led.

Let us pray that we will know the Lord's presence with us in dark times, and that we will share the experience of the children of Israel who, when the darkness descended on Egypt 'had light in the places where they lived' (v.23).

Exodus 9

Three more plagues arrive: livestock, boils and hail. In the foreground of this chapter are the interactions between God, Moses and Pharaoh, but in the background are the people of Israel. What are they doing while all this is going on?

Presumably they are still having to make bricks without straw, and so life is still pretty grim. They are at least protected from the plague on livestock (v.4) and from the hail (v.26), but it is not clear whether they are infected with the boils.

We aren't told what kind of relationship the ordinary Israelites had with God at this stage. Were they praying to him as they suffered in Egypt? In Exodus 2:23 we read that they groaned and cried out, and although it doesn't say that they were specifically addressing God in their groaning and crying, we are told that God heard them.

I suspect the Apostle Paul had the Israelites in the back of his mind when he wrote Romans 8, especially v.23. Like the Israelites, Christians need to wait to see the full outworking of what God has promised to do for us - we have already been redeemed from slavery to sin, but we also groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

It may be that for the time being we have to put up with unfair treatment and even festering boils. We may have reason to groan. But Romans 8 reminds us that we have the Holy Spirit to help us and to pray alongside us. We also have the assurance that God is at work for good.

And we are invited to watch and wait, while God says to all the modern-day Pharaohs:

I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I may show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16)

Exodus 8

Exodus 8 tells us of the plagues of frogs, gnats and flies. In this post I want to share a version of the Apostles' Creed which I came across the other day - written by someone called Jose Luis Casal. I'm posting it here because I think it's important for us to remember that, when the Egyptians felt threatened by an immigrant community, God sent the plagues because he was on the side of the immigrant community.

I believe in Almighty God, who guided the people in exile and in exodus, the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon, the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean, who was born away from his people and his home, who fled his country with his parents when his life was in danger. When he returned to his own country he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate, the servant of a foreign power. Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured, and unjustly condemned to death. But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead, not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us, who speaks all languages, lives in all countries, and reunites all races.

I believe that the Church is the secure home for foreigners and for all believers. I believe that the communion of saints begins when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.

I believe in forgiveness, which makes us all equal before God, and in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness. I believe that in the Resurrection God will unite us as one people in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time. I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner but all will be citizens of the kingdom where God reigns forever and ever.


Exodus 7

The novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and I have just re-read what is probably his most famous book, The Remains of the Day (also made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins). It is a story that is both comic and tragic, about a butler called Stevens who devotes his life to serving a seemingly great person, and doesn't begin to realise until too late that he has placed his trust in the wrong person and all the wrong things.

Back in Exodus, the plagues are beginning. The main point of the ten plagues is to demonstrate who is really in control in Egypt. Pharaoh might appear to be in charge, and this impression is not ruled out in the early plagues when his magicians are able to replicate some of the things which God did through Moses. But God gradually 'ups the ante', and by the tenth plague the power and glory of Egypt are revealed for what they really are, compared to the power and glory of God.

The first plague involves the Nile - which was the source of Egypt's prosperity and status. This thing which was the nation's lifeblood became a place of death and decay. It was a sign to anyone who was prepared to stop and listen that the thing you are placing your trust in may not be as dependable as you think. But Pharaoh did not stop and listen:

But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said. Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart. (Exodus 7:22-23)

What are we really trusting in? Are we willing to stop and listen to what God is saying and doing? Or are we, like Pharaoh (and Stevens), stubbornly sticking to our own way of doing things?

Exodus 6

We saw in the previous chapter that things were not going well for the people of Israel, but when Moses takes this to God, his answer (verses 1-8) is essentially:

Remember who I am, and leave all this to me

However, here is how two English Bibles describe the people's response when Moses communicates this positive message back to them (see verse 9):

They did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery (ESV = quite a literal translation)

They refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery (NLT = a bit more free-flowing)

We get the picture. The people were really at rock bottom - so much so that they were not even able to hear the encouraging message Moses brought them. I guess that a similar thing can happen to us today - we can get so locked into an attitude of despair that we are unable to hear God's voice.

But if we stand back from the story, we can see that another piece is falling into place in the unfolding drama of Exodus: help was not going to come from:

  • Pharaoh (his heart was getting harder and harder)
  • Moses (all his attempts to resolve things had failed)
  • The people themselves (they were too disheartened) 

Eventually everyone will need to accept what God is saying:

Remember who I am, and leave all this to me

Exodus 5

Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better, which is not always a very comforting thought. In this chapter, things get a lot worse for God's people. They are still slaves in Egypt; they are still having to make bricks; but now their job has been made a lot more difficult, and furthermore the king is now angry with them.

Not surprisingly, the people express their frustration to Moses (vv.20-21), and so not surprisingly, Moses expresses his frustration to God (vv.22-23):

Why are you doing this?

Why did you bring me into this?

Over the last four Sunday mornings I have been talking about leadership based on some characters in Genesis. Moses was also called into a position of leadership, and we get the impression that throughout his life he felt quite uncomfortable as a leader. Being a leader placed him in a vulnerable position - the people were looking at him - which was especially unsettling when he himself couldn't work out what God was doing.

But despite his weaknesses and insecurities, Moses had one very important thing going for him. Like the other leaders God calls, he doesn't always get things right, but he does have an open and honest relationship with God. So he is able to ask God 'why?'

In the light of Exodus 5, how can you pray this week for those in leadership? How can you show leadership yourself this week?

Exodus 4

In verse 21 we first encounter a phrase which will crop up quite a bit as the Exodus story progresses - God is going to harden Pharaoh's heart. This is puzzling: if it was God who hardened his heart, then surely Pharaoh can't be held responsible for his actions - but Exodus doesn't see it that way. It seems to be more the case that Pharaoh was already proud and resistant to persuasion, and God kept encouraging him to be a bit more of what he already was.

Why did God do that? Good question - but as the story proceeds I think it becomes clear that the answer is about demonstrating who is really in charge in Egypt. God and Pharaoh both think they are in charge, and they both keep upping the stakes. Compromise is no longer going to be a possibility. Winner is going to take all.

Personally I'm not very keen on high stakes. My natural inclination is to play safe or reach a deal before things get out of hand. But maybe that doesn't leave enough room for God's glory to be displayed.

By the way, in Hebrew culture, your heart is the place where you do your thinking, not your feeling (in case you're interested, your bowels are the place where you do your feeling, which must make for interesting Valentine's Day cards!) And the word translated harden has a breadth of meaning - for example, in Nehemiah it is the word that is often used for building or repairing the walls of Jerusalem. 

So having your heart hardened is not necessarily bad - it can mean having your resolve stiffened, which can be a good thing. In fact the two words crop up together again in Isaiah 35:4 where God tells his troubled people:

Say to those with fearful hearts: be strong, do not fear!

I wonder what sort of heart God is calling us to have as a church at the moment?