The Pharaoh in Each of Us

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”
~1 SAMUEL 15:22-23

In my personal reading I am currently in the book of Exodus.  The drama of the Exodus narrative has always captivated me.  In the Exodus account there are two well know lists of “Ten”, the most famous being the Ten Commandments.   Just prior to that “Ten” there is another “Ten”— the ten plagues that God unleashed against Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt because of his cruelty, unbelief and hardness of heart.


In re-reading the famous showdown between Pharaoh and God through His servants Moses and Aaron, there were several things that struck me about Pharaoh.  As I pondered those characteristics and/or attitudes I was troubled by how many of them I see in myself.  I guess there is a “Little Pharaoh” in me.  I would also venture to guess there is a “Little Pharaoh” in you.  Let me tell you what I mean.


Pharaoh received the directive, “Let my people go,” no fewer than eight times.  Through this protracted battle of wills, “God, knowing both the stubborn will of Pharaoh and the need to demonstrate the divine power of deliverance to His own chosen people, [takes] direct advantage of [Pharaoh’s] own disposition in working out His divine plan.” [1]


I am a believer.  Pharaoh was an unbeliever.  Though not of the same magnitude, nor sharing in his condemnation because of the grace of Christ, it is in the exposure of Pharaoh’s disposition that I saw glimpses of my self.  Let me share with you what I saw.


  1. Pharaoh was arrogant. He brashly declared, “I do not know the LORD (Exodus 5:2).  Though I would never say, “I do not know the LORD,” for I do and will unashamedly proclaim it, there are times when one might wonder based on my self-centeredness and pride.


  1. Pharaoh was defiant. When God made His demand of Pharaoh, Pharaoh responded with defiance and retribution upon the Hebrews by increasing the oppression against them (Exodus 5:6-9).  I have heard others say, “I don’t care what the Bible teaches or what God says, I’m not going to do it.”  Though I may not say that with my mouth, would not my lack of obedience to the will or command of God say the same thing?  The telling thing is this; in those moments of disobedience I tend to make the lives of others—my wife, my family, my brothers and sisters in Christ—more difficult.  I become grumpy, argumentative, sullen, unbearable.


  1. 3. Pharaoh’s repentance was always insincere. Whenever the pressure of a plague was relieved, his response was always the same, “When Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron. . . (Exodus 8:15).”  There have been times, I am grieved to say, when I have made promises to God that I have not made good on once the pressure that prompted the promise was relieved.


  1. Pharaoh sought compromise. The word of the LORD was clear, the Israelites were to leave the country.  “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land”  (Exodus 8:25).  There have been times when I have tried to make bargains with God, not for His glory or the good of another, but for my own selfish desires (James 4:2-3).


  1. Pharaoh was belligerent. Though disciplined multiple times with increasing severity, “Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go” (Exodus 9:7).  I have felt at times the pressure of the LORD.  There have also been times when my heart remained unyielding.


  1. Pharaoh felt the conviction of the LORD. “This time I have sinned,”  Pharaoh would declare (Exodus 9:27).  But that conviction did not bring about genuine repentance.  I have often felt the conviction of the LORD, but conviction has not always resulted in repentance.  Let me offer a word of extreme warning here.  When genuine repentance does not follow conviction, like Pharaoh, there will come a deeper hardness of heart.  This is a most dangerous state to find oneself in.


  1. Pharaoh procrastinated. The entire drama of the ten plagues was a stalling procrastination. Thomas a Kempis has said, “Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience. Whoever strives to withdraw from obedience, withdraws from Grace.” Consider this; if your house was on fire and you called the fire department, but they refused to come until they had finished their daily washing of their beautiful, state-of-the art fire truck, arriving as the final wall of your house collapsed, would you consider them to have been obedient or disobedient to their mission and responsibility?


  1. Pharaoh wants the blessing of the LORD without rendering obedience to the LORD. Following the final plague, the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh lets the Israelites go (a decision he will shortly retract which results in the loss of his entire army in the Red Sea), yet brazenly he seeks the LORD’s favor (Exodus 12:32).  It is deeply disconcerting for me to acknowledge how deeply I long for the LORD’s blessing without fully obeying Him.

If you see a “Little Pharaoh” in you, as I do in me, it is time he be deposed.  We are to die to self daily (Luke 9:23).  It is time to be done with the rebellion.  Let us rise up together and shine the light of Christ to the world through our joyful and ready obedience.


1F. La Gard Smith.  Commentary from The Daily Bible, p. 103