Hearts: Hardened … and Softened
David R. Weiss – June 22, 2021
I occasionally write for The Word in Season, a daily devotional published by Augsburg Fortress. A set of my devotions, spanning June 17-30, are in the current quarterly issue. Today’s (6/22/21) is based on Exodus 9:13-35 (I don’t pick the texts; they’re assigned to me). In the passage Moses, speaking for God, tells Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. When he refuses, a plague of hail comes, after which he relents—but immediately changes his mind once the hail stops. This was my devotion:
Title: When past becomes present
Key verse: So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go. (v. 35)
It’s not just Pharaoh’s heart; this text is hard, too. From start to finish, God’s demand is met only by Pharaoh’s stubborn resistance. It isn’t easy to find any good news, because this passage ends chapters before any real liberation happens. So here’s an equally hard devotion to go with it. God used Moses’ human voice to declare “Let my people go.” Today, through equally human voices, God declares “Black Lives Matter.” But our society, too, is chapters away from any real liberation. Systemic racism has put generations of Black persons in societal bondage as effectively as Pharaoh’s system of slavery. Who but God would have the audacity to say on their behalf, “Let my people go”? And I squirm. Because in our society I’m far closer to Pharaoh’s officials than to the Hebrew slaves. But God’s declaration, today, is no less divine demand: “Black Lives Matter.” Can my heart be softened so that I join in working for their liberation?
Prayer: O Savior of slaves, make me an accomplice in your work for liberation. Amen.
I heard from two readers today by email. One wrote, “I was shocked beyond words when I read your devotion this morning. To say “God is declaring that Black Lives Matter” and comparing it to Pharaoh’s system of slavery is way beyond any truth or fact and is certainly not a good comparison. You obviously haven’t done any research on the BLM organization, who runs it, what their goals are and what they stand for and how it is funded. One of their goals that you should be aware of because it made national news here in the Twin Cities is they want to kill police officers and burn their bodies (“Kill the pigs and fry them like bacon”). Do you believe God is demanding that?! You must believe and serve a different God than I do. I cannot believe a Christian writer would write such a claim.” Hmmm, sounds like someone woke up with a hardened heart.
As it says in Exodus 14:32-33, “And the people sang, ‘We crossed the sea on a dry, dry bed, but Pharaoh’s police are wet, wet, dead. They chased us while the waters seethe; now look who crying “I can’t breathe.” Edgy? You bet. (Also, made up. Chapter 14 ends at verse 31.) But the human hunger for freedom and dignity is as powerful as any force in the world, and it will find expression, even if it offends the propriety of the powerful.
Another reader wrote, “Today’s Word in Season devotions, drawing the connection between Moses imploring the pharaoh to let my people go, and Black Lives Matter—simply amazing! I have not read such a strong and compelling devotional piece in these pages that I can recall. My deep thanks! You rock!” Well, poetry rocks and God rocks. I just stand at the crossroads and call out the connections as I see ’em.
As I noted when I passed the messages along to my editor: “Seems my words struck home with each reader in any case. The rest is up to God.” Actually, the rest is also up to me. I’m in this for the long haul. And while I won’t soften every heart (and I may harden a few here and there), my goal is to bear faithful witness to the God who seeks justice for all of us. And that prayer I wrote—you’re welcome to pray it, too, but those words are my plea for a heart softened and more: O Savior of slaves, make me an accomplice in your work for liberation. Amen.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.