Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.” They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats. But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them. “But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people ,live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’” And the LORD did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies. Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the LORD our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.” Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the LORD your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.” Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the LORD, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.” Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD, and the LORD did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go. – Exodus 8:16-32
Although this passage only remotely relates to water it’s connection to the previous passages was so close that I felt I needed to include it here. The meeting between Moses and Pharaoh occurs “at the river”. The rotting frogs which were brought on the by the rotting algae generated gnats and flies which is not too surprising. I am reminded of the old nursery rhyme about the old woman who swallowed a fly then proceeded to swallow all sorts of things to take care of this problem.
The Nile River ecosystem was taking care of the ecological imbalance brought on by the original algal bloom (red tide) which was brought on by Moses and Aaron who were trusting God. I am not denying that the original bloom could have been miraculous, simply that the events that followed are not that strange from an ecological point of view. It was not “rough magic” as C.S. Lewis put it in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but rather an orchestration of natural events in tune with the ecological laws God himself has created.
The end result was a partial softening of Pharaoh’s heart. He asks Moses and Aaron to “pray for me”. This is a big step for a man who a short time ago denied the existence of God entirely. He also wanted Moses to make offerings to his God to stop the scary things that were happening in and around the Nile River. In the end Pharaoh is not able to trust the God of Moses more than he trusts his own gods. Pharaoh was definitely one of those people it would be hard to love.
I have encountered plenty of people with “hard hearts”, including me at one time! I am not sure I can count on turning a river red or swarms of insects. So how can I assist God in the softening process of someone’s heart? I think this is very difficult and requires much prayer so that we are sure we are on the same page as God and what he is doing in the person’s heart. I used to see an offensive bumper sticker on some people’s cars that read “kill ’em all and let God sort them out”. I think as Christians we should have a bumper sticker that reads “love ’em all and let God sort them out”. Really it is God’s job to soften hearts, we just get to play Cameo parts once in a while.
Prayer: God grant us patience and wisdom when we encounter people in our lives with “hard hearts” who seem to be unreachable. Make our role in the softening process clear.