“… Let us go a three days journey …” Really?

As we have seen, YHWH shows a lot of “personality” for being utterly transcendent, beyond words, and even beyond “personality” as we know it (See, A Meditation on the “Personality” of YHWH on Nov. 3rd, 2014). He is not an impersonal “force” who is too transcendent for real relationship, oblivious to those who revere him or not. YHWH takes note of those He loves and with whom He relates, but also His enemies. In our previous post, we see that YHWH is an active agent in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. We must not think that Pharaoh is a mere play thing to YHWH, an object of His disdain. On the contrary, YHWH is taking Pharaoh seriously, for he is deeply engaged with His will. YHWH respects the fact that Pharaoh is exerting his will, and deals with him accordingly. The spiritual reality is that the more our wills conform to YHWH’s, the freer we humans become. Conversely, the more we fight YHWH’s will, the more constricted our freedom becomes.

If the idea of “hardening” is difficult for us to fathom, the fact that YHWH lies to His enemies is even harder to comprehend. However, it is undeniable from the text. It is clear that YHWH’s intention for Israel is to deliver them from Egypt completely (3:8, 6:6), defeat Pharaoh in a spectacular way (3:19, 20, 6:1,) and slay his firstborn (4:23). It is also clear that YHWH wants Pharaoh to believe that all He wants is for Israel to go out for a three days journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to YHWH (3:18, 5:1-3). Really? What is more, there are other texts where YHWH, or His people, is involved in deceit. For instance, Rahab the harlot is praised for her action which was essentially a lie (Joshua 6), and David lies to the Philistines (I Sam. 27:8-12). What is of particular interest is the story of the prophet Micaiah at King Ahab’s court, where YHWH asks the hosts surrounding His throne who will seduce Ahab so as to bring him down. A spirit comes forward and says that he will do the job, and when asked how, he responds that he will be a “lying spirit” in the mouths of the king’s prophet. YHWH sanctions this plan and it is implemented (I Kings 22:13-23).

What are we to do with this, especially in light of the fact that YHWH is truth and cannot lie? Is not the false word that brings chaos (e.g. the serpent in the garden) the dark side to YHWH’s word by which creation comes to order? Again, as it is with the problem of the hardened heart, the divine lie can only properly be understood in the context of holy war. All the above instances have to do with God warring against His enemies. In fact, war by definition is the art of deception. There can be no war without deceit. That “YHWH is a man of war, YHWH is His name” (Ex. 15:3) means that YHWH out maneuvered His enemies and defeated them. One of His weapons is false intelligence as well as hardening, both of which induced Pharaoh to make foolish tactical decisions. This idea is carried also into the New Testament where God sends His enemies false delusions to make them believe what is false because they do not love the truth (II Thess. 2:11). God defeats Satan, the father of lies, by deceiving the deceiver, beating him at his own game.

All of this is so offensive and absurd to our western “enlightened” culture that long ago rejected the God of the Old Testament. These associations, which C.S. Lewis called “horrid red things,” referring to anthropomorphisms and “primitive” metaphors, cannot be avoided for some more “sophisticated” language without falling into meaningless vagary (Miracles, chap. 10). True, God is beyond all language and metaphor, but we can only make our way to Him through the language and ideas of our human context by means of analogy. We must embrace God as He is presented in these old stories, and if we refuse, we find that we will embrace some benign deity of our own making, or reject God completely. Yes, YHWH has “personality,” and we must take Him seriously, for He certainly takes us seriously.

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