BELIEVERS: why does God act so circuitously in freeing the Hebrews from Egypt?

When the lord says to reboot the computer, don’t log out and log back in. It’s not the same, and he can tell.

Heh, I can imagine that.

SCENE
Exterior, the etheral plane

YAHWEH (a gruff-looking old man wielding a baseball bat wit’ a nail innit)
Oi, y’all want some o’ dis, ya pansies ? Come oooon, bring it on, I don’t care ! I’m a nutcase, me, I am ! Huh, huh, Whatcha lookin’ at Sekmet ?! Whazzat you saying Bast ? Think you can take ME on ? Yeah, yeah I didn’t tink so. Yeah, walk away. Bitch.

scratches His Holy Sack

I actually just heard an explanation yesterday on a “This American Life” podcast. The narrator had gone to Yeshiva as a youth, and his Rabbi told him that one lesson of the many plagues against Egypt is that God gives people many, many chances to see the error of their ways and repent before he passes his final judgment.

So the decision to visit a series of increasingly painful plagues rather than throw a single knockout punch was for the benefit of the EGYPTIANS, not the Hebrews.

Why do we bother to give people warnings, put them on probation, etc., in our society? Why not just fire them at their first misdeed, send them to jail without parole on first offense, expel them from school the first time they act up, etc.? You ramp up the severity as you go, hoping that someone will see the light before the final blow and shape up.

But that makes no sense. If God wanted to teach the Egyptians a lesson, why did he constantly reboot the Pharaoh everytime he learned it. Pharaoh would acceed to God’s power, agree to let the Hebrews go and God would then step in and “harden his heart” and he would relent. If he was trying to teach some lesson to the Egyptians why undo that lesson over and over again? All he did was to continue his “chosen people’s” servitude after the purported main goal was accomplished.

xx

I think that’s your problem right there. Your typical Joe Schmoe on the street would say that omnipotence is the ability to do anything whatsoever, but that’s not how theologians or philosophers typically use the term. Theologians and philosophers of religion would say that God cannot violate his own character, for example. For example, it means that God cannot violate his own promise.

(This is the point at which some people say, “Ah, but God killed people! Sometimes he killed a lot of them!” That’s a rather shallow objection, IMO, since the Bible never says that killing is absolutely forbidden in all circumstances, nor does it say that God is bound to every single rule that humans are bound to. One might question whether it was appropriate for God to have the Amalekites slain, for example, but that’s another debate altogether and ultimately irrelevant to the immediate topic at hand.)

Nor is omnipotence typically defined to include logically contradictory things. To use a classic example, can God create a square circle? No, because that’s a fundamental logical contradiction. You can arrange the words “square circle” together, but that’s just a sequence of words that does not correspond to anything in reality – or even any hypothetical thing in reality.

This has special implications when it comes to the actions of human beings. Why doesn’t God just force people to willfully follow Him, for example? Because that’s a fundamental logical contradiction. If he were to force them to follow him, they would not be doing so willingly. Such an act would violate his character AND constitute a logical contradiction.

Death of Rats hit the most puzzling aspect of this story - the pharaoh wanted to let them go, but God “hardened his heart” and changed his mind about it. Was God just being sadistic?

I don’t think Yahweh has a motive. As the OP notes, there is no trace of one in the text. Yahweh was the creation of a perennially oppressed people in a time when life was very cheap indeed. In that context his unspeakable cruelty toward the Egyptian oppressors is understandable. Put another way, I think Yahweh acted the way he did because the people who passed around the stories which were eventually agglomerated in Exodus thought that the Egyptians deserved extremely shabby treatment.

Back when these myths were first told, the religion of the proto-Isrealites was likely a henotheistic faith*, and likely not entirely Monothesitic either. Remnants of this still remain in the OT*. It is possible that the “god” that hardened Pharoah’s heart was meant to be one of the Egyptian dieties.

Note that somehow Pharoah’s “magicians” can also do magic- and how could that be if there is only one true diety?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henotheism

Actually, it’s a bad translation. The complexities of ancient Hebrew grammar have not survived the wear and tear of eons of linguistic drift and translation into compeltely foreign tongues.

Okay, then please share with us what the correct, or at least better, translation would be. If you can phrase your answer in terms of Hebrew grammar, that would be great.

Viewed as a piece of literature, it is to me quite obvious that Voyager’s explanation is correct. Remember that the Egyptian magicians could actually copy some of the early tricks that God had up his sleeve. Also he had let his people get enslaved in the first place. So his performance had to be pretty impressive.

Emphasis mine.

I’m not sure what you mean by “your” problem. It’s certainly not MY problem, as I specifically note in the OP that I don’t take omnipotence as the ability to do “anything whatsoever.” Who, exactly, are you addressing there?

Pardon me for getting off topic, but that’s bullshit. How does God NOT force Pharaoh to do as he demands? Do you really think there’s a moral difference between directly manipulating Pharaoh’s neurons and terrorizing him with enormous, unmatchable supernatural power?

If I force a woman to have sex with me at gunpoint, the fact that she “consents” to avoid being killed does not mean she has not been raped. Likewise, if God coerces the Egyptians to do his will by committing one act of genocide and implicitly threatening a worse one, they have not been persuaded; they have been forced.

Now, this is not my expertise. I have been assured by people who do understand Hebrew and have studied the documents as best as western academics can, that the phrase is better translated as “He hardened his heart against God.” The original is an artifact of a bad translation, and is not present in all translations of the Bibles.

The New International version has it both ways at different points (there is some disagreement about what means what). And of course, we are dealing with oral histories of the Jews which were only later written down and sometimes altered to fit a later scribe or priest’s biases.

Who, exactly, are the persons who have made this assertion?

I hope I don’t come off as snarky; I don’t mean to. But I’ve heard–oh, Jimmy Swaggart, for instance–claim that Old Testament Hebrew lacks causative verbs, which strikes me as bullshit if only because I find it best to assume that everything he says to have absolutely no truth value. But have you any cites for the mistranslation claim?

Is thisthe sort of thing you’re referring to,** smiling bandit**?

The Haggadah has the passage in Hebrew. Though five years of Hebrew school failed utterly in getting any vocabulary through my hard head, my teachers read it just fine, and I’ve never heard an explanation for this. Your’s doesn’t solve the problem, since forcing Pharaoh to be against god and keep the Hebrews is functionally equivalent to forcing him to just keep the Hebrews.

You missed his little trick. He said it was logically impossible to force someone to love god through free will. Duh. But that doesn’t say anything about forcing someone to do something against his free will, which is exactly what is happening in this situation. Christians claim that God somehow is forced to not show himself to avoid violating our free will, but the assumption that he can’t or doesn’t want to is explicitly contradicted in the Exodus story. It’s a bullshit explanation anyhow, since with the next breath they’ll tell you that God must exist because of the beauty of a rose or some other such nonsense. If that is evidence, why does it count less than fiery letters in the sky or something?

That’s probably the real answer. The Bible is full of places where the mighty Hebrews slaughtered their enemies, which probably made the people living when the Bible was being written feel better, since they suffered the same fate not that long before. It is very common to reach back into history (or pseudo-history) looking for examples of glory.

The plagues in Exodus correspond to the judgments in Revelation and is a repeating theme. God sends multiple warnings as the wrath is coming. The time He didn’t, the flood, man was totally wicked and the whole creation has to be ‘reset’, as opposed to just overthrowing a oppressive power. The reason for dragging it out is to get as much repentance as possible before the total wrath of God is poured out.