Pharaoh’s Heart of Hedge
Hedgerows criss-crossed my grandpa’s farm when I was growing up. He used to tell me, as we were checking cows, that a row of hedge trees, planted close together, was the way they would fence in livestock before barbed wire was invented. I didn’t believe him. I just couldn’t see how a row of trees would ever keep cattle in or out. That all changed when I had to make my way through one, cut firewood, or track down a deer hidden in its thorny sanctuary.
For those of you ranching outside of Kansas, I just now learned that hedgerows are a Flinthills/Eastern Kansas thing to begin with. The reason is that barbed-wire was not prevalent til the late 1870’s-1880’s, around 30 years after Kansas was settled. Before the arrival of barbed wire, Kansans chose to “fence” in their property with hedge rows. Oklahoman’s didn’t open up for settlement until after barbed wire was widely available so they fenced off their property with the wire. Hedgerows are few and far between down in Sooner land.
But when barbed-wire came onto the scene hedge found another use: fence posts. They will outlast any other wooden post by 30 years and mature quickly. Every 20 years or so, the same hedge row can be harvested for posts. The only draw back is attaching wire to them. The old joke used to be:
Q: What’s the difference between a hedge post and stone post?
A: Its easier to drive a staple into a stone one.
Hedge is hard. Hard enough to bend steel. A staple or nail will be turned back by the orange hardwood. Nothing pierces easily, it dulls chainsaw chains, and protests against drill bits. It is unyielding, stubborn, and hard.
In Exodus, Pharaoh’s heart was often described as hard [hb. hazaq], heavy [hb. qasa], and unyielding [hb. kabed] Just as the years of growth, layered tightly together, makes the hedge hard, so the years of growth, experience, and theology grew together on the heart of Pharaoh. When Moses tells Pharaoh to let his people go Pharoah’s heart became like hedge. Four times Pharaoh made his heart hard, twice it was observed to be hard, and 4 times it was the Lord who made it hard.
Pharaoh was the King of Egypt, the incarnation of Re, the creator of the world, and the keeper of ma’at, the peace and order of creation. Pharaoh was like Hank the Cowdog, chief security officer and keeper of order on the ranch. The ten plagues, was God messing with the divine order. It was, as I put earlier, an arm wrestling match between the Lord and Pharaoh. God is showing the Pharaoh that he is really in control. When Pharaoh died, it was believed that his heart would be placed on a scale. Opposite the heart of Pharaoh would be the feather of ma’at. Should Pharaoh’s heart bring down the scales, judged as too heavy, weighed down by unrighteousness and disorder, it would be fed to a waiting demon Ammut, who looks like the dogs from the Hunger Games.
In the story of the Exodus, the ten plagues act as a picture of judgement upon: 1) the nation of Egypt for their mistreatment of the Hebrews; (2) the officials of Egypt who are using evil powers to replicate the work of God; (3) Pharaoh and his egotistical view of himself and his power; (4) the gods of the nation. God is acting as judge over all of these entities. Every time the Lord mentions how hard, stiff, heavy, and unyielding the heart of Pharaoh is, the picture of divine scales is flashing in the mind of the reader.
The heart [hb. leb; eg. ib] meant so much in the ancient near east. We think of it as a box where our emotions are kept, but the ancient cultures saw it as so much more. They saw it as a place of resting, like a shelf, chair, or table. But on these things rested their intellect, will, logic, sense, wisdom, understanding, intelligence, attention, intention, disposition, manner, will, wish, desire, mind, courage, lust, self, and thoughts. The heart was so much more than what we think. Pharaoh’s heart was so much more than just his feelings, it was everything that made him Pharaoh. Thus, the wrestling match, the arm of the Lord and the arm of Pharaoh, becomes a battle of the heart as well.
The plagues beg the question: will Pharaoh’s heart stand up to the judgement of the Lord? How will the Lord judge the heart of Pharaoh? The answer: heavy, hard, stiff.
When God speaks to our heart, when He calls us to act, when He begs us to attention…to what condition does He find our heart? When we look into the face of the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the down and out, the least, is our heart like hedge? When the direction that God is leading and going and acting unfolds before us, will we be the one whose heart has become like the Osage Orange that dulls even the sharpest chains?