Pharaoh's Heart Weighed in the Balance
||Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.
“Let My people go” was the demand that set the stage for a conflict that literally changed history. In a devastating series of plagues, Yahweh systematically humbled the contemptuous Egyptian monarch into compliance with His will. The theological impact of these plagues has been elucidated dramatically by Egyptian mythology, which demonstrates that these phenomena were not mere random, punitive acts recklessly performed by an angry God. To the contrary, they were polemical scourges carefully calculated to expose the impotence of Egypt’s so-called gods, whom the Egyptians believed were personified in nature (Exodus 12:12). In fact, scholars have detected a direct relationship between each plague and an Egyptian god, or some aspect of ancient Egypt’s religion (see White, 1975; Davis, 1971).
Egyptian mythology also produces a deeper meaning to another aspect of the Exodus narrative: the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The heart, according to Egyptian belief, was the seat of emotions, and represented the integrity and purity of an individual. According to the papyrus of Hu-nefer (1550-1090 B.C.), the jackal-headed god, Anubis, weighs this organ against a feather in the balance of truth. If the deceased’s heart weighed more than the feather, he or she would be judged a sinner and eaten by Amenit, the Devouress. If, however, the heart weighed no more than a feather, the deceased gained eternal life (see Pritchard, 1958, pp. 356-357; Currid, 1993).
Interestingly, one of the three words used to describe Pharaoh’s heart (all translated harden) in the Exodus narrative is kabed, which basically means “to be heavy or weighty” (Oswalt, 1980, 1:428). No doubt Pharaoh’s obstinacy was under consideration. But this word used to describe his heart has far-reaching implications in light of Egyptian mythology. It possibly suggests that, contrary to the Egyptian belief that Pharaoh was a divine being whose heart was the epitome of purity, and therefore light as a feather, the Egyptian monarch was a sinner unworthy of eternal life (Currid, 1993, 9:51). This would serve, as did the plagues, to demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy over the Egyptian god-king. Such information further suggests that the author of Exodus was intimately familiar with the nuances of the Egyptian religion. And, of course, Moses fits that bill perfectly.
Davis, John J. (1971), Moses and the Gods of Egypt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Currid, John E. (1993), “Why Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?,” Bible Review, 9:46-51, December.
Oswalt, John (1980), “kabed,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R.L. Harris, G.L. Archer, Jr., and B.K. Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody), 1:426-428.
Pritchard, James (1958), The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
White, W. (1975), “Plagues of Egypt,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 4:805-807.