Words of Torah: How Long Has Pharaoh Refused?

Occasionally something as mundane as a verb tense brings a surprise with it. It can even open a door for us to look into our own soul and see something new — or rather something old that needs to be thrown out to make way for the new.

hebrew and translation from exodus 10:3

ad-mattai mei’anta lei’anōt mipanai, עַד־מָתַי מֵאַנְתָּ לֵעָנֹת מִפָּנָי, “how long have you refused to humble yourself?”

For grammar buffs, this is a tricky use of the perfect tense of the verb on mei’anta מֵאַנְתָּ. It is a perfect, and yet it is used in the question clause “how long.” We would expect the verb to be imperfect (having a continuing or dependent or future sense, “how long will you refuse”). Is this a scribal mistake? Is our understanding of the perfect in Hebrew wrong? Not necessarily.

Perhaps the perfect indicates that God’s question is actually not about the future. He is not asking, “how long will you keep refusing to listen?” Instead he is looking at what Pharaoh has already done. Pharaoh’s history so far in dealing with the situation of God’s revelation has been, well, ignorant and blind.

God is expressing astonishment at his stubbornness (his “hard” or “heavy” heart). How has a ruler like Pharaoh been so oblivious to what should be simple to grasp? What impulse in Pharaoh overrules common sense? The answer could only be an egomaniacal pride.

Some of us (present author included) know what this is like firsthand.

How long have we refused to humble ourselves? The point is not that God demands groveling or that he is essentially a pride monster himself. Rather, we need an awakening in some area and our number one opponent has been right inside us, beating in our proud chest.

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