And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh; and he said unto them: ‘Go, serve the LORD your God; but who are they that shall go? (From this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Exodus 10:8)
What is really at stake in this exchange is Pharaoh’s political and theological status.
“My river is mine and I created myself,” says Pharaoh, uncannily similar to the beliefs of modern man. I stand at the center of creation. It is my desires that are important. Everything else is a different narrative (or some other post-modern terminology).
The Pharaonic regime was the pinnacle of the deification of man. It was diametrically opposed to the message of liberty that the Creator would be heralding to humanity through His Nation, Israel.
The threat of the plague of locusts begins to destabilize Pharaoh. He relents, and is willing to negotiate. But like a seasoned politician, he does everything in his power to keep all the cards in his hands – both political and theological.
And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: Pharaoh speaks to them through an interpreter. He retains his distance and preserves his status.
‘Go, serve the LORD your God’: Not my god, but your G-d.
Who are they that shall go? Pharaoh wants a report. The Children of Israel are still under his rule.
After the plague of hail, the seasoned politician retreats a bit from his political stronghold, but not from his theology. He is no longer as strong on a personal level. But he still retains the idolatrous idea that G-d is the Lord of the Israelites, alone. In other words, I, Pharaoh, am god. But there is another god (and His nation) with whom I have gotten into trouble.
After the plague of darkness, Pharaoh changes his tune: The words ‘your god’ have disappeared from Pharaoh’s lips. Now he admits that the G-d of Israel is the One G-d. Verse 24: And Pharaoh called to Moses and said: ‘Go, serve G-d. Just leave your sheep and cattle here. Your children will also go with you’:
Pharaoh still desperately clings to his power. Suddenly, he is weak enough to threaten Moses and Aaron with death. As the end approaches, the diminishing dictator’s immediate environs become a very dangerous place to be. Verse 28: And Pharaoh said to him, ‘Go out from before me, do not dare see my face again, for on the day that you see my face, you will die.’
Now Pharaoh receives the greatest blow that any leader can suffer:
Chapter 11:3 And G-d gave the Nation favor in the eyes of the Egyptians. The man Moses was also very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of the servants of Pharaoh and in the eyes of the nation.
It makes no difference who is actually sitting on the throne. What matters is to whom the people have given their hearts. At this point, Moses can make a revolution and rule the empire.
Chapter 12:31-32: And he called to Moses and Aaron at night and he said, ‘Arise, go out from my nation, you as well as the Children of Israel and go serve G-d as you have spoken. Take your sheep and cattle as well, as you have spoken and go. And bless me, as well.’
Now Pharaoh’s defeat is complete: both his political downfall and his theological demise. “Get out and stop threatening my rule,” says Pharaoh. “And from the place that you reach, bless me as well, because your G-d is The G-d.”