Pharaoh’s hard heart is a recurrent motif in the plague cycle, a source of understandable anxiety to readers. Sometimes it’s simply noted (e.g., 7:13), sometimes attributed to Pharaoh (e.g., 8:15), sometimes to G-d (e.g., 4:21). The motif resists bowdlerization, but mirrors an old Greek proverb: “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad” (Longfellow’s paraphrase). Perhaps in this story Pharaoh prayed to his own gods for strength to deal with the uppity Hebrews; G-d granted the request. So file under (1) “Be careful what you pray for” and (2) “Don’t tempt G-d to use this weapon”?
Paul’s “But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside…” resonates. I’m in the fortunate part of the spectrum, but every year my performance on the road bike’s a little less impressive, and prostate cancer did a number on last year’s calendar. Two things keep “bodies… breaking down” from dominating Paul’s story: “the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day” (cf. the General Thanksgiving’s “means of grace”) and Paul’s participation in a project larger than himself: “As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory” (v.15; translations in this paragraph from CEB). So if I find myself not looking forward to what today will bring, it doesn’t have to be that way. With Bartimaeus, “My teacher, let me see again.”
We celebrate the saints also because they show us how to enact our Scriptures, and today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Confronting the modern pharaohs, he got it right: racism, poverty, militarism: profoundly interconnected. And he sought effective ways to challenge them. And he dreamed.