The “Does God Exist?” ministry is concerned about education. We try to draw on factual evidence and the best scholarship available to inform people who are willing to learn, but we do not claim to know all the answers. Much of the disagreement between atheists and believers is rooted in misunderstandings by both. One misconception involves pyramids and bricks.
We recently heard an atheist rant about the fact that there is no evidence that the Israelites built the pyramids. He claimed that proved the Bible stories about Joseph, Moses, and the exodus were all just silly myths. There are several mistakes in that statement. First of all, it is true that the Israelites did not build the pyramids. The pyramids were built hundreds of years before the time of Abraham. They were made of native stone and were built by native Egyptians who specialized in stone construction. There are even inscriptions on some of the pyramid stones identifying the primary engineer of the structure. Stone was used because it was permanent and not affected by weather or environmental change.
other building material used in Egypt was mudbricks made from Nile
alluvium which contained clay and sand. The amount of clay determined
the properties of the bricks. If the amount of clay was low, the
bricks tended to fall apart. By adding straw, the clay content could
be low, and the bricks would not fall apart as they dried. Making
bricks was a job done by slaves. Slaves were not allowed on the
pyramids because of the significance of the structure, but they made
bricks for use in building storage depots and other logistical
Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites built “storage cities” for the Pharaoh. In Exodus 5:7-13, we read of the Israelites being told that straw for the bricks would not be made available to them. There are reliefs found in many places in Egypt that show slaves gathering straw, making bricks, and building temples and houses with them. The evidence indicates what the Bible says about brick-making is correct. We should not confuse stone pyramids and bricks.
Biblical Archaeology Reviewhas published several articles on brick construction and Israelite slavery. See “With and Without Straw: How Israelite Slaves Made Bricks” in March/April 2014. Also, “Brick by Brick” in the Spring issue 2020 pages 54-57.
In Genesis 8 we read about a plague against Pharaoh that involved frogs. The frogs came upon the land of Egypt in such numbers that they got into everything, including beds and food preparation areas. Verse 5 indicates that this abundance of fogs came from the rivers, ponds and streams. Is a plague of frogs possible?
Skeptics have suggested that such an event is not possible. They have even suggested that this is just an attempt at humor by the biblical writers. Preachers have generally just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, God can do anything.”
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, recently experienced a mini-plague. In March of 2019, people awoke to an infestation of thousands of baby bufo toads covering the city. There were so many that one resident described it as a plague of frogs “covering every square inch. You couldn’t walk through grass without stepping on one.”
A singe female frog can produce a vast number of eggs. It isn’t hard to visualize how this plague could happen. Like all of the plagues directed at the Pharaoh, the message is more important than trying to figure out how the plague was accomplished. But, of course, “God can do anything that is according to His will and nature.”
Yesterday we began to consider Exodus 4:21 which says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. What did God mean when He told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart? Can we see how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened?
Pharaoh was a political leader whose kingdom was under siege. He would obviously be on an emotional and intellectual roller coaster. God simply allowed Pharaoh to see the cost of letting the slaves go. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by strengthening his resolve as a political leader to realize what was happening. It made Pharaoh strong intellectually and emotionally, but that doesn’t mean he was a robot with no choice in the matter. He would not want his people to see him as a weak, condescending ruler giving in to a bunch of slaves over things his own court magicians could do. At least in the beginning, Pharaoh would become strong, hard, and determined to stop Moses. That is how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.
Let me give you a personal parallel. Many years ago my wife Phyllis and I made arrangements to adopt a child. After a month or so, we saw that the child had many congenital problems including blindness, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, a form of muscular dystrophy, and mental retardation. Our awareness of all of this came one step at a time beginning with blindness and ending seven years later with a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy and schizophrenia. By law, the adoption agency was obligated to take the child back. However, we could choose to go ahead with the adoption.
My heart and my wife’ heart softened and hardened. Mine more than hers. My atheist parents tried everything to make us give up the child. They even threatened the agency with a lawsuit if they didn’t forcibly take him from us. My fellow teachers almost universally told me I would be crazy to keep the child. Close friends showed me what keeping him would mean financially, socially, and professionally. My heart was hardened to the point that one afternoon I put him in the car seat and prepared to return him to the adoption agency.
I started the car and then decided to pray about what I was doing. At that point, a Christian brother walked up to the car and began to talk about what might be possible. Could this baby be a messenger to the blind? Could I walk down the street 20 years in the future, see a blind man and wonder if it was the child I gave up. I realized my heart had been hardened. It was not hardened by God, but by all of the world that surrounded me.
One of the interesting studies of the Old Testament is the account of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Moses, and God. In Exodus 4:21 we read that, “The Lord said to Moses when you go to return to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” What does it mean that God hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?
There are numerous cases throughout the Bible where the hardening of the heart is an issue. Is God making Pharaoh a robot with no choice but to make the catastrophic decision not to allow the Israelites to leave? Does God make a person’s heart hard and then send them to hell because of their hard heart? How can that picture be harmonized with the concept of a loving and kind God who wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, what does that mean and how did it happen?
Like a lot of questions about God and the Bible, we can answer this at least in part by a careful study of the meaning of the biblical words. The first word we need to understand is the word “heart” which is the Hebrew leb or lebab. In 1 Samuel 25:37 we read about a man named Nabal, and we are told his heart died within him and he became as a stone. In 2 Samuel 18:14 we see Joab thrusting three darts through the heart of Absalom. In 2 Kings 9:24 Jehu shoots an arrow at Jehoram and hits him in the heart. The word heart is used in a physical sense 29 times. However, most biblical uses of the word “heart” do not involve the organ that beats in our chest.
Proverbs 23:7 gives us a different use: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. He tells you to eat and drink, but his heart is not with you.” The Bible uses the word heart 257 times referring to personality characteristics, and 166 times it refers to states of consciousness. First Samuel 1:8 says, “Hannah, why do you weep, and why is your heart grieved?” Heart refers to intellectual activities such as in 1 Kings 3:9 where God gave Solomon an understanding heart. We find the word used 195 times referring to volition or purpose. In 1 Samuel 2:35 we read, “And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in my heart and my mind.”
The other keyword to understand in this discussion is the word “hardened” which is the Hebrew chazaq which means “to make strong.” Normally this word describes things that make us insensitive. Hebrews 3:13 tells us that we can “be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” and verse 8 and 4:7 indicate humans choose to do the hardening. Job says he was hardened in sorrow in Job 6:10. Daniel 5:20 talks about a king’s heart being lifted up and his mind hardened by pride. Psalms 95:8 indicates we can harden our own hearts and references the Israelites in the wilderness as an example. Nehemiah talks about Israel hardening their necks and their rebellion against God.