Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. Chapter 11 delves into the tenth and final plague: the slaying of Egypt’s first born. It also
touches on Pharaoh’s obstinacy, before relating Moses’ and Aaron’s pivotal roles in the Exodus.
“And God said unto Moses: Pharaoh will not hearken unto you, that My
wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. And Moses and Aaron
did all these wonders before Pharaoh. And God hardened Pharoah’s
heart, and he did not let the Children of Israel go out of his land.”
Abravanel seeks clarification of our verse. Specifically, why does there appear a repetition and rehashing
of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, leading to God’s pronouncement of punishment: “That My wonders may be
multiplied in the land of Egypt” The sentence’s verb is conjugated in future tense: “That My wonders
may be multiplied…” Yet, the Maker had already dished out all ten plagues.
So, Abravanel asks what else was in store for Pharaoh and Egypt? Moreover, the very next verse informs
Bible students that Moses and Aaron completed their tasks: “And Moses and Aaron did all these
wonders before Pharaoh.”
Abravanel explains the import of our verses. Readers should not walk away from the Exodus narrative
with incorrect conclusions. Abravanel focuses first on Pharaoh’s intransigence. God had foreseen this
well in advance, and informed His purpose in bringing the plagues, “that My wonders may be multiplied
in the land of Egypt.”
Next, Bible students should not incorrectly deduce that Moses and Aaron had been careless or
negligent in performing their jobs and thereby contributed to Pharaoh’s constant backpedaling. Actually,
wonders and miracles adhered to the Maker’s playbook to a T, attesting to both prophets’ alacrity and
proficiency. Notwithstanding, all of Moses’ warnings fell on deaf ears.
This brings us to the chapter’s closing verse: “And God hardened Pharaoh’s heart…” Abravanel
interprets the oft-quoted description of the king’s bullheadedness. It teaches that God endowed
Pharaoh with stamina and a stout heart. Like a mighty warrior, the king mustered inner resolve to
withstand relentless and mounting battering implicit in the plagues.
Pharaoh’s recalcitrance, then, had nothing to do with God withholding the opportunity for the king to
repent his sins. The Creator did, however, imbue Pharaoh with a heart of indomitable will. With it, Egypt’s king chose evil. Nothing could sway Pharaoh from parting with his Hebrew servants…except for a series of debilitating plagues.