Exodus 7:1-10:29. Theme: Plagues.
Sermon by Pastor David Williams. Strathalbyn Church of Christ. 16 May 2021.
Pray: Speak to us in your word and through your spirit today LORD, Amen.
Who is the LORD that I should obey him?
Pharaoh asked, “Who is the LORD that I should obey him?” Exod. 5:2. Many ask the same question – “Who is the LORD that I should obey him? Of what possible relevance is God to my life?” they ask. As Christians we feel the need to defend him. Many think that God is arrogant, vengeful, or schizophrenic - that he became a Christian when Jesus turned up. Some think he is even evil.
What about us. We might also ask, “Who is the LORD that I should obey him?” What is your view of God? Do you have doubts about him – as he is portrayed in the Bible?
Let us recap. Israel had been living in slavery in Egypt. Moses came to Pharaoh and told him, “God says, ‘Let my people go’.” Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go?” 5:1-2.
Pharaoh said he did not know the LORD. Eighteen times in Exodus, there is a phrase about knowing God. This phrase is a central thread running through the book, “You shall know that I am the LORD”. And almost always this phrase is followed by God’s actions. God is known by his actions. So, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD…” When? “…when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them”, 7:5. Do you want to know God? Then look at what he has done. He is the God who delivers from slavery.
Ok, that’s what God plans. But there is a problem: Pharaoh. When first Moses came to him, Pharaoh said, “I do not know the LORD and will not let Israel go”. So, the stage is set. Will God’s promise be fulfilled? Will Pharaoh change his mind and let Israel go?
Moses fronts up to Pharaoh a second time. And things are not promising. Pharaoh wants a miracle, a test of strength (7:9). Whose God is strongest? Your God, Moses, or mine? There are 3 obstacles: It is on Pharaoh’s turf, in Egypt. Gods to the ancients were territorial. Why should the god of the Hebrews have any power here in Egypt?
Second, the test uses serpents. Serpents were a symbol of Egyptian royal power; the headdresses of the Pharaohs were adorned with serpent heads. Aaron’s staff became a serpent. So what? thought Pharaoh, my magicians can do the same. But Aaron’s staff then swallowed up the magicians’ staffs. This swallowing up would later happen to all Pharaoh’s army as the Red sea would swallow them up (15:12, same word).
The third obstacle: Pharaoh couldn’t care less. His heart was hardened (7:13). The serpent reminds us of the serpent in the garden – the deceiver who put into the heads of Adam and Eve that they could be like God – running their lives without him. Pharaoh is bent on running his life without God. “I do not know the LORD” he said. A later Pharaoh was to boast, “I made the Nile”, the source of life (Ezek. 29:3, 9).
The Nile was the source of life for all in Egypt. But it had become the place of death, when Pharaoh had the Hebrew boys thrown into it. Recalling those dead babies in the Nile, the first plague is of blood. This is a portent, a warning of the Egyptian blood that would fill the Red sea because of Pharaoh’s disobedience.
We lived on Lake Albert and many a time I can recall the stench of rotting fish cast up from a storm the previous night. Imagine the stench of the Nile, full of dead fish, full of blood. By this sign, Moses said to Pharaoh, “you will know that I am the LORD”, 7:17. But the magicians did the same, and again, Pharaoh couldn’t care less. “He went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart”, 7:23. He may not have cared, but think of the Egyptians, think of Mrs Pharaoh, “Hey Pharaoh, what’s wid dis stuff? Blood everywhere. Even in my Saucepan.”
There are ten plagues in all. The next is frogs. Again, picture Mrs Pharaoh, “C_an’t you do something about dese frogs. Frogs in my bed, in my oven. Hey, and whatz wid dese magicians. Whose side are they on? All dey do is toin up more serpents, more blood, more frogs. Whatz wid dese guys?”_ (you didn’t know the Egyptians spoke with a Brooklyn accent, did you!)
This time, Pharaoh seems to be softening, backing down. Pray for me, he said. “Plead with the LORD to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the LORD”, 8:8.
Here we learn something new of God. Moses says the frogs will go, “so that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God” 8:10_._ Forget your so-called gods, Pharaoh. There is **no one** like the LORD.
“But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said”, 8:15.
The next plague, Gnats, came from the dust of the earth. Now the earth, like the Nile, was the source of life. Man is made from dust, Genesis 2:7. But this source of life, the dust, now becomes hordes of annoying gnats. For the fourth time, the magicians appear – but this one beats them. “This is the finger of God”, they tell Pharaoh (8:19).
The ground – the land again – is next covered with flies.
But this time we have a distinction. The land of Goshen, where the Hebrew slaves lived, is untouched. God said_, “I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there”_. And why? “_that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth”,_ 8:22_._ So, God has started already to rescue his people, to protect them. He is not a faraway God. He is in the midst of the earth, and in the midst of his people.
Now Pharaoh tries to bargain with God. Yes, Israel can go, but “stay in the land”, or “don’t go very far” (8:25, 28). But again, as soon as the flies were taken away, so Pharaoh’s heart hardened.
The pressure is mounting. Up till now, things have been inconvenient. But with the next plague - on livestock, their livelihoods are threatened. Again, a distinction is made with the Hebrews. This time Pharaoh gets his servants to check, and “not one of the livestock of Israel was dead”, 9:7.
Next, the plagues begin to hurt their bodies as festering boils break out. And the magicians are utterly helpless as boils break out on them too (9:11).
So far, we have had six plagues. The first three focused on the magicians, the next on the way Israel is treated differently. In the final plagues, there will be a great escalation, with catastrophic life-threatening events.
The hail is unlike anything yet seen. The hail destroyed “both man and beast”, even “every tree”, 9:25”. Here we see the power of God as creator using the heavens to bring judgment.
Who is the LORD? Rightly he is now described as the LORD of “all the earth”. He is not some local territorial god. He controls the very heavens. He is LORD of all the earth. “For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth”, 9:14. And after it ceases, “there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s”, 9:29.
But there is mercy here. God is sending these plagues and ramping up the pressure so that people will turn. There are three indications of his mercy, his patience:
1. He didn’t wipe out everything at once. The wheat was late in germinating, 9:32.
2. He said, “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth”, 9:15_._ Instead of one act of annihilation, he has sent ten plagues giving them a chance to repent.
3. Moses warned the servants of Pharaoh, and “those who feared the Word of the LORD” responded and led their livestock to safe shelter, 9:19-21.
Pharaoh seems to respond with a genuine confession! No playing with God this time, no conditions: “This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer”, 9:27-28. But as soon as the hail went, so did Pharaoh’s change of heart.
Out of what was left, the wheat, the broken trees – the next plague of locusts brought complete devastation. They were so thick you couldn’t even see the land. The servants complained – “Let the Hebrews go … Egypt is ruined”, 10:7. What could be worse than that? Well the 9th plague was. Darkness.
Now the very order of creation was being reversed. Pharaoh had opposed God’s plan. God commanded Adam, be fruitful and multiply. And he promised to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sand and the stars. But Pharaoh was trying to bring genocide on the Hebrews. He was a threat to God’s plan. Pharaoh had wanted to run Egypt without God, he was getting his wish. God’s good creation was reverting to chaos. Instead of water bringing life it brought death. Instead of mankind having dominion over the animals, the animals – frogs and insects – had overrun them. Instead of separation of light from darkness, the darkness now overcame the light. This was no ordinary darkness. It was a darkness to be felt. The darkness of the grave. For three days, there was the terror of this darkness.
As you would expect, Pharaoh is totally exasperated. To Moses he says, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” With great irony, “Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again”, 10:28-29.
10 First born
The point of these plagues is to lead up to the final plague, the death of the firstborn and then the Exodus – the escape from slavery that would follow. This deserves a sermon on itself and will be covered next week.
1. Teach your children
What are these acts of judgement here? It may surprise you – so that you may teach your children. Why? So that they will know the LORD is God. This is the one command addressed to Israel here – and to us.
“Then God said to Moses, “Go into Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD”, 10:1-2.
We are to teach our children and grandchildren that God judges. Why? So they may know that he is the LORD of all the earth. Wont they have nightmares? Wont they end up as twisted psychopaths? Children are a lot more resilient that we give them credit for.
“Where the Wild Things are”, a picture book of monsters is regularly voted as the no. 1 favourite children’s book. Kids are gripped by such stories. Fear is a reality for kids. But you want them to have a healthy fear. Fear the LORD – the LORD who made them and the LORD who has rescued them from death. That is a good fear to have, to fear the one who can save them from all fear, from the fear of death. So yes, teach the acts of God’s judgment. You will probably need an adult’s bible though. Children’s bibles often leave the hard bits out.
2. Don’t do a Pharaoh – don’t harden your heart
Are you like Pharaoh? Do you ignore God’s judgments? You just read the comforting bits. Some think the whole Old Testament is about a God of wrath and won’t read it. When we leave out judgment, we don’t just leave out parts of the Old Testament, like Noah’s flood. We must take out lots of the New Testament too. For starters, we need to take out the cross. We also need to take out almost every parable of Jesus. Almost every parable has judgment in it. If you believe in a God who does not judge, you are breaking the first two commandments. You have made a god in your own image.
1. What do we make of this God?
God would never get an interview on the ABC! Here is a list of the things God would need to change if he is ever to get an interview on the ABC.
- He makes distinctions, elects and chooses
- He hardens hearts
- He judges
- He destroys innocent creatures – trees, livestock, first born children.
So, what do we do then? Do we just swallow hard and say, “Ok, big guy, you win! I can’t argue with you”.
God does not delight in violence, in blood. Time and again, he relented. He reversed the plagues whenever Pharaoh showed even a half-hearted change of mind. As for God making distinctions, do you know why? It is so that others can be saved. The Egyptians looked on Israel’s good fortune and many said, “we want to go with these guys!” Israel was _“a light to the Gentiles” (_Isa. 42:6). It was for the salvation of the nations that Israel was chosen – not so they could enjoy living in a holy huddle.
“Who is the LORD that we should obey him?” Remember I said, God is known – he reveals himself by his actions. On a weekend many years ago, he revealed his heart. He showed himself as the God of compassion – also the God who is judge, who destroys the innocent, who makes distinctions. He made a distinction between us and his son. Instead of destroying us, the rebels, his own innocent son died. He judged and condemned our sin in him. All he does, he does with an eye on rescuing. Not all will be – some like Pharaoh harden their heart. Some will truly repent – like the servants who went with Israel. But some will stay hardened. God will not overrule. How? Why? – God knows. I don’t. What I do know is that I can trust him completely because his love has been shown by his actions. It is real.
2. Why is God so concerned for his image?
He criticised Pharaoh for exalting himself, yet that is precisely what God himself is doing. “But for this purpose, I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go”, 9:16-17.
God condemned Pharaoh for exalting himself. Instead, God insisted that “My name may be proclaimed in all the earth”. That sounds worse than a Hollywood celebrity, doesn’t it? Is God on some huge ego trip? He would be if he were like us. But he is stating the truth – there is no one like him in all the earth, and it would be useful if everyone knew this. Indeed, not just useful but essential. To know God is life. “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent - Jesus Christ”, Jn 17:3.
Pray: Thankyou LORD that you have revealed yourself, that we may know you, in the cross. There we see your compassion, your rescue of us from the slavery of sin. Help us to give ourselves to you in worship, in service. Amen.
· Conversations with Rev Chris Jolliffe, Trinity Aldgate.
· Fretheim, T. E. (2010). Exodus. Louisville, Ky: Westminster.
· Reid, A. (2013). Exodus: Saved for service. Sydney: Aquila Press