July 20, 2003 Exodus 7-10
Sometimes our God loves to reveal Himself in ways that would seem strange to us. The plagues that we are about to witness today reveal some of His power - the thunder and lightning and hail - these are things that we would EXPECT from God. But there are many times in history that God reveals Himself in strange ways. When God revealed Himself to Moses - He did it through a simple burning bush. As Moses headed off to free the Israelites - he told Moses just to bring his staff. Through that lifeless piece of wood God would reveal himself and free His people. When God chose to send His Son into the world to save it from it’s sin - he didn’t choose a palace or the bosom of a princess. Instead He chose the bosom of a poor and lowly maiden named Mary and a cattle stall. Instead of coming in glory and majesty - announced from the rooftops - He came in the dead of night. God revealed Himself in the flesh of a helpless baby. God still reveals Himself today through the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Amazing.
Today, what we want to look at - is not just how God revealed Himself through the many plagues that he performed on Egypt - in ways that we would expect. We also want to see how God revealed Himself in one of the strangest places ever - the heart of a heathen king named Pharaoh.
God Reveals Himself Through Pharaoh’s Heart
I. Pharaoh’s hard heart - the process
God said that out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Mt 15:19) Sometimes people are able to cover their hearts up pretty well with their words and actions - so we can’t see what they’re really made of. But today God takes us beyond the clothing and nice words of Pharaoh - opening up the inner recesses of Pharaoh - to his very heart. As we look at Pharaoh with God’s eyes, we will quickly realize what a stinking and rotten cesspool it really was.
Our story continues with Exodus 7. Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. (Exodus 7:10) Now, if someone walked up to you and did this, it would seem obvious that there was something strange about this person - that he had another power working through him. The same would go with the first plagues of turning a river to blood and having frogs show up all over the place. But Pharaoh wasn’t so easily impressed. It says that Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts. Somehow God allowed the Egyptians to also perform similar miracles with the snakes, the blood and the frogs. I would imagine that Pharaoh thought to himself, “that’s no big deal - these are just magic tricks.”
But every time that they were able to somehow imitate the miracles - their miracles were inferior. Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Even though the magicians were able to produce frogs, they weren’t able to take them away. So Pharaoh had to at least acknowledge the LORD. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the LORD to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.” (Ex 8:7-8) Finally, after being able to imitate the first three miracles, God had Moses produce gnats from the dust of the ground. But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. And the gnats were on men and animals. 19 The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”
In spite of all of these miraculous signs and the very testimony of his own magicians, how did Pharaoh continue to respond? Every time the LORD took away the plague, it says that Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen. (Ex 8:16-19) This is repeated several times throughout these first few plagues.
These next plagues would be even more miraculous in that God said - I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur tomorrow.’” (Exodus 8:22) By naming the TIME and PLACE - God showed that these were no mere natural abnormalities - they were signs from God. Every plague from here on in only hit the EGYPTIANS, and miraculously didn’t bother the Israelites. Another point to mention is that these plagues were becoming more and more personal and painful. There’s no way that Pharaoh could just ignore them like he did the Nile turning to blood. The first one was a plague of flies. We don’t know what kind of flies these were. One commentator speculated that they probably were “dog flies - which have special preference for eyes and eyelids inflicted painful bites and severe inflammation”. The second one was a pestilence that God says, All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. Pharaoh sent men to investigate and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. (Ex 9:6-7) Every kind of Egyptian animal died - it was a widespread and nearly complete annihilation of their flocks.
How did Pharaoh respond to these? Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go. (Ex 9:7). That word for “unyielding” can also mean “honor” and “glory”, but it’s root means to be heavy. When you put these two meanings together - you can see what happened to Pharaoh’s heart. Since Pharaoh was so full of his own honor and his own reputation that his heart was insensitive and dull - he was just a hard hearted fool.
This wonderful revelation from God of Pharaoh’s heart shows us how a hard heart works. It only acknowledges God when it absolutely has to - and when it does - it only does so to get a favor out of him. There are many modern day Pharaohs still in the world today. For instance, a drug addict will be in prison for a few months and say, “I need to get some religion in my life.” So they’ll take some Bible studies and learn about God for a while. They’ll go through their “programs” and get pronounced “healthy”. They’ll come up to you and say something like, “can you pray for me?” They’ll want to take a Bible class and may even start coming to worship. At first we are impressed and excited with the fact that they are coming. But in the end, all they are looking for is a quick fix - to use God to get their life back. God ISN’T impressed just because they may be throwing him a little carrot of respect. He doesn’t like it when people treat him like a Band-Aid and then throw him away when they’re done with him.
Pharaoh had every chance to repent and come to his senses. But he just wouldn’t have it. When you look at the progression here - you’ll notice who God blames for this hardening. Every time it says that PHARAOH hardened HIS heart. It was nobody’s fault but his own. Are you one of them? Do you keep on returning to the same vomit of sin that you vowed you’d never return to? Ultimately, you have nobody to blame but yourself. You may want to blame God for “making you this way”. You may want to blame your upbringing for the problems you have with your anger or your marriage. But that’s no excuse. You were baptized. All of your sins were washed away at the cross of Christ. You were given God’s Word. God worked a miracle in you by giving you faith in Christ and wiping your sins away. Don’t be like Pharaoh and ignore these obvious miracles. If you want to now live your life ignoring God’s will and His Word - and misusing the opportunities that God gives you - you won’t have anyone else to blame when your life falls apart. If you want to have premarital sex, get drunk, continue to slander others, and harden your heart against God’s will in your life, it won’t be God’s fault when end up under the eternal plague of hell. It will be yours.
II. God’s majestic name - the revelation
The problem comes for us when we see that prior to everything that Pharaoh does, God had already told Moses in Exodus 3:19 that I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. He then goes on to tell Moses in 7:3 that I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. (Ex 7:3-4) From here on in we see that after every plague that follows, “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Our reason then tells us, “if God is almighty and He knew that Pharaoh would harden his heart, then God must have WILLED that it happen! Pharaoh never had a chance. If God predicted beforehand that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart - what choice did Pharaoh have?” Our reason paints God as a God who had it out for Pharaoh from the get go.
However, this doesn’t mesh with the way God reveals Himself in His Word. He said in Ezekiel 18:23, Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Eze 18:23) Peter wrote, The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pe 3:9) If God doesn’t want ANYONE to perish, that would also have to include Pharaoh.
This is impossible for us really to comprehend - that if God is all powerful and he wants all men to be saved - then how come he doesn’t force it on people? How come he hardens Pharaoh’s heart? The strange thing about God is that even though He is almighty, He allows people to RESIST him. When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time, he cried out - “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. (Mt 23:37) Throughout the Scriptures God mourns over the fact that people are so stubborn and hard hearted - to resist his advances at establishing a relationship with him. After having been given six opportunities - Pharaoh shoved every one of them back in God’s face and only used God and lied to him in order to keep his kingdom. This didn’t make God happy. It saddened him.
So if God wouldn’t force Pharaoh to bow to Him, how would God respond? With a series of boils, hail, locusts and darkness - God showed Pharaoh exactly WHO He was. The LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24 hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. (Ex 9:23-24) The locusts covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt. (Ex 10:15) “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. (Ex 10:21-23). All of these plagues had reduced Pharaoh to an indecisive and weak leader. Finally he said to Moses - “The LORD be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. No! Have only the men go; and worship the LORD, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence. (Ex 10:10-11) Instead of letting them go, God drove Pharaoh’s heart into absolute stone - unable to come to repentance.
What did these plagues and this hardening reveal to us about God? Obviously, first of all, it reveals to us God’s power. God told Moses He did these things so that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.” (4:2) Every one of these plagues worked to set God apart from any god that the Egyptians had. They worshiped many different gods - gods of the sun, the river, the ground, even animals - and the LORD one by one destroyed everything that they trusted in. With these mighty plagues he declared to Pharaoh and the Israelites - “you want to KNOW who I AM? How’s this! I am the God of Light. I am the God of the wind. I am the God of the ground. I am the God of the river. I am the God of ALL things! I AM ALL POWERFUL.” This is something all of us need to know about our God - He is not one to be trifled with, lied to, or ignored. If you do, the lightning of His wrath will come on you.
But in Romans chapter 9 Paul also asks - What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory. (Ro 9:22-23) In a strange way, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart shows us God’s patience. The LORD said to Pharaoh and his officials, by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Ex 9:15-16) Instead of throwing Pharaoh away and destroying him immediately like he had every right to do - He would patiently allow Pharaoh to defy God so that God could reveal WHO He was. In a strange way, through Pharaoh’s hard heart God would reveal His power over nature and even man’s heart through Pharaoh’s heart.
Most importantly, God wasn’t just flexing His muscles to show off. He wasn’t just doing this to say, “see, look I am in charge of all things - I can even harden an evil king’s heart.” He was doing it to keep His promise. Long ago he had promised Abraham that “through his offspring all nations would be blessed.” God had promised Abraham that his offspring would inherit the Promised Land, and through that same offspring a Savior would be born. So here we witness the heart of God - one who would not allow an evil and hard hearted tyrant keep Him from keeping His promises. God was MORE DETERMINED to save the world through Christ than Pharaoh was on keeping the Israelites in Egypt. It reveals to us a God who is DETERMINED to save His people. That was his PRIMARY purpose in doing all this.
There once was a little three year old girl who had always enjoyed the soft and gentle voice of her father. In her eyes her father was the most loving and kind man in the world. She loved it when he held her in his arms and cradled her. In the eyes of the world, even though her father was very friendly, he was also very scary. He had huge muscles, stood 7’0" tall, and was known as a great warrior throughout the country. The enemies of his country hated this warrior, and one day decided to send a group of five men to try and take his daughter captive while the man was sleeping. However, just when they had gotten into his daughter’s bedroom, the huge father woke up. He came bursting into the bedroom, thoroughly beat the men and killed them, leaving a blood bath right in the daughter’s presence. Throughout this whole ordeal, the little three year old girl huddled in the corner - fearing for her life. When the slaughter was done, the father tenderly walked toward his daughter, but she at first cowered. She had never seen her father like that. She didn’t like it. Neither did he. So he gently talked to his daughter and said to her, “come here, my girl. I didn’t want to do that. But those men were bent on hurting you, and I just couldn’t allow that to happen.” With those gentle words, the girl came running into her father’s arms - and throughout the blood spattered on his face and hands - she found the same father that she had known and loved.
Whenever we see God’s wrath come crashing down, it is a scary sight. It’s scary to see him thunder and hail - pestilence - boils - and hardening a man’s heart. It’s even scarier to see the wrath of God come down on His only Son on the cross - to see the blood come pouring out of his hands - his feet nailed together - gasping for breath - and finally crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But after this terrifying ordeal, Jesus appears to us with his hands - still marked but freed of the stains - and holds out his hands to us and says, “I did this for you. Come here, my child.” With these words, God encourages us to come back to Him, our Father.
When push comes to shove, we need to remember WHY God does these things. It isn’t because His will is to kill people. His will is to SAVE people. But when hard hearted people like Pharaoh are absolutely hell bent on getting in God’s way - He has only one of two choices. Either destroy them immediately or keep them alive and use their evil to display His glory. This is what the LORD wants us to remember. He WANTS you to save the world. If the devil and his followers need to be destroyed and hardened in order to so, then God will do so. It’s this same God that promises us - you shall never perish; no one can snatch you out of my hand. (Jn 10:28). He will do all things necessary to keep us in the faith - to protect us - to keep us from falling - and bring us into the Promised Land. Isn’t this the kind of God we need? Like the scared little three year old girl, God wants us to run back into His arms and remember that He does these things to protect and deliver His children.
A long time ago one of prophet’s named Elijah had run from an evil Queen Jezebel who had threatened his life. After running for days and days, the word of the LORD came to him and said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Ki 19:11-13) Out of all of the ways that God could have appeared to Elijah - God chose the gentle whisper.
God chooses seemingly strange ways in which to reveal Himself. One of those ways is through Pharaoh’s heart. He revealed Himself as powerful, patient, a judge, but also a Savior. You may not understand this God. This God may not fit into your brain. But do you really want Him to? As Isaiah said, ‘Surely God is with you, and there is no other; there is no other god.’” Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel. (Is 45:14-15) We may not understand Him, but we still trust Him as a God who saves His people. In the end, that’s all we need to know. Amen.