Summary: God reveals himself as Yahweh to Pharaoh to show that he makes a distinction between Israel and Egypt, and that he can and will keep his promise to Abraham.
We’re studying verse-by-verse through Moses’ gospel, and so far we’ve seen that God commanded Moses to go to Egypt and demand Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery or suffer the consequences. Of course, Pharaoh refuses and makes their slavery harder, and they in turn blame Moses who then questions the prudence of having him, an outsider, leading God’s people in the first place. God responds in patience, and we learned through the genealogy last week that Moses was God’s priest by birth.
So, with everything established we now come to the next section in the study, and this is where the Exodus actually begins. Pharaoh won’t heed the natural and humanitarian preliminary pleas, so God will now demonstrate his mighty hand in rescuing his people by force.
As we go along I want to be careful to not give arbitrary meaning to some of the things that happened. God changed Moses’ staff into a serpent; maybe that’s because the symbol of Egyptian power was a serpent, and maybe it isn’t. The simple fact is that it isn’t stressed, and we're not even told. What we want to do is find the things that are mentioned and look at the big picture of the whole story. Ultimately, of course, we want to see the Exodus spiritually and in light of the New Covenant and see how it points us to Christ, and that’s going to be our guide as we interpret.
Let’s turn now to Exodus chapter seven and look at the first five verses which relate an encounter that serves as a prelude or an introduction to the plagues:
And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. 2Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.
It seems like strong language to say that Moses is made god to Pharaoh, but let’s consider two things: first, Moses is god in the sense of the model in which God speaks to his prophet and the prophet speaks to the people. Moses will do for Aaron what God does for Moses.
But I think there’s even more to it than that. Moses is a mediator for the people, and he stands between God and men. For Pharaoh Moses is a messenger of judgment and the one who prays for the judgments to cease. For Israel he is a savior, a lawgiver, a teacher, a priest, and one who prays on their behalf.
It’s not incidental that he promises that God will raise up a prophet like himself: one who will speak for the Father, warn of judgment, save his people, give them a new law, teach them, make atonement, and pray on their behalf. When Christ comes we see that he does all these things better than Moses ever could have, and that’s the spiritual application of the story.
The Exodus isn’t just Old Testament Jewish history; it’s a blueprint for what Christ does under the New Covenant and it explains his intent in saying, “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed” (Jn. 8:36). Christ has commanded our “Pharaoh” to let us go, and he stripped him of his power (the firstborn; Gen. 49:3; Ex. 4:23) to ensure he complied.
3And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. 4But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.
When I was a student at Liberty University, one of the professors downplayed this verse saying that God’s part in hardening Pharaoh’s heart was merely a response to what Pharaoh already had, but that misses the entire point. It was God’s will to multiply his signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. In other words, he didn’t want to do just one or two miracles, he wanted to do ten great judgments.
When he says, “Pharaoh will not hearken” it’s much more than just a prediction of what God knows will come; this is a proclamation according to design. “He will not hearken.” Why not? “That I may lay my hand upon Egypt.”
Yahweh wanted to utterly expose and exploit every weakness and prove Egypt incapable of defending itself against him, and Pharaoh resisted far beyond what was logical because his heart was supernaturally hardened. Moses and Paul both understood this, and each would later write, “for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Ex. 9:16; Rom. 9:17-18). Paul then adds, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (v. 19).