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8. Exalt the Lord God! (Exodus 8-10)

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March 25, 2018

Life of Moses (8)

“Frank and Ernest” (cartoon by Bob Thaves, 10/4/95) are standing before a scowling St. Peter at the gate into heaven. Clueless Ernie has on a T-shirt that reads, “Question Authority.” Frank whispers to him, “If I were you, I’d change my shirt, Ernie.”

Good advice! At times we may challenge some human authority, but when it comes to the Almighty Lord God, who spoke the universe into existence by His word alone, who will judge the thoughts and intentions of all the living and dead, it’s not wise to oppose Him! There is no one anywhere like the Lord God (Exod. 8:10; 9:14). The whole earth belongs to Him (Exod. 9:29). He is able to command everything from the smallest bacteria to powerful hailstorms to blacking out the sun. The plagues that God brought on Egypt because of Pharaoh’s hard heart teach us:

Because the sovereign Lord God will be exalted over all, it is foolish to harden your heart against Him.

The Lord tells Moses to tell Pharaoh why He is inflicting these plagues on Egypt (Exod. 9:16-17), “But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go.” There are two main lessons:

1. The Lord God will be exalted over all because He is sovereign over all.

The plagues reveal God’s sovereignty in three broad areas:

A. The Lord God is sovereign over His creation.

The Egyptians, like all idolaters, worshiped the creation but not the Creator. They had gods that supposedly had influence over different aspects of life. So in the plagues, God challenged Egypt’s gods, showing His absolute superiority and sovereignty over them. Last week we looked at the first plague, turning the Nile into blood, which confronted the Egyptian god of the Nile. God is the sovereign over the Nile.

The Egyptians had a goddess of birth that had a frog head. So in the second plague, God brought frogs to the land. From a distance, this plague is humorous, but it wouldn’t have been funny to be invaded by swarms of frogs. There were frogs in all the houses (including Pharaoh’s palace), frogs in bedrooms and on beds, and frogs in kitchens. As a woman went to make bread, frogs were hopping into the dough! When she went to put the dough in the oven, frogs were in the oven! Wherever you walked, you stepped on frogs. You couldn’t get away from the slimy, croaking creatures! And the Egyptians couldn’t kill them because they were gods! But the point is, God is sovereign over frogs. Pharaoh’s demonically-powered magicians could bring forth frogs, but they couldn’t get rid of them. Only God could do that. But then there were stinking dead frogs everywhere!

The third plague of gnats (or mosquitoes or lice) came without warning. Whatever they were, they were all over people and animals (Exod. 8:17). They were in people’s eyes, noses, and ears. The closest Marla and I have come to anything like this was hiking in Alaska. We had nets over our faces and our entire bodies covered, but the mosquito swarms were so thick that you couldn’t think about anything else. This plague may have been an assault on Pharaoh, whom Egyptians believed had the power to maintain the cosmic order (Philip Ryken, Exodus [Crossway], p. 241). Or, it may have been directed against the Egyptian priests, who prided themselves on purity with frequent washings, shavings, and linen robes (John Hannah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. by John F. Walvoord & Roy Zuck [Victor Books], 2:123). Here, Pharaoh’s magicians were stymied. They had to acknowledge (Exod. 8:19), “This is the finger of God.” He is sovereign over tiny insects.

The fourth plague was flies (Exod. 8:21). The Hebrew term could refer to several different kinds of flying insects. They may have been blood-sucking flies, like the black flies that we have encountered on backpacking trips. But whatever they were, they were all over Egypt. But in this plague, God protected the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived (Exod. 8:22-23). This plague may have shown God’s superiority over the Egyptian god Baalzebub, which means, “lord of the flies” (Ryken, pp. 249-250). He was supposed to protect the land from such infestations. But God is sovereign over such false gods.

The fifth plague killed the Egyptian livestock, striking a blow at many Egyptian gods and goddesses, depicted as cows. The bull was worshiped as a fertility god. Isis, the queen of the gods, was depicted with horns on her head (Ryken, pp. 262-263). But God created all livestock and is sovereign over them. Some ask how, if God killed all the livestock in this plague, there were still livestock to protect from the hail (Exod. 9:19). Either the word “all” (Exod. 9:6) means, “a great number,” or the plague killed all the animals in the fields (Exod. 9:3), but not those who were in shelters.

The sixth plague reveals God’s sovereignty over bacteria and disease: He struck the Egyptians and their surviving animals with painful boils (Exod. 9:8-12). The symbolic action of Moses and Aaron throwing soot from a kiln into the air may have pictured Israel’s bondage as brick-makers as the reason for Egypt’s plagues (Walter Kaiser, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], ed. by Frank Gaebelein, 2:359). The boils may have been skin anthrax (Ryken, p. 270), but whatever it was, it involved painful skin sores. This plague demonstrated God’s superiority over several Egyptian gods of healing. Pharaoh’s magicians were incapable of overcoming this plague because they themselves were infected with boils.

The seventh plague consisted of the worst hailstorm in Egyptian history (Exod. 9:18-26). Again, the area where the Israelites dwelled was spared. Some of Pharaoh’s servants were getting the message! They feared the Lord and brought their people and animals inside (Exod. 9:20). But along with many human and animal deaths, most of Egypt’s crops were destroyed. God demonstrated His sovereignty over the Egyptian storm gods.

The eighth plague brought locusts so thick that no one could see the land (Exod. 10:5). They ate everything that the hail hadn’t destroyed. This humiliated Egypt’s god of the crops and the fields, as well as the god of the sky. Years ago, a locust swarm 1,200 miles wide was seen over the ocean flying from West Africa to Great Britain. In one photo taken from the air, you couldn’t see any piece of open ground in an area 2,000 miles square (Charles Swindoll, Moses [Thomas Nelson], p. 186). A recent locust infestation in Dagestan, Russia, covered 270,000 square miles. God is sovereign over all of His creation!

The ninth plague consisted of dense darkness over the land, described as “darkness which may be felt” (Exod. 10:21). This plague showed God’s sovereignty over the Egyptian sun god. Many ancient Egyptian texts identified Pharaoh with the sun god (Ryken, p. 304). Some commentators think that the darkness was caused by a severe dust storm, but the description seems to go beyond this. The Egyptians couldn’t see one another or go outside, but the Israelites had light (Exod. 10:23). This plague had obvious spiritual significance: darkness represents the sin and spiritual blindness of those in Satan’s domain, whereas light represents God’s holiness and the spiritual sight granted to those who know Him (John 3:19-21; 8:12; Eph. 4:18; 5:8-13; Col. 1:13; 1 John 1:5-7).

So the main point of all the plagues is that God is sovereign over His creation. He controls everything from the tiniest germs and bugs to thunderstorm and the sun. He rules His creation!

B. The Lord God is sovereign over people.

God hardens whom He desires and shows mercy to whom He desires (Rom. 9:18). But we need to understand that He wasn’t hardening the heart of someone who otherwise would have believed. Even John Calvin, noted for his emphasis on God’s sovereign election, states that God didn’t harden a heart otherwise given to obedience; rather, He hardened a reprobate who was willfully devoted to his own destruction (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 210). This is a mystery that no one can understand completely, but we must hold two truths in tension: God is sovereign over all; and, people are responsible for their sin. If you let go of either truth, you’re out of balance.

This tension is clearly seen in the death of Jesus Christ. God predestined Christ to die for our sins before the foundation of the world. This means that God ordained that Judas would betray Jesus, the sinful Jewish leaders would arrest and abuse Him, and Pilate would give Him over to be crucified. But even though these things were foreordained, the wicked people who killed Jesus were responsible for their horrible crimes. As Peter preached (Acts 2:23), “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Or, as the early church prayed (Acts 4:27-28), “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Jesus was predestined to die, but those who did it were evil men, responsible for their sin.

In the plagues on Egypt, God sovereignly determined to spare Israel at least in the plagues of flies (Exod. 8:22-23), the death of livestock (Exod. 9:4-6), the hail (Exod. 9:26), the darkness (Exod. 10:23), and finally in the death of the firstborn (Exod. 11:7). Why did He do this? Clearly, it wasn’t because Israel deserved His favor, while Egypt deserved His judgment. Everyone deserves God’s judgment for their sins! God isn’t obligated to spare anyone. But, in mercy, He chooses to save some. If He has saved you, be thankful, be in awe, and worship Him!

C. The Lord God will be exalted both in judging the wicked and in saving His people.

These ten plagues on Egypt are a merciful warning to everyone who hears about them that God is holy and He will bring terrifying, final judgment on all who harden their hearts in rebellion against Him. In Revelation 6:12-14, John describes the cataclysmic destruction when the sixth seal was broken: a great earthquake, the sun became black, the moon became like blood, the stars fell to the earth, the sky was split apart, and mountains and islands were moved out of their places. Then everyone from great kings to lowly slaves cried out to the mountains and to the rocks (Rev. 6:16-17), “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

The Book of Revelation reveals that many of these same plagues that were inflicted on Egypt will be poured out on the earth during the great tribulation: Water will be turned to blood (Rev. 8:8; 16:4-5). There will be frogs (Rev. 16:13); locusts (Rev. 9:3); boils (Rev. 16:2); hail (Rev. 8:7); and darkness (Rev. 9:2; 16:10). God’s righteousness will be glorified by His judging the wicked and His grace by saving His people. Thus,

2. It is foolish to harden your heart against the sovereign, exalted Lord God.

There are four truths to consider here:

A. The sovereign, exalted Lord God will answer the prayers of those who sincerely call upon Him.

If you wonder, “How can I be saved?” the Bible promises (Rom. 10:13), “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It promises (John 3:16), “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Don’t trust in yourself or your good deeds. Trust in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as the sufficient and final payment for your sins. As Paul states (Rom. 4:5), “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

In these plagues, Pharaoh’s hardened heart caused him repeatedly to promise to let Israel go, only to go back on his word. But in spite of this, Moses repeatedly asked God to lift the plagues and He mercifully did each time, except for the final plague of the death of the firstborn. That is a picture of God’s mercy to rebellious sinners. Perhaps they promise Him, “Get me out of this problem and I’ll serve You,” only to renege on their pledge. Again and again He spares them from judgment. But, someday the final plague of death will come. Hebrews 9:27 warns, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Since you don’t know when you’ll die, it’s not wise to delay. “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor. 6:2).

B. The sovereign, exalted Lord God knows your heart, so beware of superficial repentance.

At first, the arrogant Pharaoh said to Moses (Exod. 5:2), “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord ….” But through the plagues, he was getting to know something about the Lord, even though he never came to know Him personally. Pharaoh was still a polytheist, but as God dominated and humiliated Egypt’s various gods through the plagues, at least Pharaoh knew that the Lord is more powerful than all of his gods. By God’s relieving each of the first nine plagues in response to his pleas, Pharaoh knew that God is both powerful and merciful to those who call out to Him.

So Pharaoh knew about God and he even professed repentance more than once. After the plague of hail, Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and said (Exod. 9:27), “I have sinned this time; the Lord is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones.” But after the plague was lifted, we read (Exod. 9:34), “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.” After the plague of locusts, Pharaoh again professed repentance (Exod. 10:16-17), “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. Now therefore, please forgive my sin only this once, and make supplication to the Lord your God, that He would only remove this death from me.” But his heart was still hardened so that he didn’t let Israel go (Exod. 10:20, 27).

One clue that Pharaoh’s repentance was superficial is that he wanted to work out a deal with God’s demand to let Israel go. First, he told Moses (Exod. 8:25), “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” “Don’t go far away” (Exod. 8:28). In other words, “You can worship your God; just remain my slaves!” Then, after the locust plague, Pharaoh told Moses that the men could go if they left their wives and children in Egypt (Exod. 10:10-11). That way, he knew that the men would come back under his rule. After the plague of darkness, Pharaoh agreed to let Israel go, even with their children, but only if they left their flocks and herds behind (Exod. 10:24). He acknowledged that he had sinned, but he was bargaining with God. He wanted relief from the consequences of his sin, but when he got relief, he went back to his sin. That’s superficial repentance.

Moses nailed Pharaoh’s problem when he said (Exod. 9:30), “But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.” Genuine repentance stems from fearing God. It’s a matter of the heart, not of outward profession when you’re just trying to get out of a jam. Since God knows every thought and intention of your heart, you can’t fake repentance. It can’t be partial or for selfish purposes. It has to be total surrender to the Lord, where you turn from your sin and seek to obey Him from the heart. Pharaoh’s superficial repentance also shows that …

C. If you fight against the sovereign, exalted Lord God, you will lose.

Pharaoh was the most powerful monarch on earth and Egypt was a prosperous nation, but they weren’t a match for the Lord God. The Lord told Moses (Exod. 10:1-2) that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart and his servants’ hearts to make a mockery of him. That reminds me of Psalm 2, where the kings of the earth take their stand against the Lord and His Messiah. But God’s response is (Ps. 2:4), “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.”

The Bible is replete with stories of those who proudly tried to win against the sovereign, exalted Lord God, but who lost in the end. Read the Book of Revelation. Just before judgment falls, the world’s rulers and business leaders are living in luxury, seemingly prospering without God. But then in one hour their great wealth is laid waste (Rev. 18:16-19). God always wins big time in the end. If you fight against Him, you may do well for a while, but in the end, you will lose everything forever!

Thus, the sovereign, exalted Lord God will answer the prayers of those who sincerely call upon Him. He knows your heart, so beware of superficial repentance. If you fight against Him, you will lose every time. So the best plan is to submit your heart to Him.

D. The goal of submitting to the sovereign, exalted Lord God is that you and your children might worship and serve Him.

Moses repeatedly tells Pharaoh that he should let Israel go so that they could serve the Lord (Exod. 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 24-26). The Lord told Moses that one reason for these plagues was (Exod. 10:2), “that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.”

To lead God’s people out of Egypt so that they could serve and worship the Lord, Moses had to resist Pharaoh’s repeated attempts to get him to compromise. Pharaoh wanted Israel to sacrifice in the land, which would not have allowed them to be separate from Egypt (Exod. 8:25). Satan is all for religion as long as it accepts other religions and doesn’t insist that Jesus is the only way to God. Pharaoh would allow Israel to go, but not far away (Exod. 8:28). In other words, Satan says, “You can go worship your God, but you’re still my slave. You can be a Christian, but don’t be too different from the world!” Moses also had to resist Pharaoh’s proposal that the men go, but leave their wives and children behind (Exod. 10:8-11). The enemy loves to divide families.

Finally, Moses had to resist Pharaoh’s ploy to let Israel go, but not take their animals for sacrifice (Exod. 10:24). The enemy if okay if we “worship God,” but just without that blood sacrifice stuff: “You don’t need the blood of Jesus. Just follow His moral teaching and example of love.” But without the cross of Christ and His resurrection from the dead, there is no salvation. Thankfully, Moses was uncompromising with Pharaoh (Exod. 10:26): “not a hoof shall be left behind.” The goal of submitting to the sovereign, exalted Lord God is that you and your children and your grandchildren might worship and serve Him. To do that, you can’t compromise with the world. You must follow the Lord totally.

Conclusion

Hopefully, God has not inflicted anything comparable to these horrible plagues on you, but everyone goes through trials. Some face severe trials. How should you respond? First, don’t respond as Pharaoh did when he brazenly said (Exod. 5:2, paraphrased), “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice? I don’t know the Lord, and I’m not going to obey!” And, don’t imitate Pharaoh with superficial “repentance” just to get out of the trial, but then go back to your old ways. Fighting against God is foolish, because He is going to win big time in the end! God brings trials into our lives so that we will grow in faith and holiness as we submit to His mighty hand (Heb. 12:9-11; 1 Pet. 5:6-11).

Just as God sent Moses to deliver Israel from physical slavery, He sent Jesus to deliver us from slavery to sin. Jesus said (John 8:34), “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” He invites everyone enslaved to sin (Matt. 11:28), “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” He can set us free from sin (John 8:36). Don’t ignore or reject His loving, gracious offer!

Application Questions

  1. A skeptic says, “If God is sovereign over natural disasters, then He is unloving for killing innocent people.” Your reply?
  2. How would you answer a critic who said, “If God ordained Jesus’ death on the cross, then He is responsible for sin”?
  3. One well-known Christian writer argued that if God is able to save everyone, but only saves some, He is immoral and unjust. How would you rebut this?
  4. How can a person know whether his repentance is genuine or superficial? What are the marks of true repentance?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God

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