Exodus 7:8-13 - Proof Given

March 30, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 7:8–7:13

[Text: Exodus 7:8-13] “Proof Given”

When our God does something new, he always gives signs along with it. The signs prove that what he says and what he’s doing is trustworthy. But what happens if we ignore the proof and go on with life as if God hasn’t done anything?

[Pray – Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept you Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it. Gracious Father, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded; through Christ our Lord. Amen.]

[Read Exodus 7:8-13]

Two weeks ago, Jenny turned the key and the engine didn’t start. So, my phone rang. “Can you come jump start the car,” she asked. That question was asked twice that day and we knew that we had to do something. Maybe it was the battery. But maybe it was the alternator. I didn’t know, so I made a call to someone I hoped I could trust – Dave.

Adam and Laura recommended him, actually, and a recommendation for a mechanic goes a long way with me. Maybe I’ve seen too many of those Dateline expose’ shows on TV, but I confess an inherent distrust of car mechanics. It’s not them, it’s me, I know. But when I’ve got a broken car and I’m at their mercy, trust doesn’t come easy.

But Dave proved I could trust him that day. I described the sounds and situation over the phone. And instead of telling me he’d “look at it” for $70; instead of diagnosing a $300 alternator swap, Dave kindly said, “Just take it to the parts store and get a new battery. That’s all it needs.” With those few words, I had the proof I needed that I could trust Dave because he put me ahead of his wallet.

When someone proves they’re trustworthy, I’m ready to listen to just about anything they say. When Dave said, “Get a new battery,” I said, “Done.” If Dave says tomorrow, “It needs a new transmission,” I’ll say, “Ouch…but okay.” Because he’s proved himself, I’ll listen to him.

We’re entering into a long section where time and time again, YHWH gives proof through Moses and Aaron that something new has come. And everyone needed to listen.

Aaron’s staff turns into a serpent. The plagues that come after this. All these are proofs, neon arrows pointing to the reality that YHWH is on the move to rescue his people. The proofs point to the reliability of the message, to the authority of Moses and Aaron as spokesmen for YHWH. Ultimately, the proofs point to the trustworthiness of YHWH himself. This God who speaks is worthy of our ears.

It’s easy to see that this proof was meant for Pharaoh. He wanted to see proof of why he should listen to Moses. And seeing Aaron’s serpent devour those of his magicians should have convinced him to listen to YHWH. We’ll talk about why it didn’t in a minute. But first, think for a moment why this story was told to the first audience. The Israelites of the exodus, walking out of Egypt toward Sinai to meet with YHWH, heard this story of staffs and serpents and proof given. They needed to know if they could trust this God and trust his messengers, Moses and Aaron. And so, this proof (and all that follows) was meant to convince them of YHWH’s trustworthiness. Through this first proof, Israel could walk confidently, convinced they could listen to him. He’d proved himself.

Today, people still want proof of God – proof that he can be trusted, proof that we should listen to him. But what we often forget (or ignore, or diminish, or mythologize, or ridicule) is that God has already given one final, grand proof to convince us of the truth we call the Gospel. It’s the proof meant to convince us of his trustworthiness, the sign of the reliability of his message to humanity – in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead we see the proof of God and his word.

So, what does it look like to see the proof of YHWH’s trustworthiness and listen to him? If I’m willing to buy a new transmission because Dave says I need it, then what should it look like if I trust what God says?

Well, Israel was about to walk out of Egypt, leaving the familiar behind. Now, I know people who get anxious about driving an unfamiliar route in their own town. So, imagine the anxiety in their hearts when the people of God heard YHWH was leading them into the wilderness. But YHWH had proved himself to them. So, they could listen to his promises in his word and take comfort in the covenant he’d made with their family. Those covenant promises were assuring them – he was going to bring them into a land of milk and honey to be with him (Exodus 3:17; 6:7). Confident in their proven God, they could listen to his promises and find rest for their anxious hearts.

Some of you have plenty of opportunity for anxiety. Your parents, your children, your wife, your husband, your career, your retirement, your reputation, your income, your health, your lack of health – all these things can make you feel like you’re walking in an unknown wilderness. But if you’re convinced of the Gospel, if you’ve accepted the resurrection of Jesus as proof of God’s faithfulness, then you have His word that in all these things you can trust him. His word assures us that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…;” that he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Philippians 1:6 and Hebrews 13:5). You have his promises that we read in the assurance of grace today (Romans 8:28-30). And until he completes His work you have the Psalms, teaching you how to faithfully groan until the fullness of your salvation comes with Christ. Trusting the God who proved himself means anxiety can melt into peace.

For the ex-slaves hearing this story of staffs and serpents, the proof of YHWH’s trustworthiness would begin transforming not only the way they felt, but the way they thought and acted, too. They could stop thinking of themselves as slaves and start thinking of themselves as the people of God – His free, beloved children. They could stop acting like slaves and start living as the people of God – as priests and servants of YHWH (Exodus 19:5-6).

And for you and me, the resurrection of Jesus is the proof that all who rest in him are not what we once were. So, we can begin to think and act differently in the Gospel – as sons instead of rebel-orphans (Romans 8:15-17), living obedient lives because we are already holy in Christ (1 Peter 1:13-21)! For all who believe the Gospel, the resurrection is the proof that God is making all things new, including us. And that is meant to transform the way we feel and think and act today.

So, what is happening when the Gospel doesn’t transform the way we think and feel and act? What about the unbeliever who doesn’t accept the proof the resurrection gives? What about the Christian who doesn’t act in line with the new reality God has brought in Christ? This is the second issue the text helps us deal with – what keeps us from seeing the proof of YHWH’s trustworthiness; what keeps us from listening to him?

When Pharaoh demands proof (as YHWH said he would), Moses and Aaron deliver. In v. 10, Aaron throws down his staff (probably Moses’ staff, actually – see Exodus 4:17) and it becomes a serpent.

Hang on a sec. Now I know some folks think of the ancients as backward and ignorant, but I’m pretty sure that sticks didn’t turn into snakes every day. This proof is meant to arrest the attention of Pharaoh (and everyone who reads this story). It’s meant to convince everyone to listen.

But by v.13, even after the proof was given, it says, “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Given the proof he’d asked for, Pharaoh refused to listen.

The question is why? What kept him from seeing the proof and listening to YHWH?

Of course, a reader of this story will understand one reason why he wouldn’t listen. YHWH himself had said in 4:21 that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that no matter what proof he saw he wouldn’t listen. God was sovereignly working in this story to make sure that His purposes were accomplished and his power and justice and mercy were fully displayed. It would take eleven more proofs (the ten plagues plus the parting of the Red Sea) – eleven signs, eleven wonders – before YHWH was finished with Pharaoh. This is a huge topic and we’ll talk more about this another time. Let’s talk about it over coffee this week if you want.

But what I want to focus on for a moment is why Pharaoh didn’t listen in this passage. Yes, his hard was hardened, but how was it hardened here? How did it come about that he didn’t listen?

I think we see the answer in what happened after Aaron threw down his staff. Seeing the serpent, Pharaoh calls the “wise men and the sorcerers.” These are the best and brightest of Egypt. Really, though, they are the priests of Egypt. These were the servants of the Egypt’s gods and the guardians of their secrets. In vv.11-12, a group of them come and do “the same [as Aaron]…For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents.”

Some have tried to explain this by pointing to Arabic tribes who knew how to hold a snake just so, so that it was paralyzed and stiff as a staff. Some say that it was merely a trick, an illusion. And maybe it was.

Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe we in the West – products of the Enlightenment and inheritors of cultures where the Spirit of God has been moving for millennia – maybe we have no idea what life is like in a place where darkness reigns. Maybe we should not be so quick to discount the stories of our brothers who have seen dark powers at work. The text itself here gives no indication of an illusion. Nowhere does it add, “But they didn’t really turn their staffs into serpents.” No, it says, “they…did the same.”

Pharaoh saw the proof he’d asked for. But instead of being convinced, he copied it. He replicated it so he could dismiss it. He imitated it so that he could ignore it. He explained it away so that he wouldn’t have to listen to YHWH. It’s as if he reasoned in his heart, “There is no difference between YHWH and our gods. His proof isn’t proof enough to sway me.” And such cold reason made his heart as cold and hard as stone, made him content with the counterfeit when the proof was right in front of him.

So, I think this is the answer to our question. If we wonder how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, then we see it was by being content with the counterfeit instead of the true.

Have you been content with what looks like life but isn’t? Have you accepted a counterfeit instead of the true? There are things we embrace that look like life but are only shadows of the true, resurrection life offered in Christ. The counterfeit comes in forms of religion, each holding a part of truth and yet lacking the grace and truth of Jesus. The counterfeit comes in forms of family and food and sexuality and personal achievement and personal fitness and two-car garages and vacations and promotions and large families and isolationist homeschooling and disinterested public schooling. The counterfeit looks like plastic surgery and bulimia and it looks like doctrinal purity that fails to love one’s neighbor. The counterfeit is anything that we accept in the place of God. The counterfeit is the thing we trust, the thing we listen to because we functionally believe there is no difference between that thing and God.

But the Scriptures do show a difference between YHWH and the gods of Egypt. If the turning of staffs into serpents is the proof both give to their trustworthiness; if both proofs look the same at the beginning and cry out, “Listen to me,” then see the difference in v. 12. Though the signs seem the same on the surface, the counterfeit is exposed; YHWH’s proof swallowed up their proof. Aaron’s serpent/staff was the only one left.

Now the priests of Egypt have nothing to lean on. The impotence of their serpents and their gods leave them without support.

This proof stands as a sign together with the resurrection of Jesus that if we are convinced by the counterfeit, there will come a day with the counterfeit will be exposed. On that Day, whatever trust we have placed in counterfeit gods will leave us as empty handed as Egypt’s priests. And the impotence of that counterfeit savior will leave us without support.

But Aaron has the support of his staff and his God. And although Pharaoh is blinded by the hardness of his heart, YHWH was calling his people, then and now, to recognize the proof of his trustworthiness and to trust him. His Spirit calls us to listen today saying, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts….” (Hebrews 3:7-8, quoting Psalm 95).

So, what is he saying today that we need to hear? What hope is there for humans with hard hearts? Our hope is in the Gospel that says YHWH came in the person of Jesus. And in his death and resurrection we see the proof that YHWH can be trusted.

Look at 2 Timothy 1:12. Paul wrote this from a Roman prison to a young pastor named Timothy. This was Paul’s second – and last – imprisonment; he wrote knowing his death by a Roman sword was on the horizon. Like Israel long ago, he was held prisoner by those whose power seemed unconquerable and unstoppable. But in this verse we see his trust in God unshaken, because he’d seen the proof of the Gospel’s message. On the road to Damascus, on his way to persecute Christians, he’d seen the resurrected Christ and believed the Gospel.

So, Paul writes, “But I am not ashamed [speaking of his present suffering], for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” The Greek here is a little ambiguous, actually. Some of your footnotes may point out that an alternate reading could be, “…I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what I have entrusted to him.” So, he’s either convinced God will guard the Gospel entrusted to Paul or Paul is convinced that God will guard Paul’s life (I think the latter is more likely). But either way, Paul is boldly “God-confident,”[1] convinced that there will come a Day when the risen Christ whose first appearance “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1:10) – that same Jesus will vindicate the suffering of his people and prove himself faithful a second time.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was the foundation of the faith for the early church. His resurrection was the proof that once again YHWH was on the move, rescuing His people from slavery to sin and giving them life instead of death. The resurrection of Jesus was the proof of the Gospel the apostles lived proclaiming and died defending (see 1 Corinthians 15:12-28). [As the quote on the front of your bulletin says, everything hinges on the reality of the resurrection.[2]]

And today like yesterday, the proof of the Gospel, the resurrection of Jesus, is either accepted or rejected.

To reject the proof is to listen to something else, to believe some other story. It’s like Dave telling me, “A battery is all you need,” but I listen to some guy at the dealership who says I need a whole new electrical system. I’m actually more and more convinced of this – at any given moment, on any given subject, we are always listening to someone else. We might say that we make up our own minds – but in the end we’re always making a decision based on what we’ve heard from another. The only two questions are, “Who are you listening to?” and “Can you trust them?”

But if you have heard the Gospel of Jesus – of forgiveness and grace given simply by trusting in him – if you’ve believed the proof given and want to listen to him (or even if you just want to want to listen to him), then you can share in Paul’s confidence. Because hard-hearted people don’t want to want to listen. Only those in whom the Spirit of God has implanted a new heart want to want to listen. And if the Spirit of God is convincing you of your rebellious heart and convincing you of the grace to be found in Christ and persuading you to trust him and listen to him, then you can rest, child of God. Rest in Christ being assured that he is guarding you now until the Day when he proves himself trustworthy once again.

Until that Day, go now. Go out with God-confidence, assured that the one who began this work in you will finish it. Go out hearing him call you sons and daughters of the true King. Go out with his peace – the peace won by Christ through his death on the cross – go out with his peace that can melt your hard, anxious hearts in whatever circumstances you face. He has proved himself trustworthy by raising Jesus from the dead. So, go out now with your trust and hope in him, having the promise of his Spirit working Christ’s resurrection life in you.

[Pray – Father, what glorious proof you have given of your goodness and love! You sent your Son to die so that we might be forgiven and you raised him from the dead to prove that you accepted his sacrifice. Convince us more and more of that Gospel and help us to listen to you, our trustworthy God, more and more in your Word. Help us live out what we hear from you in love for Christ and gratitude for what we have been given. And may we never ask more proof of your love than what you have already given in Christ. In your marvelous grace you have softened our hearts. And so, Father, we would unceasingly make much of your sovereign mercy. Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.]

[Benediction, from Numbers 6]

“The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”



[1] A beautiful phrase courtesy of the ESV Study Bible notes on this verse.

[2] “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” - Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

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