Exodus 7:14-10:29 - One Through Nine
April 6, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 7:14–10:29
[Text: Exodus 7:14-10:29] “One Through Nine”
You might have heard about the ten plagues of Egypt all your life. You might know what they are. But what do they do? Still today, they demand a response. What will we say?
[Pray – O merciful Father, incline our hearts to your Word and the wonders of your glory. Wean us from our obsession with trivial things. Open the eyes of our hearts to see each day what the created universe is telling about your glory. Enlighten our minds to see the glory of your Son in the Gospel. We believe that you are the all-glorious One, and that there is none like you. Help our unbelief. Forgive the wandering of our affections and the undue attention we give to lesser things. Have mercy on us for Christ’s sake, and fulfill in us your great design to display the glory of your grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.]
[Read 7:14-10:29, paying attention to the pattern of YHWH’s word/plague’s arrival/Pharaoh’s hard heart.]
“Cookie?” Calvin asked. “Not ‘till you eat your supper,” I said. “Cookie?” Calvin grinned. “Not ‘till you eat your supper,” I grinned. “Cookie?” Calvin smiled. “Not ‘till you eat your supper,” I smiled. [This goes on for about 5 minutes.] “Cookie?” Calvin pleaded. “Boy, not ‘till you eat your supper,” I said.
Kids have a wonderful, built-in mechanism they employ to get their way. It’s called “persistence” and it’s meant to wear down the will of the opposition known as “Mom” or “Dad.” Now, Calvin’s persistence didn’t work on me that night. But sometimes it does.
So, how are we supposed to look at the ten plagues YHWH sent on Egypt when Pharaoh refused YHWH’s demand of letting Israel go? Is it just persistence to wear Pharaoh down? Is he pleading with Pharaoh to get his way? Is the God of the Bible so weak as to need Pharaoh’s permission to accomplish his purposes?
Asked that way, it seems silly to think of the ten plagues as persistence. But we’re still left with the question, “What is YHWH doing? And why does it take ten plagues to do it?”
Well, let’s first start calling them the right thing. Yes, they’re plagues; that’s what they are, but not what they do. Frogs and locusts are plagues, but what they do is point toward something. Throughout Exodus, these plagues are called “signs” (also “wonders” and “miracles” – Exodus 3:20; 4:8, 17, 21; 7:3; 8:23; 10:2) and signs always point to something.
Eleven squares of yellow and black spelling “Waffle-House” is a sign of greasy goodness available 24/7. A neon-red “hot donuts now” sign points to deep-fried dough - sugary-glazed manna. This high-calorie illustration is apparently a sign; it points to the fact I should get my cholesterol checked.
In the same way, the water turned blood; the frogs, gnats and flies; the death of the livestock and the boils; the hail and locusts and darkness and death of the firstborn – each sign in Egypt points to realities YHWH wants to prove. We’ll talk about three of them today. The signs point to 1) YHWH’s power. 2) YHWH’s Kingship. And 3) YHWH’s choice. In the Hebrew world, ten of something makes a complete set. So, ten signs makes for complete proof of his power, his Kingship, and his choice.
Now, we’re only going to talk about the first nine signs today (saving the tenth for next week because of its special significance in the Story of Redemption). But look with me at what YHWH wants the world to see.
First, the signs point to YHWH’s power. In 9:15-16, with six signs already behind them, YHWH speaks through Moses to Pharaoh saying, “…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.” YHWH always has more power in reserve. He’s restrained his wrath – but for a very important reason. He goes on, “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.”
The very purpose for Pharaoh’s kingship is told – Pharaoh’s reign exists only as a canvas for YHWH to paint his power upon. Seeing his plagues against Pharaoh, the whole earth would come to know the name – and power – of YHWH.
But still, we see Pharaoh try to stop him. What happens if we try to stop him today? Can we stop the power of YHWH?
Second, the signs point to the Kingship of YHWH. He is the one, true ruler over creation. In every plague, YHWH displays his superiority over Egypt’s gods, even over Pharaoh who was believed to be the incarnate son of Re, the sun god. Consider what one writer said:
“The Nile River was considered sacred, yet it was turned to blood. Associated with the river were the gods Khnum, Hapi, and Osiris (for whom the Nile served as his bloodstream). The goddess Heqt, the wife of Khnum, was represented by a frog…And there was the sky goddess Nut, from whose domain came the hail. Isis and Seth, responsible in part for agricultural crops, seem to have been overwhelmed. A number of gods were identified with the sun, including the sun god Re. Certainly these gods failed in allowing a heavy darkness to blanket Egypt for three days.”
Whatever authority the Egyptians believed their gods possessed, they were confronted with rule of YHWH, the true King, in the signs that he gave. Every plague pointed to the reality that the created order served only the One who in the beginning made the heavens and the earth.
And still, Pharaoh tried exerting his rule over Israel. Still, he tried to keep them for himself. What happens if we won’t submit to the Kingship of God today? Will he share the throne with us? Will this broken world answer to us?
Third, the signs point to YHWH’s choice. What I mean is this, YHWH chose Israel to belong to him. In 7:16, he tells Moses to say, “YHWH, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me….’” He identifies himself as the God of these slaves – they are his people; he is their God. And after the first three plagues, the story begins emphasizing the distinction YHWH made between Egypt and Israel. From 8:22 onward, the most severe plagues don’t touch Goshen where God’s people lived – no biting flies, no cattle plague, no sores, no hail and no locust touched Israel. Even when three days of pitch darkness came on Egypt – darkness so deep it could be “felt” (10:21) – even then, God’s people had light (10:23).
Later in the Story (Deuteronomy 7:7), YHWH reminds them that they weren’t chosen because of anything in them. But he chose them because he set his love on them and was keeping his promise to Abraham – that’s why he did these signs and led them out of slavery. The signs point to YHWH’s choice.
Who can command YHWH’s choice? Can anyone compel him to choose them? Or who can stop him from claiming his own?
But still Pharaoh tries. In 9:17, YHWH says to him, “You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.” The hardness of Pharaoh’s heart made him believe he was above it all. He didn’t need to pay attention to YHWH’s power or Kingship or choice. Are there ways we might still exalt ourselves over what God has chosen today? Should he submit to our choices?
We’re going to look at how Pharaoh responds to nine signs pointing to YHWH’s power and Kingship and choice. But let’s talk for a moment about what Israel was supposed to do with all this signage.
When they saw these signs, 10:2 tells them what they were supposed to do with them. Just before the eighth plague of locusts, YHWH told Moses to tell Israel what they were supposed to do. He said, “…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 YHWH” (emphasis mine).
They were supposed to tell the next generations what God did and what it meant. “Listen, son. YHWH, our God, is powerful. YHWH is the true King. YHWH has chosen us. He made promises to Abraham, your grandfather – promises he always keeps. And when we saw the signs in Egypt, we knew he had proved his faithfulness. And seeing his faithfulness makes me want to follow him and live as one of his people.”
Seeing plagues point to the power and kingship and choice of God was meant to bind the hearts of Israel to YHWH. His faithfulness to his people is unending. But the faithfulness of his people seems to have a short life-span. The power and kingship and even the choice of YHWH was met with opposition even from his own people. Just a few chapters later, even after seeing all the signs, they abandoned YHWH and worshipped a golden god they made with their own hands (Exodus 32).
And now we’re back to the problem in this Story of Redemption – and we are it. Because ever since Adam tried to put himself in YHWH’s place in the Garden, our hearts don’t want this God to reign over us. His power and kingship and choice are threats to our sovereignty.
And so, when I look at this story I find myself identifying with the one character I don’t want to be. I want to be like a faithful Israelite, seeing the signs and embracing YHWH as my God. But I find I am a little Pharaoh, trying to stop YHWH. And how do little pharaohs try to stop YHWH? How do we fight against his power and Kingship and choice? I see five ways in the story.
First, as we talked about last week, we content ourselves with copies of his power, with counterfeits. In the water turned blood and the plague of frogs, the magicians (that is, priests) of Egypt copy the sign. Like the sign of the serpents in the last passage, they produce their own display of power. But even though they turn water in to blood and call up frogs – what they couldn’t do was reverse YHWH’s sign. They couldn’t fix the bloody Nile or remove the frogs from the land. They, just like before, were as impotent as their gods against YHWH.
We little pharaohs like to hold on to the counterfeits. What looks like true religion or wisdom is enough for us, whether it’s moralism or health-food-righteousness or just being a good person. We trust that those things will protect us or give us life. But what happens when the copy can’t cut it anymore? After the frogs, the magicians couldn’t copy YHWH’s power any longer. They began to confess, “This is the finger of God” (8:19). So, what happens when my counterfeit isn’t working?
Well, we can try the second way Pharaoh fights against YHWH. In 7:22-23, after the magicians copy the sign of water-turned-blood, it says, “So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart.”
Pharaohs don’t like to listen. Even though his men couldn’t reverse the sign – the waters in Egypt stayed blood for seven days – even so, Pharaoh simply ignored the sign and walked inside.
In this Word we call the Bible, YHWH still speaks. In fact, it’s the only place he now speaks. So, are there words we’d rather ignore here? What about, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44) or “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3)? If I ignore his word that says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), then how am I not a little pharaoh? To ignore the word of the Lord is to fight against his power and Kingship and choice.
Two more of Pharaoh’s ways seem to go together. First he pretends repentance, then he mixes it with compromises. After the hail storm (in 9:27) and again after the locusts (in 10:16-17) Pharaoh says, “…I have sinned.” One plague had turned into eight by this point. And they were getting more severe. But you can see what sounds like repentance is really only remorse. His confessions come late and light as he says, “This time I have sinned…forgive my sin, please, only this once.” That’s remorse but not repentance. It’s remorse over an act – a single act – that never addresses the root of rebellion in the heart. And so, the remorse is fleeting. A hard, cold heart may be heated in the fires of trial, but when relief comes and the fires cool – like when Pharaoh begs Moses for relief and gets it – the hardness returns and is more adamant than ever. The remorse disappears and Pharaoh refuses to submit to the true King.
You see how pretend repentance is coupled with compromise as both are attempts by Pharaoh to control the situation. After the flies and locusts and darkness, Pharaoh tries to retain control over Israel, letting them worship within Egypt (8:25) or go without their children or herds (10:10, 24). He wants to retain control over his slaves. But he can’t compromise with YHWH. YHWH’s people belong to him alone and he won’t share them.
What fires are there in your life right now? What do you promise him if he will put it out? Will you repent of that one sin, forgetting that another stands beneath it with a rebel heart churning them out? And after the Lord gives relief from this present circumstance, will you still need him? What compromises are we willing to make to retain control over the kingdom of our lives? Where are we stopping short of full submission to the true King?
We may try to keep control but YHWH never compromises. Full obedience to his word is what he requires. And that demand always infuriates pharaohs.
That’s the last thing we see in Pharaoh as he fights against the power and Kingship and choice of YHWH – it’s rage. After nine signs – the ninth being a felt, three-day darkness over Egypt – after this Pharaoh meets the unyielding demands of YHWH with rage. YHWH hardened his heart and he said to Moses, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” Moses who spoke the words of YHWH to him, Moses from whom Pharaoh had pleaded prayer; Moses was met with threats of death.
There are two ways to go when we come to the end of ourselves. When all our fighting against God is proved futile, when our plans come to nothing and we have to confess with Pharaoh’s servants that we are ruined by our fight against YHWH (10:7), we can either submit or rage in vain. We can either trust or turn away. Pharaoh chose rage. What do you chose?
Pharaoh’s rage-full wish was granted. This would be the last time in Moses’ presence. But Moses did not leave without warning Pharaoh about one more sign to come. YHWH was sending one final plague. And no matter what he did, not matter how hard he raged, he could not overthrow the power and Kingship and choice of YHWH. In the end his rebellion would only bring death to his house.
And what of we little pharaohs? If humanity has been in rebellion ever since the Fall, unwilling to submit to the power and Kingship and choice of God, then what is our end? Apart from the mercy of God, we are without hope. Apart from the mercy of God, little pharaohs deserve what we want – to never stand in the Lord’s presence again; to never hear his word again; to end our lives in vain rage fighting against an unconquerable foe whose justice and goodness are beautiful and infuriating.
But the Gospel says God has mercy. And though in his choice “he has mercy on whomever he wills and hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18), in mercy God the Father sent God the Son to take the plagues and curse upon himself, dying in the place of pharaohs like us on the cross.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he looks out over all humanity as counts us (with him) as guilty, rebellious pharaohs – each ignoring the word of God and embracing counterfeits and pretend repenting and trying to control God with words like, “I’m sorry.” Those who walk away from God and those who try to control him with good behavior are both condemned to death by the justice of God. And yet the Gospel says God used his power and Kingship and choice to put Jesus forward as a “propitiation” – a sacrifice that pays the price of sin and washes away the guilt (Romans 3:25).
This gift, he says, isn’t received by saying or doing the right words or works. It comes when we come to the end of ourselves and agree with God about our pharaoh-ness. It comes when we put our faith in Jesus who died in our place. When we set our hope in him and rest in his death and life as our death and life, then we have confidence that God counts us no longer as pharaohs, but as forgiven. He counts us just as if we never sinned and just as if we did everything right. He counts us as his adopted children and one with Christ.
To be in Christ is to be a pharaoh no longer a pharaoh. A pharaoh become a freed slave. A pharaoh become part of the people of God.
If you have come to the end of yourself and you would now (or once again) submit to the true King instead of raging, if you would rest in Christ and his death in your place, then you, child of God, are beginning to see in Jesus the very power and kingship and choice of God on display for you, rescuing you like Israel long ago. And you may, with them, say to your soul and your children, “Listen, my soul. Listen, my son. YHWH, our God, is powerful. Jesus is our true King. In the Spirit, he has chosen us. He made promises to redeem this world – promises he always keeps. And when I saw the cross and empty tomb by faith, I knew he had proved his faithfulness. And seeing his faithfulness makes me want to follow him and live as one of his people.”
So, what do you say, former pharaohs? Though, for now, we still are tempted and we still fall into our old ways – even so, this is good news to which we may always return in faith. God sent the Son to bear the curse for us to win forgiveness and freedom for us. He did it “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). What a gracious King, using his infinite power and sovereign choice to have mercy on stubborn people like us! If you hear him today, do not harden your heart. Embrace Christ who used his power to rescue you.
[Transition to the Lord’s Supper]
But if you’re still afraid, here the Lord would assure you once again. Here is the meal Jesus himself gave to his people, to see and smell and touch and taste the grace he freely gives. In this meal – his body and blood given to you – the Spirit of Christ nourishes us and confirms to us once again that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25).
Here is the proof that our weakness is no obstacle to him because he is more powerful than death itself. Because Christ who died conquered death. And he reigns now as the Risen King who always takes care of his children by choice. Eat and drink, then, blood bought lambs of God, trusting in Jesus.
[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.”
 Albert H. Baylis, From Creation to the Cross: Understanding the First Half of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 107.