July 29 & 30, 2017 Pentecost 8 (Moses Series #5)
Selected passages from Exodus 7-10
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
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, lightning and hail 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. When God chose to send his Son into the world to save it from its sin he didn’t choose a palace or a princess. Instead he chose a lowly maiden named Mary and a cattle stall. 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.
Today, what we want to look at is not just how God revealed himself through the many plagues that he performed on Egypt, but how God revealed himself in one of the strangest places ever. God Revealed Himself through Pharaoh’s Heart.
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 he had another power working through him. The same would go with the first two plagues of turning a river to blood and having frogs show up all over the place. But Pharaoh wasn’t so easily impressed. 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.
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: 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. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” (Exodus 8: 19)
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. This is repeated several times throughout these first few plagues.
But the next plagues would be even more miraculous in that God said, “But on that day I will deal differently with the Land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land.” (Exodus 8:22) 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. There was a plague of flies that inflicted painful bites and severe inflammation. Then a plague of pestilence where 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) It was a nearly complete destruction of the Egyptian’s 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 its 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 pride, his heart was insensitive and dull. This shows us how a hard heart works. It only acknowledges God when it absolutely has to and wants a favor from God. But God 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 whom God blames for this hardening. Every time it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart. It was nobody’s fault but his own. What about you? Do you keep on returning to the same 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. 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 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 you end up under the eternal plague of hell. It will be yours.
The problem comes for us when we see that prior to everything that Pharaoh does, God had already told Moses in Exodus 3:19, “But 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: 3-4, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you.” From here on in we see that after every plague that follows, “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Our reason says, “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. The Apostle 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 include Pharaoh.
This is impossible for us really to comprehend. If God is all powerful and wants all men to be saved then how come he doesn’t force it on people? How come he hardened Pharaoh’s heart? The strange thing about God is that even though he is almighty, he allows people to resist him. God mourns over the fact that people are so stubborn and hard hearted to refuse 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. Finally God had enough.
So if God wouldn’t force Pharaoh to bow to him, how would God respond? With plagues 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; 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) Then locusts covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail. … Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt. (Ex 10: 15) Next the Lord told Moses, “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 one unable to repent.
What did these plagues and this hardening reveal to us about God? Obviously, first of all, it reveals to us God’s power. Every one of these plagues worked to set God apart from any god that the Egyptians had. They worshiped many different gods of nature 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? I am the God of light, the God of the wind, the God of the ground, the God of the river. I am the God of all things.” 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 a strange way, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart shows us God’s patience. The LORD said to Pharaoh and his officials, “For 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. 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 destroying Pharaoh immediately like he had every right to do, God would patiently allow Pharaoh to defy him so that he 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.
Most importantly, God wasn’t just flexing his muscles to show off. 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 who would not allow an evil and hard hearted tyrant to stop 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. It reveals God’s heart of love.
Whenever we see God’s wrath come crashing down, it is a scary sight. It’s scary to see the plagues. 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 and feet, to see him 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. I died for you. I took your sins away. That’s how much I love you.”
When push comes to shove, we need to remember how God works. 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 to save us. If the devil and his followers need to be destroyed in order to do so, then God will do so. He will do all things necessary to keep us in the faith and bring us to the Promised Land. Isn’t this the kind of God we need?
God chooses seemingly strange ways in which to reveal himself. One of those ways is through Pharaoh’s heart. He revealed himself as powerful but 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? 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.