HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, May 23, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Saying ‘NO!’ to God”
Text – Exodus 5-11, 12:31-42
Last week, we left Moses having reluctantly agreed to return to Egypt to serve as God’s appointed leader to bring the people out of Egypt. God had heard their cries and seen their misery. Moses was now prepared to take on the task for which he had been born and trained up for—in the palace of Pharaoh and in the fields as a shepherd. It was now time for God to enact his perfect will on behalf of his people. He was going to take their side against a brutal king determined to keep the Hebrews enslaved and He was going to lead them out of Egypt just as he promised so many years ago to their ancestors.
PHARAOH THE BULLY – Exodus 5:1-9
“After this presentation to Israel’s leaders, Moses and Aaron went and spoke to Pharaoh. They told him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go so they may hold a festival in my honor in the wilderness.’
2 ‘Is that so?’ retorted Pharaoh. ‘And who is the Lord? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’ 3 But Aaron and Moses persisted. ‘The God of the Hebrews has met with us,’ they declared. ‘So let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness so we can offer sacrifices to the Lord our God. If we don’t, he will kill us with a plague or with the sword.’ 4 Pharaoh replied, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their tasks? Get back to work! 5 Look, there are many of your people in the land, and you are stopping them from their work.’
6 That same day Pharaoh sent this order to the Egyptian slave drivers and the Israelite foremen: 7 ‘Do not supply any more straw for making bricks. Make the people get it themselves! 8 But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy. That’s why they are crying out, “Let us go and offer sacrifices to our God.” 9 Load them down with more work. Make them sweat! That will teach them to listen to lies!’”
I want you to try and picture the scene that takes place in the Egyptian palace when Moses and Aaron show up and make the first of their demands to Pharaoh. But first, something you should be aware of, is that this is no mere king; in the eyes of the ancient Egyptians, the Pharaoh was the supreme representation of the gods to the people, a god himself, descended from Ra, god of the Sun. Now these…*shepherds* (you might want to say that with a hint of disgust given the attitude of Egyptians toward the Hebrews) are attempting to tell Pharaoh that there is another God, one capable of giving him orders, and this God is telling him to release his entire enslaved workforce at His bidding. Can’t you just hear Pharaoh’s retort, “’Scuse me? You can’t possibly be serious.”
How does he initially respond to Moses and Aaron? [who is the ‘Lord’ and why should I care?]
We don’t know which of the Pharaohs had this conversation with Moses and Aaron, but it doesn’t much matter. Having been raised to see himself as ‘god,’ he wasn’t much threatened by the notion that these Hebrews were claiming that another God had rights to their loyalty and worship. His next move shouldn’t surprise us at all.
What action does the Pharaoh then order against the slaves? [increase the workload – don’t provide straw, but demand the same production quota; his play was to beat them back into submission]
Pharaoh was the worshipped and unchallenged lord of the land. And when given a demand, he did what many do in his position; he attempted to bully the people further into submitting to his authority out of renewed fear. In essence, he simply responded, “You want to complain? I’ll give you something to complain about!” In his mind, the slaves obviously had too much free time on their hands. They have forgotten their place…time to fix that!
He gives no credence whatsoever to the idea that he ‘must’ do anything at the bidding of the Hebrews’ God. Of course, God knew all along that this would be Pharaoh’s response and had even warned Moses beforehand. It is now time to show Pharaoh just exactly who the Lord is. God’s plan is to prove his superiority over all the gods of Egypt, including Pharaoh himself.
TEN PLAGUES – DEITIES OF EGYPT
There is quite a bit of scholarship that connects each of the plagues to one or more of the many gods of ancient Egypt. Much scholarship, but lots of variance. To say definitively that this or that plague was directed at one particular god or goddess goes beyond the biblical text. It would definitely appear, however, that through the plagues God was intent on demonstrating His superiority over all the gods of Egypt…and their complete inability to protect the Egyptians from His punishments.
Exodus 7:14-25 – Plague #1 – All the water of the Nile turned to blood—including the water that had been collected into jars in people’s homes. The fish died and the river stank. It lasted for a week. The Egyptians had to dig pits along the riverbank to find water to drink. But because the magicians were able to also turn water to blood, Pharaoh’s heart was hard.
Exodus 8:1-15 – Plague #2 – Frogs, frogs, everywhere! The magicians were again able to have frogs come up out of the Nile as Moses and Aaron had, but the problem was so bad that Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to remove them. Frogs were in the palace, in their homes, in their beds, ovens, bread-making bowls…yuck! Imagine waking up covered in frogs…gross! So, the next day, the time chosen by Pharaoh, no living frog remained on the ground, only in the Nile. The frogs died en masse and had to be gathered into huge piles, which caused the land to reek. When Pharaoh saw that they had relief from the infestation, he reneged on his promise to let the people go and he further solidifies his stubborn resistance.
Exodus 8:16-19 – Plague #3 – Gnats/Lice cover everything after Aaron struck the ground. This time the magicians are not able to conjure the gnats as Moses and Aaron had. They tell the Pharaoh, “This is the hand of God!” But he refuses to listen and remains hard hearted.
Exodus 8:20-32 – Plague #4 – Thick swarms of flies cover all of Egypt…except the area inhabited by the Hebrews in Goshen. God has allowed everyone in Egypt to suffer as a result of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, but from this point forward He begins to make a distinction. The Hebrews will no longer be forced to endure any further plagues brought on by Pharaoh’s hard heart; they will experience, firsthand, the loving protection of their God. Pharaoh agrees to release the Hebrews, but again reneges when the plague ends and relief comes. His obstinance and determination against God grows.
Exodus 9:1-7 – Plague #5 – A deadly plague kills much of the Egyptian livestock—sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys, horses and camels. When Pharaoh sends someone to check out how the Hebrews have fared, he discovers that none of their animals have been affected. In his growing resentment, his heart remains unmoved.
Exodus 9:8-12 – Plague #6 – Painful boils inflict the Egyptians. The boils are so bad that the magicians cannot even fulfill their function as advisors to the king before Moses and Aaron. This is the first time in all of the plagues, where the Bible tells us that God himself now hardens Pharaoh’s heart.
Exodus 9:13-35 – Plague #7 – A devasting storm of rain, huge hailstones and continuous lightning destroys the crops of barley and flax (used by the Egyptians to make cloth) and kills people and animals that had not been brought into protected spaces:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Get up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh. Tell him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. 14 If you don’t, I will send more plagues on you and your officials and your people. Then you will know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. 16 But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth. 17 But you still lord it over my people and refuse to let them go. 18 So tomorrow at this time I will send a hailstorm more devastating than any in all the history of Egypt. 19 Quick! Order your livestock and servants to come in from the fields to find shelter. Any person or animal left outside will die when the hail falls.”’
20 Some of Pharaoh’s officials were afraid because of what the Lord had said. They quickly brought their servants and livestock in from the fields. 21 But those who paid no attention to the word of the Lord left theirs out in the open.
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Lift your hand toward the sky so hail may fall on the people, the livestock, and all the plants throughout the land of Egypt.’ 23 So Moses lifted his staff toward the sky, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed toward the earth. The Lord sent a tremendous hailstorm against all the land of Egypt. 24 Never in all the history of Egypt had there been a storm like that, with such devastating hail and continuous lightning. 25 It left all of Egypt in ruins. The hail struck down everything in the open field—people, animals, and plants alike. Even the trees were destroyed. 26 The only place without hail was the region of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived.
27 Then Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron. ‘This time I have sinned,’ he confessed. ‘The Lord is the righteous one, and my people and I are wrong. 28 Please beg the Lord to end this terrifying thunder and hail. We’ve had enough. I will let you go; you don’t need to stay any longer.’
29 ‘All right,’ Moses replied. ‘As soon as I leave the city, I will lift my hands and pray to the Lord. Then the thunder and hail will stop, and you will know that the earth belongs to the Lord. 30 But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God.’ 31 (All the flax and barley were ruined by the hail, because the barley had formed heads and the flax was budding. 32 But the wheat and the emmer wheat were spared, because they had not yet sprouted from the ground.) 33 So Moses left Pharaoh’s court and went out of the city. When he lifted his hands to the Lord, the thunder and hail stopped, and the downpour ceased. 34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain, hail, and thunder had stopped, he and his officials sinned again, and Pharaoh again became stubborn. 35 Because his heart was hard, Pharaoh refused to let the people leave, just as the Lord had predicted through Moses.”
Notice at this point in the story, that while Pharaoh’s heart remains hard, some of the other Egyptians had begun to acknowledge God’s existence and believe the words of Moses. They feared this plague, rightly so, and acted immediately in response to Moses’ warning.
In verse 15, God makes it clear to Pharaoh, through Moses, that it is only his patience and His long-term goal that has kept Him from simply reducing Egypt to nothing in one blow.
What is God’s goal in sending the plagues? Is it just to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go? [that the Egyptians will recognize His power and that word will spread that He, the Creator of the universe, still holds sway over the nations of the world.]
I firmly believe that even now, if Pharaoh had repented, truly recognized the Lord as God and released the Hebrews as instructed, he and his whole country could have experienced the mercy and forgiveness of God Almighty. But again, the text tells us that Pharaoh hardened his heart and he stubbornly refused to let the people go…even after confessing his sin…even after declaring the Lord more righteous…even after agreeing once again to do what God had told him to.
Exodus 10:1-20 – Plague #8 – Locusts covered the land, destroying anything green; everything that managed to survive the hailstorm was decimated by the locusts. When God tells Moses to warn Pharaoh of this imminent threat, He also reveals another reason for the seemingly endless plagues, “I’ve also done it so you can tell your children and grandchildren about how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and about the signs I displayed among them—and so you will know that I am the Lord” (10:2). God is not just demonstrating His power for the enemy, but also for His people.
This time Pharaoh’s officials plead with him to relent before the promised plague arrives: can’t he see that the country lies in ruins? If this plague of locusts comes, the worst one in the history of Egypt, they will be beyond hope of recovering! Pharaoh calls Moses back appearing to be ready to negotiate, but ends up refusing yet again. The swarms come devouring everything, Pharaoh confesses, asks for Moses’ forgiveness and God’s deliverance (now there’s a switch!), promises to release the slaves…then again refuses once the locusts are blown into the Red Sea by a strong west wind sent by God.
Exodus 10:21-29 – Plague #9 – Darkness so intense you could feel it! For three days, the whole land of Egypt, aside from Goshen, was enveloped in darkness so dark that the populace could not see one another and were forced to remain stationary. Pharaoh again promises to let the slaves go…if they leave their flocks behind. When Moses refuses, Pharaoh decides he has had enough of this game. If Moses shows his face again in the palace, he’ll have him killed. Moses, equally frustrated with Pharaoh’s obstinacy, pronounces the final plague…
Exodus 11:1-10, 12:28-33 – Plague #10 – The angel of death kills all the firstborn in Egypt—human and livestock. In the palace, Pharaoh may have been spared the same level of suffering that some of his people had had to endure in the previous plagues, but this one hit home. God took his firstborn son, Egypt’s heir to the throne, the next in line to claim the title of son of Ra. Despite his earlier threat, he summons Moses and Aaron and tells them in no uncertain terms to, “Get out! And take everything with you.” He then proceeds to ask Moses for his blessing. He has seen the undeniable power of God at work; he recognizes that Moses is His servant; and even though his heart has been hardened first by himself, then by God, he wants a blessing—though we’re left uncertain what he was actually wanting. Finally, we get a sense that Pharaoh is at long last conceding the match to God; at this moment, he can’t be rid of these Hebrew slaves quick enough.
Those of us who are familiar with the story know it isn’t over yet, but that’s for next week.
PHARAOH’S HARD HEART
One question is still left to answer this morning. I have heard it asked, “How could God punish Pharaoh for his hard heart, when God was the one hardening it?” Good question. In my preparation for this morning, I came across a study of the Hebrew verb translated “became hard” (pronounced, khazaq). It is a stative verb not passive, which should be understood as a state of being rather than an action. When the Bible does not identify either God or Pharaoh doing the hardening, it is just a statement as to the current condition of Pharaoh’s hard heart. So, while the Bible does state that God actively does the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart after the plague of boils, locusts, darkness and in his refusal to change his mind under the threat of death for all the firstborn of Egypt, the other cases of Pharaoh’s heart being hard are attributed to his current state or to his own increasing belligerence toward God. Here’s the breakdown as provided by Tim Challies.
The Ten Plagues and Pharaoh’s Heart
1. Blood: Pharaoh’s heart “became hard” (7:22)
2. Frogs: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (8:15)
3. Gnats: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (8:19)
4. Flies: “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” (8:32)
5. Livestock die: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (9:7)
6. Boils: “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12)
7. Hail: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (9:34)
8. Locusts: God announces that he has “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:1,10:20)
9. Darkness: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:27)
10. Death of the firstborn: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (11:10)1
Notice that God only hardens Pharaoh’s heart after He has already provided him with ample opportunities; opportunities to repent, acknowledge God’s existence and power as demonstrated through the first five plagues and release the slaves as instructed. But each time, Pharaoh adamantly refuses. It would appear that God was exceedingly patient, but that Pharaoh’s persistent denial of God and refusal to obey…all the while disregarding the well-being of not only the slaves, but his own people…last longer than God’s patience. In his mind, Pharaoh saw this as a contest of wills he could win; but he was thoroughly mistaken.
Not that God was surprised. He knew beforehand what the outcome would be, yet still gave Pharaoh opportunities to change his mind. As He told Pharaoh, He could have wiped him and his whole country off of the face of the planet, but had chosen instead to create a set of incentives to encourage compliance. Many of the people of Egypt had been persuaded, “Now the Lord had caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the people of Israel. And Moses was considered a very great man in the land of Egypt, respected by Pharaoh’s officials and the Egyptian people alike” (Exodus 11:3)…but not the man, Pharaoh, who had been raised to view himself as a god; he remained hard towards God.
What can we learn from Pharaoh’s obstinacy and God’s completion of His promise?
· God is patient with us…even as He is forced to watch our own self-destruction; He will use whatever means necessary for us to make the best decisions, while at the same time not forcing us to make those decisions.
· God’s permissive will allows us to make our own choices, but the exercise of our own freewill in direct opposition to God never results in our victory. We will never win against God.
· God honours our freewill, even though he knows that when we set it against him it is to our own detriment. He may permit us to ‘have our own way,’ but he will never cede his perfect plan.
· “God will always graciously offer us chances to turn back (would you have given Pharaoh so many chances?!). But sometimes a person can cement themselves in a destructive path and reach a point of no return. God can and sometimes will allow our evil to destroy us.”2
· Like Pharaoh, we can simply refuse to believe all the evidence for God; we, too, can refuse to give up the notion of being in control, even when all things point to the contrary.
· Those who desire to obey God, even when they fail to do so well, can rest assured in God’s willingness to forgive when we repent of our own hard-heartedness.
References & for Further Study
1 The Bible Project – When Pharaoh’s Heart Grew Harder https://bibleproject.com/blog/pharaohs-heart-grew-harder
The Bible Project – Exodus 1-18 Overview -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH_aojNJM3E
Zondervan Academic: What the Bible Tells Us About the Ten Plagues of Egypt -https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/what-the-bible-tells-us-about-the-10-plagues-of-egypt
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
"Learning and Living the Way of Jesus!"
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!