(Message #3 from a brief series on the life of Moses)
This morning, as we continue to look at the life and ministry of Moses, we will be surveying the ten plagues God placed on Egypt before the exodus of the Jews. Because this is such a lengthy text, it is impossible for us even to read the entire narrative this morning, much less cover all the details. So, we will look at the big picture to see the main truths God wants us to draw from this. Whenever you survey a text you have to ask the question, “what is the correct perspective for us to see the big picture?” As it relates to Exodus 7-10, what is the appropriate lens through which to view the plagues on Egypt? What is the one, integrating theme that runs throughout this long story drawing it all together, enabling us to see the main truths, as God wants us to see? That’s not a hard question to answer in this story because God makes it clear by repeating the big truths over and over again. We see this in at least five places throughout the narrative.
In Exodus 7:17, when Moses goes down to the bank of the Nile to meet Pharaoh and turn the Nile to blood, Moses says, “This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood.” In 8:22 when God is about to send flies on Egypt he says this to Pharaoh through Moses, " '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. In 9:14 when Moses warns Pharaoh of a last, even more intense round of plagues to come for the destruction of Egypt, speaking for God he says, “For this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. Two verses later, God tells Pharaoh, “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.” In chapter 10:2 as God is preparing to send locusts on Egypt he tells Moses the reason for his miraculous signs against Egypt is so, “that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord." Do you hear God’s overriding concern there?
As we said last week, God had not done much overt, supernatural activity for the past 430 years while Israel was enslaved in Egypt. His people had existed as a slave race for as long as anyone could remember. How do you suppose that reflected on the God of the Jews to the Ancient Near East—to the Egyptians and even to many of the Israelites who had all but stopped believing the promises about a promised land flowing with milk and honey? It would doubtless have appeared to these fallen human minds that the God of the Hebrews was not very impressive. It would have been assumed that if the Jews were subject to the Egyptians, then the God of the Hebrews was also in subjection to the gods of the Egyptians. We, who are 1500 years removed, know better. We know that God had predicted to Abraham more than four centuries earlier in Genesis 15:13, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.”
We know the reason God allowed this time of enslavement was because God, in his great patience, was going to wait these 400 odd years because at the time of Abraham according to Genesis 15:16, “the sin of the Amorites ha[d] not yet reached its full measure." We also know that in Genesis 15, God told Abraham in verse 14, “But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” From our vantage point, God’s sovereign control over this time in salvation history is crystal clear, but not to the Hebrews and certainly not to Egypt or to Pharaoh who would have thought very little of this God of the Hebrews. After all, how strong a God must He be to allow his chosen people to remain under the boot of Egypt for 400 years? That would have been the thinking about Yahweh in the days of Moses and the plagues against Egypt, as we saw earlier, were primarily to show the Jews, Egypt and Pharaoh that there WAS a God in Israel and to show his character and power “I am the LORD.”
Now, that doesn’t mean God wasn’t in some way motivated in what he did by his love for the Jews. He tells Moses in Exodus 3:7 when he met him in the bush, “… "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” God, in his compassion wanted these people free, but that could NOT have been his PRIMARY motivation because he had seen their misery and heard their cries for deliverance for 400 years. No, God moves to free his people when he does so PRIMARILY to show his glory and fulfill the prophecy he gave to Abraham. We know very little about God if we do not understand that his fundamental motivation in all he does is his glory. If we could get that truth in our hearts, it would change so much about what we want from life and Christ’s church and how we pray and how we are to relate to God and to the mostly man-centered evangelicalism of today.
So, given the fact that the lens through which to look at this narrative to get the big message is God’s pursuit of his glory, a good way to unpack this text into its biggest pieces is to ask the question, “HOW does God glorify himself in this story?” That’s a great question to bring to ALL the Old Testament stories. And as we see the different ways he brings glory to himself, our desire should be that God will cause that knowledge to move us to deeper levels of love and honor for him. The first way God glorifies himself is seen in chapter seven, verse four. God is predicting to Moses Pharaoh’s response to his upcoming warnings and says, “he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.” Here, God classes all his plagues under the phrase, “acts of judgment.” God says he will “lay my hand” on Egypt. Oh, that is not good new for Egypt. It is not a good thing to have the omnipotent, Lord of hosts lay his hand on you in punishment. But, just as God had told Abraham, he now reiterates to Moses, that He would punish the nation who had enslaved the Jews.
From Genesis 15, we know that the Egyptians had not only enslaved the Jews, but they had mistreated them. We get a taste of that first when Pharaoh orders the murder of all Hebrew male infants. Mass infanticide went way beyond simple enslavement. We see this also when Pharaoh, after his first encounter with Moses in Exodus five, instead of releasing the slaves, orders them to make bricks without straw but not decreasing their brick quotas. This is not a nice man and the Egyptians had been abusing the Jews for a long time.
So, one way God shows his glory in the plagues is; He shows his righteousness in punishing the sins of Egypt. To give us some idea of the depth of this divine onslaught, in chapter 10 we see the response of Pharaoh’s advisers right before the eighth plague, the locusts. Now remember, this is before the locusts have eaten everything that wasn’t destroyed by the hail and firestorm, before the killing of the first born, before the plundering of Egypt when the Jews left and before the drowning of the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea. Yet even at this point in 10:7 Pharaoh’s advisors cry out to Pharaoh about Moses, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?” Even at this point, God had all but decimated Egypt. The severity of God’s punishment against Egypt is breathtaking as is the judgment God later brings to the evil Canaanites nations. He wipes them out.
God is patient in dealing with sin—he waited 400 years to bring judgment, but when he does punish, it is devastating and it is final. If you are here today and you don’t know Christ, know this: God is patient, but his judgment ALWAYS, inevitably comes. And all those who stand before him without Christ will be judged and punished with eternal fire for their sins. For those who claim to be believers, but are living in long-standing, unrepentant sins, know this, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:7) Our assurance of God’s judgment on sinners is rooted in nothing less than his righteous character. This is simply the way God is. God judged Egypt because He is righteous and God will judge the sinner because he is righteous.
This idea of God being glorified by punishing sin may sound foreign to us today. It is tempting to see that judgment and condemnation is something God does holding his nose. We know from Ezekiel 33 that “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” He is not a sadist. But we must not draw from that verse the conclusion that God is not glorified in his judgment against sinners. If he were to admit even one unrepentant sinner into heaven, it would make the cross a mockery. It would communicate that Jesus really didn’t have to die for the forgiveness of sins. God is holy and holiness hates sin and must punish it. Therefore, when God shows his holy hatred for sin by punishing it, whether Pharaoh’s sin or any sinner today, it shines a light on his holiness and that brings glory to God by magnifying one of his perfect attributes. Make no mistake; every human being ever created will bring glory to God. They will either glorify him by believing on Jesus and magnifying his mercy and grace, or they will glorify him by showing forth his holiness and justice by receiving his eternal wrath in hell for the unforgiven sins they have committed. God will get glory from every creature he has made. The only question for us is; how are we going to glorify him, by living as an expression of grace and mercy, or his wrath and justice? God is glorified in the plagues by revealing his righteousness in judging the Egyptians for their sins.
A second way God is glorified in the plagues on Egypt is this; He shows the supremacy of his power by crushing the demonic gods of the Egyptians. In order for us to appreciate this truth, we need to do a bit of background work first. We must see that God’s judgment on Egypt was not only on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, but also on their gods. We see this in Exodus 12:12. God is telling Moses what he will do in the final plague against the first born of Egypt. He says, “"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. We see this again in Numbers 33 when Moses is reflecting on what God had done for them in Egypt. “The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out boldly in full view of all the Egyptians, 4who were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them; for the Lord had brought judgment on their gods.” Here, in what amounts to a summary statement of God’s activity in the plagues on Egypt, God speaks of his work as bringing judgment on the gods of Egypt.
The question now becomes, how can God bring judgment against wooden statues and brick monuments? How can god bring judgment against inanimate idols? The answer is; there is no such thing as a purely inanimate idol. The bible teaches that man-made idols represent not just statues, but there are indeed dark, spiritual powers behind those idols. In Deuteronomy 32:17 Moses speaks of Israel’s former idolatries and says this, “they sacrificed to demons; which are not god.” In First Corinthians chapters 8-10, Paul is arguing against Christians eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. One reason he gives why the Corinthian Christians should never do this is in 10:19-21. He makes the same point Moses makes when he says, “Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons.”
Behind all idols lie demonic powers—that is the clear argument from the Old and New Testament. So, here are the Hebrews under the oppression of the Egyptians and also under the influence of the Egyptian gods and the demonic powers which are behind them. We see some of the demonic powers at work in the sorcerers who surrounded Pharaoh. You’ll remember that these sorcerers, for the first three plagues, were able to in some way mimic Yahweh’s power. They turned a staff into a snake and that requires power and demonic power was at work in some way. This couldn’t have been just highly sophisticated slight of hand because when Moses’ snakes ate the Egyptians sorcerer’s snakes, the sorcerers lost their staffs. They didn’t just reach behind their backs after the snakes were eaten and pull out their staffs and say, “see, it was only a trick—there was no transformation.” No, their staffs were gone because they were turned into snakes through the use of their “secret arts.” That phrase translates directly into “occult.” There was demonic power at work in the court of Pharaoh. Also, the fact that Pharaoh was a mean man is not the only reason all those Hebrew babies were killed. Satan loves to kill helpless, comparatively innocent babies and we are foolish if we don’t see the satanic connection here in the Exodus infanticide as well as our modern day abortion industry.
If we are to appreciate God’s big picture within this plagues narrative, we must see the underlying spiritual or cosmic warfare that lies behind the plagues. This was not only about God liberating his people from the physical bondage of Egypt, it was also about showing that the God of the Hebrews is far superior to the gods of Egypt. We see this two ways. The first way we see the supremacy of God is to notice that the nature of these plagues were not chosen at random. These plagues were chosen to highlight Yahweh’s supremacy over the Egyptian gods by bringing assaults that were specifically directed against particular gods of Egypt. For instance, the Egyptian god of the Nile (and demons behind it) was Osiris, one of the chief gods of Egypt. Two other gods were also Nile gods in Upper Egypt. When God turned the Nile into blood and caused the Egyptians to dig wells to find untainted water, this would have been seen as a massive defeat for the gods of the Nile. The God of the Hebrews turned the Nile into blood and, though the Egyptian sorcerers could do something similar, they couldn’t undo what God had done. God seized these demons that operated behind Osiris and rendered them helpless.
The plague of the frogs was directed at the goddess Hekt, who was pictured with the head and often the head and body of a frog. The Egyptians could not kill frogs because the frog was considered sacred. So the God of the Hebrews proliferates them to such a degree that they are all over the place and no one could do anything about it. So, in response to Pharaoh’s plea, Yahweh kills them all. That showed beyond a doubt that HE is sovereign over this Egyptian goddess and the demons she represents. When Yahweh plagues the land of Egypt, he shows his supremacy over Egypt’s earth god, known as “geb” and the demons that stand behind it. When He sends the swarms of gnats and flies, he was coming against the various Egyptian gods identified or symbolized by insects, such as the beetle, which was sacred to the Egyptians. When God killed the cattle, this was direct blow against several of Egypt’s gods. The sacred bull Ptah, the jackal-headed god Anubis and the bull god Mentu.
When Yahweh brought judgment through the plague of boils, you’ll remember he caused the plague by the ashes Moses had thrown into the air. What you may not know is, it was customary within Egyptian occult religion to throw ashes into the air during their sacrifices to bless the worshippers. Now, God takes the ashes of their occult practices and uses them to instead bring this horrible curse of boils on them. Exodus 9:11 says of this plague, “The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians.” There is a reason God specifically mentions this fact. The very priests who regularly threw ashes as a blessing to people could not even stand before Moses because they had been cursed by the God of the Hebrews by the very ashes they used as part of their religion. Do you see how powerfully that communicated the supremacy of Yahweh over the Egyptian priests and their gods? When God sends the plagues of hail and locusts and great darkness, it was an attack against the Egyptian gods whom they believed controlled the sky over Egypt.
The God of the Hebrews trampled all over their sky gods by showing their impotency to protect Egypt from Yahweh’s wrath that came from the sky. The Egyptians could never have argued that these plagues were sort of expression of wrath from their own sky gods because they was predicted by Moses. The other fact that would have ensured that the Egyptians knew that this was the work of Yahweh alone is because you’ll recall that while Egypt was ravaged by these plagues, the Jews living in Goshen were spared. This was evidence not only that the damage was inflicted by Yahweh, but that He was also able to protect the Jews from any possible retaliation from the Egyptian gods. The Ancient Near Easter religions taught that the gods over a particular geographic area held absolute control over that area. It was unthinkable that another God, like Yahweh could come into Egypt and usurp the local gods. By coming right into Egypt and wiping the mat with the local Egyptian deities, he was showing that he was God over all the earth. He would not be limited to the tiny land of Goshen where His people dwelt. This would have been the clear message these plagues would have communicated.
When Yahweh brings darkness across Egypt in the ninth plague, he defeats the great Egyptian sun god, Ra who is thrown on the ash heap of the other defeated Egyptian deities. Finally, when he kills the firstborn, he brings down yet one final Egyptian god, Pharaoh himself, who was considered a god. Even Pharaoh’s family, the crown prince no less, was not safe from this awesome God of the Hebrews. Using military terminology to describe this battle, Yahweh mercilessly controlled the water, the land and the air—an utterly comprehensive defeat of the gods of Egypt and the demonic horde that stood behind them.
God himself states his desire to be seen as supreme over the Egyptian gods in a text we already quoted. God says in 9:14, “…this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” God wants all who witness this to know that the Lord of the Hebrews is not just a slightly bigger version of the gods of the Egyptians. He is not bigger, he is different. He says, “there is no one like me in all the earth.” He is qualitatively different—you have never met anyone like him, you never will meet anyone like him. Psalm 113:3 asks, “Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,” And the answer is, nobody. Ephesians 1:21 says, He sits enthroned “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
We wonder how the Egyptians could have been so foolish as to return to worship their idols after the plagues when they saw how comprehensively, how overwhelmingly Yahweh—our God, ground them (and the demons that lie behind them) into powder. We know from later texts that some Egyptians DID leave Egypt and worship Yahweh, but most stayed behind, giving their allegiance to the vanquished, useless Egyptian deities. We are even more incensed by the Israelites. Later, when they are waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Horeb with the Ten Commandments, what kind of god do they fashion from their gold?…a calf. How could THEY, the people of the glorious God Yahweh, having exulted in God’s victory in fifth plague over the cattle gods of Egypt, worship one of the defeated gods of Egypt?
We dare not be too hard on them. We have far more light into the glory of Yahweh than they did. We live after and in the wake of his most amazing victory, his crushing the head of Satan himself through the cross, ensuring his eternal condemnation and humiliation. God has won the ultimate victory through Christ, our warrior King. The battle to come is just a clean up operation—the sting has been drawn, the serpent has been relieved of his lethal toxin. The most perplexing question is not, how can the Egyptians and even the Jews worship idols. The even more astounding question is, how can we, with our understanding of the glory of Yahweh practice idolatry? How can we give ourselves to the television or money or our houses, cabins, boats or family members? An idol is not limited to a statue of Anubis or Ra, its anything we place ahead of God. We may be more sophisticated than the Egyptians in our idolatry, but the condition of the heart is the same for anyone who fails to put Yahweh first. The question is, how can we give first place to comfort or status or position or fame or celebrity or convenience…as all of us do at times? How can we do that when the all-sufficient, awesome God of the universes tells us we are to come to HIM to find our satisfaction? What does it mean to know Yahweh, the Lord God omnipotent if not to make him our one and only God?
The Israelites would have seen how foolish and wicked it was to worship a golden calf if they had only thought of God’s supremacy in defeating the cattle gods of Egypt. The same is true for us. The key to living an idol-free life is to hour by hour look for the glory of God, to ask God for a thirst for it, to dwell on Him, to meditate on Him. As we daily expose ourselves to Yahweh, I AM, the God of the universe--when we know by repeated experience that “there is no one like God in all the earth,” then we will see the foolishness of drinking from the empty cisterns of our idolatries and find our ultimate pleasure, our satisfaction in God. May God make us people who will live like people who know that HE is the LORD.
Page last modified on 1/1/2002
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