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Who is the LORD?

Exodus 2017  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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An investegation of how the first 9 plagues answer the question: "Who is the LORD?"

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Reading the Plagues

Today we are looking at a BIG chunk of scripture! You may wonder; why? Well, because the crux of the story is in it’s cycles. You know the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood, the scene where Little Red is talking to the wolf dressed as Grandma?
Red says “What big eyes you have” and the wolf responds “All the better to see you with!”, then she proceeds to make another observation; “What big ears you have,” “What big nose you have” and so on. This kind of cycle / repetition builds anticipation and tension so that you are ready for the resolution! Even when you’ve heard the story several times, you are still waiting for the moment when the wolf says “All the better to eat you with!” and he jumps out to eat Red riding hood!
It works the same all over the common story telling styles we use, like telling a joke, or even when we are telling a story about our every day life. But it is also a common pattern in scripture stories as well, like when Goliath comes out every day to taunt the Israelite army, or when Elijah burns up the soldiers who come to arrest him, or even in the story of creation where “God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning” (Ge 1:12–13).
When it some to the plagues of Egypt that we are looking at today, it is a huge deal! When Moses wrote Exodus, he could have just written a list of the plagues in dot points, but instead he chose to tell the story though these cycles where he repeats key phrases and ideas over and over again. It stirs our emotions. This builds up the tension and anticipation of the story till you are itching to hear what happens next. Will Pharaoh’s stubbornness win? or will he relent? What will it take to let Israel go?
We’ve got several people who have volunteered to read the story for us today, so I invite you to sit back, and soak up the story. Feel the tension build. Notice the patterns.

Exodus 7:8–10:29

What are the 9 plagues in today's passage?
1 Plague Description Here2 Plague Description Here
3 Plague Description Here4 Plague Description Here
5 Plague Description Here6 Plague Description Here
7 Plague Description Here8 Plague Description Here
9 Plague Description Here

Who is the LORD?

Some stories are foundational to national culture. For the USA they have their Civil war and the War of Independence. For Australia we have Gallipoli. Even though we didn’t win, nor were we the only country involved there, the story of the ANZACs at Gallipoli has shaped our national identity. The story has influenced us in ways that historians are still figuring out.
When it comes to the nation of Israel, their foundation story is intrinsically tied up in their Exodus from Egypt. They were a people enslaved who went through great trials in order to embrace their new identity as a nation. However unlike more recent national stories, Israel’s was not about their war against the bad guys, or an uprising against their oppressors, it was a divine rescue. A divine rescue that showed who their rescuer was.
God rescues his people, but along the way he shows them what he is like. He reveals his character and power to Israel and the world.
God uses these plagues to answer the question “Who is the LORD?”
Remember how the first time that Moses went up to Pharaoh he said:
Exodus 5:2 ESV
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”
So God, answers this question with 10 Plagues. 10 Judgments. 10 Wonders that reveal who he is. Pharaoh will never need to ask this question again, because he will know. He won’t just know academically either, he will know in his heart who the LORD is.
We get to see 9 of these plague judgments this morning. In the midst of these 9 Plagues, we can learn 9 things about God. You might be tempted to think that some of these things are too simplistic. But for the People of Israel, and the Egyptians, they lived in a world of many gods and superstitions. They needed to know who the LORD is. SO as we investigate, see if you can catch the 9 things that show us who the LORD is.
Lets look at the first of the 9 things that show us who the LORD is in the 9 Plagues. We’re going to move pretty quickly though all these features, so kids see if you can catch them all (like a Pokemon trainer!).

1. God speaks, things Happen

A recurring theme in these 9 plagues is the phrase
"the LORD said”
In the ongoing cycles there is a continued theme of God speaking, Moses repeats the words as God’s prophet and then they come to pass. There is no disconnect between what God says and what takes place. Just like when God created the world, he speaks something, and it happens. “Let there be light, and there was light.” God’s word is faithful. It can be trusted!
If God says he will bring a plague, he will. And we saw 9 times in a row where things happen exactly as God said.
This is in direct opposition to Pharaoh. Every time a plague comes and the going gets tough, Pharaoh says “I will let the people go”, but then he changes his mind. Pharaoh, who is the most powerful man in Egypt can’t be trusted. If your country’s leader said one thing and then instantly changed his mind would you trust him?
People don’t trust their friends and family who habitually don’t follow though. Every time they say something you think to yourself “oh yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it”.
Not so with God. There is a huge contrast between the man who's words appear powerful, Pharaoh, and the one who’s word turn into reality.
When God speaks, things happen. And for the Israelites then, and for the Church now, we can look to God’s words and trust them. He said all who trust in Jesus will be saved. You can trust that if you have put your faith and trust in Jesus, you will be saved.

2. God Defeats Opposition

There are three main groups in these 9 plagues that are defeated; The Magicians, The ‘gods’ of Egypt and The god-man Pharaoh

The Magicians

When Moses & Aaron turn up on the scene for the first confrontation there are these sorcerers who appear to be able to mimic the signs the God had given to Moses. Moses turns his rod into a snake, and the magicians copy him. If you were in Moses shoes you might wonder, “Are their magic arts and their gods more powerful than the LORD?”
As if to squash that idea completely, Moses’ rod eats their rods, immediately defeating them. But they come back for more; they seem to be able to mimic the plague of blood! They also are able to bring forth a multitude of frogs during that plague as well! But interestingly you will note, that the magicians only ever multiply the problem. They add to the plague, they can’t make it go away. They essentially try to show their own power by doing more of God’s existing judgment on the land. How does that help? It might make them look good, but when Pharaoh wants the plagues removed, who does he have to call?
Moses.
Pharaoh calls on Moses as the representative of God to take the plagues away when they become to much for him to bear. Moses intercedes for Pharaoh and takes away the plagues.
But after their earlier success in mimicking the plagues, the Magicians have to tap out after three goes. By the time they get to the third plague they were stuck. They admitted themselves;
Exodus 8:19 ESV
Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
These fellas couldn’t keep up with God. In fact, a few plagues later they were powerless. They got covered in boils and couldn’t move! They not only couldn’t replicate the signs, but they couldn’t protect themselves either. God defeated them

The 'gods'

Next, these passages of scripture show the defeat of the gods of Egypt.
The Egyptians, like many ancient cultures, attributed elements of every day lives to various gods, like ones for fertility and rain and what not. For example, Egypt had a god they associated with the river Nile because it was the backbone of their society. They rely on it for watering crops and for fishing and for drinking supply. Then God turned it into blood. He turned their source of life into a source of death and their river god was helpless.
The Egyptians also had a sun god Ra, and how did God show his utter dominance over Ra? He turned the country dark for three days. He switched off the lights on the Egyptians! Except of course where the Israelites lived. God defeated the Egyptian pantheon; their so-called gods were helpless in the face of the True God Yahweh.

The ‘god-man’ Pharaoh

The other person God defeated was Pharaoh. Like in ancient Rome, the king or emperor in power was considered to be quasi-divine. After all, he was the most powerful person that anyone knew. He had so much authority and power on earth that to the average person the Pharaoh seemed “otherworldly”. Yet, just like the others, God defeats him. Pharaoh sets himself up in opposition to God and fails miserably.
He tries to meet God halfway; “just worship God here” or “Just take the men” or “leave the animals behind”. But God won’t stand for it, and slowly Pharaoh’s concessions are overcome so that each time he asks for less and less.
Eventually Pharaoh even admits he is wrong;
Exodus 9:27 ESV
Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.
You know, nothing has changed since that time in ancient history; God defeats opposition. God opposes the proud and lifts up the humble. God defeats his enemies. We trust that God overthrows the opposition that faces us now; Sin, Death and the Devil. And given God’s track record of absolutely decimating our enemies we trust that he will finish our enemies off in the future.
You know how he defeats our enemies? By the true God-man Jesus Christ. Jesus isn’t some fake person who claims divinity; he is not some second rate ‘god’; he is God incarnate. He is the Son of God. He is the Word of God. He is our Divine King who cannot be defeated.

3. God is Unique

As Christians we know this pretty well. If we were to sit an exam to test our knowledge of God, I’m pretty sure all of us in this room would be able to pass the uniqueness of God question. For the most part it doesn’t occur to us to think about this, but in the ancient world, there were all kinds of claims about who the gods were and who had power over what. Not only that, when you went down the road to the next country they had a slightly different way of differentiating the gods, with different names and jobs for them
But, the God of Israel rises above all of that. The LORD is not even comparable to the gods of the Egyptians or anyone else for that matter. He was not a mere local deity or a god particular to the ethnic people of Israel. He was and is THE LORD. He is separate. He is THE GOD, Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of the Heavenly Host, the creator and Sustainer of all things. No one should be able to confuse our God with one of the local Egyptian deities.
Moses says as much when Pharaoh requests for the frogs to be removed;
Exodus 8:10 ESV
And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God.
God demonstrated his power in this way to show that there was no one else like him. No one one could do the wonders that he did. No one could bring them on in one moment, and take them away the next. God is utterly separate from any other being; creaturely being or divine being. No one can truly challenge God.
Even Satan, who is traditionally set up as the counterpart to God is nothing like God in power or being. God’s defeat of Satan is almost a non contest, like when Queensland plays NSW in origin. Sometimes for a moment it looks like the Blues might win, but then the rightful champions utterly wipe them out. No contest!
When you consider God and the religions getting around today like the Baha'i faith or Islam or anyone else who want to contest their god against ours, remember that there is no one like the Lord our God. No one comes close, and he will not stand being falsely

4. God is All Powerful

God says to Pharaoh;
Exodus 9:16 ESV
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.
God says it right there. He raised up Pharaoh so that God could show his power. God illustrates his power so clearly! He as we have seen, has power over everything. He is not a god confined to work in the realm of the river only, he has power over water, animals, weather events, human illnesses. And it’s not just broad brush power either; God applies his judgments specifically to the Egyptians, and protects his people from the effects.
God could have just wiped Pharaoh and his subjects from the map, but God lets him live on in rebellion so that he can display his might works and demonstrate his power.
At this point, it might be worth making a note on the nature of the plagues. The question is; are the Plagues Supernatural or Natural?
It’s a genuine question. For the most part, the Plagues of Egypt could be attributed to natural phenomena. They say that upstream sediments after the rain make the river run red, and the multiplication of frogs is a result of that, which in turn leads to the gnats. The flies made the livestock sick and they transmitted their sickness to people who broke out in boils. The darkness was a huge dust storm and so on.
Now when it comes to figuring out if the plagues were a series of natural disasters, rather than super-natural, as in conjured out of thin air or something, I don’t mind which way you go as long as you recognize that God is the initiator of such events. God created this world to run in a certain way, and he has every right to use the natural processes of the world to create these plagues. However, there are indications that the plagues were fully supernatural; for instance the river truly does appear to be blood. And when the hail comes, there is some kind of fire, not lightning, but fire in the hail. Now I dunno about you, but i don’t normally expect to see fire in the midst of ice falling out of the sky.
God is All powerful, and he uses his power to bring about these plagues.

5. God owns Everything

Moses says to Pharaoh;
Exodus 9:29 ESV
Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.
God owns everything. He created it, he keeps it all alive and the world spinning. But Pharaoh though he owned Egypt, and the people of Israel and the right to reject God. How wrong he was. God demonstrated his ownership by controlling the weather patterns.
The earth is the Lords, as is your stuff. Your house, your car, your family, your body. you very life is God’s. Don’t be so arrogant to think it is yours, it is merely under your control for a time. Will you be like Pharaoh and say “I’ll do what I want!” or will you bow to the true owner of everything? Pharoah was a poor stwerad of everything in his control. Your area of control may be somewhat smaller, but don’t follow his example.

6. God reveals Himself

One of the the 9 things that the 9 Plagues teaches us about God is that God reveals himself. He is not some distant unknowable force; he is an actor in human history; in time and space. Through his actions and his speech he shows himself to us. This in itself is amazing!
God specifically tells Moses the reason for the plagues;
Exodus 10:1–2 ESV
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may 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 the Lord.”
“...that you may know that I am the Lord”
There are some amazing things to consider here. The infinite and almighty God is some how accessible by our tiny human minds. God has found a way to portray himself to us in a way that we can comprehend and understand. We will never be able to fully comprehend and know God, but we can know some of him through the way that he has revealed himself!
The best place to look to see the image of GOd is at Jesus. Jesus says that if we have seen him we have seen that Father.
Hebrews 1:3 ESV
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
To see Jesus is to see God. To know Jesus is to know the Father. And this is something to be celebrated; that God would reveal himself to us is amazing, let along the fact that he said we could know him personally come and dwell with him forever!

7. God Teaches

As an on flow from that God Teaches. God is a didactic God. He doesn’t just tell us about himself, but he teaches and instructs us. And we see that in the way he brought about the plagues. In that key verse we looked at before in 10:1-2 I skipped over the middle section which said:
Exodus 10:1–2 ESV
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may 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 the Lord.”
God wants this cataclysmic event of these plagues to be something that teaches his own people to know Him. Each generation should hear the story of how God acted towards the Egyptians so that they can know the God the worship. This scenario with the continued stubbornness of Israel served a purpose, not just for the people in slavery on that day, but also for each successive generation of Israelites.
The thing is, that the teaching purpose of these plagues didn’t stop with the arrival of Jesus. These plagues continue to teach about the God we worship, just as I am doing to day with you; showing you who the LORD is for the story. And we follow the pattern of the Hebrews of old by teaching each other and our kids about the way God has acted in our history, and how we anticipate he will fulfill all his promises in Jesus in the consummation of all things.

8. God Hardens Hearts

This is one of the harder things to learn form the passage, because it doesn’t tend to sit well with us. It rubs us the wrong way. We don’t like the idea that God can, and does affect the disposition of our hearts. We’ve been conditioned to think of ourselves as completely independent beings who aren’t constrained by anyone or anything. Yet a simple journey through a psychology textbook will tell you that our character, our dispositions, our tendencies are affected by our environment and our genetics.
If our environment and parents can affect our beliefs and dispositions, how much more can God, through his divine control over the universe, affect our hearts?
When it came to pharaoh, God hardened his heart so that God could use him to a greater purpose. God used the natural orders of creation to harden Pharaoh’s heart. In the same way, God uses our natural circumstances to shape our heart. For Pharaoh, and all of us for that matter, our natural disposition in sin is to rebel against God and resist him, and God used that hardened heart to illustrate his divine character and his arm of salvation for his people in Egypt.
The passage leaves no doubt that a) Pharaoh was active in hardening his own heart and b) God was active in hardening the heart. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is repeated in every single cycle. It is a big theme in this story.
Now I want you to think this through carefully. This is one of those deeper matters of God that Christians have historically understood different ways; but Eastgate is an unashamedly reformed church, and so we take the plain meaning of the text that God acted is such a way to cause Pharaoh’s hard heart, even while Pharaoah hardened his own heart and remained responsible for his actions.
The flip side is of course is that God softens hearts as well. That that was our need. We naturally have hard hearts, and we need the Spirit of God to enter into us and soften our hearts and bend us toward God. We are naturally rebellious, and we need God’s work in us to shape our will and affections into godly intentions and attitudes.
This teaching from this text can be a hard pill to swallow for some, so I encourage you to come chat to Steve, or Ray or I about it. If this is something that concerns you, talk about it. We don’t bite, and we won’t be shocked if you bristle at the idea that God hardens hearts.

9. God Requires Obedience

Last one! One of the the 9 things that the 9 Plagues teaches us about God is that God requires obedience!
God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble. Those that hear God’s words and respond in faith receive life.
We see in the plagues where God won’t accept the half heated attempt of Pharaoh to let the people go and worship. God din’t just want them to worship in Egypt, he didn’t just want the men to go, he wanted all Israel, with livestock in tow, to be able to leave. God doesn’t take kindly to half-hearted obedience. He didn’t with pharaoh, nor with the guy in Joshua who hid some of the spoils of war in his tent. He didn’t stand the double mindedness of Annaias and Saphira who he destroyed in Acts.
Thankfully God doesn’t always strike people down where they stand, but he has abundantly illustrated that he can’t stand halfhearted attempts to please him. With God is either all in or all out. You are either with him or you are against him. No one can serve two masters.
Thankfully God obedience starts very simply. Like the livestock in the Plague of the Hailstorm, God gave an opportunity for anyone who wanted to save their livestock to get them out of the field, Egyptian or Israelite. Those who trusted God and put their livestock inside had their animals saved!
Obedience for the people of God simply starts with trusting him at his word and finding shelter, rest, salvation in his arms. Obedience starts with coming to God and saying; I want your rescue.
But asking for God’s rescue means ditching the identity of Egypt. Going after God means leaving the old world behind. For us, rescue from slavery means leaving sin behind, not wallowing in it. and if we truly Know the LORD as this passage instructs us, we will see that God is the only option for rescue. All other powers and persons are inept in comparison. Obedience to God is something to be desired. Obedience to God saves us from wrath, but it is also what is best for us.

Bringing it all together

God Speaks, things happen
God Defeats Opposition
God is Unique
God is All Powerful
God owns Everything
God reveals Himself
God Teaches his people
God Hardens Hearts
God Requires Obedience
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