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The Lord at Work

The Gospel According to Exodus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  42:04
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If you have your Bible (and I hope you do) please turn with me to Exodus 9. If you’re able and willing, please stand with me for the reading of God’s Holy Word:
Exodus 9:1–12 NIV
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” 2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, 3 the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. 4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’ ” 5 The Lord set a time and said, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this in the land.” 6 And the next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. 7 Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. 9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.” 10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word!
______
There’s something going on in the plagues that really jumped out to me as I was reading and studying Plagues 5 and 6. This is not unique to these two plagues—certainly, this is true in every plague—but some of the language in this chapter of Exodus really highlights this truth:
v. 3— the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock
v. 4—the Lord will make a distinction
v. 5—the Lord set a time
v. 6—the next day, the Lord did it
v. 12—the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart

The Lord is at work

This is certainly clear in all the other plagues, but this truth—that the Lord is at work—seems to me to be highlighted in these verses.
The repetition—verses 3, 4, 5, 6, 12 are there to grab our attention and make us think about what, rather WHO is causing all these miracles in Egypt.
We’re halfway through the plagues and we’ve seen, with each plague, the two-part reason for the plagues.
God does everything for:
His glory, and
The good of His people
The plagues we’ve seen so far—blood, frogs, gnats, and flies—all serve these two purposes. The Lord is at work to secure the unconditional freedom of His people from slavery in Egypt so that they might worship Him (His glory) and so that they might be free from the cruel oppression of Pharaoh and the Egyptians (the good of His people).
As they go on, the plagues become more severe; a little more unbearable, each one.
The Lord is at work in this, to be sure.
He’s systematically tearing-down the Egyptians and their false gods. He’s using Pharaoh’s pride and stubborn heard-heartedness to make His point. He’s revealing that He is Lord over all creation and is the One who holds all things together. He’s making it clear that none of the gods the Egyptians worship have any power whatsoever.
The Lord is at work, of this, there is no doubt.
v. 3— the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock
v. 4—the Lord will make a distinction
v. 5—the Lord set a time
v. 6—the next day, the Lord did it
v. 12—the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart
The Lord is at work, and

The work of the Lord is UNMISTAKABLE

None of the prior plagues is announced by Moses as the work of the hand of the Lord.
Pharaoh’s magicians said the plague of gnats was courtesy the finger of God, but this was merely their general idea that what was happening was supernatural, divine, above them.
The magicians were not expressing belief in or confessing anything about the Lord Yahweh, the God of the enslaved Jewish people.
It was, according to them, the finger of God.
But here, well...here the Lord says to Pharaoh (through Moses):
Exodus 9:3 NIV
3 the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats.
The hand of the Lord...
This phrase makes clear what all the events of the plagues are meant to show Egypt, Israel, and us: it is the Lord who is at work to bring His people out of slavery.
The might and strength of God’s hand is the means by which He will bring Israel out of Egypt.
God’s power is working in the world to save His people; this recurs throughout the story of the plagues and the Exodus—the hand of the Lord.
This image—the hand of the Lord—is an anthropomorphism: giving human characteristics to a non-human. God is not like us. He has no body; He has no hand.
This phrase is a way of setting-up a comparison between God and Pharaoh. Ancient Egyptian texts often describe the power of Pharaoh by saying that he had “a strong hand, a strong arm” with which he would destroy his enemies.
Here in the plagues, it’s not the strong hand of Pharaoh; it’s the hand of the Lord.
The hand of God is the only power there is. Pharaoh has no power, no strength, no might.
By speaking of His hand, this is God Himself announcing that the plague is coming directly from Him—there can be no mistaking what’s happening.
This isn’t the finger of some unknown higher power; this is the very hand of God.
And it’s unmistakable.
Exodus 9:5–6 NIV
5 The Lord set a time and said, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this in the land.” 6 And the next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died.
This plague is as miraculous as it is unmistakable.
The timing of the whole thing was set by the Lord.
Moses was able to say when this great and dreadful plague was going to occur, not because Moses was a good guesser, but because God had revealed in advance the time of His intervention.
The Lord set a time when this would happen and the next day the Lord did it.

The work of the Lord is UNMISTAKABLE

Once again, the Lord’s at work and He’s making a distinction between His people and the people of Israel.
Each time He does this, each time the Lord makes it so that the Egyptians suffer from the plague and the Israelites don’t have to suffer any part of the plague—each time the Lord does this, He makes an unmistakable impression on the Egyptians and the Israelites.
In the previous plague, flies came on all the Egyptians, but the Lord said:
Exodus 8:22–23 NIV
22 “ ‘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. 23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’ ”
Now, in this plague:
Exodus 9:3–4 NIV
3 the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. 4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’ ”
This plague will kill all the Egyptian livestock in the fields; all the Egyptian horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats. All the Egyptian animals living in the field are d-e-a-d, dead.
In an unmistakable distinction: not one animal belonging to the Israelites is touched.
Something unmistakable is taking place.
Let’s talk bovine spongiform encephalopathy. You know, BSE? Or, we could call it “mad cow disease” as it is commonly known.
It was 1985 when English ranchers first noticed they had a problem. Some of their cattle were sick. They were weakened physically and mentally—a very strange disease.
The infected cattle behaved erratically; they’d become either fearful or aggressive. They seemed to be going mad (hence “mad cow disease”). As the disease progressed, the cattle staggered around the farm until they’d stumble to the ground and die.
There was no treatment, no cure. It rightly caused a panic across Europe, becoming one of the most terrifying plagues of the last century.
Now imagine a disease like this comes to Bates County. And imagine if only cattle owned by Butler and Hume residents were affected; all the cattle owned by Rich Hill-ians were just fine, enjoying good health with no issues. Cattle on bordering farmland are distinguished from one another based on who owns them. Those cattle die; these don’t.
That would be odd, wouldn’t it? Everyone would have to say something unmistakable was taking place.
Here in Egypt, that’s exactly what’s happening—the plague from the hand of the Lord affects only the Egyptian livestock: (v. 6) All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died.
So odd, so unmistakably odd this is, that Pharaoh investigates it.
Exodus 9:7 NIV
7 Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.
It’s as if Pharaoh couldn’t believe his own eyes and ears; as if the reports of the death of all the Egyptian livestock living in the field were fabricated, made up, exaggerated, false.
Pharaoh sees the effects of the plague. His investigation turns up the only possible verdict: the hand of the Lord brought this plague upon his people’s livestock with the promised result.
And still Pharaoh’s heart was unyielding and would not let the people go.
This—even this (Pharaoh’s unyielding heart)—even this is the unmistakable work of the Lord.

The work of the Lord is UNMISTAKABLE

The Lord continues His systematic dismantling of the Egyptian worldview and Pharaoh’s entire program. Plague #6 is introduced in verse 8 with the same words the rest of the plagues are introduced: Then the Lord said to Moses...
Pharaoh doesn’t get it. 5 plagues in and Pharaoh remains unyielding. What’s it going to take?
First, God turned the river into blood. But Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not listen.
Then came the frogs. Pharaoh asked for prayer, but as soon as he got some relief, he hardened his heart.
Next, gnats swarmed all over Egypt. The magicians said it was the finger of God, but Pharaoh’s heart was hard and refused to listen.
The fourth plague was flies, and Pharaoh finally decided to let God’s people go; but as soon as the flies were gone, he changed his mind and guess what? Hardened his heart.
Then all the livestock died, and Pharaoh’s hard heart still refused to yield.
Five plagues in, and Pharaoh was still as big a fool as ever—hard-hearted fool.
Here, the Lord, goes to work and brings another miraculous plague upon Egypt: festering boils.
Exodus 9:8–11 NIV
8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. 9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.” 10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians.
Some think this is leprosy or small pox. Somehow, others are 100% certain they’ve identified this as skin anthrax. How they’ve determined this, I have no idea; seems like wild speculation to me...
Whatever the disease, we know it affected the skin and was extremely unpleasant, possibly even life-threatening.
The first five plagues had been annoying, but they were about to get personal—to be covered with painful, open sores from head to toe—that’s the Lord getting all up in your business.
This shows that the Lord Yahweh, the God of Israel, had power even over their bodies.
This should have warned them that their very lives were in danger.

The work of the Lord is UNMISTAKABLE

No natural cause could account for this plague. This, like all the other plagues, is miraculous.
It comes on unannounced, no warning.
It comes on in an unexpected way: soot from a furnace tossed in the air.
It comes on very specifically: boils break out on all the Egyptians, but only the Egyptians.
The magicians who had previously attempted to replicate the plagues the Lord brought upon Egypt here do nothing of the sort.
Here, they couldn’t even stand before Moses because of the boils that covered their skin (v. 11).
This plague prevented them from doing their job, from carrying out their religious duties; the Egyptians valued purity, so a priest covered with open sores would have been able to perform his customary rituals.
What’s more, this plague would have humiliated the magicians. It was customary for Pharaoh’s priests to take sacrificial ashes and cast them into the air as a sign of blessing.
But God took that ritual act and turned it into a curse. The soot that Moses tossed into the air likely came from one of the furnaces used for making bricks—bricks like the Israelites made for Pharaoh.
This was a matter of justice. God is exacting justice, repaying the Egyptians for their sins. The very soot made by the enslaved people of God was now used to inflict punishment on their oppressors.
The defeat of Pharaoh’s magicians was so complete, their humiliation so absolute, that the book of Exodus never mentions them again.
Sadly, the plague of boils ends the same way all the other plagues end—with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.
Notice what the Bible says here:
Exodus 9:12 NIV
12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.
The Lord was the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
This is the unmistakable work of the Lord: Pharaoh’s heart is hard because God made it so.
Some say that Pharaoh hardened his heart before the Lord hardened it.
However, we know that the Lord promised to harden it for him. The Lord told Moses,
Exodus 4:21 NIV
21 The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.
Exodus 7:3 NIV
3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt,
Pharaoh was hard-hearted, true. But it’s also true that this is the work of the Lord and part of God’s sovereign plan.
This was God’s purpose for Pharaoh. God did this to demonstrate His justice and His power.
This is something the Lord did; this is HIS work. The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

The work of the Lord is UNMISTAKABLE

This is true in Egypt. It’s true today and in all ages.
It’s the Lord who is ever at work bringing His people out of Egypt, bringing His people out of slavery.
This is what the Lord does. He has worked, e’er since we fell in the garden, preparing us for deliverance. And deliver us, He will. Deliver us, He has.
Salvation/deliverance has come to us by the very hand of God. In the fullness of time, at precisely the time the Lord determined, the Lord did it. He did it. He saved us by sending Jesus.
>This is what we celebrate all year long, but something we focus on specifically and with special emphasis in this season—the time leading up to Christmas. We celebrate the Lord working for us. Jesus has worked for us, clearly and completely.
On that beautiful day those many years ago, in the most unmistakable manner, God worked-out our salvation—and the salvation of all who believe—in the most unique, most unlikely, most unmistakable way imaginable.
Not through plagues of boils or dead livestock, but through the miracle of the incarnation.
The Lord decided, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, to work out the way of our salvation.
So, the Triune God decided to take on flesh and blood and dwell among us, “to rob our sin and make us holy.” The second Person of the Trinity was born in that little town of Bethlehem, born to Mary and Joseph, born before sheep and shepherds—this, the unmistakable work of the Lord.
He has worked to save us. And He, and He alone, can give us what we need.
We need new hearts, hearts of flesh to replace our hardened, stone-cold hearts.
It’s the Lord who works in us, through Christ and by His Holy Spirit, to transform us and make us new.
If you’re a Christian—if you belong to God via relationship with Jesus—it’s only because the Lord has transformed you and made you new; it’s only because the Lord has worked in your life in an unmistakable way.
If you’re a Christian, the Lord has worked in your life in unmistakable ways: chances are, you rehearsed some of them this past week at the Thanksgiving table.
Jesus has saved you from your slavery to sin, setting you free once and for all. He has taken your hard heart and given you a heart of flesh; taking your unyielding, selfish heart and replacing it with a receptive, humble heart.
Jesus has moved you from death to life, from lost to saved, from hell to heaven.
How has the Lord worked in your life? In what unmistakable way has He moved in you?
It’s possible you’re here this morning and may not be a Christian. May I suggest that this—you’re being here—is the Lord working in your life in an unmistakable way?
The Lord has, unmistakably, brought you here. He is drawing you to Himself and desires that you would come to repentance, that you would confess your sins and declare Jesus is Lord.

The work of the Lord is UNMISTAKABLE

Here’s the Good News: I guarantee the Lord is at work. And I’m absolutely certain He’s working in your life.
Some say the Lord works in mysterious ways.
I say the Lord works in unmistakable ways.
"Lord, help us to see your unmistakable work in our lives, in our church. Give us new hearts, receptive hearts, humble hearts. May we see and savor what Jesus has done for us and give our lives in service to and worship of Him.”
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