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Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and the Greatness of God (Exodus 7-10)

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Introduction

One of GK’s favorite things to talk about is who she’s going to be when she grows up. I remember being the same way. As a child, you look over the rest of your life and all you see is dreams and opportunity and anticipation. Sometimes she wants to be a teacher and a mom or a doctor and a wife. Other times, she wants to join the Justice League or be a rock star. When I was a youth pastor, there was a young man in about the 10th grade who was struggling to get his footing. He didn’t have the best home situation and didn’t have a lot of guidance in his life. So, I asked him one day what his plans were for the future. And, as serious as he could be, he told, “I’ve thought about being a ninja.” When I explained to him that maybe that was a bit impractical, he recalibrated and said, “Well, maybe I’ll play in the NBA then.”
Funny as that is, we realize when we get older that all of us have an impractical view of the future. No matter how simple your aspirations were, they usually turn out not to be so simple in reality. We never seem to be fully ‘grown up.’ But, for Christians, we’re able to look to the future in a way that is similar to how a young child looks at being ‘grown up.’ We’re able to look with optimism and hope and anticipation. I want you to hold that thought in the back of your mind until the end.

God’s Word

Read Exodus 7:1-13

What Egypt’s Plagues Reveal about God (Headline):

What makes a great king great? What makes Alexander the Great and Ivan the Terrible? That’s the question being answered in Exodus 7-10. First of all, who is great? Is it the Pharaoh, or is the God of the slaves? And, if it’s proposed to be the God of the slaves, then why are they slaves? How could He be great if that is true? How could He be great in a world with war and poverty and disease and genocide? If we are to call him great, what upholds our definition of greatness? It’s to the answer of these questions that we get the famous plagues of Egypt, and I want you to see what Egypt’s plagues reveal about God.

God is a “king” of surpassing “greatness”.

v. 5 “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” We should see the plagues as revealing one overall truth and then how that truth is revealed through two different experiences and perspectives. First, the overarching truth: God is a “king” of surpassing “greatness”. In just the verses we read you can see that this is at the forefront of what God is seeking to accomplish, and you can even begin to see how there’s going to be two different perspectives, two separate experiences of that greatness. In verse three, God says that He will “multiply (his) signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.” God’s signs are for his people to see his greatness. They are for his people to know that nothing, not even the laws of nature, will stand in his way of upholding his word to them. And then, in verse five He says, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” God is going to come against Egypt with such force, such power, such grandeur that they are not going to be unclear as to how small and futile they are in his presence. They will know his surpassing greatness, too. But, where Israel’s experience of God’s greatness will bring comfort and confidence, Egypt’s experience with God’s greatness will bring terror and misery.

De-creation

Through the plagues, we see God revealing his surpassing greatness in a very particular way. The Egyptians were pantheists, meaning they believed that its the creation that is eternal, the creation is what we answer to and worship. They had dozens of gods that were all represented and manifested through the various areas of creation. The Nile represented three different gods itself. It was the life-blood of Egypt. Frogs were considered symbols of fertility and were so sacred that it was unlawful for an Egyptian to kill one. The sun represented Egypt’s most powerful god. So, what does the LORD God do? He turns the Nile to blood and makes Israel’s life source into a stench. He overruns Egypt with frogs so that they are finding them in their cereal boxes and pillow cases. He shuts the lights off so that there is uninterrupted darkness permeating all of Egypt. God demonstrates his surpassing greatness by showing, not just his superiority over their gods, but by demonstrating his sovereignty and control over them. You see, Genesis begins with “creation”, and Exodus begins with “de-creation”. Creation shows that God created all things, and de-creation shows that God rules over all things. Creation brings order out of disorder, calm out of chaos, fullness out of emptiness, and light out of darkness. But, in the plagues, disorder is brought out of order. Chaos is brought out of calm. The vegetation of the earth is destroyed by hail and eaten by locusts. Egypt is becoming uninhabitable. And, it lands after the 10th sign so that the de-creation parallels how Genesis began: dark, formless, and void.

Don’t Worship What You See

You see, the “creation” is not the point; the “Creator” is. Egypt worships what they see; Israel worships the One who has made what they see.“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.Nothing you see is worthy of worship. But, they are glimpses, invitations, calls to discover and pursue and live for a king of surpassing greatness. A king who can give boundaries to gnats and command the hail on where it should fall. What you see is meant to trigger your imagination about the surpassing greatness of the One you can’t see who is behind, over, and in it all.

God’s greatness is “displayed” by his irrefutable “justice”.

v. 5 “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, WHEN I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” God’s greatness is upheld by two pillars in chapters 7-10: His greatness is displayed by his irrefutable justice and enjoyed by his inextinguishable mercy. These are the specific shades of his greatness that we’re supposed to see here. That’s the point of what He says in the rest of verse five. “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, WHEN I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” That is, the surpassing greatness of God will be obvious when Egypt experiences his justice and, simultaneously, when Israel enjoys his mercy. So, let’s look (far more briefly than we should) at how God’s greatness is “displayed” by his irrefutable “justice”.

A Hard-hearted King

v. 3 “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” The hardness of Pharaoh’s heart is mentioned 18 times in Exodus. But, what makes it especially touchy and mysterious is that it says multiple times that God hardened his heart, including here and in chapter four before it even happens. So, the Bible goes out of the way here, and reinforces it in other places like Psalm 105 and Romans 9, to place the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart at the feet of God’s sovereign purposes. Why would God accept any responsibility for Pharaoh’s heart? Two reasons: 1) It’s an explanation of the plan. God wants his people to know when Pharaoh rejects their request, when the situation appears hopeless, when Pharaoh becomes even more entrenched, that this has been a part of God’s plan from the beginning. This is just the plan unfolding, odd as it may seem. Pharaoh, whether he likes it or not, will be a vessel for God’s glory in God’s plan. 2) Further, it’s a declaration of judgement against Pharaoh and against Egypt for their mistreatment and oppression of his people, for their disregard for his glory. In 10:1, God says, “I have hardened (Pharaoh’s) heart and the heart of his servants, THAT I MAY SHOW THESE SIGNS OF MINE AMONG THEM.” God hardens his heart that He might show how his plan is coming to bear through his power for the display of his greatness and the destruction of his enemies.

Is God Good if He Hardens?

We struggle with this passage because this doesn’t sound good to us. But, if justice is good, then this is good. God’s justice contributes to his goodness. If you took away his justice, He would no longer be good. Pharaoh had oppressed God’s people, rejected God’s messengers, and declared himself as God’s superior. What reasonable response is there? God is “glorified” by his “just” judgements. God is glorified by the sentencing of those who declare independence from him. It upholds his justice and displays his goodness, his holiness. He’s giving them what they want. At no point can Pharaoh in this passage not do what he wants. So, what did God have to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart? Nothing. It was already hard. It had been hard. God simply gave him over to his own reprobate mind, his own stubbornness and arrogance. All God had to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart was to leave him alone. The only way for a heart soften is if God softens it, and that’s his choice. It’s decisive. That’s how it can be him hardening or not. He chooses to give you what you want or to interrupt your just judgement with his radical mercy and outrageous grace.

God Is No Superstition

And, we should be warned by Pharaoh. Multiple times, it appears as though Pharaoh is on the verge of repentance. In 9:27, for instance, in the midst of the plague of hail destroying Egypt, Pharaoh says, “This time I have sinned (been unjust); the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.” But, you see, for Pharaoh, this was just a bargaining chip; it was just his attempt at manipulating God to do what he wanted. He thought, “If I will just say the right things and show the right emotions and take the right posture, then God will relent, and I’ll figure out Israel and the rest later.” Pharaoh’s negotiations betrays his understanding of the gods. Every God is but a “superstition”, except the “LORD”. They are slaves to rituals and manipulated by external portrayals of righteousness, unable to see or affect the heart. Is there any wonder why sinners are perplexed and petrified by a God who cannot be moved by trifles and rituals? How many of our false conversions, formula prayers, and superficial repentances are nothing deeper than cultural superstition intended to manipulate God into giving us what we want -- whether it’s heaven or a negative pregnancy test or out of a bad situation or an influx of cash into our business? So, we start praying again and attending church again and making commitments again, assuming we can manipulate God by our own actions, our own rituals like rubbing a rabbit’s foot or storing up good karma. But, we should see that Pharaoh attempted to manipulate God and was, in fact, manipulated by God so that He advances God’s purposes, even in his condemnation. God is no superstition. God is a sovereign King of surpassing greatness. That’s what God’s hardening of his heart shows us. This morning, no more superstitious ceremonies or rituals. No more rehearsed prayers. Surrender to the one of surpassing greatness.

God’s greatness is “enjoyed” by his inextinguishable “mercy”.

v. 12b “But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.” One of the striking features of the plagues is how, simultaneously, a single event can be a curse to one but a blessing to another. Egypt’s curse was Israel’s blessing. Egypt experiences justice, but Israel experiences mercy. So, that’s the other angle on God’s greatness here. God’s greatness is “enjoyed” by his inextinguishable “mercy”. His greatness isn’t just to be feared by his enemies; it’s to be enjoyed by his people. That’s what’s being foreshadowed in the very first sign we read about here in chapter seven. Aaron lays down his staff, and it becomes a serpent. Pharaoh’s magicians manage to do the same. Maybe God has met his match? And, then Aaron’s staff swallows all of their staffs. This process is going to be up and down, but it’s going to be to the ultimate vindication and enjoyment of God’s people.
Mercy is the “alleviation” of justice, not the “execution” of justice. Mercy is not justice or injustice; it’s non-justice. (Sproul) Israel didn’t deserve the enjoyment of God. They had doubted him and given up on him. But, God is rich in mercy. He doesn’t give his people what they deserve. He gives them what Christ deserves. He makes his greatness known through them by giving them mercy that He will justify by punishing his own Son instead. 10:2 shows us the other side of Pharaoh’s hardened heart. It says that “I have hardened (Pharaoh’s) 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’s mercy gives us a “story” to “tell”. It’s the story of who God made us to be despite who we are and what we’ve done. It’s the story of how God reined justice down upon Egypt but flooded Goshen with mercy. The gnats and the hail knew just where to stop. The very best way to disciple your children is to tell them the stories of your walk with God, to tell them the story of God’s provision, of the fulfillment of his promises in your life.

Not Just De-creation, but Re-creation

Mercy isn’t just a story of de-creation. Mercy is the story of “re-creation”. Israel is leaving a land that God has ravaged to possess and enjoy a Promised Land that He has prepared and given. This is only the first chapter. And, the same is true of us. Christ has come that we might be re-created with a new nature, and we have been recreated with a new nature in preparation for living in a new Kingdom and a new earth yet to be. So, you aren’t yet all that you’re going to be. You haven’t fully gown up yet. You haven’t peaked yet. You haven’t reached your ceiling yet. You can look to the future and be certain that while right now you don’t even live up to your own expectations, one day, you will be incorruptible, imperishable, and unstoppable. You will be pure and perfect, holy and whole. You will be patient, kind, gentle, and loving. You will be fully then what you are now in part. Your optimism is not impractical; it’s purchased.
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