COC 12 - Exodus 7_14-10_29 sermon
Proclaim the Greatness of the Lord
I hope you were able to read Exodus 7:14-10:29, as I suggested in the email this week. This morning we’ll just touch on some highlights from those descriptions of the nine central signs that God used to display His greatness and deliver His people from Egypt.
There are many small details in these nine descriptions. You can reference the chart in your notes for some of them. But we want to focus on several areas of the Lord’s sovereignty displayed in these plagues, as well as several areas of application for us.
As we mentioned last week these plagues seem to be organized in three sets of three; there is a clear progression as they quite build in their severity. And so even a quick reading of these things shows that this is the Lord’s sovereign action, the execution of a very clear plan and purpose. Let’s just overview all nine, and I’ll point out several areas of God’s sovereignty that are displayed here.
Plague 1: Water to Blood (7:14-25)
We live in a nation of natural contrasts and very diverse natural resources; it’s hard for us to imagine life in a country where everything revolves so completely around one river: but in Egypt the Nile is everything. And for the ancient Egyptians the Nile was worshipped as a great god. Without the annual flooding of the Nile there was no life in Egypt; so at any cost, you must keep the god or gods of the Nile happy.
So God fittingly chooses to begin this display of His sovereignty with the Nile. In verse 20 Aaron uses the rod to strike the Nile, making it clear that this is not Aaron’s work but God’s. And the Nile turns into blood. There is some dispute over whether this is actually blood or not, since the Hebrew word can describe the substance blood or the color (blood-red). Regardless the Nile is changed both in appearance and chemical makeup, because verse 21 says the fish died. This extended to any surface water connected with the Nile as well, in other pools and vessels, as v.19 describes.
This strikes at the heart of the Egyptian culture and religious system, while displaying God’s sovereign authority over nature. But Pharaoh’s magicians are able to duplicate this on some sort of minor scale, and Pharaoh’s heart is hard.
Notice that God’s mercy is seen, both in the thorough warning He gave to Pharaoh, detailing exactly what will happen and why, and also in the fact that when the Egyptians dug they found water that was safe to drink.
Plague 2: frogs (8:1-15)
Seven days later another warning, then the plague of the frogs. READ 8:3. The Egyptians had a goddess who was represented by a frog; so once again this is part of the world they worship, and God turns their supposed deities against them. Certainly having swarms of frogs everywhere is very uncomfortable. This text is the culprit behind one of my most famous sermon blunders. Preaching on Genesis 1, I mentioned the word “swarm,” which also appears here in verse 3. Now the NASB says that the frogs were in their kneading bowls, but I paraphrased that as bread pans. The only problem was I didn’t say bread pans – what came out was “bed pans” – the frogs were in their bedpans. It is probably true – the frogs were in both bread pans and bed pans.
This is much more invasive: with the first plague they could go home and possibly get away from the ramifications of that plague. But now the second plague comes into their homes. Nothing is off-limits to God. He is sovereign over every area of our lives - literally.
We also see God’s sovereignty over timing. READ 8:9. Pharaoh, why don’t you use your great authority to make an important decision: when would you like God to sovereignly demonstrate His glory by removing the frogs? Clearly the only one who is really sovereign over the timing is God.
Again the magicians are able to pull off some sort of imitation, and when Pharaoh saw that God sent relief he hardened his heart.
Plague 3: gnats (8:16-19)
READ 8:16-19 Again here we see God’s sovereign control over nature. This plague especially seems to have a very miraculous nature to it, as it says the dust became gnats. This is the word for any flying, biting insect, so this could be something like mosquitoes. Now this time the magicians fail; yet Pharaoh’s heart is hard.
Plague 4: flies (8:20-32)
The gnats are followed by swarms of flies. What’s especially new here is READ Exodus 8:22-23. What strikes me here is the suggestion to Pharaoh that there are only two kinds of people: my people and your people – the people under my rule, and the people under yours. And there is a clear division between the two. It’s hard not to think of Jesus words that there are only two gates and two ways: a broad way and gate that leads to destruction, a narrow way and gate that leads to life. Or Jesus’ promise that when he returns he will separate the nations, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. God is sovereign over destinies: and there are only two possibilities. You are either on God’s side or against Him; part of God’s redeemed people or not; you have come to God as your ruler or you continue to live your own way.
Pharaoh begins to show more signs of cracking here; but then when relief comes he immediately hardens his heart.
Plague 5: livestock (9:1-7)
READ 9:3-7 The severity is increasing now: you see the phrase in verse 3 very severe pestilence. In any place where farming is central to the economy, your wealth is often measured by the size of your flocks and herds.
So since livestock were so important, they had many gods that were symbolized by cows and rams and bulls. But God shows that those are not gods at all, by sending a sickness that takes the life of many of the livestock of Egypt. We know it doesn’t kill all of them since some are left to die in a later plague. Verse 6 “all the livestock” can just as likely be translated “all sorts of livestock” or “livestock from all over.” This was a widespread destruction of their personal wealth, showing that God is sovereign over wealth. Psalm 50:10, every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. When they gave offerings for the building of the temple, David said to God For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You (I Chron. 29:14). There is no wealth on planet earth that is not God’s. And He will do what He pleases.
Plague 6: Boils (9:8-12)
READ 9:8-12 The death of the livestock was a huge blow, but it didn’t hit home like this one: because this one was their bodies. Now God displays His sovereignty over health. This is unnervingly personal; this is my body; this is my health. We eat right and exercise and take care of our bodies, as we should – yet we aren’t the ultimate authority in our own health: God is. Painful sores break out on the Egyptians, and there isn’t any mention of this plague being removed – it may be possible that these sores remained as the other plagues unfolded. READ v.15 God clarifies as bad as these things are, He is showing considerable restraint.
The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart – and we move on the plague 7.
Plague 7: hail (9:13-35)
This is a storm with devastating hail, rain, and continuous thunder and lightning. Verse 24 describes it as very severe. God warns Pharaoh that this is coming, and once again allows Pharaoh to exercise his ruling authority, and spare the animals and even people by bringing them all indoors. It’s a terrible situation for Pharaoh; if he issues a country-wide edict for all people and animals to stay indoors, he is telling the whole country that Yahweh is in control and far more powerful than him; if he doesn’t issue such an order, he may face a massive loss of life throughout his kingdom. Apparently the word was spread, and people chose whether to heed the warning or not, and those who ignored the warning died, both people and animals. Every plant of the field was also damaged.
This shows God’s sovereignty over the weather. In a farming society the weather is of major importance, and much of their religious rituals involved the weather. God shows that He’s actually in charge. And READ 9:29. Moses apparently walks right out of Pharaoh’s palace, into the hailstorm, untouched. Yet when God stops the storm, Pharaoh and his servants have hard hearts.
Plague 8: locusts (10:1-20)
READ v.5 This great swarm of locusts, and they will eat all of the vegetation not destroyed by the hailstorm. READ 9:30-32. Pharaoh had a little secret, he thought he’d finally caught a break. Because while the hail did a huge amount of crop devastation, two of the crops had not yet ripened. They were too small to be permanently damaged. So Pharaoh had this little secret – unfortunately God is sovereign over the secrets of our hearts. And so in this very next plague, God says “By the way, all those crops that escaped the hail – the locusts will eat them.”
The tiny bit of economic hope they still had as now been destroyed. Then God blew the locusts back out of Egypt, and further hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
Plague 9: Darkness (10:21-29)
READ 10:21. Which may be felt probably means “which will require feeling around.” A darkness that will leave them groping around.
Now what I want you to see here is that God is now very clearly demonstrating his sovereignty over life and death. Darkness is not a big deal to us; we have electricity, and the sun comes up every morning. But they did not have electricity; and for three days they saw no light at all. It’s only three days, but they don’t know it will only be three days. Three days of total darkness is a lot of time to think, and panic. No light means no plants grow; no plants growing means no food from plants and no food for animals; no food for animals means no animals. No plants or animals means no humans.
If this darkness continues the nation of Egypt is gone. Talk about unnerving: this is a crystal clear warning from God that He is sovereign over life and death. A warning they must heed now, or they will see in the next plague just how serious that is.
I think it is interesting that the very first plague hinted at this. The fresh water of the Nile was the source of their life. You take away the Nile and you have no civilization in Egypt. And so really it was from the very first plague that God began indicating to them that He is sovereign over their very lives.
TRANSITION: That gives us a brief overview of the nine plagues. Now let’s see some lessons we must learn.
(typo in notes – should say 10:2) READ 10:2. “Made a mockery” – God humiliated the Egyptians, he exposed the folly of the things they were trusting in. God is in the business of making worldly wisdom foolish, of humiliating worldly idols. Is that mean, or is that love?
But how do we respond when our idols are exposed? When God shows us the foolishness of living life our own way? When God pulls out the crutches and we fall over and its clear that we were depending on something other than Him? How do we respond?
Look down at READ 10:3. God exposed the emptiness of all that Pharaoh was depending on to make life work – yet Pharaoh refused to humble himself. The inadequacy of his idols was exposed, but his pride wouldn’t let him admit it.
Go back to the first plague, in chapter 7, and READ 7:23. God had just demonstrated His authority over the very heart of Pharaoh’s empire – and Pharaoh showed no concern.
How do we respond when God exposes the emptiness of the things we are trusting? Maybe there are other people who have become our dependence or our idols - and he takes them out of our lives; maybe it’s our job or financial security - and he takes that; maybe our health is an idol, and he touches that; maybe it’s success, and suddenly everything we do seems to go wrong. God lovingly pulls out our crutches and we fall over and we see that we’ve been living life our own way or turning to other things that God, and then what do we do?
How many people have stared at the ceiling in a hospital room and promised God they’d start living for Him; then gone right back to their own way as soon as they got better?
When God pulls out the crutches; when God does things that remind us who is in charge; when God shows us the ways we have turned to idols instead of Him; we must respond with repentance and humility, kneeling in brokenness before the God who can lift us up and hold us up.
So I’m simply pointing out that while God exposed the emptiness of the things Egypt depended on, they responded wrongly. At the same time God was revealing His greatness – I’ll just point out a few places where this is especially clear.
READ 9:27 Obviously this is not genuine; we’ll talk about that more tonight. But do you remember back in chapter 5 that Pharaoh called the Lord a liar. Oh how far we’ve come in a few months time. Despite his continuing hardness, it’s undeniably obvious now whose word is true and right and powerful; and whose words are empty and false. There is a way that seems right to a man, if only its end was not the way of death. Even Pharaoh has to admit that God is the one whose way is right.
READ 8:10 The plagues don’t just show that God is great, but that He is greatest. There is no one like Him. He is infinitely beyond his nearest competitor in every way.
READ 9:16. Our church mission statement says that we are living for the fame of the true God. The message of the plagues is our message today: proclaim his unique excellence through all the earth.
READ 10:2 Each new generation is supposed to be told about the futility of idols and the greatness of God; the emptiness of man’s ways and the perfection of God’s.
The Finger of God
So we’ve seen two themes similar to last week: the humiliation of the idols, exposing the emptiness of man’s way and the things men place their trust in; and the glorification of God and His complete power and sufficiency.
In closing, I want to go back to READ 8:19. Even Pharaoh’s magicians reached a point where it was undeniable: this must be the activity of God. No trickery could explain these things; no wild weather; no demonic activity; they were essentially forced to admit that the only explanation was the hand of God.
Wouldn’t it be great if people would see things today that would lead them to conclude “This is the finger of God”? But again, kind of like the miraculous sign in front of Pharaoh’s magicians, it’s a little hard to apply. Because there is basically no mention of the Israelites in these 9 plagues: except for Moses and Aaron as the prophets and staff wavers, God is single-handedly displaying His glory through a series of miraculous signs. Of course we know God will do that again – Revelation tells us about it, the finger of God will be displayed in amazing signs once again. And that could begin to unfold at any time. But frankly that’s God prerogative. Is there anything normal Christians like us can do now? Is there any way for the finger of God to be displayed today?
I believe the answer is the same as last week: it happens through the lives of God’s people. TURN TO, READ Ephesians 3:20-21 Where is God’s glory being displayed today? Being displayed as the power of God works within the people of God in the church through the work of Christ. What is the power of God doing within His people? Changing them into the image of Christ and using them to change others. That is the great demonstration of the finger of God in this age.
So, for example, you use your gifts to help others change.
I Peter 4:11 says that when you use your gifts in God’s strength, He is glorified.
I Cor. 14:24-25 describes a specific example of that, when it basically says that if the word of God is proclaimed clearly, understandably, it is possible that an unbeliever may come in and be convicted, and worship God and declare that God is certainly among you.
This can happen through our witness, of course.
Acts 4:13 Their was no explanation for the scriptural, powerful, clear witness of Peter and John other than that they had to have spent a lot of time with Jesus. And it says the people were amazed at this.
It can happen through your good works:
Matt 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
It can happen through our obedience.
You remember that before the plagues Pharaoh said “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey Him.” When Psalm 78 and Psalm 105 talk about the plagues, they both emphasize the importance of obeying the God who did that. People see the finger of God at work when we obey Him – only the power of God can turn a person from their own way to God’s way.
I’m showing you is that the finger of God is displayed today through His power at work within His people.
My favorite passage is TURN TO:
Gal. 1:22-24 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23 but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy." 24 And they were glorifying God because of me. They could not believe the change they saw in Paul’s life, and they were glorifying God because of him. To use the words of Exodus 8, they were saying “This is the finger of God.”
The testimony of a Christ-like life. Is there any more convicting list in all of Scripture than that simple description of the evidence of the work of the Spirit in our lives, just four chapters ahead in Galatians 5? Do other people look at your life and say “Wow, God is doing something there.” Because they see your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think – for His glory what could we ask for or think? God, would you send mosquitoes over all of America to show them that you are God!? How about, God would you take your people across America and change them into the image of Christ. According to the power that works within us, transform us into radically loving, peace-filled, patient, self-controlled, gentle people. That would be undeniably the finger of God, and He would be glorified.
Questions for Application and Discussion
What was wrong with Pharaoh’s confession in 9:27-28?
“God’s right, He’s righteous, I’m not, I’ve been wrong, I’m wicked.” Someone can say all of those things without saving faith. Because Pharaoh has no intention of genuinely submitting to the Lord – he just wants relief.
This is a major challenge in some ministries, for example rescue missions. Here are people whose lives have torn their lives apart with drugs and alcohol. They don’t have any problem recognizing they are sinners; they know they need God’s help to get over their addictions; but their primary concern is not submitting to the God who created them and owns them – their primary concern is relief. So they sound really humble and sincere (and sometimes they really are), but sometimes it has nothing to do with being humbled before the God against whom they’ve rebelled, no desire for a relationship with God and a life lived His way. See v.30 you do not yet fear the Lord. V.34 as soon as God brings relief he goes immediately back to his sin – no desire to obey at all, the only desire was for relief. A genuine saving work of God brings with it a great desire to obey God. A false profession may have good-sounding talk about being a sinner, believing in God, needing Jesus, etc. But it will be shown to be a fraud because it will be shown that there has not been a God-given desire to live God’s way.
What can we learn from comparing Genesis 41:54 with Exodus 10:15?
As you read this story and learn of the thoroughness of the devastation, it’s tempting to ask: “Was God being cruel, simply using the Egyptians as a pawn to demonstrate His power?” The question is poignant here because now virtually their entire food source has been destroyed because of their stubborn opposition to God. But remember: this is the same nation for whom God had previously spectacularly saved their nation from ruin. When a famine would have destroyed Egypt, God sent Joseph and told him what would happen. Egypt has experienced God’s mercy in a tremendous way – yet they stubbornly resist Him now, and the blessing of food is reversed.
Israel apparently wasn’t exempt from some of the plagues. Why? What can we learn?