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The God of the Plagues: Sovereign, Savior

February 7, 2011

Text: Exodus 7-12                                                     Date:  2/17/08

Title: The God Who Will Be Proclaimed throughout All the Earth

Place: FBCSW

Intro:  “How shall we know God? How shall we know what he’s like and what are his ways?  One thought comes crashing in on my brain with absolute certitude:  human opinion doesn’t count for anything. What I feel about how God should be is irrelevant. What you feel about the way God should be is irrelevant. If someone rises up and make a pronouncement about what they can or cannot believe about God, that is as significant as determining the truth about God as the creaking of a window in the wind.  Our opinions are irrelevant when it comes to what God is like.

Well, how then shall we know him? The answer is” we will know him if and to the degree that He reveals himself to be known” (John Piper)  And where we find that revelation of God is in the pages of the Bible.  The Bible alone, and not human opinion or feeling, is the only true source of knowledge of the God who has spoken.

In the unforgettable chapters of the Book of Exodus we are told how God chose to rescue Israel out of Egyptian bondage.  It is sometimes known simply as “The Ten Plagues” or in modern language, “The Ten Catastrophes.”  This refers to the method that YHWH, the God of Israel, used to force the Pharaoh of Egypt to submit his will to the divine will and command to “let my people, Israel, go!”  And in this monumental story, I truly believe that some of us are going to struggle with the portrait of God that He Himself paints for us here.  One point will be easy to accept; the other most likely will not.

The point that will be easy to accept is that God is a merciful Savior for all who will trust in Him and receive Him as Lord.

The point that may be hard to accept is that God is the absolute Sovereign of the universe so that all people do only that which He wants them to do and all events ultimately occur only by the hand of God.

This is the God of the Bible:  Sovereign and Savior.  And he would be known throughout all the earth and its peoples as such:  “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 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.”

Let’s begin by quickly re-telling the story of these ten powerful blows that God delivered against the people of Egypt for enslaving his people Israel.  As I do, I hope you will experience what one writer had to say about this great story:  “What Moses is about to experience and mediate to the Israelites is a deepened expression of God’s character” (House).

Moses and his brother Aaron have been called by God to confront the leader of Egypt, the Pharaoh, to demand that he release Israel from her slavery to Egypt forever.  Because the Israelites where used so widely as free labor, this would deliver a swift and severe blow to the economy of the Egyptians and Pharaoh.  Pharaoh’s reply is full of hubris as one who was believed to be a god on earth:  “Who is YHWH, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know YHWH and I will not let Israel go” (5:2).

Not a surprising response for the reason I have just given.  But this response was not a surprise to Moses for another highly significant theological reason given in Exo 4:21—“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.’”

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; [the LORD] directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases (Prov 21:1).

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing (Ezra 1:1).

God is so much in control of men and women that all we do is the outworking of what He has already planned.  Yet, at all times, we do so freely, willingly and according to our strongest desires.  And thus, we are responsible and accountable for everything we do.  We are free, but God is “freer.”  His will comes before anything my will accomplishes.  His purpose is ultimate; my plans are secondary.

And so it was that God already had made a plan in eternity that He would free his people Israel from Egypt’s clutches in the fashion and manner that he, God, would dictate.  And in so doing, he will do the highest and best good for his people and he would bring the highest honor to his glory to be shown throughout all the earth.

As we read earlier in Exo 9, God acknowledges he could have wiped Egypt off the map with one swift blow, but that would not bring to Him the glory, honor and fame that he deserves.  Thus, in Exo 7-12 He will work through his servant Moses in a series of ten plagues that will forever be remembered.

There are some interesting features to the delivery of these plagues that the careful reader discovers.  The first nine plagues form a unit in three different packages (#1-3, #4-6, #7-9).  In each triplet, in the first plague of each triplet, Moses addresses Pharaoh at the Nile river (1, 4, 7).  In the second plague of each triplet (2, 5, 8), Moses approaches Pharaoh at his palace.  And in the last plague of each triplet, the plague is struck without any warning being given (3, 6, 9).  This is to show again that God is in control, he is the driving force of history, and his presence is everywhere as he says in 8:22 “. . . you will know that I, YHWH, am in this land.”

The first plague strikes at the heart of the land of Egypt, the mighty Nile River. It is turned into blood.  Everything dies within it.  A foul odor permeates the air.  But Pharaoh resists God’s command to free God’s people.

The second plague is upon the frogs of the land.  Within Egypt, the frog, along with most of the rest of nature, was worshiped.  It was worshiped as the giver of life. Moses first releases a torrent of frogs all over the place. They were in the palace, the bedrooms, the houses of the great and the small and even into the ovens!  Pharaoh asks Moses to get rid of them.  In a way, he does:  he kills them all!  They were piled into heaps and, of course, the land reeked of them.  But Pharaoh hardened his heart once again.

The third plague comes without warning in the form of a huge swath of gnats.  Before, Egypt’s magicians had been able to duplicate what Moses had done (as if that helped!).  But with this plague, God exposed them for the fraud they were and the magicians could not produce the same.  Their reply to Pharaoh was “This is the finger of God!”  Still, no mercy from Pharaoh.

The fourth plague is similar in nature:  an invasion of flies upon the land.  Only this time, YHWH protects his people from the plague and they are unaffected in the region of Goshen where they live by these intruders.

The fifth blow God strikes against Egypt wipes out all their livestock.  Again Israel is spared the blow.  Pharaoh’s heart remains hard and unchanged.

In the sixth catastrophe God releases painful boils upon man and beast.  The text then says, “YHWH hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as YHWH had said” (9:12).

Plague number seven ratchets up the intensity of the disasters as God sends the worst hailstorm Egypt had ever seen upon her.  However, the mercy of God gives ample warning to everyone, including the Egyptians, to put their animals into places of shelter and “those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of YHWH hurried to bring their slaves and livestock inside” (9:20).

In the eighth plague (yes, Pharaoh is still unrelenting in his disobedience), a locust storm descends upon Egypt so that “you may tell your children and grandchildren how I [made a mockery] of the Egyptians” (10:2).  Again, the Bible says, “YHWH hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:20).

Plague nine must have left an indelible mark on the memories of the Egyptians as darkness so black engulfed the land that the Bible says it “could be felt.”  Three 24-hour periods of darkness for Egypt; but “the Israelites had light in the places where they lived” (10:23). What a slap to the sun-god of Egypt, Ra.

Then came that tenth and most terrible and horrifying of disasters, the death of every firstborn son from Pharaoh’s house to the poorest slave.  Only those who obeyed the Lord’s instructions and trusted that some blood from a sacrificial lamb applied to the doorframe of each house were spared the death angel’s visit that night.  He passed over those homes.  In the Passover, we see the Sovereign God is also the Saving God.

What do we learn from this incredible story from history?

In these 10 plagues, the sovereign, unstoppable power of God is felt by the unbelieving and the merciful salvation of God is provided for the believing.

That would be how I would summarize the whole thing in my words.  But the Bible gives its own reasons for the unmatched, unprecedented plagues that at first hardened a man’s heart, then crushed it.

The Purposes of the Plagues upon Egypt:

1) To bring the Lord’s divisions (his people pictured as an army) out of Egypt (7:4).

2) To reveal himself as YHWH, the one true God who is both sovereign and savior (7:5), unique among the “gods” of the earth (8:10, “no one like the LORD our God;” see also 9:14)

3) The “just as the Lord said” phrases teach us that all that occurred in the ten plagues was as a result of the prophetic purpose and plan of God (4:21).

4) To prove that Israel’s God was “in this land (of Egypt)” meaning in full control of all events and people within her borders (8:22).

5) To declare that the earth is YHWH’s and all that is in it (9:29; Ps 24:1)

6) To leave a witness to future generations of Israel of his superiority over the Egyptians and their gods (10:1-2)

7) To show the destructive power of God in awesome signs and wonders, the saving power of God in that he preserved Israel and brought her out of Egypt as a nation (9:16).

8.  To warn the unyielding and rebellious that judgment will be their fate (6:6; 7:4; 12:12).

9) To dazzle the finite human mind in this:  that God will get glory for himself through all men, even the worst of men like Pharoah (14:4, 18).  No evil occurs in the universe but that God planned for it to ultimately bring glory to him.

10) To proclaim throughout all the earth this great and matchless God who has no peer or rival.  He is YWHW.  His name is YWHW—the great I AM who is absolutely sovereign over man and also supremely the savior of all who trust in Him.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Calvin Hall permalink
    February 11, 2011 3:08 PM

    Steve, I thank you for including me in your updates.
    Your commentary on Exodus is very clear and to the point as to how God choices to make himself known as the sovereign God of all people and all that He brings to bear on them for His glory.

    Pat’s heart cath was negative for any blockages or positive in that all arteries are clear. She is resting after her meal and she will be released at 4:pm.

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