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That They May Know That I Am Yahweh

Who is your God? That is the most important question you will ever answer. The book of Exodus is a story that shows us who the real God is. In this section of Exodus, we are looking at the “plagues.” Now, I suppose the modern person may look at these plagues and say, “Are you kidding me? This scene is bizarre! Is God a cosmic jerk? Is He trying to annoy the Egyptians?” Or, “This is silly and hard to believe.”

Think also about the frog deities that God was opposing. One goddess named Heqet was pictured with head and sometimes the body of a frog. Apparently, this goddess controlled the frog population58 and also assisted women in childbirth. Frogs were so sacred that the Egyptians could not kill them. The Nile and the frogs were symbols of fertility.

Today, frogs are symbols of fertility and life. Those of you who grew up around a body of water like a lake know that if you hear or see frogs, you know life is present. When I was younger, we used to go frog gigging. We would catch frogs, take them home, clean them, and eat the legs. Where there are frogs, there are other forms of life (so we had to watch for snakes when gigging!). Egypt was powerful because this Nile River had life. Now God said, “You like frogs; I’ll give you frogs.” They, however, could not gig all of these frogs! Because the deities supposedly controlled the frog population, this invasion of frogs was intended to humiliate them.

Next, we find a couple of responses. First, the magicians duplicated the act and brought more frogs, but that actually made things worse. They could do nothing to remove the frogs. Second, Pharaoh offered some false repentance (v. 8). We must remember that a false promise of faith and obedience will not bring salvation. Then Moses began this ministry of intercession. Because of Pharaoh’s false confession, another plague was set to arrive. A third response was from the land itself: “a terrible odor in the land” (v. 14). In Exodus 5:21 the foremen said the Hebrews had become odious. Now Egypt reeks.

3. Gnats. In 8:16-19 we find the next plague, which comes unannounced: gnats. Scholars have various ideas over what kind of insect this actually was. They could have been “lice” (KJV) or mosquitoes. Whatever they were, they were touching the people. They were swarming everywhere in Egypt, affecting everyone.

Which god was God striking in this plague? It is hard to pinpoint a particular god in each plague since they were not mentioned specifically. Perhaps it was the earth-god, Geb. This possibility is drawn from God’s turning the dust into bugs. God was challenging their trust in the soil and the god of the ground.

Notice that the magicians were now unable to replicate the signs (v. 18). Not only could they not replicate it, they were probably covered with them as well! These magician/priests did not touch insects and they bathed religiously. This is humiliation. The magicians were beginning to see who the real God was. Describing the plague, they said, “This is the finger of God” (v. 19). This does not mean they were converted, but it was a positive step. Still, Pharaoh would not listen.

4. Flies. We are not told when the gnat problem ended, or if it remained. But here we have more little creatures doing God’s bidding: flies (8:20-32). Again, we do not know what kind of flies these were, but they were everywhere (v. 24). Most of us hate flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. But can you imagine this?

For the first time a distinction was made between the effects of the plagues on Egypt and on Israel. This is a picture of salvation and judgment. God’s people were protected from His wrath. Theologically, we know when we are in Christ we will not face God’s wrath; we are hidden with Christ.

These plagues are what some call “de-creation,” a reversal of the created order. Instead of order being created out of chaos there is disorder produced from order. The Egyptians believed Pharaoh had the power to maintain order in the cosmos, what they called the ma’at. But we know as believers only One can create and sustain the cosmos, and that is our great God. Paul said in Colossians that Jesus holds our lives and the cosmos together. He is our sustainer. Some who want to protest this section, saying that these plagues are impossible, really have one question: “Is there a God or not?” If God created the world, surely He could do a “de-creation” as well. Despite the ruin and disorder, Pharaoh acted the same way: hardening his heart. Notice there is a new pattern: no counterfeits are produced.

What god was being targeted here? We cannot know for sure, but it could be “the god of the resurrection”—Kepher—who was depicted as a beetle. Some argue that these flies were flying beetles, known as scarabs. Scarabs are found on monuments in Egypt.

60To whom are you looking for eternal life? Kepher cannot raise the dead. A denomination cannot raise the dead. A political party cannot raise the dead. Only God can raise the dead. People are fascinated with eternal life in culture. We see traces in Peter Pan, the Fountain of Youth, and more. But Jesus said that if you believe in Him, though you die, you will live (John 11:25-26). Another question related to de-creation is, In whom are you trusting for sustaining power? Look to the One who brings order out of chaos.

5. Death of Livestock. In the fifth plague, the livestock died (9:1-7). Can you imagine all these huge creatures lying everywhere? (I once hit a cow on the interstate in what was one of the scariest moments of my life! They are huge creatures!) The stench would be horrendous and the cleanup would be exhausting. Again there was a distinction made between God’s people and the Egyptians: nothing that belonged to Israel died (v. 4).

The Egyptians had all kinds of sacred cows. Many of their gods were depicted as livestock. Many worshiped a bull (prompting the golden calf worship later?), which they viewed as a fertility figure. At the temple in Memphis there was a sacred place that featured a live bull said to be the incarnation of the god Apis. There were also goddesses that were symbols of love and beauty and motherhood: Hathor and Isis.

6. Boils. The plague of the boils (9:8-12) was initiated in the face of the magicians who apparently performed their miracles through this sort of act. It was customary for these “priests” to throw these ashes into the air as a sign of blessing (Ryken, Exodus, 273). It might have also been a display of justice since the soot might have come from the brickmaking furnace.

As the plagues continue, you may notice an increase in intensity. This sign was directly impacting the inhabitants. In a time when the magicians needed to be able to counter the plague, they could not. Instead, they were affected personally (v. 11). The Egyptians also looked to their false gods for healing. This included Amon Re, Thoth, Imhotep, and Sekhmet. The plague was an attack on all the false gods the Egyptians trusted for healing. In our day, medicine is a wonderful tool, but it is not God.

7. Hail. The seventh plague provides us a record of the worst hailstorm in history (9:13-35). This plague was intense. In verses 14-17 the Lord explained His purposes. They included (1) to display His uniqueness (“no one like Me,” 14); (2) to show His power (v. 16a); and (3) for His name to be proclaimed in all the earth (v. 16b).

Have you ever been afraid in a storm? Think of being in the worst storm in history! The severity of the plague caused some of the people of Egypt to respond to God’s word. While it is unclear if they were converted, we know some responded to God’s gracious word by faith and others did not. All the while, the Israelites were safe from the storm.

The salvation of all peoples was on the mind of God. Ryken says, “Even when [God] was judging Pharaoh for his sins, God had a plan for Egypt’s salvation” (Ryken, Exodus, 283). Of course, God’s saving plan for Egypt is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament (Jer 46:26; Isa 19), and we read about how Egyptians were there on the day the church was born on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11). God loves the nations, despite Pharaoh’s and most of the Egyptians’ refusal to heed His word. But this incident shows that perhaps some of them believed. Again, the problem was not with the “nation” but with their idolatry and their refusal to heed God’s word.

Once again, Pharaoh practiced false repentance in 9:27-35. Just mouthing off religious words is not sufficient for salvation. We have noted that God hears the genuine prayer of repentance and the cry for the Lord’s mercy, but He can see through false repentance. What was wrong with Pharaoh’s confession? He did not confess his sin to God. Even when he did confess, he minimized his sin by saying “this time,” as if his sins before were minor or had been forgiven. Pharaoh did not turn away from his sin. There is a difference in remorse and repentance. Repentance is a turning away from sin. Beware of practicing false repentance.

62In regard to the Egyptian gods, we are unsure which god was being confronted here. They had plenty to choose from. They had gods over all the elements—atmosphere god, sky goddess, goddess of moisture, and gods present in the earth and wind. However we know, as the psalmist said, “lightning and hail, snow and cloud, powerful wind ... executes His command” (Ps 148:8). There are not a number of gods over different parts of creation; there is one God, who is our Creator and Redeemer.

Where do you go for refuge, shelter, and peace? Go only to God.

8. Locusts. The scene is getting darker and darker and the music is changing to something akin to the music in the film Gladiator (10:1-20). This scene starts off by announcing the Lord’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Hereafter in the plagues it is usually the Lord who is referred to as the hardener of Pharaoh’s heart.

God told Moses that the plagues were not just for Egypt but also for Israel, and they were to tell their sons about their God. The Exodus was the story of Israel. It was the story that shaped them as a people, and it was to be retold. We are part of that grand story that continued to the New Testament with the coming of Jesus. We are to keep telling this story.

This scene is horrific. This intense episode points forward to the ultimate sign of judgment in the final plague. Nothing like this was ever known in Egypt. It had become so bad that Pharaoh’s servants said, “Let [them] go” (v. 7). It seems like Pharaoh was going to listen, but it was not the case. He responded with qualified obedience (v. 10). He only was willing to send the men away, not the women and children. But that was not the plan of God. Moses told him everyone would be going (v. 9). In his anger and pride, Pharaoh threw Moses out (v. 11).

As a result, the locusts came over the land and not a green thing remained—neither tree nor field plant (v. 15). But Pharaoh still minimized his sin. He basically said, “Forgive me this one time.” He was not practicing biblical repentance. He failed to see the nature of his sinful actions and the gravity of these plagues.

God was continuing to humiliate the Egyptian gods. This time it was an assault on the gods of the fields. Many Egyptians depended on Min, the patron god of crops; Isis, the goddess of life (who prepared flax for clothes); Nepri, the god of grain; Anubis, the guardian of the fields; and Senehem, the protector against pests. These gods failed miserably.

639. Darkness. Nothing says judgment like darkness (10:21-29) and death (11:1-10). That is what signs nine and ten were about. The darkness was to be “felt” (10:21). God intended for this warning to immobilize the Egyptians, to stun them. Few of us have probably ever been in true darkness. In complete darkness, you cannot even see someone standing in front of you. Travel in the ancient world was done in the day. It was not like the modern day in which we travel at night because we have lights. And this was pure darkness all day long. Three days of darkness! Imagine this! This prefigured the death to come. Darkness was the realm of the dead, and the final plague would come at midnight.

Once again, Pharaoh offered a qualification to what the Lord asked. This time he said, “only your flocks and herds must stay behind” (v. 24). When Moses rejected his offer, Pharaoh was so angered that he no longer wanted to see Moses’ face (v. 28). Soon, he would not see it ever again.

Darkness would have been terrifying to the Egyptians because they also worshiped the sun. “Every morning the rising of the sun in the east reaffirmed the life-giving power of Amon-Re” (Ryken, Exodus, 304). The sunset represented death, but the sunrise offered them the hope of the resurrection. Moreover, the Pharaoh was known as the son of Re, the incarnation of Amon-Re. Amon-Re for most was the king of all Egypt’s gods. But Amon-Re, the biggest of all of Egypt’s gods, could not help them!

Who is your Savior? Do you look to Jesus every day and find your identity, salvation, and hope in Him? He alone is incarnate God. He crushed our greatest enemy, and to use the language of the preview to the plagues, He swallowed up death, conquering sin and death, giving us eternal life. Paul said, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55).

64As the final plague approached, the Lord prepared Israel to go out of Egypt. Israel was told to ask for silver and gold. This is the fulfillment of the account in Exodus 3:21-22. They were simply to ask for it. There were no gimmicks here. The Lord was fighting their battle for them. Moreover, “Moses was highly regarded in the land of Egypt” (11:3). This too was a fulfillment of his call. God promised to be “with him,” and that is what made him effective.

In verses 4-8 Pharaoh was warned of the final plague. In this plague there was no word about asking Pharaoh to “let them go,” there was only a statement of what was coming. This is showing us the finality of the plagues. Moses foretold that the “firstborn” of both man and animals would be killed. This language is not new to us, for previously God had referred to Israel as His firstborn (4:22) and indicated that Pharaoh would pay with his firstborn (4:22-23). It was too late for Pharaoh now. There was no further request for his cooperation.

Moses was furious for some reason (v. 8). We do not know why, but one can guess that Pharaoh’s pride was angering him. But he understood, as he had been speaking for God, that God was going to make Himself known. The worst of all the ten plagues was coming next: the death of the firstborn. Pharaoh would experience this firsthand.

In this section of Scripture we meet the real God. This God is Almighty. He rules over creation alone. He is sovereign. He is the jealous God. He will not share His glory with another. He will punish people according to their sins. He is merciful. He will save all who cry out to Him in humility and genuine repentance.

As we said, mercy and justice are always mingled, and the most important, glorious act of mercy and justice happened when God put forth His Son on the cross. God passed over us and punished Jesus in our place. Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, was punished in place of us. He was crucified instead of us. He took God’s wrath on behalf of us. Everyone will be judged. Either Jesus took your judgment at the cross, or something worse than the plagues is coming your way as you face the judgment. For believers, we rejoice because through Christ there is no condemnation. Jesus took our curse. He experienced darkness—the darkness that happened at the cross and the darkness of the tomb. By His death and resurrection, we who deserve death have nothing but mercy forever.

65Know Christ as your Savior, or fear Him as your Judge. Do not harden your heart against Him.

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