Who is the Lord?
This world sets itself up in opposition to God.
The Bible tells us, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.”[i] (1 John 2:16) These things oppose God in our lives. They come from within and are reflected in our attitude toward the world around us. These three things enslave us, and will not let us go.
Our slavery to sin and God’s deliverance is pictured in the story of the Exodus. The Scriptures tell us of Moses:
He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. (Hebrews 11:25-26)
Reviewing the Exodus, we will learn how God works.
Much of how God works is a mystery. He tells us that as the heavens are high above the earth so are His ways higher than ours. We must be humble when we approach understanding how God works. A common mistake is to think we understand and then judge that God is not good or just. Isaiah 45:9 says:
"What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop, you're doing it wrong!' Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be?'
As we begin looking at the plagues that God sent on Egypt, I want to begin by speaking about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. The question that comes to mind when God says he will harden Pharaoh’s heart is, “Then why does God still judge?”
Romans 9 makes a statement that may help us understand. Verse 22 says, “God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls.”
Why does it say, “He is very patient?”
Hebrews 6:7&8 makes this comparison:
When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.
In this illustration, the mercy and patience of God are like rain. This mercy and patience gives chance to repent, but if it is resisted it serves only to harden the soil. Pharaoh is a good example of this. By the very act of showing mercy, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
In Exodus 9:15 God is trying to reason with Pharaoh and he says, “By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth.” God could easily have freed His people with one mighty miracle. Instead, He gave Pharaoh 10 chances to repent.
In another place, God tries reasoning with people who were sinning greatly and says:
Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? Your head is injured, and your heart is sick. You are battered from head to foot—covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds—without any soothing ointments or bandages. Your country lies in ruins, and your towns are burned. Foreigners plunder your fields before your eyes and destroy everything they see. (Isaiah 1:5-7)
God reasons with people. He tries to warn them against the consequences of sin. We see this in the story of the plagues.
When God confronted Pharaoh He first performed a sign to show that it was God speaking. He is trying to reason with Pharaoh. This first sign was the staff that turned into a snake. When Aaron threw down his staff and it turned into a snake the Egyptian magicians duplicated this action, but Aaron’s snake swallowed all of their snakes.
When showing a sign did not work, God then showed his judgments. Pharaoh had said, “And who is the LORD? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the LORD, and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2) This same question is behind the sin issue in the heart of man. The judgments that fell on Pharaoh answer the question, “Who is the Lord.” These judgments are nothing more than the consequences of the national sins of the Egyptians. Even so, these plagues could have been avoided at any point had Pharaoh been willing to turn. Here is a brief list of those Judgements:
Turning the Nile into blood was significant because the Nile was their idol. Also, Matthew Henry points out, “They had stained the river with the blood of the Hebrews' children, and now God made that river all blood.” The next judgment did not have to come if Pharaoh would have recognized, “Who is the Lord.”
One of their deities, Heka, was a frog-headed goddess, and they seem to have regarded the frog as a sacred emblem of creative power. The great multiplication of frogs, whereby they became an annoyance and a curse, was a trial and strain to the entire Egyptian religious system. The Egyptians might not kill them, yet they destroyed all their comfort and all their happiness. Their animal-worship was thus proved absurd and ridiculous. (Pulpit Commentary) The next judgment did not have to come if Pharaoh would have recognized, “Who is the Lord.”
3 Gnats or lice:
The third plague, gnats, was a judgment on Set, the god of the desert.
It is interesting to notice that the judgments are divided into three groups. The first two in each group come with a warning, and the third without. The gnats came without warning being the third in the first group. The next judgment did not have to come if Pharaoh would have recognized, “Who is the Lord.”
The fourth plague, flies, was a judgment on Uatchit, the fly god. In this plague, God clearly distinguished between the Israelites and the Egyptians, as no swarms of flies bothered the areas where the Israelites lived. The next judgment did not have to come if Pharaoh would have recognized, “Who is the Lord.”
The cattle died. The death of livestock was a judgment on the goddess Hathor and the god Apis, who were both depicted as cattle. As with the previous plague, God protected His people from the plague, while the cattle of the Egyptians died. God was steadily destroying the economy of Egypt, while showing His ability to protect and provide for those who obeyed Him. We see that God would remove false gods. Pharaoh was learning that there is one true God.
This time God sent a plague that afflicted their own bodies. Also, God used the ashes from the brick furnaces, using the suffering that the Egyptians had inflicted on the Hebrews in judgment against them. Boils were a judgment against several gods over health and disease (Sekhmet, Sunu, and Isis).
Before God sent the last three plagues, Pharaoh was given a special message from God. These plagues would be more severe than the others, and they were designed to convince Pharaoh and all the people “that there is none like me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14).
The seventh plague, hail, attacked Nut, the sky goddess; Osiris, the crop fertility god; and Set, the storm god. This hail was unlike any that had been seen before. A fire that ran along the ground accompanied it, and everything left out in the open was devastated by the hail and fire. Again, the children of Israel were miraculously protected, and no hail damaged anything in their lands.
The eighth plague, locusts, again focused on Nut, Osiris and Set. The later crops, wheat and rye, which had survived the hail, were now devoured by the swarms of locusts. There would be no harvest in Egypt that year.
The ninth plague, darkness, was aimed at the sun god, Re, who was symbolized by Pharaoh himself. For three days, the land of Egypt was smothered with an unearthly darkness, but the homes of the Israelites had light.[ii]
10 the death of the first born
These plagues were judgments as well as signs.
As the judgments became more severe, the greatness of God became clearer.
God used their false gods to show the foolishness of worshipping any besides Him. Romans 1:21-23 says:
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
The first commandment is that we should have no other gods.
Many mistake the patience of God for weakness, or even argue that He does not exist. Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the LORD, and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:3) Not only did he not know God. He opposed God. Before sending the eighth plague, the Lord asks Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to submit to me?” (Exodus 10:3)
Something similar will happen when Jesus returns. The period of time known as a tribulation will again see signs and judgments. These signs and judgments will be aimed at all of the things that men have made into idols. The whole point of that period of time is to give everyone a chance to repent.
We all must be aware of the idols that we set up in our hearts. The things that we let take the place that only God deserves in our lives.
2 Peter 3:3-9 describes the day that we live in.
I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”
They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.
But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Information about the plagues and their representative gods was in large part quoted directly from the website http://www.gotquestions.org/ten-plagues-Egypt.html