The Hand of the Lord

Exodus 9:1-17

Exodus 9:1 says:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.’” (Exodus 9:1 ESV)

As we begin chapter 9 of the book of Exodus, we are in the middle of a story. Exodus 1 begins by telling us of the enslavement of the children of Israel by the Egyptians. The first chapters cover hundreds of years of history in just a few words, and then the account slows down and increases in detail so that the events of chapters 7-14 happen over a period of months instead of years.

Hundreds of years of slavery and patterns of life are being challenged. Many more hundreds of years of religious practices and traditions are also being challenged.

When Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was confronted with the statement, “Thus says the Lord...,” he responded, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” (Exodus 5:2) With the first four plagues, God demonstrated who He is. In a few short months, centuries of Egyptian beliefs and teachings were unraveled, and God impressed on Pharaoh why he should obey the voice of the Lord.

However, four plagues were not enough. The first three caused discomfort and possibly some property loss. The fourth plague caused severe discomfort and considerable property loss. In spite of this, after the fourth plague, we are told:
But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. (Exodus 8:32 ESV)

Chapter 9 continues the story with God once again instructing Moses to go and speak to Pharaoh. After four plagues, we recognize a pattern. Moses says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let my people go!’” And, Pharaoh refuses. Each time Pharaoh refuses the next plague escalates, and the severity of the consequences increases. Along with the consequences, each plague was targeted to demonstrate the powerlessness of the Egyptian deities.

Since the Egyptians refused to acknowledge God, He turned them over to the empty imaginings of their hearts. They worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator. Their worship was shaped by their appetites and their understanding of the world.

Let us go back and look at Exodus 9:1.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.’” (Exodus 9:1 ESV)

Notice with me that God says, “Let my people go that they may serve me.”

The Hebrew word Moses used for “serve” in this verse is the same word he used for “work as slaves” and “hard service” in Exodus 1:13 & 14. The Israelites were being forced to serve the Egyptians, and God was saying, “Let them serve me.”

The conflict between worshiping and serving the creature or the creator continues to this day. The same conflict that was destroying Egypt runs through each life as each person chooses whom or what they will serve. We may not experience the plagues, but we all experience the conflict of appetites and the will of God.

This fifth plague is relevant to us because it involves wealth. Wealth, its accumulation and use, has always been an issue for us as humans. Jesus warns us against overvaluing wealth when He states, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15, ESV)

As we look at Exodus 9:3, we see that it says, “...a very severe plague upon your livestock...”

Why “livestock?”

First, livestock were the number one indicators of wealth. For example, in Genesis, Abraham’s wealth was stated in sheep, camels, donkeys and cattle. In Job, Job’s wealth was measured in sheep, camels, donkeys and cattle. Sacrifices were made with cattle and sheep. One of the reasons for this is that such sacrifices were costly, so that part of the meaning of the word sacrifice is giving up something valued.

A second reason why livestock is that livestock, especially bulls, were a significant religious symbol for the Egyptians, representing one of their gods.

The Egyptians, like most people throughout history, valued wealth, and as a consequence, wealth and its symbols became objects of their worship. Worshiping and serving wealth is an insult to God. We see this insult in the way God announces this plague. Exodus 9:2-3 says:
For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. (Exodus 9:2-3 ESV)

Please notice with me that this passage says, “...the hand of the Lord will fall...” The hand of the Lord is used to speak of the Lord’s might, His work and His provision. The Scriptures tells us that all we have received comes from the “Hand of the Lord.” 1 Chronicles 29:14 in particular says:
But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. (1 Chronicles 29:14 NIV)

All that we have comes from the Lord, and when we worship those things instead of the Lord, we insult the One who has provided everything. Not only do we lack gratitude and proper respect, but our thinking becomes confused and debased.

When the hand of the Lord is with us, we have all that we need. But, to have His hand against us is terrifying. With the plague of livestock, God strikes the wealth of the Egyptians, and also He states that His hand will be against them. When God met with Moses in the wilderness, He said He would bring out His people with a mighty hand. Now, God tells Pharaoh that His hand will fall.

God later tells Pharaoh that He raised Pharaoh up to demonstrate His power. However, the plagues also were designed to give Pharaoh the opportunity to repent. Pharaoh’s refusal to repent is the point behind repeating the fact that he hardened his heart each time. This also explains the escalating nature of the plagues.

As a representative of wealth and also because of their great strength, livestock became a common symbol for deities in Egypt. A website on ancient Egypt had this to say about cattle as deities:
There were many bovine deities in ancient Egypt, Hathor simply being the best known, but Apis was the most significant because he represented the core cultural values and understanding of all Egyptians. Each individual deity had their own sphere of influence and power, but Apis represented eternity itself and the harmonious balance of the universe. Other bovine deities such as Bat, Buchis, Hesat, Mnevis, and the Bull of the West, no matter how powerful, would never have the same resonance as the incarnated deity of the Apis bull.[1]

It is significant to note that when Israel was at Mt. Sinai, they built a golden calf to worship. Moses was on the mountain for 40 days, and they did not know what had become of him. So, Aaron built a golden calf to be their god and then said, “This is the god that led you out of Egypt.”

Hundreds of years later in Israel's history, civil war divided 10 tribes from two tribes. The northern kingdom was called Israel, and the southern kingdom was called Judah. The northern kingdom did not want to send their people to Jerusalem to worship, so the king had places of worship built in two locations. And, the objects of worship were ... you guessed it ... calves, or bovine deities.

The Egyptian bovine deities had a long-lasting and powerful influence even over the Israelites, who should have known better. Such is the power of wealth.

When we have something that takes the place of God in our heart, not only does it cause us to be confused and darkened in our thinking, but it hardens our hearts. To address this issue in Egypt, the Lord takes away their wealth. He strikes their livestock with a plague.

God, once again, marks a difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites and protects the livestock of the Israelites. Exodus 9:6-7 explains:
And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go. (Exodus 9:6-7 ESV)

Notice that Pharaoh sent and confirmed the word of the Lord. The Lord said that nothing that belonged to the Israelites would die, and Pharaoh sent and made sure that the plague had happened the way the Lord had said.

Pharaoh understood. The word of the Lord was clear. His actions reveal that not only did he understand, now he is showing he believes what the Lord has said will happen.

This is huge! Pharaoh believes. He knows that there is a God of the Hebrews. But wait a minute! This knowledge and belief does not save Pharaoh. Please think about this. Intellectual assent does not save anyone.

Consider the statement, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)

This is the promise of God, and it is true. Now, let us consider James 2:19.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19, NKJV)

This also is the word of God, and it adds to our understanding of what it means to believe. We must understand. The Bible does not say believe and ..., as if to say there is something we must do in addition to believing. However, it does say if one’s faith does not affect their works or behavior, it will not affect one’s destiny. (The message of James 2)

Faith that saves surrenders to God.

The Israelite slaves represented too much wealth to be surrendered. Pharaoh holds onto them, eventually to the point of death, because his hope and trust were in the vast wealth and might of Egypt. By this plague, the Lord is trying to pry Pharaoh’s heart away from his trust in wealth, might and their attendant deities.

Our hearts have the same struggle. Writing “In God We Trust” on our money, does not take away the problem. Each of us must answer for ourselves what we are trusting in. The plagues represent this struggle of the human heart and what it holds onto or trusts in. They show us in graphic terms the difference between having God’s hand for us or against us.

The Scriptures say:
The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. (Psalms 33:17-19 ESV)

Each of us must ask the Lord to examine our heart and show us anything that we have placed our hope in.  Are we trusting in a job, a person, people, wealth, nature or anything other than God? Any such object of trust must be surrendered to the Lord and confessed. Trust rather in the Lord and in His hand.

[1] Accessed August, 27, 2019.


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