Signs and Plagues

Last week we saw the importance of trusting God and going to Him first when we encounter problems.  We also saw that the Israelites did not do this and tried to tackle their problems on their own.  When this failed, they looked for someone to blame for their problems and Moses received the brunt of their frustrations.

We also learned that Moses was not perfect in his dealings with God and he too became frustrated and wanted to know what God intended to do about the situation.  Moses also had moments of weaknesses when he doubted his own abilities to do the task that God had given him.  So even though we want to go to the Lord first whenever we encounter problems we’re in good company when we fail to do so.

This morning though we will see the beginnings of what happens when a person continually rejects what God is doing.  We will all falter in our faith from time to time but this is vastly different from a continued rejection of the workings of God.

Exodus 6:28-30

28 Now when the LORD spoke to Moses in Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the LORD. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.”

30 But Moses said to the LORD, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”

This is pretty much a repeat of verses 10-12.  In between these two identical excuses from Moses is a short genealogy of Moses and Aaron.  If I had to guess why the genealogy of placed there I would say that it is a reminder that God had raised Moses and Aaron for just this time and this purpose.  Moses’ excuse that he speaks with faltering lips isn’t going to go anywhere.

Exodus 7:1-7

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

6 Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.

What I personally find most interesting about the plagues of Egypt is Pharaoh’s reaction to each one.  Verse 3 gives us a bit of the reason why.  God specifically says that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart.  We must take a long and hard look at what this actually means.

Some people may read this and conclude that Pharaoh is a bad guy and God is going to use this opportunity to crush him and make sure that he gets what he deserves.  This isn’t what is happening here at all though.  Without a doubt, Pharaoh is a bad guy.  And he is going to deserve everything that he gets.  But God does not any delight in punishing sinners.  He does so because His righteousness demands it and when we are chastised it is with the hope that we will recognize the error of our ways and repent.

We often pray that God will soften someone’s heart and make them more receptive to the gospel.  We don’t look at this as overriding a person’s freewill because it is for good.  But some people have a hard time with the idea that God would harden a person’s heart, both because it overrides their freewill and because it seems to be contrary to what we know about God.

Here’s what I believe is what happens when God softens or hardens someone’s heart.  God does not do anything that they haven’t already started.  God is not going to force anyone to do something.  We are not robots that are programmed by God, we have freewill to accept or reject what God reveals to us.  Pharaoh will reject what God shows him time and time again before God then hardens his heart.

Exodus 7:8-13

8 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”

10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.

Verse 9 almost sounds like Pharaoh is looking for proof that Moses has been by God.  He wants a sign to verify that what Moses says is true.  But I am certain that this is said mockingly “perform a miracle.”  Pharaoh does not believe that Moses has been sent by God and he doesn’t believe that any miracle will be performed.

Unfortunately this is the way we pray many times.  We pray and ask for a miracle but we’re not really expecting one.  Now hopefully there is a big difference between what we ask of God and what Pharaoh asks of Moses.  When we pray, we know that not every prayer is going to be answered with a yes.  God’s purposes can be served in a miraculous answer to prayer and they can be served even when a prayer is not answered with a yes.  The difference is that when we pray, we need to pray with the knowledge that God has the power to perform the miracle if it is His will.  Pharaoh does not believe that Moses has been given any power by God.

The first miracle that is performed for Pharaoh does not impress him.  After Aaron throws his staff to the ground and it becomes a snake the Egyptian magicians do the same thing.  We don’t know how the Egyptians duplicate this feat.  It could be the equivalent of a modern magician who smoke and mirrors to fool the audience into believing something has happened or this could actually be demonic power that allows the magicians to do this.

Even though the magicians are able to duplicate what Moses and Aaron do, God’s power is shown when their snake swallows up the other snakes.  God’s power is greater than that which is displayed by the magicians whether that power is just sleight of hand or demonic.

Despite this display of power Pharaoh is not impressed.  His heart became hard and he would not listen.  Later on after more plagues it will say that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart but to begin with it was Pharaoh who hardened his own heart.  He witnessed the power of God and he chose to reject it.

Exodus 7:14-24

14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the water. Wait on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. 16 Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened. 17 This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’”

19 The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs’—and they will turn to blood. Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in the wooden buckets and stone jars.”

20 Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. 21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.

22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said. 23 Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart.24 And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile to get drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the river.

The first plague to fall upon Egypt is actually the most disgusting in my opinion but also perhaps the most harmless.  As the water turns to blood it causes the fish to suffocate and die.  The smell of blood and dead fish is everywhere in Egypt.

This plague does not just strike the water of the Nile.  If only this happened it may easily be explained away that there was some environmental disaster upstream which killed all of the fish and turned the water red.  But all of the water in the ground is affected as well as just water that is sitting up buckets and bowls.  All of the water is turned to blood and becomes undrinkable.

The Pharaoh’s magicians are able to duplicate this feat as well through whatever means they are using.  It is inconceivable that they would be able to duplicate this feat on as broad of a scale as what Moses and Aaron do though, in part simply because there would be no more water to turn.

This is a temporary plague however.  The Egyptians are able to dig near the Nile and find fresh water.  The Nile would flow and naturally clean itself in a few days as well.  Pharaoh is not moved by the power of God and once again he chooses to harden his heart.

In the next few chapters of Exodus we will see many plagues fall upon Egypt and Pharaoh will continually harden his heart despite the things that he witnesses.  As Christians there will be times when our faith falters and we do not always make the best decisions.  We will occasionally reject God’s will for us and will instead choose the wrong path.  What we must be certain of, though, is that we don’t harden our hearts when we see God at work.  When God does amazing things in front of our eyes we need to recognize these for the power of God and not the skill of many or any other power.

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