Series on Exodus, II The Community of God's People, B The Separation of the Community, Text: 7:6-11:10. Title: Then They Shall Know.

Introduction

We are dealing in this section of Exodus with the formation of the covenant people of God, the Jewish nation. In the first part (5:1-7:5) we saw how God would exalt himself through the difficulty of this task. Moses is not sufficient, indeed, as Paul says, Who is sufficient for these things? Only God can do it and only God should receive the glory. We come now to the separation of the people through the ten plagues God sent on the Egyptians. We are looking in this study at the first nine. To Abraham God had said that He would be a God to his descendants and they would be his people. This is being fulfilled in our text. Here God is separating these people unto himself. In the Bible such separation always has a negative aspect. If you believe in election you must also believe in reprobation. This means God must judge other people, he must judge Pharaoh who represents the earthly powers, and he must judge the gods of Egypt who are the heavenly powers. He must demonstrate that he is God alone in all the earth, and that apart from his sovereign electing love, there is no hope. We look first then at the plagues and the people, then at the plagues and Pharaoh, and finally the plagues and the powers.

I The Plagues and the People

The first nine plagues come in groups of three. In each group of three there are two plagues about which Pharaoh is warned and a third when he is not warned, and the plagues increase in their intensity. Especially notable is the fact that in the first group of three everyone is afflicted, but during the second two groups only the Egyptians are hurt and in 8:22 and 23 the Lord makes a point of warning that he is going to make a division between the Egyptians and his people, “But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur tomorrow.” Once you see this fact, the first question you are inclined to ask is why? Why should God's people suffer at all? It is an important question. You see the Bible says God sends his sunshine and rain upon the just and the unjust. Even wicked people enjoy God's blessings. Similarly, even God's faithful people in this world are subjected to the curse of sin and death. In much of the affliction and trouble that comes to men there appears to be little if any distinction between the godly and the ungodly. This is to humble us and to teach us that we are all sinners. Separation can be a very painful process. It was for Israel in Egypt and it can be for us, but God’s goal in the separation is to bless us. Somerset Maugham, the English writer, once wrote a story about a janitor at St. Peter’s Church in London. One day a young vicar discovered that the janitor was illiterate and fired him. Jobless, the man invested his meager savings in a tiny tobacco shop, where he prospered, bought another, expanded, and ended up with a chain of tobacco stores worth several hundred thousand dollars. One day the man’s banker said, “You’ve done well for an illiterate, but where would you be if you could read and write?” “Well,” replied the man, “I’d be janitor of St. Peter’s Church in Neville Square.” In the case of believers it serves to turn them towards God. It also reminds us that the grace of God, which chooses and separates us, finds us in the same condition of condemnation and depravity as the rest of mankind. As Paul says, There is no difference for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Therefore says Paul we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. We need to be conscious that while we are being favored others are being judged. This is the nature of our salvation and it is the root of all godliness to understand and believe this fact.

II The Plagues and Pharaoh


Looking next at Pharaoh king of Egypt, we see the continual hardening of his heart. As far as Pharaoh is concerned this hardening is the expression of his own will. There are no external forces compelling him to refuse to let God's people go. Pharaoh an unwitting accomplish in God’s purpose because as the story unfolds it tells us numerous times that Pharaoh hardened his heart, but in 9:12 we read, But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses. As you read this account it is appallingly humorous. There is an irony to Pharaoh's repeated efforts to resist God's purpose in delivering his people. Pharaoh thinks he is “doing his own thing” but he is just fulfilling God’s plan. There is something cosmically laughable about the feeble attempts of this earthly king to oppose the living God. It reminds me of Psalm 2:2-6, The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." While God laughs the henchmen of Pharaoh become confused by the king’s stubbornness. If you look at the story again you see, with regard to the magicians of Pharaoh, in the first two plagues they actually duplicate the blood red Nile and the frogs. This too is tragically comic since they are only hurting themselves. But now they can no longer match the wonders of the God of Moses, and soon they are so affected by them that they are disabled in the sixth plague, Exodus 9:11, The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. In the seventh plague we note in 9:19-21 that some of them are fearing God and taking measures to protect themselves, for Moses said, “Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.” And the result was, Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field. At the announcement of the eighth plague, locusts, the same officials are pleading with Pharaoh to stop in 10:7, Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the LORD their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?” Thus we are exposed to the utter folly of Pharaoh's sin which demonstrates the stubbornness of unbelief in this world and its tendency to work for its own destruction. Foolishness is bound up in the sinful heart. Someone has said, "What the fool does in the end the wise man does in the beginning." This describes Pharaoh as he changed his mind over and over and finally let the people go and then changed his mind again and pursued them. Pharaoh had more power than ordinary men, but no more sense. The Tampa Tribune carried a recent article about a police crackdown arresting speeders. The premise of the article was that making excuses is unwise. The most common excuse is “I was late for work.” In my many years in the pastorate I heard all kinds of excuses when people were late for church: the kids wouldn’t eat, or the car wouldn’t start, or we couldn’t find Johnny’s shoes or my wife dresses too slowly. In my mind I was always saying, “Why didn’t you get up earlier?” The police must think the same thing. My favorite excuse was , “I just washed my car and i was trying to dry it off.” Hard hearts are foolish. We all have them, but Pharaoh persisted. All of this of course is explained by Paul in Romans 9:14-18, What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!  For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. This reminds us again that our victory is in God who has mercifully chosen us to be his own. Dear friends the separation, the choosing, the election in Christ is the salvation.

III The Plagues and the Powers

As we look at the nature of these plagues we discover that they are linked to the idols, the pagan gods of Egypt. It’s not equally clear in every plague, and everyone does not agree with precisely what some of the plagues were, but it is still abundantly clear that these represent an attack on the false gods of the Egyptians. The Nile river for example was considered to be a deity and its waters were sacred to the Egyptians as the Ganges in India is to the Hindu. Frog headed monuments have been discovered in Egypt which were erected to the goddess Heka who assisted women in childbirth. Beelzebub another false god was venerated as the protector of Egypt from the swarms of flies. He was the fly god. They also worshipped Ra, the sun god, and it may be that two of the plagues are directed at Ra, the ninth plague of darkness, and possibly one of the plagues involved beetles which are enshrined in popular jewelry as scarabs. The scarab was the symbol of Ra and was worn as a sacred amulet. Also in Egyptian belief domestic animals such as cattle were considered sacred. Serapis was the Egyptian god who protected the land from locusts. Isis and Osiris were gods near the head of the pantheon who had more general control over the forces of nature and fertility. What is clear here is that all of these gods who are no gods at all are defeated. They are undone by the God who is there, the true and living God. It reminds me of the story of Hideyoshi, a Japanese warlord who ruled over Japan in the late 1500s, who commissioned a colossal statue of Buddha for a shrine in Kyoto. It took 50,000 men five years to build, but the work had scarcely been completed when the earthquake of 1596 brought the roof of the shrine crashing down and wrecked the statue. In a rage Hideyoshi shot an arrow at the fallen colossus. “I put you here at great expense,” he shouted, “and you can’t even look after your own temple.” Today’s idols are more in the self than on the shelf,  but they are just as much under the control of the hidden powers Paul describes in Ephesians 6:11-13, Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Conclusion

In applying these truths to ourselves we should recall how our Lord Jesus said that we should not fear what man can do to us. The lesson of the plagues and the people as well as their affect upon Pharaoh are intended to teach us that when we have Christ, when we are chosen in him, though we still suffer in this life, God's sovereign purpose is going to be accomplished. It will be accomplished because as we have seen in the plagues and the powers our God is the true and living God. Christ defeated the spiritual forces of evil in his resurrection. Ephesians 1:19-21 reminds us of His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. We are to be strong in the Lord by rising above this troubled earthly life to see God's plan and purpose in Christ.