GOD REVEALS HIS POWER
Exodus 5–11“Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” (Ex. 5:2).In ancient times a nation’s gods were credited with its successes. The more powerful the nation, the greater its gods seemed to be. But in these chapters the God of Israelite slaves—our God!—is shown to be far more powerful than the gods of the greatest nation then on earth.
Definition of Key Terms
Miracles. The Hebrew words used to describe the plagues God brought on Egypt mean “wonder” and “miraculous sign.” Most of the 10 plagues were natural disasters that had occurred at some time in Egypt. However, three things unmistakably marked them off as miraculous: (1) Their intensity. The disasters were far greater than normal. (2) Their timing. The disasters came and left at Moses’ command. (3) Their subject. Several of the disasters occurred only in Egyptian districts, leaving areas occupied by the Israelites untouched. Whether God used natural forces to bring the judgments or not, the Egyptians who suffered under them were forced to acknowledge the power of Israel’s God.
Pharaoh rejected Moses’ demand and increased the work required of his Israelite slaves (5:1–21). God promised to act to redeem His people (v. 22–7:5). God’s power was unleashed in a series of nine miracles which struck Egypt, devastating that land (v. 6–10:29). The final, decisive plague took the life of every firstborn male in Egypt (11:1–10).
Understanding the Text
Pharaoh’s hard heart. These chapters speak often of the “hard” condition of Pharaoh’s heart. The image suggests stubborn resistance to God. The biblical text speaks of Pharaoh hardening his heart (8:15), of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (7:3), and of his heart hardening (vv. 14, 22). To understand, we need simply to ask, What did God do to harden Pharaoh’s heart? The answer is that God revealed His power more and more fully. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the same way that the hot sun hardens bricks. God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart against Pharaoh’s will. If Pharaoh’s heart had been like wax rather than clay, it would have softened rather than hardened when God revealed Himself more fully. If our hearts are like wax, we will respond to God as He speaks to us. If our hearts are like clay, we will be as Pharaoh. The more God speaks to us, the harder we will become until finally God is forced to break us. “Make the work harder” Ex. 5:1–21. Moses’ request that Pharaoh release Israel for a temporary pilgrimage was scornfully rejected by Pharaoh, who ridiculed the God of slaves (v. 2). He ordered that the slaves’ quota of bricks be maintained, but that they be forced to gather the straw that earlier had been provided. Chopped straw was added to the mud used in making brick. The chemicals in the straw created a harder, longer-lasting brick. The response stunned the Israelites and Moses. They had expected an easy victory because God was on their side! When no easy victory occurred, the people became angry with Moses and Aaron (v. 21). We have to guard against unrealistic expectations. Psalm 37:7 says, “Do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Rather than panic when this occurs, we are to “be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (v. 7). “Their secret arts” Ex. 6:28–7:24. When Moses showed Pharaoh the authenticating signs God had given him, Egyptian magicians duplicated them. Some suggest the Egyptian magicians used trickery. Snake charmers even today cause cobras to become stiff by pressing on a nerve in their necks. They then throw them on the ground to arouse them. Others believe that the “secret arts” of Egypt’s magicians was actual magic, performed with demonic aid. In this case the confrontation between Moses and Egypt’s magicians was a true test of supernatural resources. It doesn’t really matter. Soon God began to perform such powerful acts that even Egypt’s magicians told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (8:19). Today too human beings attempt to duplicate God’s works. Hospitals promise cures for substance abuse. Psychiatrists offer freedom to the guilt-ridden. In certain cases they even seem to succeed! Yet true release from every dependency, and life-transforming forgiveness, remain a work of God. Pharaoh was unwilling to see the difference between what his magicians could do and what God could do. We need to be aware of that difference, and depend on the “finger of God.” The Ten Plagues
|The Nile turned to blood||7:14–24|
|Frogs infest the land||8:1–15|
|Gnats fill Egypt||8:16–19|
|Flies swarm Egyptian districts||8:20–32|
|Anthrax devastates Egypt’s cattle||9:1–7|
|Boils fester on all Egyptians||9:8–12|
|Hail crushes Egyptian crops||9:13–35|
|Locusts devour all vegetation||10:1–20|
|Darkness falls on Egyptians||10:21–29|
|Firstborn males of Egypt die||11:1–10|
The devastating plagues the Lord caused were a judgment on Egypt’s gods (Ex. 9:27, 34), some of which are shown here. God’s plagues were directed against the Nile god, whose waters killed rather than sustained life (7:14–24); the goddess of birth, Heqt, whose symbolic frogs became rotting heaps of death (8:1–15); and the sun god, Ra, whose impotence was shown as God imposed three days of absolute darkness (10:21–29). “I will deal differently with the land of Goshen” Ex. 8:22. A distinctive feature of several of the plagues is that they fell only on districts occupied by the Egyptians. Hebrew districts were immune. This clearly demonstrated the miraculous nature of the plagues. It also made it clear to the Israelites that they truly were God’s special people. “Those . . . who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside” Ex. 9:20. The verse reminds us that the Egyptians did not, as some have suggested, suffer innocently for the sin of Pharaoh. They participated, as taskmasters and in other ways, in the oppression of Israel. No one who sees evil and stands silent is guiltless. Even so, God published Moses’ decrees of judgment so that those who came to respect the God of slaves could protect their possessions. God is good to the guilty, gracious to all those who respond to His word. “This time I have sinned” Ex. 9:27. When I last talked with Charlie he was lying in a hospital bed with two broken legs. He’d been lying drunk in a Brooklyn gutter and been run over by a truck. Charlie was like Pharaoh. When things went against him, he vocally turned to God. But as soon as the trouble disappeared, there he was, back in the gutter again. Pharaoh was a deathbed convert. When he was in trouble, he asked for prayer. But when each plague was lifted, Pharaoh went back to his old ways. It’s worthwhile to underline what Pharaoh said in each confrontation with Moses, and note that each expression of repentance was worthless. How do we know? We understand what was in his heart by observing what he did when each plague was removed. Talk is still cheap. Words of repentance, without a change in life, are as empty as Pharaoh’s promises. “Every firstborn son in Egypt will die” Ex. 11:1–10. In the biblical world the firstborn son was special. He was expected to guide the family in the next generation, and he was the one through whom the family name would be preserved. Inheritance laws reflect the importance of the firstborn son: he received at least twice the portion of the other sons in the family. Thus the death of every firstborn in Egypt was a stunning loss. Only this final, devastating plague would at last force Pharaoh to release his slaves. We might view the plagues on Egypt as a series of increasingly painful punishments. If Pharaoh had relented at any stage, he could have avoided the more serious troubles that followed. Because Pharaoh remained hard, however, the ultimate penalty was finally imposed. God’s judgments are often gracious in exactly this way. They become more severe only as we continue to resist Him. When we sense the disciplining hand of God, it’s wise to surrender immediately. Why should God have to strike what is dearest to us before we respond?
God’s Mighty Hand (Ex. 5:22–6:27)
When Pharaoh increased the burden on the Israelites, Moses was as upset as the people. But his response in the situation was more spiritual. He didn’t blame others. Instead Moses went to God to express his anger and his confusion. We can sense both emotions in Moses’ prayer. “O Lord, why have You brought trouble upon this people? Is this why You sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and You have not rescued Your people at all.” It is wrong to blame others when things go wrong. It is not wrong to speak freely to the Lord. In expressing his emotions, Moses showed that he was willing to be totally honest with himself and with the Lord. And in coming to God, Moses acknowledged the Lord’s sovereignty and power. Moses did not question whether God could rescue Israel. He cried out in frustration, questioning, “Why not yet?” You and I, who believe in God, will feel the same anger and frustration that Moses knew at times. Such feelings need not suggest a lack of trust. But they do raise the question of timing. Why not yet? God gives Moses his answer in 6:1–8. God will deliver with “mighty acts of judgment” so that “you will know that I am the Lord your God.” When our victories are easy, it’s all too likely we will lose sight of God. But when all is so dark and hopeless that we are about to give up, and then deliverance suddenly appears, we know what happened is of the Lord. Often God delays deliverance, not because He wants us to go on suffering, but because He wants us to recognize His hand when He acts.
How does Moses’ experience speak to your own frustrations and anger?