Mighty acts of judgment (Exodus 6:28-10:29)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1. Recap

If you are watching a television series on Netflix when each new episode begins it usually begins with a recap which can be useful if a few weeks have elapsed since you have watched the previous episode. Of course, if you are binge watcher then you don’t need a recap and you just skip it. But recaps are always useful if it there has been interrupted in some way.

Today we are resuming our look at the story of how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt after a 3 week interruption. We are picking up the story at the end of chapter 6 from verse 28. At the end of chapter 6 along with the start of chapter 7 there is a little bit of a recap reminding us of where we got to in the story before the genealogy of Moses and Aaron which is recorded in verses 14 to 27 of chapter 6.

In this recap, we are reminded that the Lord had spoken to Moses and told him to go to Pharaoh and tell him all that the Lord would tell him to say (see 6:10). We are again reminded that Moses thought that Pharaoh would never listen to him because of his faltering lips. However, this time instead of just being told that the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron (as we were in chapter 6  and verse 13), we are told what the Lord said to them.

Exodus 7:1-5

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 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.”

2. The Lord’s acts of judgement

What the Lord said to Moses was that he was right at least in one respect. Pharaoh wasn’t going to listen to Moses. However, it wasn’t going to be because of Moses’ faltering lips, but because of Pharaoh’s hardness of heart which the Lord himself will have a hand in hardening. The Lord explained that he would lay his hand on Egypt and he would deliver mighty acts of judgment on them and bring his people out.

Today we are going to look the first 9 of those acts of judgement that came on the Egyptians. But before we do, we should note a few things from these introductory verses about these acts of judgment.

They are judicial acts

The first thing that I think that it is important to note is that they are described as acts of judgment. They aren’t acts of desperation.

My mother-in-law once had a neighbour who came out to find that a Bull Terrier had come into their yard and it had locked its jaws around the neck of their little fluff ball of dog. I can’t remember exactly what the breed of their dog was, it might have been Maltese Shih Tzu or something like that.

Her neighbours did everything they could do to get the dog to let their dog go. They hosed it, they got out the broom and try to push it ways. They tried to man handle its jaws. But no matter what they did, it just wouldn’t let their dog go. It was tightly in the grip of the Bull Terrier. So finally, in act of desperation they just got something and started hitting the Bull Terrier until it let their dog go. In their case it was an act of desperation as they delivered blow after blow until the dog finally let their little fluff ball go.

They aren’t acts of desperation

Although these acts of judgment are sometimes referred to as God smiting or delivering blows on Egypt, they aren’t acts of desperation. Later in the story in chapter 9 the lord said that at any time he could have stretched out his hand and wiped the Egyptians off the face of the earth (9:15), but the Lord didn’t and that itself was an act of mercy. These plagues or blows that the Lord delivers aren’t acts of desperation and they aren’t acts of revenge or spite.

They are judicial acts of judgment. These are the acts of the righteous judge, the judge of all the earth who is punishing the wicked and bringing about justice for the oppressed.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians had ruthlessly oppressed God’s people over many generations. The Egyptians had originally invited into the land and had them welcomed as honoured guests, but they betrayed them and turned them into their slaves. They butchered their children and dealt ruthlessly and cruelly oppressed them. What we see in the plagues is the judgment of God on the wickedness of the King and his people who had set themselves up against God and his people.

These are revelatory acts

The second thing to note is that these are revelatory acts. When Moses first went and saw Pharaoh back in chapter 5, he told Pharaoh that the Lord, the God of Israel had told him to let his people go, and Pharaoh response was to say that he didn’t know the Lord.

Exodus 5:2

Pharaoh said, “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.”

What the Lord explained to Moses and Aaron in chapter 7 was that the Egyptians would come to know the Lord when he stretched out his hand against them and brought his people out (7v5).  These acts of judgement are also “signs and wonders” in which the Lord is revealing more about himself and what will happen to those who oppose him. Like the staffs of the magician you end up getting swallowed up in the judgment of God. As we look at the 9 plagues today, we will learn more about the Lord and the danger for those with hard hearts.

2.1 Water into blood

The first act of judgement was to turn the water of the Nile into blood. The Lord told Moses what to do and what to say to Pharaoh.

Exodus 7:17-18

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.’ ”

The Nile was the chief source of water for agriculture in Egypt. Until the Aswan High Dam was built last century the Nile would flood in spring and early summer bursting its banks bringing tons of silt deposits which would spread out over the agricultural lands of the Nile Delta. It made this part of the land rich and fertile. The Nile not only fed Egypt, but it also made Egypt the breadbasket of the ancient world with grain being shipped all around the Mediterranean[1].

When the staff was raised all that the Lord had said would happen, happened and all the water of the Nile, and all the water in the canals and reservoirs and the bucket and jars with water from it were turned to blood. The Lord said to Pharaoh that by this he would know that “I am the Lord”. However, the Egyptian magicians were able to do something similar with the water (presumably on a much smaller scale) and Pharaoh’s heart hardened, and he didn’t take this sign to heart.

2.2 Plague of frogs

Seven days after the Lord had struck the Nile, the Lord again sent Moses to tell Pharaoh that if he refused to let his people go, the Lord would plague the whole of the country with frogs. Pharaoh refused and the land was filled with frogs. They were everywhere. Again, the magician managed something similar, bringing forth more frogs, but obviously they could rid of the frogs. So, Pharaoh was forced to call for Moses and Aaron and he asked them to pray to the Lord and he told them that he would let the people go which he later reneged on. This becomes a pattern throughout the plagues for Pharaoh. Moses gave Pharaoh the privilege of choosing the time so that he might learn something about the Lord.

Exodus 8:10b-11

Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the LORD our God. 11 The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people; they will remain only in the Nile.”

2.3 The plague of gnats

The third plague was a plague of gnats[2]. This time the magicians of Egypt were not able to mimic the miraculous sign and they had to admit that this was the finger of God. But even though the evidence was stacking up against Pharaoh, still Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said. That refrain he would not list, just as the Lord had said is part of the pattern of what happens.

2.4 The plague of flies

The plague of flies followed the gnats and much of the detail is like the pattern of the other plagues. However, with this fourth plague a new element is introduced which will feature in the rest of the plagues. The Lord promised to deal differently with the land of Goshen where his people lived.

Exodus 8:22-23

22 “ ‘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. 23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’

The Lord said that he would make distinction between his people and the Egyptians so that Pharaoh would know that the Lord, is in this land. “A better translation would be “that you will know that I am Yahweh, in the midst of the earth.”[3] As Moses will tell Pharaoh a little later the Lord wanted him to know that “the earth is the Lord’s”. All of belongs to the God of Israel including Egypt. It isn’t Pharaoh’s. It isn’t ours. It is the Lord’s.

2.5 The death of the livestock out in the fields

After the plague of flies, things escalate and intensify with the Egyptians and their livestock suffering. The fifth plague brought the death of the livestock out in the fields; the horses, donkeys, camels, sheep, and goats. However, not one of the animals of the Israelites perished.

2.6 Festering boils

The sixth act of judgment was a plague of boils that broke out on all the Egyptians and all the animals[4] throughout the land that were left presumably the ones that weren’t out in the fields and thing like household pets and chicken and ducks and geese and pigs that didn’t get a mention before.

This time the magician couldn’t even stand before Moses because of the festering boils that were on them and all the Egyptians (9v11). But this time we read that the Lord hardened Pharaoh heart and Pharaoh would not listen to Moses. This is the first time the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart is directly attributed to the action of the Lord although this is what the Lord had told Moses would happen in chapter 7 and verse 3.

2.7 The worst storm ever

After the boils came the worst hail and lightning storm ever. It’s recounted in verses 13 to 35 of chapter 9. The Egyptians were warned and some of the officials feared the word of the Lord and brought their servants and livestock in from the field. They are given the opportunity to escape the judgment, but others didn’t and everything and everyone in the fields died, although no hail fell in the land of Goshen.

This time Pharaoh seemed repentant, admitting that “this time he had sinned” but his repentance wasn’t genuine, and Moses knew it. He said that I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord (see Ex. 9:29-30). Some of them feared the word of the Lord enough to bring they people and whatever remaining animals in from the fields. They might have feared what the Lord said he was going to do, but they didn’t fear him the Lord himself, not the way they were meant to.

Moses prayed to the Lord to stop the storm, but he did it so that Pharaoh might know that the whole earth is the Lord’s. As soon as there was relief from the storm, Pharaoh and his officials hardened their hearts and Pharaoh wouldn’t listen.

2.8 The plague of locust

The plague of locust came next and the locust ate whatever crops hadn’t been destroyed by the hail. The plague is described in the first 20 verses of chapter 10. This time, Pharaoh’s officials pleaded with him Pharaoh to let the people go and worship the Lord. At first, Pharaoh seemed to listen to them, but then he wanted to dictate the terms on which they could go and wouldn’t let the women and children go. He wasn’t submitting to the Lord but trying to cut deal with him. He would only go so far as long as he kept some control of the situation. Moses refused these terms and Pharaoh ended up driving Moses and Aaron out of his presence. I think a key verse for understanding the problem with Pharaoh is verse 3 of chapter 10.

Exodus 10:3

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me.

To fear the Lord is more than just being frightened of what the Lord might do to you. It is to acknowledge the Lord for who he is and to reverence him and respond to him as our God and Maker, the one who the earth and everything in it belongs to. It is to humble ourselves before him and worship and serve him. We don’t cut deals with God, we obey him. The Bible makes it clear that God always opposes the proud but gives grace (or shows favour) to the humble (see James 4:6). This is what Pharaoh was just not willing to do. He had stubbornly refused to humble himself. His heart was always hard, and God hardened it even further.

Exodus 10:20

“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go”.

2.9 Darkness

In verse 21 of chapter 10 we read that Moses stretched out his hand and darkness spread over Egypt. It is described as the sort of darkness that could be felt. It was total darkness all except the places where the Israelites lived in the land of Goshen.

Again, Pharaoh’s response is not to humble himself, but to try to bargain with God. He said to Moses that he could take the people, so long as they left all their livestock behind. When Moses told him that was not going to be an option the conversation with Pharaoh came to an end.

Exodus 10:28-29

28 Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.” 29 “Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”

 

3. What we learn

At the beginning of chapter 11 the Lord said to Moses that he would bring one more plague on Pharaoh and Egypt. We will look at that one next week, but today we want to look at what God wants us to learn from these 9 acts of judgment. The Lord makes it clear that there are things that we need to learn about him. There are things that we need to know and acknowledge. I also think that we can learn a few things about what hard hearts are like and what we need to be careful of.

3.1 About hard hearts

The first thing that keeps on coming up throughout these chapters is that hearts that hard refuse to listen. The constant refrain through these chapters (7:13, 22; 8:15) connect not listening with hardness of heart.

Exodus 7:13

13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

They refuse to listen

The sign of heart that is hardening is when it refuses to listen any longer to the Word of God. Moses and Aaron said what the Lord told them to say (see Exodus 7:2). When they spoke often the first things that they said was, “This is what the Lord says”. Pharaoh was not just refusing to listen to them, he was refusing to listen to the Lord who was revealing himself to Pharaoh.  A sign of heart that is hard is its refusal to listen. We won’t listen to the Lord and we won’t listen to those who are trying to warn us of the folly and the danger of coming under his judgment.

They are deceitful

Hearts that are hard are also deceitful. We deceive ourselves, and we can end up trying to deceive those around us saying whatever we feel that we need to say to get us out of trouble. Pharaoh said whatever he felt he needed to say in his attempt to try to avoid the consequences of his sin. How many husbands and wives end up weaving a network of lies to avoid the consequences of material unfaithfulness? Deceit is sign of a heart that has hardened. We start lying to ourselves justifying our actions and we end lying to everyone around us.

We only deceive ourselves thinking that we avoid the consequences of our sin. We cannot and we bring harm to others with our lies. Our sin always catches up with us. Moses warned Pharaoh about his deceitfulness, but he did not heed the warning and God’s judgment came on him.

They are judged by God

Hard hearts are judged by God and the judgement can be that we are given over to our hardness of heart. At the end of chapter 9 after the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, we are told that Pharaoh and his officials hardened their hearts. Then at the beginning of chapter 10 the Lord said to Moses (seemingly speaking about the same hardening), “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his official. The text does not have any problem holding these two truths together. Pharaoh can be said to harden his own heart and at the same time the Lord can also be said to hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Both things are true for God is in control and yet we responsible for our sin. The fact that the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart even further is itself God’s judgment coming on Pharaoh. There comes a time where repentance is not possible for one day, the day of judgment will arrive for us as it did for Pharaoh.

They refuse to humble themselves

Lastly, hard hearts are hearts that refuse to humble themselves before the Lord. They belong to those who cannot give up on the idea that they are in control of their lives and that life is to revolve around what they want and desire. Hearts that respond appropriately to the Lord, fear the Lord acknowledging him for who he is. He is the God and maker and sustainer and redeemer and when you truly know him you obey him and submit willing to his will and not your own. You hand your life over to him. It’s a hardened heart that goes on pretending that you are in controle.

3.2 About the Lord

Knowing who the Lord is the other theme running through these great acts of judgment. The Lord said to Pharaoh “By this you will know that I am the Lord”. The Lord reveals himself not only to Pharaoh, but to Egypt and Israel and to the whole earth. He told Pharaoh that he raised him up for this purpose that he might show him his power and that his name be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16). He told the Israelites that it wasn’t just for them that he performed these miraculous signs but so that they might speak of them to their children and their grandchildren.

He is the Lord of all the earth

What the Lord reveals about himself is that he is the Lord of all the earth. He is the creator of all things and he is in control of this world. He rules over the water, the wind, the insects, the animals, the light, and the darkness and he gives life to this world and the power of death is in his hand.

There is none like him

He shows us that there is none like him and those who ignore him and who try to live life on their own terms are deceived for he is also the judge of all the earth. Eventually we will all have to stand before him on a day of judgment.

He delivers his people

But the other thing that we see about him is that he will deliver his people. He protected his people from the judgment that came upon Egypt and he delivered them out of Egypt and slavery. We see how he would ultimately do this next week with the last plague. But what we are assured of here is that the Lord is also able to deliver his people from the judgment coming on the world. If you listen to him and don’t harden your heart but humble yourself and turn to him and repent trusting in the Lord Jesus who sent into our world to redeem us, he will shelter you from the judgment that is coming on the world. Friends don’t be numbered among those who would not listen.


[1] “Nile” New Bible Dictionary, IVP page 824.

[2] ‘”Gnats” is the traditional interpretation, but the word can mean mosquitoes.””  Both of Mozzies and gnats were indigenous to Egypt. Some gnats like mosquitoes can swarm and bite.

[3] Bruckner, Location 1752.

[4] The word for animals in the Hebrew is different to the one used to refer to the livestock in verse 9. The one used here is more comprehensive and would include more than just livestock for domestic use (see Bruckner Location 1854 of 7690)