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Exodus 7-10: The Lord of the Plagues Print E-mail
Sunday, 26 July 2009

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The Old Testament is filled with the temporal judgments of the Lord.  The flood (Genesis 6-8), Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), the defeat of the Canaanites (Joshua 1-12), the Exile of both kingdoms of Israel (2 Kings 17 and 25), are all examples of temporal judgments.  As you can see in the above list, the Lord judges His enemies and even His own people at times.  We even see these temporal judgments in the New Testament (see the judgment against Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5).  Judgment plays a major part in the biblical story-line.

The book of Exodus contains another story of judgment, namely the judgment of Egypt.  This too is a temporal judgment and involves ten plagues and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Sea.  We will be considering this judgment of Egypt over the next few weeks as we continue through the book of Exodus, beginning with the first nine plagues today.  Of course the question that must be addressed concerning the plagues and the judgment of Egypt, as well as the other temporal judgments in the Bible, is what is the purpose of these judgments?  Or what do they teach us about God?

Before we ask this question of the plagues, let me begin with an overview and note some important details.  After the Lord once again commissions Moses and Aaron in 7:1-7, they go before Pharaoh and perform the sign of Aaron’s staff turning into a snake.  Pharaoh calls in his magicians and they do the same thing.  Just to keep it clear who is in charge, the Lord has Aaron’s snake eat all of the other snakes.  Yet, Pharaoh’s heart continues to be hard and he refuses to listen to Aaron and Moses.  At this point, the plagues begin.  They include: Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn sons.  Although the plagues contain some interesting details, they seem to be told in three sets of three.   Not only do the Egyptian magicians duplicate the sign, they also duplicate the first two plagues (water to blood and frogs).  Notice the connection between this and Pharaoh hardening his heart in 7:22. 

Yet, eventually their magic fails, they confess that God is behind the plagues (see 8:19), and the last we read of them is shrinking before Moses due to boils (see 9:11).  Another noteworthy detail is God’s distinction of Israel beginning with the fourth plague.  Look at 8:22.  Thus, He judges the land of Egypt, while sparing His own people who dwell in that land.  Finally, in all of the plagues we see God’s sovereign control over nature.  He demonstrates His control by reversing what is expected.   Many of the Egyptian gods were believed to control these elements, but the true God demonstrates the truth. 

Make no mistake about it, the carnage is great.  By the time we get to the end of our text this morning, Egypt is in shambles.  And the worst is still to come.  All of this keeps us asking the important question: why?  What is going on in these passages?  What lessons can we learn from the plagues?  Let me attempt an answer by identifying two clear lessons.

First, the plagues teach us that the Lord rules over all.

As we noted above, the plagues demonstrate God’s sovereignty over nature.  He is in control of the Nile river, the animals in Egypt, and the weather.  This fact is implied in the whole account of the plagues, but it is also stated explicitly at points.  Three times the Lord says that He is doing what He is doing so that people (Egyptians, Israelites, and others) ‘shall know that I am the Lord.’  Look at 7:5.  Before the Lord sends the plagues, He tells Moses and Aaron what is about to happen.  They are going to go to Pharaoh and demand that he release the people, he is going to harden his heart and refuse, and the Lord is going to stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.  His plan is to reveal to Egypt who is Lord. 

When Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh the first time, he responded by asking: Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go (5:2).  He is about to get an answer to that question.  Look at 7:17.  When they go to Pharaoh to announce the first plague, the Lord tells them to say: By this you shall know that I am the Lord.  By what?  The Lord continues through Moses: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.  The God of the Hebrews is making it known to the king of Egypt that He is Lord.  Look at 10:1-2.  Here we see that God is not only revealing His lordship to the Egyptians and their king, He is also making it clear for future generations of Israelites.  God is saying: ‘Tell your kids and grandkids about the plagues, about what I did to Egypt, so that they will know that I am the Lord.’  The plagues teach us that the Lord is indeed the Lord.

Likewise, other phrases are used to demonstrate this point.  Look again at 8:22.  The Lord distinguishes between Goshen, which is where Israel dwelled, and the rest of Egypt.  The plague of flies will not come to the land of Goshen.  The Lord does this so that Pharaoh will know that the God of the Hebrews is the Lord in the midst of the earth.  Look at 9:29.  The Lord demonstrates His dominion over nature not only in sending the plagues but also in stopping them.  He is the Lord and He reigns over all of the earth.  And lest anyone think that He is simply a Lord, look at 8:10 and 9:14.  No one is like the Lord. 

He is sending the plagues to make that absolutely clear to Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and everyone else.  Keep reading in 9:15-16.  The Lord could have destroyed the Egyptians easily (with pestilence), but He has raised up the Pharaoh and carried out these judgments in this way so that His name would be proclaimed in all the earth.  The Lord is completely and totally in control of everything that is happening.  There is nothing about the situation that is happen-stance or coincidence.  No, the Lord is in control and He is displaying this for all to see through the plagues.

Second, the plagues teach us that the Lord will judge all who refuse to submit to His reign.

The plagues are serious temporal judgments to display His sovereign rule.  They are fierce.  It is hard for us to understand just how devastating these plagues are for Egypt.  And once again, the why question comes to the forefront.  Why such carnage?  Well, in addition to the fact that the Lord is displaying His rule over all, He is also displaying the fact that all who refuse to submit to Him will face His judgment and wrath.  This may not be the answer that we want to hear, but we need to hear it.  We need to know the truth about sin and where it leads. 

The Egyptians have sinned by throwing numerous Israelite babies into the Nile.  Pharaoh has rebelled against God’s commands and has increased the burden of the Israelites’ slavery.  Not only that, but we see in our text this morning him repeatedly hardening his heart.  Look at 9:34-35.  The action of Pharaoh in refusing to let the people go is sin.  Not that the Lord is not still sovereign over these actions (see 10:1), but Pharaoh is responsible for his sinful rebellion against God.  Even when his own people encourage him to obey, he still refuses (see 10:7).  He is responsible for digging his heels in and leading his people to destruction. 

The temporal judgments of the Old Testament should be a grave warning to us.  We cannot skip over these texts and we dare not try and explain them away.  No, we need to hear them in all of their fury.  One of my commentators says it this way: “We would prefer the bliss of a kingdom of God without moral absolutes, presided over by a God without wrath and entered through a Christ without a cross.  But the price for this would be to discard not just this or that bit of the Bible (e.g. Exod. 7-10) but the whole God-given book, for in it God has revealed his absolutes and that he is a God of intense, fiery holiness.  Jesus died bearing our sins in his body on the cross, for that is what sin merits, and saving us from the wrath to come, for that is where sin leads.” 3

Sin merits death and leads to wrath.  This is the picture that we see in the plagues.  We don’t like to hear these ideas because they make us feel uncomfortable, they make us come face to face with the price of our sin.  We deserve plagues.  We deserve frogs and boils and locusts and darkness.  We deserve to be cursed, to be hung on a tree.  We deserve death and wrath. 

But praise be to God, the Bible teaches more than just judgment.  All of the temporal judgments in the Old Testament are pointing us forward.  They are pointing us toward hope, pointing us to life.  How does this play out?  The pages of the New Testament open with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  Yet, this is no ordinary man.  The text tells us and shows us that He is the very son of God.  He rules over the wind and the seas, death and sickness, just as the Lord does in the plagues.  In fact, we are told that the Lord of the plagues has actually taken on flesh.  He is God with us.  And what did He come to do?  Did He come to destroy the Roman rulers just like He did to the Pharaoh?  No.  His mission was greater than merely dealing with an earthly king.  Did He come to deliver His people from physical slavery and oppression?  No.  The slavery He came to deliver His people from was far more severe.  And how would He accomplish this?  Not in the way that we might think.  In order to truly free His people, He had to deal with their sins.  He had to take what they justly deserved, namely wrath and death.  Thus, He was obedient to the Father even to the point of death.  Even though He was the ruler of all, He suffered in my place on the cross to pay for my sins.  The plagues I deserved, He endured.  The wrath I merited, He bore.  He took all my judgment from God the Father.  What a glorious Redeemer!

Yet, make no mistake about it, if you harden your heart against Christ and refuse to submit to Him through repentance and faith, then only judgment awaits.  And the New Testament makes it clear that all the temporal judgments pale in comparison to the judgment to come.  The wrath to come is unthinkable.  Thus, I plead with you, do not harden your heart against the Lord.  Do not take your sin lightly.  Do not wait.  Repent of your sins and put your faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.  Trust in Him as your Savior and follow hard after Him in obedience to His word.  The temporal judgments teach us that the Lord reigns over all and that He will judge those who refuse to submit to Him.  The plagues warn us against hardening our hearts and remaining in our sin.  They point us to the only hope that we have: the work of Christ who took the judgment we deserve in our place.  May we joyously bow the knee to our Sovereign Savior, who has so graciously redeemed us at the cross.  Amen. 

1 For more see Peter Enns, The NIV Application Commentary: Exodus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), p. 208ff.
2 Ibid, p. 203ff.
3 J. A. Motyer, The Message of Exodus BST (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p. 116.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 04 August 2009 )

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