By Simon ManchesterSunday 3 Jun 2018Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 18 minutes
We are examining and studying the plagues of Egypt, the famous plagues of Egypt. Even our newspapers will refer to these plagues when the country faces an infestation of locusts or if there is a massive hail storm in the city, suddenly the plagues, the mighty plagues of Egypt will be referenced.
These plagues, these nine plagues are also highly relevant because what God is doing is he is knocking away the props, the idols of the Egyptians and God is a God who always does that. He does that to me, and he does that to you. He teaches us slowly, steadily that the props which are not him will fail us.
C.S. Lewis wrote
“it’s a terrible truth that part of us dreads to depend solely on God. We gravitate instead to things or people, and this is so deeply ingrained. We will not turn to him as long as he leaves us anything else to turn to. But in our clearest moments and in death and judgment, what else do we have but him. So we would do well to practice such soul dependence here on earth. And it is good of him to teach us to and even to force us to”.
These plagues in Exodus are packed with detail of interest, more than we could cope with in one sermon and so I want to try and draw our threads together as best as a can under three headings.
The first is God’s Power. The plagues of Egypt stand like a karate trophy stands on a mantelpiece. It says that the owner or the doer behind this trophy is powerful, victorious and successful, so we are going to think about God’s Power.
Secondly, we are going to think about God’s Proclamation because God communicates through the plagues and he doesn’t just communicate judgment, he also conveys hope.
And the third thing we are going to see is that these plagues are God’s Preview of a much greater, more serious, more significant judgment to come.
If you are a visitor today, this is our fourth morning in the Book of Exodus and you will know I’m sure that God’s people were slaves in Egypt, trapped and God was planning to bring them out under the human leadership of Moses, and by doing that, he would teach the Israelites they should trust him as the only saviour. They couldn’t save themselves, but he was also going to show the Egyptians that they should trust him as well and no-one else. So everybody is going to learn that God is wonderful, powerful and supreme.
We noted last time that God could have opened the Egyptian gates in 5 minutes and just walked everybody out but this process is going to be so drawn out and is going to be so comprehensive and so unforgettable that everybody will be impacted.
This is the occasion where Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh, and we read
“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”.
There is a supernatural demonstration, miraculous.
“Pharaoh then summoned the wise men and the sorcerers and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts”.
So there is some kind of satanic copying backlash.
“Each one threw down his staff, and it became a snake, but Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said”.
There is a very simple microcosm of a battle, a spiritual battle. The Egyptians worshipped the snake or the cobra and here is Aaron throwing down his staff, there’s the snake. It’s a vivid demonstration to Pharaoh and his officials that God is the one who is in charge of everything.
Then there is this, a backlash, a copying and a repeat done by the magicians. I don’t think it’s magic. I think it’s something that’s done satanically and there is the series of staffs and the one staff and the one staff swallows the others, or the one snake swallows the others, and there is an absolute demonstration that Yahweh is in charge. The gulp of Aaron’s snake is meant to make Pharaoh and all his officials gulp themselves and say “God is God”. But Pharaoh doesn’t – he hardens his heart. And so the nine plagues are launched.
Now I don’t know if you remember how the nine plagues work but you can see the headings in your Bibles:
- The Plague of Blood
- The Plagues of Frogs
- The Plague of Gnats
- The Plague of Flies
- The Plague of Livestock
- The Plague of Boils
- The Plague of Hail
- The Plague of Locusts
- The Plague of Darkness
These plagues are not random, meaningless plagues. They strike at the very heart of Egyptian idolatry. So do the Egyptians depend on the Nile River for their sustenance and well being? Well God will make it useless.
Do the Egyptians worship the Sun God? Well God will make the place pitch-black. He will teach them, that their gods are no gods and fail to protect and provide. Only He can do these great things. The Egyptians had about 80 idols. The idols or their gods were meant to control the land, the sky and everything in between and you can see these plagues mainly cover the land and the sky and everything in between.
What the Egyptians are going to work out slowly but surely is that their gods are useless. In fact, their gods are non-existent.
Paul says in Acts 19 “your gods” he says to the pagans that he is speaking to “are no gods at all”. There is only one God and that God is Yahweh.
The heart of Pharaoh, no different from your heart or mine, is an idol factory. We have the ability in the heart to make idols. You don’t have to go to a concrete factory to get idols. Your heart will do the idol making, and my heart will do the idol making and we’ll either do it by re-making God in an image which suits us or we will invent something else on which we will put our energy and our support and our dependence.
We have this kind of depraved ability in the heart to turn away from God and to make new supports for ourselves, but the new supports will fail us. The longer we go on surviving with them as fake supports, the more dangerous it is. The sooner we learn that the idols will fail us, the healthier we are. And then if we couple that with knowing God’s faithfulness and sufficiency, we are in a very wonderful position indeed. So God you see has the sensational ability and the grace to turn us from idols to himself for his honour and our security.
Now with these nine plagues, there is no doubt that it is a supernatural battle going on. This is the supernatural God controlling the natural world.
Unfortunately, those who don’t believe in the supernatural will try to find natural explanations for what’s happening. But once you’ve decided Genesis 1:1 is accurate and that there is a God who makes the heavens and the earth, you shouldn’t consider for a second that it would be a problem for God to turn a river into blood.
The question we ought to be asking is ‘how does God even see the river – it’s so little?’
Some of the Commentators that are anti-supernatural will say things like “well this is the red soil that sort of seeped down into the river and made it look red or this was a sort of algae that got over the top of the river and made it look red”. No, no, God is turning the river into blood. And those who say that this is just soil or algae miss the point of the rest of the account which tells us that was blood in the buckets and blood in the jars. God turned the water into blood. If you are nervous about the supernatural, you are really are going to struggle with the whole of the Bible.
The Egyptian magicians can copy, but they can only copy at the start, they can replicate the staff, the blood, the frogs and then they give up and they say ‘now it’s out of our league. This is the work of God’. They learn faster than Pharaoh that God is God.
And do you notice if you’ve ever read these accounts before that Pharaoh’s magicians can only re-create the problems? I mean it was a pesty thing to have your water turned to blood. What do the magicians do? They don’t turn the blood back to water, no all they can do is make more blood. Are they having a problem finding water? Great bring in the magicians, and they’ll make more blood!
Or when it comes to the frogs, these dreadful armies of smelly frogs are coming up and what do the Egyptian magicians do? They don’t get rid of the frogs. They don’t minimise the frogs they make more frogs. They can only create more of the problem. They can’t solve it.
So there’s something laughable about the Egyptian helplessness while God shows his sovereignty and his power from start to finish.
Let me point out to you a few themes of God’s power that are in these nine plagues. One of them is that God’s power is on a scale that the world has never seen. So we read for example the hail in chapter 9 verse 18 will be the worst hailstorm ever or since.
The locusts in chapter 10 verse 6 are going to be unparalleled. No plague like it.
The darkness in chapter 10 verse 21 is going to be thick enough to feel, a very eerie, unusual, unique darkness. So the scale of what God does is unbelievable.
The second thing is that God’s power is seen in the timing of his plagues. He can announce when it will be and when it will stop. So it’s not a natural occurrence. It’s predicted, and then its end is predicted. For example in chapter 9 verse 5 “tomorrow the livestock will die”. Or chapter 9 verse 18 “tomorrow the hail will come”. Chapter 8 verse 10 “and tomorrow the frogs will stop”. Chapter 8 verse 29 “tomorrow the flies will leave”.
So God is entirely in charge of the natural creation, and he is entirely in charge of the timing of the clock, space and time are under his sovereign power.
Then you’ll notice that God’s sovereignty can control the human heart. Not only is he involved in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and this combination makes Pharaoh just ridiculously and impossibly unwilling to respond, but God is also able to soften hearts.
We discover in chapter 9 verse 20 that some of the officials begin to fear the Lord, the Egyptian officials.
We discover in chapter 10 verse 7 that some of the officials go and tell Pharaoh that he should wake up to himself and start taking an interest in what Moses is saying. Of course, when the time comes for the Israelites to leave Egypt, God softens the hearts of the Egyptian people, and they generously provide for the Israelites as they leave the country. It’s unbelievable to see the power of God on the scale, the timing and the depth, the detail, the gnats, the flies, the skies, the rivers, the people, the unbelievable power of God and entirely sovereign. There is nothing beyond him. That’s the first section.
What God is going to do through these plagues is that he is going to teach through them and as he teaches through the plagues, he’s going to teach judgment and hope.
One preacher has called these plagues “Missionary Plagues”. They do the work of mission.
If you look at chapter 7:17 as God is about to announce the first plague to Pharaoh, he says “this plague will teach you I am Yahweh”.
He says in chapter 9:14 before the plague of hail he says to Pharaoh “this will teach you there is no-one like me”.
Then in chapter 9:16, an astonishing verse God says to Pharaoh “I have raised you up for this very purpose to show my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth”.
What a thing to say to a pharaoh. Pharaoh imagines that he has grown, he’s a self-made man, he’s powerful, he’s mighty, he’s a genius and God says, I raised you up – not only do I raise you up for this particular time but I’ve raised you up, and I have hardened your heart so that the plagues would continue and all the world would know who I am.
Then if you look at chapter 10:2, we read that God says to Pharaoh and the officials “you may tell your children and your grandchildren that they may know that I am Yahweh”.
You see what’s happening as these plagues are being poured out on the nation that God is announcing that he is Yahweh, there’s no-one like him, it’s going out to the world, and it’s going down the generations. So God takes something which looks to us to be odd, random, and patchy and he preaches this powerful sermon.
I remember reading once of Charles Colson who was one of Richard Nixon’s right-hand men, and he was converted as you may know before he went into prison for the Watergate disaster and he emerged and began the Prison Fellowship and began to preach in many of the prisons.
I remember Colson saying in one of his books that he went into one of the big American prisons where they were expecting to have 600/800 of the inmates come to hear him. When he turned up, they had had some riot in the week before, and as a punishment, they had only allowed a certain few to come to the chapel. Colson was preaching to what he said was about 12 people in this large chapel and he was very disappointed to hear that he would not be able to communicate to as many as he wanted to.
But he decided he would be as faithful as he could, given that the numbers were small and he preached as well as he could to these 12 people. When he went away the officials in the prison decided that the message had been worth hearing across the prison and so they resolved to have it sent through the televisions in each of the cells, not only on the next day, but the next day as well so that everybody in the whole prison – way beyond the 600/800 who might have voluntarily come – all of them got to hear this sermon twice.
This proclamation using the limitations was still used in this wide and wonderful way, and that’s what God is doing as he speaks through the plagues. It may seem to us to be just something that is very sort of ordinary and patchy, but it’s communicating the sovereignty of God and the mercy of God in a very wonderful way. And one of the reasons that it’s doing this is because He is exposing the idols which should be exposed and proclaiming himself who should be proclaimed – supernatural.
If you’ve had anything to do with the intelligent design debate, you may have been prejudiced by one of the most scurrilous arguments to do with the intelligent design which is, the intelligent design debate is just a religious argument, a non-scientific, religious argument. And that is a scurrilous piece of dishonesty because intelligent design is not primarily a religious argument. It is a scientific controversy taking place within the scientific community.
There are hundreds of top-level scientists, Christian and non-Christian, who are arguing today that the scientific evidence shows that it is harder, not easier, to believe that there is a material cause for the origin of life and the existence of the universe – that happens to be a fact.
As things get more and more complicated, simple, material explanations are getting more and more unlikely, and so this intelligent design debate is taking place within the scientific community by believers and unbelievers, but of course, many people are being sold the lie that this is just a piece of religion. No, this is a supernatural issue for many Christians, but it is a scientific issue for many Christians and non-Christians.
And here in the plagues, we’re also being shown something which doesn’t have an easy material cause because God is wonderfully at work proclaiming.
Do you notice if you look at chapter 9:22-23 that God is going to make a distinction during the plagues between his people and the Egyptians.
“Stretch out your hand towards the sky so hail will fall over Egypt – on men and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt. When Moses stretched out his staff towards the sky, the Lord sent thunder and hail and lightning. So the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm”.
“The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen where the Israelites were”.
There were going to be massive privileges for being in the land of Goshen. Goshen, we read in Genesis chapter 45, was the part of Egypt where Joseph brought his father and his brothers to live and it must have been a fairly central part of Egypt because Joseph said ‘I want you father and brothers to be near me’.
Here is God organising a number of these plagues whether it’s flies or hail or darkness, he supernaturally and miraculously causes the damage to be done in Egypt and absolute peace and security to exist in Goshen. This was of course to make a distinction between my people and your people. This was to cause the people watching to chose very carefully who they would like to belong to.
I don’t know what you think of flies? I particularly dislike flies, and I dislike even one fly when it’s in my study, and I’m trying to concentrate. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have swarms of flies in the study and flies that are, even as it said, on the ground. But in Goshen there’s not going to be one fly – it’s unbelievable. God is going to tell the flies where they can fly and where they can’t fly – its incredible power and sovereignty.
This is, of course, to make people aware that God makes a distinction. This is to cause the people who are watching the plagues to revere God and to seek him as their God and to give up on the idols who are unable to protect or provide.
Now, these plagues as we have observed are nine; there will be a tenth next week. The famous death of the first-born, salvation by the lamb but you’ll see as these nine plagues continue that God is showing himself to be great and sovereign, a God who makes the distinction but he’s also unbelievably patient. He does not wish any to perish but all to come to salvation and that’s why there are nine plagues, not just one, not just the hail, not only the darkness but there are nine plagues, and the nine plagues are to give people continuous time to respond.
When the 10th comes, the death of the first-born, the time will be finished. Isn’t it a remarkable thing that you can read these nine plagues, and you can say to yourself ‘well, gee what a messy world that must have been to have been in Egypt at that particular time’. And you can miss the point that God is showing the idols to be hopeless, is showing himself to be wonderful, he’s extremely patient, he’s setting a line down the middle so that people can choose and yet his patience has got a limit. There’ll come a time when the tenth will come, and suddenly death has hit home.
Spurgeon tells a story of having a conversation with a 20-year-old and saying to the 20-year-old ‘do you belong to Christ?’ The 20-year-old replied ‘soon’. Spurgeon said ‘well lets a goal, why don’t we suggest that you’ll be a Christian by the time you are 30?’
The 20-year-old said ‘well there are many uncertainties and dangers that can take place in a decade. I could be dead and damned by the time I am 30’.
‘Well,’ Spurgeon said ‘why don’t we make it 12 months. Why don’t you be God’s enemy for 12 months and then in 12 months turn and become God’s friend?’ The 20-year-old said ‘well every year has no guarantees – I may be in greater darkness and greater hardness in the next 12 months – I think it better be now’.
Well, that’s what we are learning from these nine plagues. Every opportunity is given for the whole of Egypt to know that God is God and to turn and respond.
Well the third and the final thing this morning is God’s Preview because these nine plagues are not just Ancient History, they are also a preview or a rehearsal of a much greater series of plagues or judgments which are coming in the future.
These nine plagues, of course, tell us what God thinks of idolatry. He is a God who exposes it and tramples on it, but he’s also able to save people from it. You and I who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ should be very grateful that God can save us from our idols because we are incapable of dropping our idols unless he helps us and we are incapable of taking hold of Jesus Christ unless he helps us.
But everybody is idolatrous in the world, left to themselves and everybody needs Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation chapter 16 describes the coming Day of Judgment where God will deal with idolatry in a global capacity, and it says it will be a Day of Hail and a Day of Darkness and uses the language of the plagues of Egypt. No-one on that day without Christ will be safe, and no-one with Christ will be in danger.
This future judgment according to the Scriptures, this day of justice, will be a very great day. A day that in a sense we look forward to because it will be a very joyful day but there is another sense in which it will be a very dreadful and terrible day.
Preacher and Author Ravi Zacharias who is an excellent communicator says that the church has got to get into the habit of working out how to communicate the day of justice to the world. Because the world is entirely ignorant of the Day of Judgment and the world is unready for the Day of Judgment we need to think about how to communicate and not leave it off the Agenda but explain it, so people understand the issues and take refuge in Christ.
Nothing is so naive as thinking that history is going nowhere. It’s patently moving forwards. Nothing is so deluded as believing that God will do nothing about idolatry. He plainly will do something about idolatry. He always does something about idolatry. He does it because he deserves to be honoured. He does it because he wants to see people rescued. He will do something about idolatry. There is an absolute delusion to think you can make up another god or have something or person as your god and all will be well. It will not be well.
Nothing is so significant, and nothing is so wonderful as being brought by God to turn away from your idols and to trust in Jesus who will not fail you.
That’s why Exodus 7:10 is entirely relevant, you will not be able to walk out of this building this morning and nor will I and not be affected by the truths of Exodus 7:10 because God will keep teaching us that our idols are a mistake.
Are any of your idols working? Is power going to save you on the last day? Will an affair save you when you come to the end? Will money get you across the sea into heaven? God is going to teach us that our idols will fail us but he will not fail us. The reason he will not fail us is that he has the power in the battle. He has proclaimed himself very clearly through the plagues to be a God who is not only down on idols but gracious, patient, welcoming, forgiving – that’s been made perfectly clear for us isn’t it?
In the person of the Lord Jesus. He has previewed the last day back in Egypt so that all the world will know that he’ll do what he says he’ll do and we are very privileged to hear it and we are very privileged to take refuge in Christ and be ready for it and to help others be ready for it.
Let’s bow our heads and pray. Our Heavenly Father we want to pause at this time and we want to thank you for communicating, not only in word but in deed, in history so that we might know what you are like. We might know your power, we might know your proclamation, and we might see this preview of judgment.
We especially thank you that there are so many of us here who have been brought out of idolatry and have been brought into the safe and loving hands of the Lord Jesus and we pray that you would continue to incline our hearts to him and that you would help us not to fall into the traps of idols and as we are conscious of many people in our friendships and our family and in our community who have no understanding of what it is to be safe, we pray that you would help us to be a good witness to your grace and to your glory.
We thank you for this word and pray you would help us to be wise as we live in the light of it and we ask it in Jesus Name – Amen.