A Darkness to be Felt

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Exodus 9:13-10:29 | January 24 -

January 24
A Darkness to be Felt | Exodus 9:13-10:29
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Let’s pray. Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, so that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which You have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit—one God, forever and ever. Amen.

What do you have coming up this week? Some of you may have exams or an application due that you’re trying to get done. Maybe you have a hard conversation with a friend, spouse, or boss. Maybe you have an evaluation to give at work. Maybe you’re looking at the work environment that you’re returning to, and it’s just falling apart—full of backbiting, controversy, or disappointment. Maybe you’re expecting a baby this week. It could be someone in this church any given week! Maybe you’re trying to fly across the globe with six kids.

Whatever you have, what are you facing in the next few months? Think about what you have in January, February, Izzo, April—you know how it goes. Job uncertainty? Taxes? Yes, we have taxes. The only two sure things in life are death and taxes. We’ll get taxes, but hopefully not the first one. Deadlines? A bunch of you are going to get the winter flu, if you haven’t already. You may have surgery coming up for you or for someone you love.

Maybe you look at everything facing you and really aren’t sure. The kids are crazy, the marriage seems so bad, work is so difficult, the finances are so strapped, and you’re just so discouraged—or you’re just cold! If you feel like you don’t know how you’re going to make it through the next few months, here’s what you (and I) need: we need to know God. It’s really that simple. Wherever you are, and whatever things you just checked off (I’m sure there’s a hundred others that you could list) we need the same thing that Pharaoh and Moses needed—which, it turned out, was the same thing that Israel needed.

“Who is the Lord?” We’ve already seen that question multiple times in the book of Exodus. Who is the Lord? That’s what we need to know. People talk about sermons. They want sermons that have practical application. That’s true. Good preaching should have illustration and application. Hopefully there’s even some in this sermon. But here’s what you need every single week—even more than you need: “Three things that will help you not to be so stressed,” “Four ideas to help curb worry,” “Five principles for raising your kids,” or “Six ideas for your marriage.” All of that is helpful, but here’s what you and I need: we need to know the God-ness of God. We need to see who He is, hear from Him, understand Him, and get a picture of God in His grace and glory. We need to know the Lord. That’s what we see in Exodus and in each of the plagues.

I’m going to read another long passage this morning. You’ll want to have your Bible open so you can follow along. We’re looking at plagues 7-9, and you’ll have almost two months to build the anticipation to see what happens when I get back. As I explained last week, the proclamation of God’s Word is not only in the preaching of Holy Scripture, but in the reading of Scripture. So, when you come to a text like this one—which is going to take seven or eight minutes to read—don’t just tune out and wait until things pick up again. Listen, learn, mark, and inwardly digest as you hear from God and His Word. Exodus 9:13:

13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 14 For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18 Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 19 Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.”’” 20 Then whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, 21 but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slaves and his livestock in the field.
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.” 23 Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. 24 There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. 25 The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. 26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail.
27 Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Plead with the Lord, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” 29 Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. 30 But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.” 31 (The flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the emmer were not struck down, for they are late in coming up.) 33 So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the Lord, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured upon the earth. 34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. 35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.”
3 So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me. 4 For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country, 5 and they shall cover the face of the land, so that no one can see the land. And they shall eat what is left to you after the hail, and they shall eat every tree of yours that grows in the field, 6 and they shall fill your houses and the houses of all your servants and of all the Egyptians, as neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.’” Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh.
7 Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” 8 So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, “Go, serve the Lord your God. But which ones are to go?” 9 Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.” 10 But he said to them, “The Lord be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. 11 No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.
12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, so that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left.” 13 So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind had brought the locusts. 14 The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. 15 They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. 16 Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. 17 Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the Lord your God only to remove this death from me.” 18 So he went out from Pharaoh and pleaded with the Lord. 19 And the Lord turned the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea. Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go.
21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. 24 Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.” 25 But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must take of them to serve the Lord our God, and we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there.” 27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. 28 Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” 29 Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.”
(Exodus 9:13-10:29)

We are looking this morning at the seventh, eighth, and ninth plagues. We’ve gone from blood, to frogs, to gnats, to flies, to livestock, to boils; to now hail, locusts, and darkness; and we’ll finally come to death. The plagues have been increasing in their severity and intensity. They all seem bad, but you can see how they’re getting worse. The Nile turning to blood was bad enough, but you could scramble and try to find some water in shallow wells. That plague lasted for a week. Then the frogs were a disgusting nuisance. But now things get worse and worse, as the hail wipes out almost everything; the locusts devour whatever is left; and finally, there’s this darkness to be felt.

We see here again the threefold pattern which I’ve mentioned: we first have Moses going in the morning to meet Pharaoh down by the water; then he goes and meets him in his court; and then we see some symbolic action without a direct confrontation. We see that in plagues 1, 2, and 3; the pattern repeats in 4, 5, and 6; and now we have the same pattern in 7, 8, and 9. We are meant to see these ten plagues to be a series of three triads, followed by a tenth and climactic plague that stands alone.

In this final triad of plagues, we come face to face with three necessary, essential, and sometimes uncomfortable truths about God: the Lord, our Lord, is a God to be feared; a God who does not suffer fools; and a God of ferocious power. We’re going to look at each of those as they correspond with these plagues.

God is to be Feared

The hailstorm posed a serious threat, especially in an agricultural society like Egypt. It was a threat to their income, their food source, and their whole economy and domestic tranquility. It was a threat to anything that was left outside, like their animals.

There’s one of the curious thing that keeps happening with the plagues. The plagues often use the word ‘all’. So it seems that all of the water has turned to blood, but then there is some water somewhere that the magicians use to turn into blood. ‘All’ of the livestock were already killed with the plague on the livestock earlier, but now we still have some livestock left to be killed by the hail. ‘All’ of the crops are destroyed, but there are some leftover to be eaten by the locusts.

The word ‘all,’ in Hebrew, can be translated to mean every single little thing, or it can simply mean all kinds, every sort of species, or every kind everywhere. We have to allow for normal human speech. If there’s a particularly hot spell in the middle of August, you might say, “The whole country was blazing hot! All of it!” Might there be some place up in the tip of Maine, the upper peninsula of Michigan, or Alaska somewhere that was actually quite mild? Probably. If there’s an unrest in a city you might say, “There were riots everywhere!”—but your neighborhood might be spared. In a few weeks, you’ll say, “Every American watches the Super Bowl,” but some Americans will be sleeping, so not everyone will watch the Super Bowl. You understand how we use words like ‘all’ and ‘every’ to be all encompassing, but there’s room in normal human language. It’s not surprising that though “the livestock all died”, there’s still some left.

Hail can be extremely violent. We’ve seen torrential hail storms some summers when we’ve been in Colorado. Some of you have reflected that “You have a lot of illustrations. You seem to have encountered a lot of semi-plagues in your life.” I don’t know. They just come back to mind here. You probably have your own stories.

But this happens when you’re in Colorado. It’s sunny, everyone is outside, it seems to be great, and you’re having a picnic on the deck. All of a sudden, you see dark clouds roll in. Everyone comes in and it just happened almost instantly. Last summer, it got really dark at about five or six o’clock. It started raining, then pouring, and then hailing. It was so loud that the kids were afraid. It was just torrential hail. It looked as white outside in my in-laws’ backyard as it does outside this morning. There was that much hail.

Then, as we were eating dinner in the midst of this, we realized that the camper outside had all the windows open. Whether that’s just another sign about not having campers, I don’t know. Anyways, in an act of really tremendous bravery, I said, “I’ll go take care of it.” I ran out there—and it was big hail! So I went in there, and sure enough, the thing was getting soaked. I had to stay in there for fifteen minutes just waiting for the hail. I think everybody was concerned, but I was okay and eventually came back. I could show you sometime a picture on my phone, outside, of one of the corners of the house. I’m not exaggerating: there was hail about this high that had stacked up already. The ground was so covered that it looked like it was winter.

Here, this torrential hail happens in all of the land of Egypt—except for, of course, the Israelites in Goshen. You’ll notice a series of purpose statements here with this hail. They are, I think, not only for this plague, but (broadly speaking) for all of the plagues. Look at verse 14. Why does God repeatedly harden Pharaoh’s heart? Why ten plagues? Why not send him out on the first time? Why not just have a little pestilence to get him going? Why not get some sort of act of the Egyptian Imperial Senate to lead them out? Why all of this mess?

Here’s why: because of God’s particularity. Verse 14:

…I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.

(Exodus 9:14)

That’s why the plagues happen ten times. That’s why hail rains down on Egypt: so that they would know this is not a territorial deity that they can add into their pantheon of gods and goddesses. When you go to places that are very animistic or polytheistic, they are very happy to have Jesus as one of their gods. “We’re happy to have Jesus alongside Krishna.” “We’re happy to have YHWH alongside Amon Ra.” It happens even in this country. “We’re happy to have a little Christ along with money, sports, and family—happy to put a little Jesus bobble-head doll up on the mantel and say, ‘Yeah, we like Him too.’” The Lord wants them and us to know that there is none like Him.

Think of the strongest person on the planet: the strongest morally, strongest in resolve, and strongest in feats of strength in one of those just absurd World’s Strongest Man competitions that they have sometimes on ESPN. You know, Magnus ven Magnisen Magnisen comes, and he’s lifting and hurling tractors. Take the strongest person that you can think of, and then someone who you think is enfeebled, frail, and weak. The distance between those two individuals is absolutely nothing compared to the distance between God and whatever human strength we may marvel at. The strongest person on the planet is so much more like the weakest person than like God. The smartest person on the planet is so much more like the simplest person than like God. There is none like Him.

Did someone let you down this week? Are you ready to get rid of God because somebody hurt you, betrayed you, or upset you? There’s none like God. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind can comprehend the love, glory, and majesty of this God. The plagues are here so that we may see the particularity and uniqueness of this God.

Go on to verse 16:

But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power…

(Exodus 9:16a)

In verse 15, He says, “Look, I could have destroyed you with a breath. I could have just sent a pestilence and had a disease wipe you out”—just like He’ll do later when the Assyrians come knocking. Sennacherib and his army are at Jerusalem; Hezekiah prays; and overnight, 185,000 troops are wiped out. God could have done that—but He didn’t do it here. “I want you to see my power. I have another purpose in mind.”

“And not only to see my power, but for proclamation.”

…so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

(Exodus 9:16b)

The plagues were missionary plagues. They had messialogical purposes. Yes, they were to punish Pharaoh and set Israel free, and because the oppression of slavery was heinous, but they had messialogical purposes: that then and now the name of the Lord our God would be proclaimed in all the earth for His particularity and power.

If you know your New Testament, you know that Paul picks up on this verse. In Romans 9, which talks about election and predestination, he says:

16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

(Romans 9:16-17)

The proclamation of the name of the Lord was the ultimate purpose of the plagues:.

Here is the life-altering, pride-shattering, mind-blowing, and soul-freeing message of God’s sovereignty in the Bible: God is orchestrating the whole, glorious mess of the universe for the praise of His name. He is not doing it for the praise of your name or my name. It is the height of human folly (or the depth of human depravity) that we are so much like Pharaoh. You hear this language about Pharaoh, yet you’re still exalting yourself.

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is difficult. The doctrine of election is difficult. The doctrine of predestination and reprobation is extremely difficult. To have the repeated refrain that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” cuts against what we see as fairness. But here’s why it’s in the Bible: we need to know, believe, and embrace that God is not God for the praise of your name or mine, but for the praise of His. To become a Christian is to acknowledge the reality that God is God for the praise of God, not for the praise of Kevin—and then to believe that that’s the best news that you will ever hear. It’s not about you. It doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t revolve around you. It depends upon God, who has mercy. We see here that everything and everyone works for the glory of God. It’s just a matter of whether you know it or not—of whether you embrace it now or later.

Even Pharaoh (especially him) was an instrument in the hand of God, to write large across the universe the story of His glory. This is a big God; a God to be feared. You see that in verses 20-1. This is a God who isn’t content merely to send one plague or ten plagues, but He has Moses say, “Tell me when the plagues should come and I’ll do it. How about this time tomorrow?”

After all of these years and all of this technology, you can look on your phone and see what the weather is going to be like here (and almost anywhere in the world), but you still can’t predict the weather with certainty. It’s still sunny when it’s supposed to be cloudy. It still rains when it’s going to snow. You still get twelve inches when you’re going to get one, or you get one when you’re going to get ten. You can’t predict the weather, and you certainly can’t control the weather. But God does. “Tomorrow? Yeah, that’s good. About this time tomorrow, there will be hail like you’ve you never seen before and will never see again.”

You see the usage here of the term “the fear of the Lord”. This is the first time that we have this phrase in the Scriptures. Verse 20:

20 Then whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, 21 but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slaves and his livestock in the field.

(Exodus 9:20-21)

Do you notice the opposite of the fear of the Lord? Is it that you really hate God? That’s not what it says here. We might get to that on a heart level. The opposite of the fear of the Lord here is not paying attention. I don’t just mean that you wander off in the sermon or get distracted sometimes. This is something even more profound.

I read a book this past week on becoming an individual in an age of distraction. It was quite a philosophical book. It talks at the beginning about the myriad ways we’re distracted. We can go anywhere. When you wait in a line, people are all on their phones. If you get to a stop light, don’t you feel that? It’s dangerous, but you feel like, “I could just see what was going on on my phone.” There was a picture going around the internet a week or two ago. It was of a high-school class trip at a famous museum. Sparkling masterpiece art covered the whole wall. They took a photo of all the students sitting on the chairs, looking at their phones. It was a quintessential picture of our age.

The whole world wants you to be utterly distracted. You go through an airport and there’s signs and advertisements everywhere. You go to a hotel and get a little key card, and somebody says, “It’s not good to just have a key card. There’s going to be an advertisement for some restaurant on the back of that card.”

This book told an example of a school district that realized, “You know, we’re sending home all of these permission slips, papers, and announcements, and it’s only on one side.” They started to put advertisements on the reverse side to make a little money. You’re bombarded with images and distractions.

This is even worse. This is a distraction of the soul—a disease of conscience—a distrust of the heart. To fear the Lord is to hear His Word, believe, and obey. To not fear the Lord is to hear it and pay no attention. “Hail’s coming? I doubt it. A storm like we’ve never seen in the history of Egypt? I’ll believe it when I see it.” Fear says, “There is a God, and He’s not to be trifled with.” The opposite of fear is to say, “God wouldn’t do that. He can’t do that. He surely won’t do that.” It’s very possible that you may have come here thinking, “Yeah, I fear the Lord. That’s biblical.” But are you paying attention? Would you have brought your animals in? Would you have got your workers in from the field?

The fear of the Lord involves more than a desire for the removal of unpleasant circumstances. We see this here in Exodus 9:27-8, as Pharaoh pleads with Moses: “Oh, come on. Would you get rid of this plague?” But by the time that you get to the end (verses 34-5), you see that it was not genuine repentance. Once the pain of the plague subsided, Pharaoh was back to his old ways and old heart because it wasn’t a fear of the Lord. Even Moses says that. Did you catch it? “This ain’t my first rodeo, okay? This is the seventh plague, and I understand what is going on here. Pharaoh, you don’t fear the Lord. Your servants don’t fear the Lord. I will go and pray, and we will get rid of this storm for you, but I ain’t expecting a whole lot when I get back.” Indeed, that was correct. Sometimes it is only at the end of the age when it is fully revealed who fears the Lord. We have a God to be feared.

God Does Not Suffer Fools

At the beginning of chapter 10, we see another purpose for the plagues. Verse 2:

…I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.”

(Exodus 10:1b-2)

The plagues were here, in part, to give you a story to tell, so that your sons, grandsons, and granddaughters would believe. You would gather them around, and they would say, “Tell us the story, Dad.” “Grammy, would you tell us the story again about God and what He did?” God is giving you a story to tell. Even in the story of the Exodus, so many of our fundamental questions are answered. Where did you come from? Why are you here? Who is God? What is He like? What does He want? Can He be trusted? We’re telling that same story. We’re part of the same spiritual heritage. This story is our story.

Pharaoh plays the part of a fool in this story. When I say that God does not suffer fools, I don’t mean strugglers, or people who have honest doubts or weaknesses. No, I’m talking about fool in a full, biblical sense: a moral, spiritual fool. Verse 4:

…if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country…

(Exodus 10:4)

Before that, verse 3:

‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?

(Exodus 10:3b)

You may not see it today or tomorrow, but here’s what you can count on: everyone will humble themselves, or they will be humiliated before God. Those are your two choices. That’s why he says, “Pharaoh, I’m giving you another chance. Will you humble yourself and say, ‘Alright. I’ve seen enough. I get it. I’m sorry. You’re God; I’m not. The people can go. At whatever cost to me, I humble myself.” But of course, he’s a fool, and God humiliates fools.

That sounds harsh. Again, I’m not talking about weak strugglers, honest seekers, or people who make a mistake. God’s not up there, ready to pounce. Persistent, lifelong folly will be exposed for what it is. Think of the psalmist. The nations rage, and he kings of the earth plot in vain against the Lord and against His anointed. What does the Lord do? Bite his fingernails? Get a plan together? Stay up late? He laughs!

People ask, “Does God have a sense of humor?” Well, He certainly laughs at us sometimes. He laughs at the wicked. He’s laughing from His throne, looking down up from heaven at all of the little regimes, nations, and people who are making their plans to try to subvert Him. It’s just like the Tower of Babel in Genesis, rising up to the heavens. They were so impressive! “We’re going to build a tower up to the heavens!” Then you notice what it says in Genesis: God had to come down to look at it. “What are they doing—those cute little people down there building a wee little tower, trying to get to heaven? Aww, look at that little tower.” It’s like shaking up the ants. God laughs.

He doesn’t suffer fools. “Humble yourself, Pharaoh, or you be humiliated.” Pharaoh chose the latter, and the locusts came. We can scarcely imagine, in our cultural context, just how bad locusts can be. There was report in the London Times about ten years ago of an outbreak in Africa and the Middle East. It said that there were up to 10,000 locusts per square foot in a swarm with billions of locusts. A locust can eat its own weight. Now we’ve got some good eaters here, but come on! It can eat its own weight. It’s absolute devastation.

So when it says that they couldn’t even see, it’s not an exaggeration. You understand why Pharaoh’s servants finally say, “Pharaoh, would you wake up‽ This man’s a snare. Look around us. Egypt is ruined! It’s ruined!” I’m not sure if there’s a more striking picture in all of the Bible of what sin does to us.

Maybe you’ve seen it, tragically, in your own life or family. You can look around and see the devastation of sin—of your stubbornness, addiction, and hard-heartedness—and somebody has the gall to tell you, “Look, you’re ruined! You’ve lost everything! Give up! Repent! Turn to God!” When you’ve hit rock bottom, you just keep digging. This is what sin does. It ruins and blinds you. You keep persisting in your folly even when you can see the devastation that sin has wrought.

Again from this book on attention, there was a sad chapter on the gambling industry. 85% of gambling industry revenue comes from machines like video poker, slot machines. It tells about how deliberate the strategy is to get people to stay at these machines. We would laugh, but it’s a dreadfully serious thing for people going to these machines. Some of them would purposefully wear black clothes so that nobody can see when they soil themselves, because they’re not getting up from the machine. People go wearing adult diapers so that they don’t have to move from the machine. This is what is so sad: one person said—and this is a person who would no longer even look at the cards dealt in this video poker—“You reach an extreme point where you don’t even delude yourself that you’re in control of anything, but strap yourself into a machine and stay there until you lose.”

That’s sin writ large. You lose control, see that you’re being ruined and losing everything, and you stay there until the devastation is absolutely complete. It’s what sin does. That’s what sin did to Pharaoh. And we see here (in Exodus 10:16-7) a fool’s request for forgiveness.

You might think, “Well, Pharaoh is getting close”, but he’s still miles away, because it’s not genuine. Like a lot of people, when he gets into a real bind, he wants a spiritual man to come there. “Can I get a pastor in the house? Can I get a prophet? Can I get some spiritual person? Would you pray for me? Would you help make this better?”

And he says (it sounds good) in verse 16:

“I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you… [F]orgive my sin…

(Exodus 10:16b, 17)

“I sinned. Forgive me!” Yay for Pharaoh! Right?

But there is an eternal difference between regret and repentance, between remorse and real spirit-led contrition. You want to know repentance? See what happens after you say, “I’m sorry.” I don’t mean that to suggest that when you say you’re sorry, you’ve got to really prove it to God the rest of your life. But repentance is more than a repeated apology. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” is not repentance. If that’s repentance, then Pharaoh would be in heaven.

But he didn’t repent. He regretted. He had remorse. “My life and nation are ruined. I can see that I’ve been foolish. I’m sorry that all of this is happening.” But does he change? No. He’s a fool, and he’s played like a fool. That’s what the Lord says back in verse 2, where it says, “I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians…” You could translate “I dealt harshly” as “I made sport” with the Egyptians. This is not hard stuff for God.

He sends in the locusts to finish off the food. Isn’t it an amazing reversal of what happened a few generations (well, hundreds of years, actually) earlier, when Joseph was in charge? He was sold into slavery by his brothers, was in prison, and eventually rose to be second in command to Pharaoh himself. God gave him a dream, and through that dream and his ingenuity, Egypt was spared from seven years of famine. What a reversal now, as all of Egypt is devastated for want of food.

It is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise in amazing clarity. “Whoever blesses you, I will bless. When you blessed Joseph and you trusted Joseph, the whole nation was blessed. And whoever curses you will be cursed. Now Pharaoh is experiencing that covenant judgment.” Listen: no nation that persecutes the church will prosper in the long run. The church may falter through its own internal rot. It may face persecution for a time and be shut down. But no nation that persecutes God’s people will prosper in the long run. The Abrahamic promise is still true: “Whoever blesses you, I will bless. Whoever curses you, I will curse.” This is a Lord to be feared. This is a God who does not suffer fools.

God’s Ferocious Power

Think about why darkness would have been so devastating. We have to put ourselves back in time. It would be bad for us as we lost electricity—but for the Egyptians, it was utterly life-threatening. One commentator says,

To appreciate fully this plague account, one must understand how ominously darkness threatened ancient people. We travel easily at night with the aid of various forms of electric lighting; they were virtually immobilized by the darkness of nighttime […] We can be active at night because our homes and places of work can be cheaply illumined; they closed up their cities at night, barred their courtyard gates, and locked their house doors. People abroad in the nighttime were assumed to be criminals and, typically, in fact were. We feel relatively safe during the night, even away from home, with various means of communication to call for help readily available; they were at the mercy of common thieves and bandits when away from home at night, and unless well-armed and in large groups, they were easy prey for those who used the nighttime as cover for evil. They understood that the darkness was essentially chaotic, a kind of enemy of the safe and the good; we may think of it as just another phase of the day. They considered confinement in darkness a grave punishment from God, even a sort of sometimes purposeful force and associated it with death…” (Douglas Stuart)

You can begin to picture how devastating this was. Even in our day, you would have great panic if all electricity was wiped out and there was pitch black darkness for three days—not what my little girls said one time: “Dad, can you turn on the nightlight? It’s peach black in here.” That’s a little different. This is a pitch black darkness to be felt.

How do you even describe this? It’s not just that somebody turned the lights off. There’s a palpable sense of danger, judgment, and a wild, untamable power. We’ve seen God exercise His power in the plagues over a whole pantheon of gods and goddesses: Hapi of the Nile, Osiris, Heqet, Khepri, Apis, Isis, Sekhmet, Horus, Atum, Aten, Shu, and Set. Now, for the penultimate plague, we see the chief god of them all, Ra (or Amon-Ra), the sun-god. Pharaoh was thought to be the embodiment of Ra himself—and God shuts the sun off like you and I would turn off the switch in your home.

Do you see what’s happening here? All throughout the plagues, we see the God of creation ruining Egypt with one act of de-creation after another. The parallels with Genesis are fascinating. He’s undoing what had been done in the Garden. The vegetation was to sprout forth, and then it dies. That water was to run, and it turns to blood. And how did creation start, but that the darkness was over the face of the deep, and God separated the light from the darkness? Here He joins the light and the darkness once again, and darkness covers the face of the whole nation of Egypt.

Soon we will come to the climax of this de-creation, for what was the climax of God’s creation in the garden but the creation of man? It will be fitting that the tenth and final plague in this act of de-creation is to kill these image-bearers in the land. God is undoing the act of creation in the land of Egypt. Like He did with Noah and the flood, it’s so He might have a rebirth with His chosen people, a new nation, a royal priesthood, a holy people.

There can be no compromise. Pharaoh, time and again, says, “Well, you can go—but just the men.” “You can go, but leave the animals.” And time and time again, Moses says, “No, everybody leaves or everybody stays.” Pharaoh wanted to cut a deal with God. Some of us are real good at trying to do that. “Okay, God. I’m forty percent in. I love being a Christian sixty percent. I’ve got to keep Saturday night, my money, and my health. I’ll give you something, but don’t ask for everything.”

Pharaoh is constantly trying to make a bargain, strike a deal, and hold something back. Each one of these plagues was a sign of this great God and His warning. If you go to Revelation 9, you can see that one of the plagues to fall upon the earth will be locusts. Go to Revelation 16, the second and third bowl of God’s judgment. We see the sea and rivers turned to blood. In the fifth bowl of judgment, we see darkness on the face of the earth; in the sixth bowl, we see frogs; and in the seventh bowl, we see lightning, thunder, earthquake, and great hailstones. Just like He did to Egypt, so He will do at the end of the age.

He’s giving one more chance to say, “You win.” That’s where some of you are this morning. You’re going to be humiliated, or you’re going to be humble enough to say, “God, You win, okay? You win, You win, You win. I need You. I’ve sinned against You. I want to follow You. I don’t want to live in darkness. They’ve got light in Goshen.” You hate some of your Christian friends. You hate the church. But there’s some light, and you’re so tired of the darkness. You try to convince yourself that pitch black is bright, and you’re not buying it. You need to know God in all His God-ness. Do you know Him? Have you met Him in Jesus? We see that when Jesus walked here, the demons feared and He did not suffer fools. He was a God of ferocious power, calming the wind and the waves. They didn’t think that they were cheap parlor tricks. They feared the Lord Jesus.

16 the people dwelling in darkness

have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

on them a light has dawned.”

(Matthew 4:16

That’s the good news of the Incarnation. That’s the good news of Christmas and Easter. It’s the good news today. This God to be feared, this God of ferocious power, is in Christ. When you belong to Him in Christ, He’s not just a God to be feared, who doesn’t suffer fools, who has ferocious power, but a God for you, a great light shining in the darkness. Run to Him, bow before Him, humble yourself in His midst, and say, “I surrender.” Let’s pray.

Oh love that will not let us go, a light that has shined in the dark places of our hearts to bring us from darkness into Your marvelous light, we give You thanks. We pray that You would shine this light into our hearts so that we would see the image of God in the face of Christ, repent, believe, and rejoice. In Jesus’ name. Amen.