Description / Transcription
This sermon originally delivered by Kevin DeYoung at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan
On one of the shelves in my study, there’s a seven volume series by a man named Hughes Oliphant Old. The series is called The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. It’s a fascinating series—maybe just to me, but maybe it would be to a few of you as well. It’s basically three thousand pages of the history of preaching in the church. It’s like Harry Potter, practically. It’s really good. One of the things that’s always struck me about these volumes is the title. Did you catch it? “The Reading and the Preaching of the Scriptures…” Now, I think of them as books about the history of preaching, but the title gets out something important. The proclamation of the Word, which is what we are doing now in this service, is not just in the preaching of Scripture, but in the reading of it.
Let’s be honest. It’s easy to think of the reading part as necessary and perfunctory. We’ll tune out and then get to the real meat of the thing—the preaching. Perhaps some of you leave and talk about a good sermon once in a while, but I doubt very many of us leave saying, “Boy, that was a powerful Scripture reading. Wasn’t that an amazing passage of Scripture?” And yet, that’s the inerrant part of the proclamation. We would do well to pay attention to the reading of God’s Word.
I remember being at a conference several months ago. Mark Dever was preaching. He had Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, for his text. It’s 176 verses! He got up and said, “My text this evening is Psalm 119,” and he started reading it…and reading it…and you know what? He read the whole thing. At first, I thought, “Well, that’s just Mark being stubborn.” I’ve preached on Psalm 119 before, and I didn’t read the whole thing. There may be a reason not to. But then I realized, somewhat to my shame, that he was trying to make a powerful point: here is the longest chapter in the Bible, which is all about the power and the authority of God’s Word. What message does it send to say, “We can’t be bothered to read the whole thing. That sort of distracts from what we’re really trying to do with this message”?
I say all of this, about the reading and preaching of Scripture, because we have long sections to read in the Bible this week and the next. You and I will be tempted to mentally check out and then re-engage with the sermon. Some of you will be tempted to mentally check out and re-engage at the benediction! I want you to follow along as I read about the ten plagues, beginning this morning with the second plague in Exodus 8:1, and ending with the sixth plague at Exodus 9:12. We are going to go through these five plagues, two through six. Remember—I’m sure you do—the mnemonic device from last week, which you’ll never forget: Be Forever Grateful for Lasagna, Because Haggis Looks Definitely Disgusting. That’s how you remember the order of the plagues. We had blood. Now it’s frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, and boils. That’s what we’re doing. Oh my, oh my.
Follow along as I read, beginning at Exodus 8:1:
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2 But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs. 3 The Nile shall swarm with frogs that shall come up into your house and into your bedroom and on your bed and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. 4 The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your servants.”’” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the canals and over the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt!’” 6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 But the magicians did the same by their secret arts and made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.
8 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Plead with the Lord to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” 9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “Be pleased to command me when I am to plead for you and for your servants and for your people, that the frogs be cut off from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” 10 And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God. 11 The frogs shall go away from you and your houses and your servants and your people. They shall be left only in the Nile.” 12 So Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the Lord about the frogs, as he had agreed with Pharaoh. 13 And the Lord did according to the word of Moses. The frogs died out in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields. 14 And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” 17 And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning…
Remember from last week that we’re repeating a cycle: a morning confrontation with Pharaoh, an ‘in his court’ confrontation, and then a symbolic gesture. We had that meeting at the Nile on the morning with the blood; then he’ll go ‘into his court’ with the frogs and throw up the dust into the air with the gnats. Now here we are again:
“Rise up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 21 Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. 22 But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth. 23 Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.”’” 24 And the Lord did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.
25 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” 26 But Moses said, “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the Lord our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as he tells us.” 28 So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away. Plead for me.” 29 Then Moses said, “Behold, I am going out from you and I will plead with the Lord that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow. Only let not Pharaoh cheat again by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” 30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 31 And the Lord did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, 3 behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. 4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”’” 5 And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” 6 And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. 7 And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
8 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
We have seen the theme of this book over and over: Exodus is about the God who makes Himself known. We hear it again several times. “I will do this thing, that you may know that the Lord is God in all the earth.”
Did you also notice that Pharaoh is beginning to get to know this God? Back in Exodus 5:2, he asks Moses, “Who is the Lord? Who is YHWH?” Now he knows His name. In Exodus 8:8, Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Plead with the Lord. Plead with YHWH.” He’s come a little ways. Now he knows the name of their God. Pharaoh is getting to know the One True God—yet he does not like anything that he is seeing and hearing. Pharaoh’s heart is hard. After each of these plagues, it gets harder and harder. It’s sometimes described as “a hardening”, sometimes as “Pharaoh hardening”, and sometimes as the Lord hardening. At the root of this hard-heartedness, disobedience, and unbelief is a distrust and dislike for God Himself.
That’s at the very heart of unbelief. We like to think of it as something else: “Maybe I just have questions.” “Maybe I’m just ignorant.” Certainly, all of that can play a part. But when you get to it, there is a dislike. “I do not trust or like this God that I see here.” Sometimes people will say, “Well, the God I worship wouldn’t do this or that. The God I love wouldn’t agree with you or me. Perhaps a better way of making that statement would be to say, “I don’t like the God that I meet in the Bible.”
We see here three reasons that you may not like the God of the Bible and that Pharaoh did not like YHWH: He judges the wicked; He makes distinctions; and He’s bigger than you, me, everything, and everyone.
God Judges the Wicked
It will not surprise you that the plagues were not meant to be pleasant. They were meant to be devastating and increasingly deadly. There is a progression here: from nuisance, annoyance, and frustration, to increasing havoc, and (eventually) death.
First we have the frogs. Isn’t Exodus 8:3 a graphic description of frogs getting in everything? There are probably some little boys here that love frogs. It’s a happy day in the spring or the summer at the DeYoung household when you find a frog. We’ve found as many as two or three. That’s exciting, but two or three million frogs is a different thing altogether! Do you see how graphically it’s described here? They’re in beds. Their beds were not raised, but were just floor mats. They’re in ovens and bowls. This is like saying that there are frogs in your pockets when you wake up. They’re there when you flip open your laptop in the morning; there in your KitchenAid mixer when you go to make bread; there in your candles, your piano, your bathtub, your toothbrush holder, and your tissue box; and there when you put your feet into your slippers! Frogs are everywhere.
This plague will affect Pharaoh and his household. The blood might have not really touched Pharaoh. I mean, he’s the king of all Egypt. He can have his servants go down and fetch him some water from these shallow wells that they’re digging along the Nile. He can look out and, perhaps, smell the blood, but he might have been somewhat distanced from the real heartache. But not here with the frogs. They’re even in the king’s chambers. There is no respite, even for the most powerful man on earth.
Then it goes from frogs to gnats. The word ‘gnats’ can be translated in a number of different ways. Some people think it’s a reference to mosquitoes. I think mosquitoes would be the worst, so I think these are some blood-sucking kind of mosquitoes. Exodus 8:17 says that they’re as plentiful as the dust.
There’s a spot here in Burcham. It goes past Park Lake, and then it starts curving around. Before it curves around, there’s a really nice trail. If you’ve never gone on it, it’s called the Inter-Urban trail. It’s this paved trail that goes by some woods, some housing developments—and a water treatment plant. That’s always lovely. But it goes by. The trail goes all the way to Marsh. It’s a great place to ride your bike or to go on a run. But there’s a low spot there—a little hill that goes down right by where the water treatment plant. In the summer, whenever I ride my bike or go on a run there, I’ve learned: one, close my mouth; two, close my eyes; and three, keep my head down. If I’m just doing one of these, it’s a mouth full of gnats. But that lasts for ten seconds. This is afflicting the whole nation—or even worse, if it’s mosquitoes.
We were praying beforehand, trying to thank God for the cold, because you give thanks in all circumstances. Yes, it’s going to be seven degrees tonight—but you know what’s great about seven degrees? No mosquitoes. They’re dead. Remember how bad that was this summer? I remember going out before we went on vacation. I was trying to hook up a bike rack on our car. It was June or July, and I went out with jeans, two pairs of socks, a winter hat, gloves, and long-sleeves on, and I had a coat zipped up to here. I’m not even exaggerating. I couldn’t last more than five minutes. I came in with welts all around my wrists and ankles from mosquitoes. I just thanked the Lord that we were driving to Colorado and leaving them all here for you. But these gnats or blood-sucking mosquitoes were in the whole land.
Then the flies came. We don’t know exactly what kind of flies they were—some sort of annoying biting and non-biting insects in huge swarms. Remember, they didn’t have screens. All of their homes would have had open windows, because it’s Egypt. It’s hot, and you’re going to suffocate if you don’t have some cross-breeze and ventilation. They didn’t have nice screens or AC units to turn down. All of the houses just had big open squares throughout the building. There was nothing to do as these flies came in. You couldn’t eat without ingesting flies, or sleep without flies buzzing around, swatting and swarming.
Let me tell you a gross little illustration here. This is the closest I’ve had to feeling like we were under a plague in our household. It’s a gross story. We get a lot of things dying in our house. In our old house in Lansing, we had a squirrel crawl between the two levels. It died and died a slow, stinky death over weeks and months. We would wake up and hear it just…we’d hit it with…we tried to get it to be quiet. This was three or four years ago, when we moved into our new house in East Lansing. All of a sudden, we noticed a little squeaking, a little something in our chimney. I even started Googling “squeaking noises in chimney”. What could this be? I was trying to listen to different things and diagnose it.
I think a mom raccoon had decided to give birth to her little baby raccoons down there, because we didn’t have one of those little caps on the top. I promise you we do now—it’s like a vault up there. She had come down there—cover your ears if you don’t want to hear this—and when a bunch of baby raccoons die in your chimney, it’s really gross. Believe it or not, there aren’t a lot of people out there who want to remove them. We called people and nobody wanted to do it. We call out this nice chimney sweep, and we’re like, “There might be something in the chimney.” He told us afterward, “I will never do that again. I’ve done this for years, and I don’t even want to tell you what this looked like.” It was just a mess.
That was bad enough, but somehow in all of that we got maggots and little larva and things—and all of a sudden, flies. Thousands of flies. I’m not exaggerating. It was in our den. Don’t worry. We’ve got it all clean; you can come over and see it. But we would see it. At first it was just five, six, ten, or a dozen. “Where are all these flies coming from?” “Well, they’re all coming from whatever died and decomposed there, still in the fireplace.” We tried to suck them up. Still more flies. We had these two pocket doors there, and we’d close both of them at the beginning of the day and spray like a whole can of stuff. Then we’d come at the end of the day and the carpet would just be covered in dead flies. And just when we thought, “Surely, that’s the last day,” we’d go on the next day. More flies. We’d just spray that thing, and they’d be on the windowsill and everywhere. That lasted for over a week. We had to quarantine: “Kids, don’t go in the plague room!” We just cut it off, and it was gross to think about. I think my wife is running out of the room even now as I share the story. This was in the whole land of Egypt.
There were frogs, then gnats, then flies—and then the livestock dead. Exodus 9:3:
…3 behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague…
‘Severe’ is how the ESV translates it. You could translate it as ‘grievous’ or ‘heavy’. It’s the same word used to describe Pharaoh’s heart: ‘hebed’. You may remember that it’s a derivation of the word that is used for the word, ‘glory’: ‘cavod’. Glory. Heavy. Severe. Surely there is a play on words here. “As heavy as your heart is, Pharaoh, so heavy will these plagues descend upon you. This heaviness of your heart and the heaviness of the plagues will only serve to show forth the heaviness and the weight of My glory, as the livestock falls dead.”
Boils come next. This is the first plague to directly affect man. It may be leprosy, or smallpox, or maybe anthrax—some itching, lesions, or boils. Maybe God used everyday problems in the plagues so we can all fathom what this might have been like. We’ve all seen frogs, gnats, and flies; have had mosquitoes bites or itching; and we all need water to drink. Perhaps God used these things so that even now, 3500 years later, we can get some sense of how disruptive and devastating this must have been.
The plagues were about redemption for God’s people. They were about revelation of God’s character. But they were also about retribution. Stink for stink. “We’re a stink in your nostrils? Well now it’s really going to stink.” First the blood, and then the frogs. Stink for stink. Teeming for teeming. Remember back in Exodus 1:7? It’s the same word for where Pharaoh looked out and was concerned because the Israelites had been multiplying and multiplying. The land was filled with them. It’s the same word there: the land was teeming with them, filled with them. Now we have, in Exodus 8:3, the land teeming with frogs. “You thought the Israelites were too many? Well, now you’re going to get some frogs. We’ll see how you like that.”
There are also hints here that the first two plagues were specifically designed in response to Egypt’s oppression. You remember back in chapter 1, what that Pharaoh did when he saw that the people were multiplying? He attacked their fertility. “Get the midwives to get rid of those kids.” He ordered that they be thrown into the Nile. Do you see what God has done with those first two plagues? “You want to drown our boys in the Nile? Well, we will turn your Nile River into blood. You want to attack our fertility? We attack your fertility goddess,” because, as you’ll hear in a moment, this frog goddess was thought to be the goddess of fertility, a goddess named Heqet. And so, these first two plagues, at their fertility frog goddess and at their goddess of the Nile, were in response, we think, to the oppression that Pharaoh had committed earlier.
People don’t like that God judges the wicked. Actually, I should rephrase that. People love that God judges people they think are wicked. We don’t much care for the fact that people we know or people like us might be subject to judgment.
They say, “Well, the angry God is an Old Testament thing. Give me the New Testament.” Okay, I’ll give you the New Testament. Revelation 16:13:
13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs.
There’s no mistaking that the God of the Bible is a God who judges the wicked—sometimes through natural circumstances, sometimes by allowing the devil to reign, sometimes using our own stupidity, and sometimes (directly) the very finger of God. Does it remind you of that classic critique of liberalism from the last century? A God without wrath brought a people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross. That is still what some people want for their religion. They don’t call it religion anymore. They call it spirituality. A God without wrath brought a people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross. But there’s nothing there that will hold up under careful scrutiny from this book. This book says we tell the story of a God with wrath who brought a people with sin into a kingdom with judgment through the glorious ministrations of Christ in His death on a cross. God judges the wicked.
God Makes Distinctions
Look at Exodus 8:22. Here’s something new in the course of the plagues, or at least it’s mentioned for the first time. Verse 22:
22 But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth.
Or again in Exodus 9:4:
4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”’”
There’s a distinction. Egypt faces a nationwide humiliation: their livestock falling. That’s their very profitability. It’s their food. It’s their engine of economic progress. It’s their status symbol. This is like everyone’s car dying and every automotive vehicle going kaput, while meanwhile, over there in Ohio, everything’s fine!
God makes distinctions. This is one of the most unpopular parts of the Bible today. Not these verses in particular, but this idea that God will not, in the end, treat everyone the same. He will treat everyone fairly, but not the same. He will make distinctions.
It’s all over the Bible. Sheep and goats. Feasting for some people, but weeping and gnashing of teeth for others. Revelation depicts a lake of fire and a New Jerusalem. Think of what the prophet Simeon foretold at the birth of Christ. He says to Mary:
“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Even from the very first days of Jesus’ earthly life, it was prophesied that this Man would bring division. Jesus Himself said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?” You say, “Well, didn’t the angels say, ‘Peace on earth and goodwill toward men’?” Yes, there is a sense in which His coming was to reconcile God to man, but now Jesus is asking, “Did I come just to make everything really hunky-dory, and lovey-dovey? Is everything going to be fine and everybody going to get along?” Is that what the coming of Jesus did? That everyone, now that Jesus is here, will hold hands, sing songs, pass around gummy bears, and just have a wonderful time together. Wouldn’t that be nice? But Jesus said,
51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
All of these things will happen!
It’s a beautiful thing when the gospel unites families—when you can all gather together, have peace and harmony, sing Christmas carols and read the stories, pray together, and all know that you’re on the same page. That doesn’t happen often. The gospel brings division: “No, we have to go with this book. I love you, but…” Jesus sometimes brings division. God makes distinctions. People don’t like this.
But think of it this way. We hear a lot about inclusion—but without exclusion, you have nothing to include people in. If you say, “Come join us,” and your ‘us’ has no boundaries, the invitation is meaningless. No, when anyone talks about inclusion, they are all (implicitly or explicitly) thinking about who they are excluding. If you say, “Come be a part of the rotary club”—well, everybody’s not a part of it. “Come and be a part of the softball team”—well, not everybody’s on the softball team. “Come and be a part of the church”—well, not everyone’s in the church. “Come and be a part of our academic department”—well, you’ve got to get a degree. It’s very exclusive. Even inclusive people tend to be quite exclusive to those that they deem insufficiently inclusive.
Notice that it wasn’t because the Israelites had earned it. This isn’t an excuse for pride or bravado. “We’re Christians. You’re not!” No, what had Israel done to deserve this? Nothing! It was because of God’s covenant promises that He remembered His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and loved them, heard them, listened to them, and saved them for His own glory.
A god does not usually erect invisible shields to protect his people. I don’t know if you’ve lived in Indiana, but there’s a Goshen there. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had Goshen? If you lived there and you could just know, “There’s the Christian part of town. Nothing bad happens there”? Of course, Jesus said, “You know, the normal course of events is that the sun shines on the unrighteous and the righteous. The rain falls upon the unrighteous and the righteous. When you get a winter storm, it doesn’t blow past all the godly people’s houses.”
But here there’s a point that God’s trying to make: a day is coming when He will say to some, “Enter into the joy of your Master.” And to others, He will say, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.” If you want a God who does not make distinctions between the elect and the reprobate, between the believing and the unbelieving, between the righteous and the wicked, between those in Christ and those in Adam, between those who belong to the Heavenly Father and those who belong to the father of lies, you’ll have to make him up yourself, because you won’t find him in the Bible. This God judges the wicked. He makes distinctions.
God is Big
God is bigger than you, bigger than me, and bigger than everything and everyone else. That was one of the reasons that Pharaoh didn’t care for Him. It may be one of the reasons that you don’t either. We see here that YHWH was bigger than the Egyptian gods. According to some sources, frogs were thought sacred, not to be killed. There was this goddess, Heqet, who was often pictured with the head and the body of a frog. This frog goddess was the spouse of the creator god. One commentary says that this frog goddess had two major responsibilities: one, to protect crocodiles, which would control the frog population; and two, assisting women in childbirth. She seems to be failing at both of those here.
Gnats were, perhaps, to humiliate the earth god Geb. Flies! There was a god called Khepri who was the god of rebirth, sometimes depicted as a beetle or a flying insect. Livestock! Many of the Egyptians worshiped the bull as a fertility figure, a sign of virility and vitality. Boils! Moses throws ashes into the air, which was common for all of the Egyptian priests to do as they scattered their sacrificial offerings to the winds. Time and time again, this is an attack not just on Pharaoh, but upon the so-called gods. YHWH is bigger than their gods.
He’s bigger than their magicians. Again you have to laugh. Frogs are coming everywhere. Then we read, down in verse 7:
7 But the magicians did the same by their secret arts and made frogs come up on the land of Egypt…
Of course, what happens then? They come up and they cover the land. “Way to go! We had a lot of frogs and you just made more!” They know how to make them. They don’t know how to get rid of them.
Moses is so shrewd. Pharaoh says, “Get rid of the frogs.” “Okay. Why don’t you tell me when I should get rid of them? Let’s make this more difficult, because I’m going to show you who this God is that you’re dealing with. I’m not just going to get rid of them. Give me the time. Tomorrow? I’ll talk to God about it.” Then we see verses Exodus 8:18-19. They say, “Look, we can’t do these gnats. Tap out. We’re done. We can’t do it. This is the finger of God.” Then they later get, in Exodus 9:11, where they can’t even show up before Moses. They are so full of itching and boils they can’t even show their face. God is bigger than the magicians. He’s bigger than Pharaoh.
I love this line from Phil Ryken. He says:
“It was not the great things that overwhelmed Pharaoh, but little things in very large quantities.”
It’s kind of like life. Little things in very large quantities. A frog, a fly, a gnat, or a cow dying is okay. But all of these things in very large quantities were enough to drive Pharaoh mad. He refused to believe, despite all of the evidence. Like so many people, he came close to the point of acknowledging this God. And then, when he saw the circumstances recede, he changed his mind.
Have you done that? “Okay, God. I’m so miserable, lost, unfulfilled, hurt, and struggling. Okay, I…Oh, today’s okay. Never mind. I’m fine.” Pharaoh gets right to the point. “You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to pray. I don’t know about your God. Would you pray to your God?” Did you notice that Moses will pray in front of his people, but he doesn’t pray in front of Pharaoh? It’s kind of interesting. It’s probably because he wants to make sure that Pharaoh realizes that this was not about Moses. “I’m not one of your pagan magicians, where I just snap my finger and God listens to me. No, I’ll go, and in the privacy of my own relationship with God, I’ll pray to Him. Yyou’ll see things happen. It’s not about me. It’s about the Lord.”
Pharaoh will ask Moses to pray for Him four times. Pharaoh says, “Can we reach some sort of arrangement?” You see this in verse 25.
“Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.”
Moses says, “I can’t do it. This is going to be really offensive. Your people are going to furious, because we’re going to sacrifice some bulls and things—and you worship bulls.” That’s like going to India and slaughtering a cow. It’s like going into a Muslim country and having a pig roast and firing up bacon. This is going to be really offensive.
Then Pharaoh wants to say, “Can we kind of meet halfway? I know you want to go out and worship. Could you just stay close by? You can go worship, but where I can see you. Could you check in? Could I give you a pager or something?” Moses says, “Halfway? No way.” That happens over and over, doesn’t it? The devil will say to you, “Couldn’t you just worship God halfway? Worship God, but keep it to Sunday. Worship God, but give me your kids. Worship God, but you can be in charge of your health. Worship God, but you get to be in charge of all of your possessions. Just halfway.”
Halfway is no way for Moses and for us. God is bigger than their gods, their magicians, Pharaoh, and Satan. Behind all these secret arts is the power of the evil one. Sometimes we see Satan afflicting God’s people with disease and persecution in the Bible. We see Satan holding men and women captive through the fear of death. Satan has the power to tempt, to accuse, and to deceive, but he cannot create or redeem. He could not keep Jesus in the grave.”
As one writer says, “He is potent, but he is far from omnipotent.” You’ll remember, perhaps, ‘Beelzebub’, a name sometimes given for Satan. What does Beelzebub mean but ‘lord of the flies’? Satan, lord of the flies. Not really. Even those flies are under God’s command. Satan wants to even be just the lord of the flies. “Nope, I’m not even going to give you that.”
Pharaoh is angry and hardened toward this God. He didn’t like that He’d judge the wicked. He didn’t like that he made these distinctions. He didn’t like that He was bigger than he was.
So is that all that there is to say? “Thank you, pastor. You’ve really hit the nail on the head. You’ve made a really good case for why I’m not interested in God. You’re right. This God of the Bible is judgmental, exclusive, and all about His own glory. No thanks! Some God.” Think about this for a moment. You have people all over this country. I think of people more on the right side of the political spectrum. They want ISIS judged. I would say that most Americans want severe judgment to fall upon terrorists. You have people maybe more on the left end of the spectrum, and they talk about what? Social justice. They want justice. It doesn’t matter where you fall. Justice!
Yet somehow we think that the best moral universe is one where the likes of Pharaoh go unpunished? You can’t say, “I want social justice, but yeah, Pharaoh, okay.” Maybe you’ll say, “Yeah, Pharaoh was extreme. Maybe he deserved some of the judgment. He was a really bad guy, they were doing bad things, and slavery was bad.” But listen, let’s be honest with ourselves: you are ready to string up the referee by his toenails if he makes the wrong call. You are ready to call down any number of these plagues if somebody doesn’t put their blinker on when they are in front of you, or if you get poor customer service, (or heaven forbid) the steak comes back and it’s too well done and you wanted it rare. We all have a very elevated sense of justice and judgment.
You realize these are God’s people. It’s His possession. Pharaoh stole God’s people. They were His. They belonged to Him. His covenant people. He made them, formed them, and created them. Would you think it a mark of your enlightened state if you considered every child in the universe equally special as your child? You’d say, “Yes, kids are great.” Go to the nursery afterward and say, “Alright, any six will do.” It’s tempting at times. Of course, you know that that’s not really good parenting. You have your children. They belong to you. If you don’t send a birthday card for every kid in this church or any other kid, nobody cares. If your kid’s birthday comes along and, “Oh, your birthday… I forget. I know there’s something special here.” “This is my child. This is my precious one. This is my son.” Well, of course God is going to make distinctions. These are His people.
You’re afraid God’s too big? Do you follow any of the things that happen? Every political cycle, every election season that comes along? It hardly matters anymore if you’re Republican or Democrat. We want our president to be nigh unto deities. You’ve got be omnicompetent. You’ve got to create jobs. You’ve got to take care of everything in the world. You have to do something for me and my family. You have to help me to feel better. The big-ness of it is unbelievable. It’s not the big-ness of God that was bothering Pharaoh so much as the realization the He was bigger than him—and that if He is that big, we have to bend the neck and bow the knee.
The Lord is God and I am not. That’s what Pharaoh hated. Maybe that’s what you hate too. Maybe that’s what it really gets down to. You’ve got questions, hurts, and intellectual conundrums. All of that’s fair. But that’s getting to the heart. “He’s God! I’m not. Which means He can judge. Which means He can pick. He knows the end from the beginning, and He sets the end from the beginning.”
Maybe that’s why you hate God, but maybe it’s why you love God. This is also the best news in the world. He’s God, so you don’t have to be. The Lord is God and I am not. That sentence can be said with disbelief. The Lord is God and I’m not? That may be how Pharaoh said it. You could say it with disgust. The Lord is God and I’m not. You want that place on the throne. Or you could say it with utter delight. The Lord is God and I’m not! I’m not! I don’t have to meet all of your needs. I can’t meet my needs. I don’t have to save myself, because I can’t save myself. I don’t have to redeem myself. I don’t have to worry about the judgment of the world. I don’t have to do it. I’m not God!
That gets to the very heart of either your faith or your disbelief. Do you love it that God is God and you are not? Is your heart hardening like Pharaoh? Do you say, “I won’t take this God—a God with standards, distinction, and glory—because I want it! I want that power to judge. I want that power to decide. I want that power and that glory.” It’s either your disgust or it’s your great delight.