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Mar 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 11, 2018 – Exodus 7-9:12

“Let the Games Begin!”

Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Pharaoh will demand, ‘Show me a miracle.’ When he does this, say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down in front of Pharaoh, and it will become a serpent.’ ” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did what the LORD had commanded them. Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a serpent! Then Pharaoh called in his own wise men and sorcerers, and these Egyptian magicians did the same thing with their magic. They also became serpents! But then Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Pharaoh’s heart, however, remained hard. He still refused to listen, just as the LORD had predicted Exodus 7:6-13

Intro: The first time I went to Israel was in October, 1973

Two exciting things happened while we were in Jerusalem
– Yom Kippur War broke out and Burt Lancaster was staying in our hotel
• he was there for the filming of a TV mini-series in which he played Moses
• when the film project debuted London, Lancaster spoke to an Atheists’ club
◦ he told them, “I can explain all the miracles in Exodus”
– this sort of thinking was almost inevitable at that time

Old Testament scholar, Waldemer Janzen, wrote, “From the seventeenth century and onward, the impact of modern science on the interpretation of the plagues has become increasingly prominent. Both liberals and conservatives associated the plagues with natural phenomena known from Egypt. Liberals used scientific explanation to remove from the biblical account as much of the miraculous as possible. Conservatives found in it support for the factuality of the biblical account.”

• of course, that doesn’t really solve the problem for conservatives
◦ if there are natural explanations for the plagues, then they were not miraculous
◦ if they weren’t miraculous, then that spoils the entire purpose and objective

When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD (Ex. 7:5)

• at any rate, some of us cannot help asking:
◦ “Did this really happen? Is there any historical evidence for it?”

I’m not going to try to solve this problem for you (if it is a problem)
– these issues no longer bother me like they once did
• I accept the Scriptures as sacred text – God-inspired
◦ and I do so because of Jesus — through him I see their importance
• the Bible is the story God wants to tell me
◦ the truth he wants to reveal to me
– I cannot shut off the critical thinking part of my brain,
• but I can suspend judgment as I read
• I can absorb what’s here with out solving all the background problems
◦ with that in mind, let’s return to Egypt

The showdown begins

The story of the plagues is told in cycles
– specific themes (even exact phrases) are repeated

Examples include: Let my people go, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, Pharaoh refused to listen, the Egyptian magicians did same with their magic arts, then they will know I am Yahweh/I will show them that I am Yahweh

• also is also a pattern that links the first nine plagues

The Nile water is turned to blood — Moses confronts Pharaoh in the morning
The frogs fill the land — Moses appears before Pharaoh (presumably in the royal courts)
Gnats infest the land — Moses does not meet Pharaoh and there is no warning

Flies infest the land — Moses confronts Pharaoh in the morning
An epidemic kills Egypt’s livestock — Moses appears before Pharaoh
An epidemic of boils infects humans — Moses does not meet Pharaoh and there is no warning

Hail destroys Egypt’s crops — Moses confronts Pharaoh in the morning
Locusts destroys Egypt’s crops — Moses appears before Pharaoh
Darkness envelopes the land — Moses does not meet Pharaoh and there is no warning

– all through these chapters, Pharaoh’s heart plays a central role
• sometimes God hardens it and sometimes it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart
◦ three different Hebrew words are used that mean harden, toughen/strengthen, and heavy
◦ events occur that strengthen Pharaoh’s resolve, but he was stubborn from the start
• when it says God hardened it heart, it sounds like Pharaoh was not given choice
◦ how do you form a callus? Friction
◦ Pharaoh’s resistance caused him to grow increasingly stubborn

Today, we’ll follow Egyptian magicians as reference points

They were Pharaoh’s first line of defense
– it is disconcerting when they can perform the same wonder with their staffs (7:11)
• what good are the miracles if Pharaoh’s magicians can duplicate them?
• and we wonder what empowers their magical arts?
– but already there’s a hint at where this contest is headed
• in this prelude to plagues, the magicians versus Moses and Aaron look like equal contestants
◦ but then Aaron’s serpent swallows up their serpents
• the magicians will come to a point where they can no longer compete

The first plague: Water in the Nile is turned to blood (Ex. 7:14-2)

The Nile was what made Egypt great – not to mention, it supported its very life
– Egyptians’ river god, Hapi, controlled its flooding
• this may look like a battle of the magicians, but it’s bigger
◦ it Yahweh against the Egyptian gods
• after Israel is liberated and reaches Sinai, Jethro meets up with them
◦ Moses will report to him how God displayed his might in Egypt
◦ and Jethro will respond with praise

Praise the LORD, for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt. I know now that [Yahweh] is greater than all other gods, because he rescued his people from the oppression of the proud Egyptians (Ex. 18:10-11)

– v. 22, But again the magicians of Egypt used their magic to turn water into blood
• Pharaoh’s lack of concern contrasts with his people scrounging for water
• it’s a sad trait of some of world’s political and corporate power brokers
◦ they have no concern for the people who suffer as result of their actions

The second plague: A frog invasion (Ex. 8:1-15)

They were everywhere! (covered the whole land, v. 6)
– however, once again, the magicians were able to do the same
• my question is: Why would they want more frogs?
◦ I think their copycat versions of the plagues is a subtle message
◦ it indicates the inferiority of their magic (it was not “creative”)
• they were unable to block the plagues or reverse them
◦ they could only imitate them
– for the first time, Pharaoh breaks and acknowledges God (Ex. 8:8)
• Moses allows him to decide when the plague will end
◦ Pharaoh accepts the challenge
• the point of letting Pharaoh make this decision
◦ to prove that Yahweh truly was responsible and in control

The third plague: An invasion of gnats (Ex. 8:16-19)

Now, for first time, the magicians tried to duplicate a plague and failed

This is the finger of God!

– they recognized the infestation of gnats as an act of God
• it was not human magic like their own
• they were not in a contest with Moses and Aaron
◦ but with Moses’ and Aaron’s God
– they attempted to help Pharaoh come to this realization
• but they failed at that too

The fourth plague: An invasion of flies (Ex. 8:20-32)

When God has Moses tell Pharaoh what’s about to happen,
– he adds an important comment

I will make a clear distinction between my people and your people (Ex. 8:23)

• we will just notice this for now and return to it another time
– Pharaoh tried to negotiate terms with Moses
• he settled on one compromise, don’t go too far away

The magicians did not show up for this round
– but we haven’t seen the last of them

The fifth plague: An epidemic attacks Egypt’s livestock (Ex. 9:1-7)

Until now, the plagues have been mostly annoying
– but they were somewhat manageable
• at this point they become physically harmful and deadly
• we see a step up in the plagues and an intensification of their effects
– again, the magicians are absent

The sixth plague: An epidemic that caused boils (Ex. 9:8-12)

The magicians show up for this plague, but it’s the last we’ll see of them

Even the magicians were unable to stand before Moses, because the boils had broken out on them and all the Egyptians (Ex. 9:11)

– this is the utter defeat of the magicians
• it is also the breakdown of Pharaoh’s defense of himself and Egypt
• God’s infinite superiority assured his victory
– we’ll leave Egypt for now

Conclusion: Looking back at Moses, what do we see?

Plagues – the purpose for them being not only Israel’s liberation
– but also a revelation that Yahweh is God and he is their God
• he infinitely superior to the contrived gods of human imagination
◦ the plague was meant to inspire belief in Yahweh
• look again a the first plague where water is turned to blood
– now I want to jump forward to Jesus Christ
• here we find a significant contrast
◦ according to John, Jesus first miracle in Cana was to turn water into wine
◦ the result of this miracle was that his disciples believed in him (Jn. 2:11)

Turning water into blood — death
Turning water into wine — the exuberant joy of life

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17)
The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. . . . Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God (2 Cor. 3:7-9)

• the law is gravity, it weights us down
• grace is anti-gravity, it lifts us up

The last of the plagues was the death of Egypt’s first born sons
The last act of Jesus’ ministry was the death of God’s only begotten Son
And his death was so that everyone else could have life

Some of us were raised under Moses
– we learned guilt and self-condemnation really well
We are now living in Jesus Christ
– and we’re learning forgiveness and freedom from condemnation

Meanwhile, Christians are either
turning water into blood
or turning water into wine
To turn water into wine is to bring grace to the world
The first step in bringing grace to the world
is to receive it ourselves
Please, let’s continue to show grace to each other

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