the plagues of Egypt

(by Professor Dave)

The Word for today: Exodus 10, 11

There are some people who question God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, as if somehow God was preventing him from believing in God. This, however, stems from a misunderstanding of what the word “hardening” really means. The Hebrew word for hardening is להתקשחות which carries the idea of “strengthening in resolve.” In other words, God was not causing Pharaoh to reject God. He was, in fact, strengthening Pharaoh’s own resolve to reject the God of the Hebrews. Remember that Pharaoh believed that he, himself, was the most powerful god in Egypt.

If we look back in Exodus 8:15, we see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart after the plague of frogs was removed. By the time we come to Exodus 10:1, Pharaoh and his servants had seen enough to be convinced of the power of the God of the Hebrews, and if God hadn’t strengthened his resolve in preventing the people from leaving, Pharaoh likely would have let the people go simply because of all of the destruction which had already taken place in Egypt. But God wasn’t finished with the work which He intended to accomplished, and Pharaoh and his servants’ hearts were hardened. God’s intent was that all of Israel and the generations to come would be able to look back on what was done in Egypt and know for a certainty that He is the LORD. Through the plagues which God performed in Egypt, God not only showed that He was more powerful than Pharaoh, but He also demonstrated that He was more powerful than any of the gods of Egypt.

John J. Davis, an author of Old Testament Studies, has written a book entitled Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus, in which he gives details of the plagues of Egypt and how they were directed against the many gods of Egypt. (1) For example, the Nile River was considered sacred, as the source of life for all of Egypt, and had many gods associated with it. Some of those gods included KhnumHapi, and Osiris.(2) When God used Moses and Aaron to change the water into blood, He demonstrated that the true source of life is in the blood, and at the same time defiled the Nile as a source of life. The Bible teaches that the fish died and the river stank (Exodus 7:15-21). That which had been looked upon and worshipped by the Egyptians had suddenly become death and a source of loathing. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty different gods worshipped in Egypt during the time of Moses. (3) God dealt with them severely through the plagues upon Egypt. The gods of Egypt had no power, but the God of the Hebrews was and is all powerful.

Pharaoh himself is the last god of Egypt with whom God dealt. The people of Egypt believed in divine rule, and that Pharaoh was the god who ruled over them. The divine succession was to be passed down through the first born of Pharaoh household. That succession was ended with the death of Pharaoh’s first born, and Pharaoh and all the gods of Egypt could do nothing against the hand of the God of the Hebrews. God not only proved that he rules in the lives of those who trust in him, but He has control over the lives of those who reject Him as well. We indeed serve an Awesome God.

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(1) Davis, John J., Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971, 4th printing 1976).

(2) Ibid: page 94.

(3) Ibid: page 86.

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“That they may know that I am the LORD.”

The Word for today:
Exodus 9

Yesterday, Pastor Joe wrote about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. It was a clear and forceful explanation of “the classic conundrum between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.”

Today, I’m going to talk about the hardening of different hearts. We’ll leave Pharaoh in Egypt, while we talk about the hardening (and softening) of hearts that are nearer and dearer — my heart and yours…

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Throughout his life, Pharaoh had been told he was a god. So God set out to re-educate him:

Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.  (Exodus 14:1-4)

Today’s culture suggests that we are gods — that we can take it upon ourselves to define right and wrong; that we can take issues of life and death into our own hands. God is no respecter of persons, so the lessons he taught Pharaoh will be taught to us. Stay tuned.

In order to reveal what was in Pharaoh’s heart, God forced Pharaoh’s hand. Pharaoh wanted to appear benevolent, but God made Pharaoh’s heart firm enough to reveal what was in it. God solidified the decision that Pharaoh had already made.

We are experts at fooling ourselves, but God hardens our hearts so we can’t fool ourselves any more. Every person will be forced to reveal — at judgment — what is really in his heart. When we come into His presence there will be no camouflage and no double dealing.

A close reading reveals that Pharaoh started out with a hard heart (Exodus 5:2), so the plagues “hardened” the heart of Pharaoh like the sun hardens clay, while at the same time the plagues caused multitudes to soften their attitudes towards God, like the sun melts wax.

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God hardened the heart of Jesus Christ, who set his face like flint for Jerusalem (1). In the same way, those of us who have decided to follow Jesus are undergoing solidification — hearts hardening into the heart of the Lion of Judah.

The Word of God is continuously hardening hearts, for better or for worse. Those who will not be saved are getting ‘dead-er’ each day (from death to death–2 Cor. 2:16). Those who are being saved are becoming more steadfast in the faith, day by day, as the Word of God hardens their resolve to live like Christ.

The Christian should desire, even pray, that his heart is increasingly “hardened” in the same sense that Daniel purposed in his heart (Dan. 1:8) to live a life which pleased God.

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(1) see Isaiah 50:7 and Luke 9:51

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heart petrification

 

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(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Exodus 8

Petrified hearts are very difficult to cure.

If I have hardening of the arteries, I can exercise more or take Lipitor. But a hardened heart is much more difficult to treat and, ultimately, much more deadly. Just ask Pharaoh.

Throughout this entire encounter concerning Pharaoh and the children of Israel (basically Exodus ch. 5-14), there is a great battle of wills going on: good versus evil, the underdog versus the favorite, slaves versus their oppressors. And in this great melee of threats and consequences, of offensives and counter attacks, one phrase is used over and over: “hardened heart.”

Nineteen times with in this account,Pharaoh’s heart–in some way, by some means–becomes petrified. Three times Pharaoh actively hardens his own heart. Ten times its God who does the hardening. Twice we read about Pharaoh’s heart being passively hardened (without mention of any direct agent). And four times we just have a description of the fact that Pharaoh’s heart is stone-like. Confused yet?

The problem lies in the classic conundrum between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. (Basically, if God is in absolute control over everything, how can I be held responsible for choices I never really made? Or its opposite: “If God is not totally and completely sovereign over everything, how can He really be God?”) Thus, if we lean too much on the sovereignty side, we end up with no such thing as choice or freedom. But, if we lean too much on the free will side, then we are very much in danger of watering down God into a lesser being. Good luck trying to reconcile these positions on your own–we could easily spend the rest of the next decade arguing.

And so we need to turn, not to philosophy, but to the Word for our answers. In just one chapter–chapter 9–we have all four categories:
v. 7 “Yet [Pharaoh’s] heart was unyielding…” (Passive)
v. 12 “The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart…” (Active- God)
v. 34 “[Pharaoh] and his officials hardened their hearts…” (Active- Pharaoh)
v. 35 “So Pharaoh’s heart was hard…” (Descriptive)

So which way is it? All of the above.
Was God responsible? Yes.
Was Pharaoh responsible? Yes.
Is God in total control of everything in this universe? Yes.
Does mankind have any kind of real choice in the matter? Yes.

The Word of God affirms both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
To deny either is to go against what has been given to us. We affirm what Job said concerning God: “I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted (1).”
God is fully in control. Nothing occurs that He didn’t already know about. Yet at the same time, we recognize that each of us faces the same choice that Joshua gave to the Israelites: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve (2).” We human beings, unique among the rest of earth’s creatures, have been given the dignity of freedom and choice. We are not robots, our decisions are not predetermined by our genes, the devil did not make us do it, and we cannot blame God or anyone else for our choices.

In our current situation, God clearly knew the outcome, and how Pharaoh would respond when Moses demanded, “Let my people go!” At the same time, Pharaoh cannot blame God at all, because he freely chose to oppose Moses; he is responsible for the condition of his own heart.

God used even the disobedience of Pharaoh to bring glory to his Name. All of Pharaoh’s best attempts could not keep God’s people in bondage. This whole account just gives us a glimpse of the pure genius of God, who incorporates our free decisions into His totally sovereign plan.

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(1) Job 42:2
(2) Joshua 24:15

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ever Savior, ever saving

The Word for today:
Exodus 6:10-7:25

One of the most misleading phrases in our Christian lingo is this one: “I was saved in 1988.” The phrase confines salvation to the past tense and leaves it there.

But salvation is always on the move. It is going places, taking us somewhere. Salvation never stops.

The great sweep of scripture which lies before us illustrates that we are saved from something to something else:
We are saved from Egypt to the Promised Land; from sinfulness to Christ-likeness.

Back there in ’88 we were saved by the blood of Jesus from the penalty of sin, which is death. In Exodus, this is illustrated at Passover: when God sees the blood, the death angel passes over.

At Passover/Cross we passed/crossed from death to life, but we were as powerless as infants. God doesn’t want us to stay babies, so along with the blood he provided power–the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Spirit transforms us from spiritual infants to full Christ-likeness. This ongoing salvation is illustrated by Israel’s further deliverance–from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea.

But the process still has miles to go. Up ahead is the wilderness, with its testing. Then we must cross the Jordan and pass Jericho before we enter the Promised Land. Even in the Promised Land our enemies will continue to assail us. But by the power of the Spirit we make our way all the way into Jerusalem, into the Temple and into the “Holy of Holies”–the very Presence of the Father.

So does salvation end there?

I repeat a borrowed phrase at the end of each of my classes. It’s a way to signal that the class has ended, and a way to say goodbye until next time:
“We love you to pieces, to infinity and beyond!”

Salvation begins at the cross of Jesus, where he himself was broken to pieces. It is forever based there, but it doesn’t stay there. All who are saved by his blood from the death penalty then embark on a saving process, guided and empowered by His Spirit:

And we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

As this shaping process proceeds, it often looks like anything but salvation! God pulverizes our pride and self-centeredness. He cuts out harmful habits and assumptions that have permeated, over time, to the very marrow of our bones. He’s loving you to pieces, all the way home.

And even when you “get there,” you will find him saving still; he died to save you, now he lives to keep you saved:

You are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5)

For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)

***

There will always be more salvation ahead than behind:

He delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us. (2 Corinthians 1:10)

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echoing consequences: “Because of I AM, I am…”

The Word for today:
Exodus 4:18-6:9

mark this: Exodus 3:2-3
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”

and this: Exodus 3:13-14
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

One of the most important passages in the Bible is found in Exodus 3, when God appears to Moses in a burning bush and reveals his covenant name: “I AM.” So Stand in the Rain presents two articles today–the first to be read and studied, the second to be appreciated and ever-increasingly absorbed.

1.  The fundamental teaching concerning this passage will be found by clicking here.  (If you are not aware of the significance of the bush and “The Name,” then it is MANDATORY for you to click that link!)

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2.  And here are just a few of the echoing consequences of “The Name” in our very own lives. While the list can be read in a minute, the echoes take a lifetime to absorb.

Because of I AM, I am…

I am established, anointed, sealed by God (2 Cor 1:21-22 )
I am assured all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28 )
I am free forever from condemnation ( Rom. 8: 1-2)
I have been redeemed and forgiven ( Col 1:14).
I am God’s child (John 1:12; Eph. 1:5)
I am Christ’s friend (John 15:15 )
I am united with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17)
I am bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20)
I am significant. (1 Cor. 3:9; 4:1, 2)
I am God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13)
I am confident that the good works God has begun in me will be perfected. (Phil. 1: 5)
I am a saint (set apart for God). (Eph. 1:1)
I am a personal witness of Christ. (Acts 1:8)
I am the salt & light of the earth (Matt 5:13-14)
I may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph. 3: 12 )
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16 )
I am the branch of the true vine, a channel of His life (John 15: 1-5)
I have access to God (Eph. 2:18)
I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6)
I cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:35-39)
I have been justified (Romans 5:1)
I am a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27)
I am a citizen of Heaven (Phil. 3:20)
I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Cor 5:17-21)
I am God’s temple (1 Cor. 3: 16).
I am hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).
I am God’s co-worker (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1).
I am complete in Christ (Col. 2: 10)

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