(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #9)
God reigns as sovereign over all His creation. However, He does not exercise His sovereignty in a way that forces people to do what He wants them to do. Instead, He wants people to voluntarily do as He wishes. Unfortunately, this emphasis on volunteers as opposed to draftees or robots keeps the door flung wide open for rebellion on the part of individuals. The examples of such rebellion started with Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden and have continued to pile up over the eons of history.
One famous rebel was the Pharaoh of the Exodus story. When Moses and Aaron first approached him and requested that he allow the Israelites to journey three days into the desert in order to have a time of offering sacrifices to God, he balked (Exodus 5:1-5). More than balk, he got downright ugly and severely punished the entire Israelite nation by adding the gathering of straw to their brick-making work (Exodus 5:6-19). What he didn’t know was that his boxing match with God was just beginning, and he was infinitely overmatched.
For round 2 God sent Moses and Aaron back to Pharaoh, and this time He instructed them to do a miracle in His name. He said to Moses, “When Pharaoh asks you to perform a miracle to authenticate yourselves, you tell Aaron to throw down his rod in front of Pharaoh. When He does, it will become a serpent (Exodus 7:8-9).”
Everything went as scheduled and Aaron’s rod did become a serpent (Exodus 7:10), but the miracle didn’t have the desired effect upon Pharaoh. Rather than be impressed, he called in Egypt’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians and to a man they all threw down their rods and somehow matched the miracle (Exodus 7:11-12). Since the Bible offers no indication that these men did this through some kind of deception or chicanery, evidently they did it through the occultic power of Satan. Even when Aaron’s serpent swallowed up all the other serpents Pharaoh didn’t waver in his defiance against God (Exodus 7:12). To the contrary, his heart grew even more hardened (Exodus 7:13).
It was at this point in the story that God began working through Moses and Aaron to inflict Egypt with a series of plagues, ten in all. We might classify each plague as another round between Pharaoh and God. Here is the list of those plagues:
- Plague #1: God turned all the waters of Egypt into blood, and this caused all the fish to die. Interestingly, Pharaoh’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians were able to match this miracle to some degree. (Exodus 7:14-25)
- Plague #2: God drove frogs up from the Nile river and the frogs covered the entire land of Egypt. Again Pharaoh’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians were able to match this miracle to some degree. Also, in the midst of this plague, Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go and have their time of sacrificing if Moses would pray to God and get Him to take away the frogs. Moses did so, but once the frogs were dead and disposed of Pharaoh reneged on the deal. (Exodus 8:1-15)
- Plague #3: God caused the dust of the land to become lice that afflicted not only the Egyptians but also their livestock. Pharaoh’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians attempted to duplicate this miracle but were unable to do so. (Exodus 8:16-19)
- Plague #4: God sent thick swarms of flies to inundate the entire land of Egypt except for the region of Goshen where the Israelites lived. In the midst of this plague, Pharaoh offered to let the Israelites have their time of sacrificing if they would agree to remain in Egypt to do it. Moses refused the offer, and so Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go three days into the desert to do the sacrificing if Moses would get God to take away the flies. Again, though, once Moses had done so, Pharaoh reneged on the deal. (Exodus 8:20-32)
- Plague #5: God struck Egypt’s livestock with a severe pestilence that caused each animal to die. The only animals that weren’t struck with the pestilence were the Israelites’ animals. (Exodus 9:1-7)
- Plague #6: God caused boils to break out on the bodies of Egypt’s people and non-livestock animals. Even Pharaoh’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians became utterly afflicted with the boils. (Exodus 9:8-12)
- Plague #7: God rained intense hail (mingled with fire) upon Egypt. The hail fell upon everyone and everything and damaged Egypt’s trees and crops. The only place the hail didn’t fall was in Goshen, the region where the Israelites lived. Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in the midst of the storm and begged them to ask God to make it stop. He said, “If you will do this I will let the Israelites go.” As was the pattern, though, Pharaoh reneged on the deal once Moses had prayed and God had made the hail stop. (Exodus 9:13-35)
- Plague #8: God brought incredible swarms of locusts down upon Egypt. The locusts filled the houses of the Egyptians, got in the peoples’ eyes, and ate all the remaining crops and vegetation of the land. Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and begged them to get God to take away the locusts. God did take away the locusts, but Pharaoh still didn’t release the Israelites. (Exodus 10:1-20)
- Plague #9: God settled an eerie darkness upon Egypt. The darkness lasted for three days, and the Bible says it was so thick that it could actually be felt. The only light in the entire land could be found in the dwellings of the Israelites. Pharaoh’s offer to Moses this time was: “Your people and their families can go and serve the Lord, but you must leave behind your flocks and herds.” Moses’ answer was, “No, we must also take our flocks and herds in order to be able to offer up the sacrifices and have livestock when we get to the place where God is taking us.” Pharaoh’s response to that was to become furious and tell Moses that if he ever saw him again he would kill him. To that Moses said, “You have spoken well. I will never see your face again.” (Exodus 10:21-29)
- Plague #10: During one fateful night God struck dead all the firstborns in Egypt. The deaths even extended to the firstborns of the remaining livestock. The only firstborns who didn’t die were those of the Israelites and even they had to be safely protected behind homes upon which the shed blood of slain lambs was smeared over the doorframes. Pharaoh’s firstborn son died that night, and in the aftermath Pharaoh agreed to completely release the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage. (Exodus 11:1-10; 12:1-30)
The takeaway for us from these ten plagues is that even though God won’t force you to do His will, He will certainly make your life miserable enough to make you agreeable to doing it. While the circumstances in Pharaoh’s life never did cause him to see the light and get saved, they did get him to finally relent and do what God wanted him to do. I guess that’s about as much obedience as God ever gets from a lost person, but He should, of course, get a whole lot more from us Christians. And what happens when He doesn’t get it? Well, that’s when He has to send some bad things our way to get us to relent. It took no less than ten utter catastrophes to get Pharaoh to finally yield. I wonder, how many will it take for us?