Opening Prayer: Almighty God, you speak the Word and mountains explode. You give the command and the deep plates of the earth churn, and the depths are broken up. There is nothing that withstands your mighty Word, and therefore we ask that you would speak to us now in your Word. Break our hard hearts and give us hearts of flesh, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
Creation is the foundation of everything. We saw last week that Yahweh’s battle with Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt was preeminently seen in the promise of God do battle with the dragon, the serpent who deceived Eve. The effect of that original sin and curse in Genesis 3 was that creation was cursed, and therefore for God to fully deal with the curse of sin not only would the dragon have to be killed, not only would sin have to be dealt with and forgiven, but creation would have to be renewed. In an important sense, sin is always fighting the order and glory of creation. It is always asking, “Did God really say…?” Which is another way of saying, “Did God really make the world like this…?” And thus for God to deal with sin, He must un-make the world and then remake it. We see the world “de-created” and remade in the Flood, and here in the Exodus we see another instance of de-creation and re-creation. And ultimately he must do this to us.
Creation and De-creation
First, we need to remember the basic structure of creation itself. God made the world in six days, these six days can be seen as two cycles where God creates and fills the three spheres of the universe. Day 1 and Day 4 are concerned with heaven, Day 2 and Day 5 are concerned with the seas, and Day 3 and Day 6 are concerned with the land. In the first cycle (Days 1-3) God creates the realms of the universe, and in the second cycle God creates the inhabitants and rulers of those realms. These three spheres are used as short hand for the whole of creation in the rest of Scripture (e.g. Ex. 20:4, Dt. 5:8, Neh. 9:6, Ps. 69:34, 135:6, Phil. 2:10, Rev. 5:3,13). Thus, when we get to the plagues on Egypt it should not escape our notice that the plagues come in cycles of three (minus the last).
The first (Nile), fourth (flies/swarmers), and seventh plagues (hail) all occur after a confrontation in the morning (7:15, 8:20, 9:13), presumably at the banks of the Nile (7:15, 8:20), and are associated with water. It seems fair to assume that Pharaoh is going out to the Nile for religious reason. The second volley of plagues in these cycles always includes a command from Yahweh to go and confront Pharaoh and a request to let Yahweh’s people go (8:1, 9:1, 10:1-3). Notice that these plagues (the second, fifth, and eighth) are particularly tied to the land (frogs, disease, and locusts). The third plague in these three cycles comes with no confrontation of Pharaoh (lice in 8:16, boils in 9:8, and darkness in 10:21). At least two of these have clear associations with the sky and heaven (not sure what to do with the lice/gnats except for the fact that they would be flying in the “air.”) Nevertheless, there is enough here to see that there is clearly a “heaven, earth, and seas” pattern. Yahweh is un-making the world of Egypt. He is de-creating their world.
But there is more we might point out as well. In Genesis, God created creatures that “teem” and “swarm” and they were good (e.g. Gen. 1:20), but here in the plagues creatures are teeming and swarming for ill. We have also considered how Adam is God to Pharaoh. He is like a new Adam, re-presenting God to Pharaoh. Moses, as a new Adam has dominion of the world. He speaks and creation obeys. We see that the magicians are only able to duplicate a couple of the plagues (making matters worse!), but they are utterly powerless to bring healing (8:7). When God brings lice the Egyptian magicians are finally stumped. Their powers only reach so far, and they conclude that this is the “finger of God” (8:19). When Pharaoh hardens his heart here, he is not listening to his own people now. God has reversed the circumstances: Now piles of frogs stink (8:14) just like the Red Sea had stunk (7:21) reminding us of the claim that the officers of Israel had originally made that Moses had made Israel to stink before the Egyptians (5:21). Now Pharaoh is beginning to “stink” to his of wise men and vice versa (8:7-8).
Finally, we should notice that the second cycle of plagues introduces the difference between Yahweh’s people and Egypt (8:23, 9:4, 9:26, 10:23). This means that the judgment is becoming more severe and God means business. The first three plagues were plagues of inconvenience and uncleanness and apparently affected Israel as well, but beginning with the fourth plague Yahweh brings “corruption” (8:24) and death (9:6). It’s at the beginning of these second cycle (the “swarmers”) that we see the first sign of Pharaoh reconsidering his public policy (8:25-28), but of course it is short lived (8:32).
Conclusions and Applications
Throughout this narrative there are several repeated phrases, but one of the most terrifying is the phrase “he hardened his heart” (7:13, 7:23, 8:8, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32, 9:7, 9:12, etc.). These are terrifying words because this means that God’s judgment is already falling. Pharaoh’s hard heart is the judgment of God. The Psalmist warns Israel of the same danger (Psalm 95:7-11). The irony of the Exodus is that after all of these wonders that God is performing Israel will go into the wilderness and fall under the same judgment. Israel became bitter and complained and did not receive the grace of God with thanksgiving. And the writer of Hebrews says that we are in the exact same position (Heb. 3). The question is always how will we respond to God? When God determines to remake us it often hurts, but will we respond with thankfulness or hardness of heart?
This exhortation is to all of you young people in particular. You are the heirs of grace. Blessings have been piled up on you. Do you realize that? Do you realize that out there, there is nothing but sin and darkness and sadness? Consider what you have been saved from. But consider also what you have been saved to. This is a small church, and there are particular temptations that come with this. But God is determined to bless you. So give Him thanks and praise.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty and most awesome God, you turn the heart of the king like rivers of water. You cast down and raise up; you rule the nations of the earth, you rule all of creation, and you direct the paths of men. Give us hearts of gratitude. Clear out all of our pride, all our arrogance, all our bitterness. For you have blessed us beyond measure, and therefore we praise you, and lift your name on high.