God Vs. the Stubborn Heart
Stubborness, Sin, Love
Anyone who has children knows what it is like to come up against the stubborn will of a child. Some children will throw tantrums (always in the most embarrassing situations . . . and I don’t for a minute think that is an accident, I might add). Some children will pout. Some will argue and fight. Some children will listen to your instructions and then do whatever they want. Stubbornness comes at an early age. They are not called the terrible two’s for nothing. It’s at this time in a child’s life where they test the limits with their favorite word: “No!”
In these stubborn times, a parent must be equally persistent. These are battles a parent MUST win. James Dobson is famous for saying, “When your child is looking for a fight, you ought not disappoint them.” A child’s character and safety are at stake. A child must learn to follow the directions of a parent because there are dangers a child does not understand. Parents don’t usually give instruction because they are mean. The instruction is meant to protect and train the child.
The same holds true for our spiritual lives. God gives instructions for our good. When we stand stubbornly against Him He often has to use drastic measures to make His point. Such is the case in Exodus chapters 7 through 11. In these chapters we have the record of the first nine (of ten) plagues that came on Egypt because Pharaoh stubbornly refused to do what God commanded.
This morning I’m going to give you a quick overview of each of the plagues and then draw some practical lessons on what we should learn from this piece of history.
As you remember, the first encounter with Pharaoh didn’t go very well. Moses and Aaron presented God’s instructions and Pharaoh made things worse for the Hebrews. Moses and Aaron were sent back to Pharaoh. Aaron threw down his staff and it became a snake. But the the Egyptian wise men, sorcerers, and magicians were able to duplicate this miracle. Note, however that Aaron’s snake swallowed all the others up. Pharaoh was unmoved. It was time to turn up the heat.
PLAGUE ONE God sent Moses to the Nile river where Pharaoh would be. The Nile was essential to the life of Egypt. In this vast dessert, the water was a source of life to the people. They not only got drinking water from the Nile, they were also able to get fish from the Nile.
When Pharaoh arrives, Moses warns and confronts him with God’s commands. When Pharaoh resists, Aaron raised his hand over the waters of Egypt and the water turned to blood. The fish died and the water produced a stench that turned the stomachs of the people.
There are a number of possible geological explanations for this miracle (and most of the ones to follow). But whether God used natural means or supernatural means to change the water into blood (or into what looked like blood), it really doesn’t matter. What made the event miraculous was not just what happened but that it happened exactly when Moses declared it would happen. We are told that the magicians again were able to get the same kinds of effect from their “secret arts”.
PLAGUE TWO Seven days after the first plague another warning is sent: “If you don’t obey the whole country will be overrun with frogs.” Aaron raised his staff and the frogs invaded the land. These frogs were everywhere! They were in the fields, homes, ovens, bedrooms and even the palace. But, the magicians were able to make frogs appear too. This time however, Pharaoh asks Moses and Aaron to removed the frogs.
Pharaoh said he would let the people go, but once the crisis was gone, so was the promise. It’s much like the promises many people make who say, “Lord, if you get me out of this situation I will be in church every Sunday.” As soon as the crisis passes, the promise is forgotten.
PLAGUE THREE The third plague is an infestation of gnats. Some translators say that the term “gnat” may also mean lice. There were gnats, lice, fleas, everywhere! Notice that this third plague comes without any warning. In this God demonstrates that He does not have to announce His judgment ahead of time. This is also the first plague that the magicians could not duplicate. The power of Satan is vast, but also limited.
This reminds us of many of the “miracle-workers” of false religions. They will tell you that their crystals, their psychic powers, their spells are able to bring about great miracles. And by Satan’s power they may be able to bring about some amazing things. The Bible warns us plainly however, that there will be some who perform counterfeit miracles that will deceive many. That power is real, but it is limited. That power cannot transform a heart or lead an individual to eternal life. We must beware of being impressed by powerful acts. We must always seek to find out the source of the power before we follow blindly after the miracle-workers of our day.
PLAGUE FOUR Moses is sent to Pharaoh again in the morning by the water. Another warning is given: “Obey, or the land will be filled with swarms of flies.” Literally the Hebrew word for “flies” means “mixture” which probably means a wide variety of insects were involved here. It is thought that this may have involved mosquitoes, dragonflies, bees, wasps, ladybugs and more. The flies were so dense that “the land was ruined” by these insects. We’ve seen what bugs can do to crops and you’ve probably been in areas where the insects were thick. It is very annoying.
This time there was no place you could escape the insects. They were outside, they were in the homes, they were everywhere . . . . except in Goshen. For the first time, God makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Hebrews. From this time on the plagues happened to the Egyptians only. It was a miracle that the insects came on command, but just as much a miracle that they did not go into Goshen.
PLAGUE FIVE The next plague is on the livestock. God gives a specific time that the plague will come. And it is thought that most likely only those animals who were outside were killed. Even at this time God was extending mercy to the Egyptians. Anyone who believed God could bring their animals in and be spared. The plague devastated the area. Many scholars believe this was an anthrax outbreak. But no animals in Goshen were killed. Pharaoh actually investigated to see if the Israelites had been spared. But he remained unmoved.
PLAGUE SIX. Next we are told that Moses and Aaron are commanded to take handfuls of soot form a furnace and and toss it in the air. The result would be a devastating plague of boils or ulcers on the men and animals of Egypt. It is likely that the furnace was one of the places where the bricks were heated. Therefore it was a symbol of the bondage of the Israelites. The plague was so devastatingly painful that the advisors could not even stand before Moses. We are reminded of Job, who was in such misery because of his boils that he was scratching himself with scraps of pottery!
There is an interesting addition to this story. In chapter 9:12 we read for the first time, “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen.” It seems that the best way to understand this is to see it as God strengthening the rebellion of Pharaoh’s heart. It would have been easy for Pharaoh to let the people go . . . not because he wanted to, but because of the public outcry. Pharaoh is not repentant but he is facing political heat. God takes this hardened man and strengthens his rebellion so that God might use Him for his purposes.
This is a frightening passage because it shows that our unbelief can become so hard that all that is left is for God to use our hardness for his purpose. God now is going to use Pharaoh to teach others about His power and grace.
PLAGUE SEVEN. This plague begins with instructive words from the Lord: “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:15). God tells Pharaoh that he deserves to be destroyed and the only reason God hasn’t destroyed him is because he is going to use Pharaoh’s obstinacy for His glory. Pharaoh may say that he will never glorify the Lord . . . but the Lord is going to use him anyway to bring glory to His name.
The seventh plague is a plague of hail. This time the Egyptians are warned to take cover. Many were coming to fear the Lord. They took their livestock, families and belongs and took cover. We know the damage that can be done by hailstorms in our area, but it is nothing compared to this hail storm. We are told that it “struck everything in the fields– both men and animals: it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree.” (9:25)
This plague which killed so many animals and the destruction of the ripened fields combined with the death of the animals in the plague earlier, meant that a severe food shortage was going to start taking place.
The EIGHTH PLAGUE is a plague of locusts. Locusts often travel in horded and systematically eat everything growing in their path. Pharaoh is obstinate. Pharaoh’s advisors are willing to concede defeat but not Pharaoh! We are told,
By morning the wind had brought the locusts; they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. never before had there been such a plague of locusts nor will there ever be again. They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail–everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt. (10:13-15)
This time Pharaoh “quickly summoned” Moses and Aaron. He says, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you.” But Pharaoh wasn’t really repentant. Pharaoh was saying what he thought he needed to say to get relief. As I’ve mentioned, lots of people profess faith in difficult times but that doesn’t mean that are really trusting the Lord. It just means, they will try anything for relief.
THE NINTH PLAGUE is the plague of darkness. That may not seem like a big deal to us. O.K., it’s dark, so, light a candle! We might wonder how in the world it could be light in Goshen and still be dark in the rest of Egypt. The answer is that the darkness was caused by a sandstorm, or dust storm that was so fierce that you couldn’t see anything . . . even in your homes! You could light your lamps but it wouldn’t help. For three days the people could see “nothing and no one”. The dust storm was so fierce that they could not go outside. They were absolutely isolated.
Pharaoh tries to compromise . . .”Go and sacrifice just leave your flocks and herds behind.” When Moses refuses to negotiate Pharaoh loses his temper. He tells them if he ever sees them again, they will die! Moses responds, “I will never see you again.”
There is one final plague, the plague that breaks the back of Pharaoh. But we’ll deal with that next time. Right now, let’s draw some lessons from these plagues. This is not only interesting history, it is valuable teaching for our day to day lives.
Lessons from the Plagues
We See the Deep-Seated Nature of Sin
It seems amazing to us that Pharaoh would be so strong in his resolve against the Lord. Some suggest that the plagues went on for a period of about 8 weeks. If that is so, then Pharaoh was being hammered again and again and again by the Lord and he refused to give in. How did Pharaoh (how does anyone) become so hardened? it’s easy.
- He believed that He was accountable to no one. No one had a right to tell him what to do or not do.
- He rationalized his behavior (at the beginning he told himself the plagues were simple tricks. There is no such thing as the Lord God Almighty.)
- He justified his behavior. Surely he said to himself, “I can’t let Israel go. We can’t let our workforce simply walk away.”
- He was swallowed up by pride. Pharaoh had taken a stand. He was willing to negotiate (to save face) but he was not willing to repent.
.Look around you. Doesn’t the same thing happen on a regular basis today? Aren’t there many folks who have closed their ears to the things of God? It is not that they haven’t heard. . . it’s that they won’t hear. And the sad thing, the scary thing, is this kind of hardness does not suddenly appear. It grows in us. As we ignore God in the little things of life, it becomes easier to ignore Him in the big things.
- The embezzler doesn’t start by siphoning off funds. They begin by taking little things from work.
- The perjurer doesn’t begin lying in court, they learn to lie by distorting the truth in little things
- The adulterer doesn’t set out to commit adultery, they begin with flirtations, inappropriate conversations, little compromises with evil.
- The murderer begins to deaden his conscience or build rage in simple acts that teach disregard for human life.
We could go on and on. People who work with their hands find that over time they build up calluses. These calluses make their hands less sensitive to the stress that is put on them. It is protection. The same thing happens with some musicians. The person who plays a stringed instrument must build up calluses. The brass players must develop a toughened lip. These things are good in these situations, but bad when it happens to the heart.
Our little compromises with evil builds a hardness on our heart that deadens our conscience so that we no longer feel guilty. And then we conclude that if we don’t feel guilty, we aren’t guilty. Before long we are engaged in behavior that we would have never believed we were capable of just weeks, months or years before.
We Learn the Unacceptable Nature of Negotiating With God
Pharaoh looked for ways to negotiate with God.
- After the plague of the insects he suggested that the Israelites could make a sacrifice in Egypt.
- In 10:11 right after the hailstorm and right before the locusts he says he will let just the men go but the women and children must remain
- In 10:24 he suggested the people could go but the flocks and herds had to stay behind.
Pharaoh was trying to negotiate with God! But God would not negotiate. His standards were firm and sure. God does not put morality, ethics, right and wrong up for a vote. He sets the standard! We don’t negotiate, we listen and obey.
We are constantly trying to negotiate with God. We want to comprise because
- we love each other
- we had a difficult childhood
- we aren’t hurting anybody (you’re always hurting someone . . . not least of which is yourself)
- it was on sale
- I didn’t know it would turn out like this
- it will just be this once
- nobody will ever know
All those statements are attempts to strike a compromise with God’s standards. They didn’t work with Pharaoh, they will not work with us.
We See the Certain Reality of Divine Judgment
The plagues against evil remind us that people cannot simply sin with impunity. We don’t sin and “get away with it.” It may seem like that at times, but sin will be punished. The penalty for that sin must either be borne by Christ, or by us.
There is a very sober reminder in this passage that you may be unaware of. In the Book of Revelation (by the way, there is no “s” on the end . . . check it out), we see a startling parallel to the plagues in Egypt.
- Revelation 11:3-6 God will send two witnesses to work miracles before His enemies
- Revelation 13:13-15 Their enemies will perform counterfeit miracles.
- Revelation 7:4; 12:6, 14, 16 God will protect His own people from the judgements
- Revelation 8:8 Water will be turned to blood
- Revelation 16:53 Satanic frogs will appear
- Revelation 9:2-11 A plague of locusts will be sent
- Revelation 16:2 Ugly and painful sores will break out on the people
- Revelation 8:7 Terrible hailstones (and fire mixed with blood) will descend from Heaven
- Revelation 16:10 There will be awful darkness
- Revelation 9:20,21 The hearts of the people will be hardened
- Revelation 9:15 Death will consume multitudes (1/3 of the inhabitants of earth)
As we read about the plagues of Egypt we should pay attention. If we continue to resist God we are heading for trouble! The longer we dabble in sin, the more calloused and hard our heart becomes. There is coming a day when God will judge the world again. Only those who have sought shelter in His mercy will survive. At that time no further warnings will be given. When the next judgment comes, the warnings will have run out. You do not get away with sin. You may feel that you are getting away with things but the sands in the hourglass are running out. You may still have time to turn from your sin. But how much time is unknown.
We See the Persistent Nature of God’s Love
When we read this story we see the horrible things God does to Egypt. What we may miss is the great lengths God is going to in order to set the Israelites free. Aren’t you glad that God is just as persistent in His love as in His judgment? We will see this message played out again and again in Exodus. The people grumble and rebel but God continues to show His love. He is the God who pursues His children.
What would have happened if God had written you off when you resisted Him? What if He had given up on you when you failed again? The Lord continues to call out to any who will listen. He is like the Father in the story of the Prodigal son. The son rebelled, squandered the hard-earned blessings of the Father, and left home. But dad kept longing for the day when his son would come home. And one day He did. When the father saw his son coming home in shame, he ran to the boy, threw his arms around him, told him that he loved him and threw a big welcome home party.
Where are you in this story? Are you chaffing at the commands of God? Are you tempted by the recklessness of the world around you? Do you want to abandon all that God has commanded? Think carefully friend. You are headed for heartache.
Or maybe you have already left the safety of the Lord’s company. Maybe you are currently indulging in all kinds of things. You’ve adopted the world’s morality, embraced the world’s ethics, indulged in the world’s vices. Maybe you feel that things have never been better. You’re having fun. You’re doing what you want. You proclaim that you are “happy!” But you are living in a mirage. The reckless behavior will eventually give way to ruin. There will come a day when you will realize that you have nothing. It may be on this side of the grave. It may be on the other side.
Perhaps you have recognized the emptiness of your life. You look at your life and you see shattered relationships, empty promises, foolish choices. In fact, you are so aware of your failures and sin that you don’t think it is possible to come home to the Lord. My dear friend, the Lord’s promise is simple: “Whoever comes to me, I will not cast away.” (Jn. 6:37) His arms are open. If you turn to Him He will welcome you, just as the father of the Prodigal son welcomed him. You don’t deserve it, and neither do I. That’s why it is called grace.
Maybe you have come home already. Maybe you have trusted Christ for salvation and are following Him as Lord of your life. If so, be careful. Never take your position for granted! Never forget where you might be if it were not for His persistent love. Guard against giving way to little compromises in your life. The world will try to convince you that you are “missing out”. In truth the only think you are missing out on is God’s wrath. And I think the Egyptians would tell you that all your really missing is heartache.