Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Exodus. Day 32, The Plague Of Hail, Part One

Six plagues are already past and Pharaoh hasn't let the people go. He will persist in saying "no" to God and four more plagues will fall. These four final plagues will be more severe than the first six and in today's study the Lord warns him the worst is yet to come if he does not relent.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.'" (Exodus 9:13-14) As the saying goes, Pharaoh "ain't seen nothing yet". It has already become clear to the king that his own magicians are no match for Moses and Aaron, who are working by the power of the Lord. It should have already become clear to the king that his "gods" are no match for the God of the Hebrews. The Lord has put to shame the false deities whom the Egyptians believed protected things like the waters, the agriculture, and the livestock. There is no one like God. There is no God besides Him. If the king would only acknowledge this fact now he would spare himself and his people a great deal of misery and heartbreak.

Because the Lord is the Maker of all things and holds power over all things, He points out that He could have already taken the king's life if He wanted. He could have destroyed the nation of Egypt. But instead He has shown mercy. "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 9:15-16)

Rescuing the Israelites from Egypt could have been done in one day if God had chosen to do it that way. He's so mighty that with one breath He could have struck all the Egyptians dead. Or He could have made the Israelites vanish from Goshen and appear in the Sinai desert where they'll be traveling later. But God uses a process for most things because the process has a purpose. There's a reason for each step along the way. God has allowed Pharaoh to resist Him through six plagues in order to display His majesty and glory and supremacy to both the Egyptians and the Israelites. As we will see  later in today's study, some of the Egyptians have begun to believe in and fear the Lord and they will react accordingly to the warning of a seventh plague. The faith of the Israelites will be bolstered by everything the Lord is doing in Egypt, for it's human nature to want to see things with our own eyes. They do believe in and reverence the Lord, but they've been struggling in a foreign land for a long time. Some perhaps gave up on ever being rescued; they may have thought it was the Lord's will to leave them there forever. They're exhausted from their hard labor and they've been prevented from performing public observations of their religion for a long time. This has taken a toll on them. They need to see demonstrations of the Lord's strength so that when at last He tells them to move out they'll be ready to get up and follow Him despite any and all opposition the Egyptians bring against them.

The Lord continues His warning to Pharaoh. "You still set yourself against My people and will not let them go. Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded til now." (Exodus 9:17-18) The king is once again given twenty-four hours to think about what the Lord is saying and to change his mind about letting the people go.

The Lord even gives the king the opportunity to preserve his outdoor servants and his livestock. "Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and it will die." (Exodus 9:19) There's nothing anyone can do about the crops in the field. We'll be told in tomorrow's study that the hail is so severe it destroys not only the crops but also strips the trees bare. But there's a lot the Egyptians can do to preserve their livestock and to protect their slaves who tend the livestock. Some of Pharaoh's officials have learned that God doesn't mess around. If He warns of a plague, and if the king doesn't relent, the plague comes. These particular men take action when they hear the hail is coming. "Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field." (Exodus 9:20-21)

Why do some of the Egyptians still scoff at the word of the Lord? Hasn't He followed through on every plague He's predicted? Why is the king so prideful? I think he'd rather see his nation destroyed than to look "weak" (in his opinion) by letting the Hebrew people go. Why does anyone repeatedly refuse the word of the Lord? Why did you and I wait as long as we did to turn to Him? I think there's something in each of us that wants to be the lord of our own lives. I think the carnal side of our nature doesn't want to be told what to do. That side of us is always "me, me, me". That side of us says, "Not Thy will, but mine, be done." But thanks be to God that many of us have already heard His voice over our own, and thanks be to God that untold numbers of people still will decide to listen to His voice and turn to Him. We are not losing or giving up anything when we submit to our Creator. We will never be who we were designed to be unless we place our trust in the One who made us. We will never experience the joy and peace meant to be ours if we stubbornly insist on being lord of our own lives. And most importantly, we will never attain the salvation of our eternal souls if we keep saying to Him, "Not Thy will, but mine, be done."

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Exodus. Day 31, The Plague Of Boils

Pharaoh has refused, through five plagues, to let the people go. He's stubbornly resisted the word of the Lord through plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, and the death of all the livestock of the Egyptians. He's been personally inconvenienced and financially inconvenienced. But he remains unmoved. Today the sixth plague falls and his health is affected by it.

Our study picks up right after we were told at the conclusion of yesterday's study, "Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go." At that point the Bible tells us, "Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.'" (Exodus 9:8-9) Some scholars suggest that the soot comes from one of the brick kilns where the Hebrews are being forced to bake bricks for Pharaoh. If so, we see some poetic justice happening now. The soot represents the misery and oppression the Hebrews are experiencing at the hands of the Egyptians, and now the soot will bring misery upon their Egyptian tormentors.

In the fifth plague all the livestock of the Egyptians perished. In the sixth plague we find boils appearing not only on the Egyptian people but also on their animals. What are these animals and where did they come from? I think we have to assume that the Egyptians purchased and imported new livestock after the previous livestock was lost. They really cannot run their country without livestock. They need animals to produce meat, eggs, and milk. They need animals to pull the plows for farming and to keep fields and meadows cleared. They need sheep's wool for clothing. Their army uses horses for riding and to pull battle chariots. Wealthy private citizens also use horses to pull chariots. They need horses, donkeys, and camels for riding. They need donkeys to pull wagons and carts. Daily life in Egypt would have pretty much come to a standstill without livestock so I think we can safely conclude that any Egyptian citizen who could afford it has purchased more animals since the fifth plague. The Bible doesn't tell us how much time passed between the fifth and sixth plagues. Unlike the case with some of the previous plagues, the Lord didn't say to Moses right after the fifth, "Go and speak to Pharaoh in the morning by the river." I think weeks or perhaps even a few months passed between the fifth and sixth plagues, and that would be plenty of time for the Egyptians to procure new livestock.

The sixth plague is going to be quite painful but it doesn't appear that it's deadly. "So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals." (Exodus 9:10) The Bible doesn't say that these boils were fatal. But the boils prevent people and animals from going about their work. Even Pharaoh's magicians refuse to come to the palace when he calls for them during this time. They are simply too uncomfortable to leave their homes. "The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians." (Exodus 9:11)

I believe Pharaoh calls for the magicians to see if they can lift the plague. It's hard to imagine he'd want them to reproduce the plague as they did with the first two: turning water to blood and bringing frogs onto the land. Though impressive, their reproduction of the first two plagues was unhelpful. Did Pharaoh need more water to turn to blood? Did Pharaoh need more frogs crawling all over his house? Now, with the sixth plague, does Pharaoh need more boils to break out on his body or on anyone else's? No, I think he wants these men to perform a spell of healing or at the very least to mix up a pain-killing potion. But the magicians don't even bother answering his summons. They are too incapacitated themselves to try to put their fancy robes on over their painful boils, climb stiffly into chariots, and make a bumpy and excruciating ride to the palace. I can't help picturing messengers limping to the doors of the magicians to deliver the summons and having the magicians answer, "That'll be a 'no' from me, dude."

The Lord has performed a number of signs and wonders in Egypt already. When those didn't get through to Pharaoh's stony heart, the Lord hit him in the pocketbook. But the loss of his investment in his livestock, and the loss of the money required to replace the livestock, didn't change Pharaoh's mind. Now the Lord has affected Pharaoh's physical health and still the man grits his teeth and grows an even thicker shell around his heart. Just imagine how wicked a man has to be to say a defiant "no" in the face of God while in so much physical distress! The king knows the Lord would immediately relieve his pain and heal his nation if he'd only say "yes" to Him, but he steels himself against any thought or inclination or desire to give in. Because he wants to keep living in sin and rebellion, the Lord allows him to keep living in sin and rebellion. The Lord's perfect will for this man is that he would repent and turn to the truth, but since he won't, the Lord's permissive will is to let him keep on hardening himself to the truth. "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses." (Exodus 9:12)

The most dangerous thing to possess, spiritually speaking, is a hard heart. It's possible to reach a point where the Lord says to us, "Fine, have it your way. Remain a rebel. Remain an unrepentant sinner. Leave this world someday with your soul unsaved if that's your heart's desire. Spend eternity away from My presence and away from everything that is goodness and light. You've made your choice. You've built so many tough shells around your heart that it has become an impenetrable fortress. You can no longer hear My voice. I'm a gentleman who recognizes the human dignity and the free will with which I created You; I will not force my way in. I will not go where I am not welcome. I've said all it's possible to say to you and I've done all it's possible to do. You've chosen your destiny. You've rejected all you could have had and you've rejected being who I created you to be. I don't agree with your decision but I respect it. Have it your way."

Pharaoh's heart is so hard that four more plagues will fall before he relents and lets the people go. Even then he'll change his mind and send his army after them. Join us tomorrow to study the seventh plague.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Exodus. Day 30, The Plague On Livestock

Today we'll be taking a look at the fifth plague. Pharaoh has already resisted the Lord through four plagues and we find him growing more hard-hearted by the minute.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: "Let My people go, so that they may worship Me." If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field---on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.'" (Exodus 9:1-4) Pharaoh is being given another chance to repent before the plague falls. He's being asked, "Have you had enough yet? Have you seen what the Lord---the Lord, the one and only God---can do? He's demonstrated His power over the waters and over the reptiles and over the insects. Must He demonstrate the power of life and death over your livestock? Are you prepared to withstand such an enormous agricultural and financial loss? It's time to submit to the Lord and let His people go. Can you not see the favor He lavishes upon those who are His? Just as He spared the Israelites from the plague of flies, no animal of the Israelites will perish during the fifth plague. Don't remain on the wrong side of God by continuing to hold captive those who serve Him."

The Lord "makes a distinction" between those who are His and those who are not. Though believers and unbelievers all live together in a fallen world, and though hardships come into every life, "The Lord knows those who are His." (2 Timothy 2:19) The Lord sees those who are His as a separate people, set apart and sanctified. He sees us as His children, forgiven and set free from the bonds of sin, precious and dearly loved. The children of God have a refuge in Him when times get tough. There is a comfort available to believers to which unbelievers are denying themselves access. The strength of the Lord is behind those who are His, giving us the courage to keep moving ahead even when---by human standards---things look hopeless. We have the comfort of knowing this life isn't all there is and that we are going to be with our Lord and with our believing loved ones for all eternity. We have the peace of knowing our sins are forgiven and that we'll never have to give an account for them or suffer eternal judgment for them. Yes, there are things that concern us in this life, and even though we trust in the Lord we sometimes toss and turn in the night thinking about tomorrow. But we don't have to toss and turn worrying about the fate of our eternal soul. We don't have to fear someday standing before the judgment seat of a holy God to face the consequences of a rebellious, sin-filled life where we rejected the mercy and forgiveness that could have been ours.

Pharaoh persists in his rebellious, sin-filled life in today's passage. He refuses mercy and forgiveness. He hardens his heart against the pleading of the Holy Spirit. He continues looking down on the people of the Lord, using them and abusing them and considering them unworthy of human dignity and respect. As a result, the Lord is really going to hit him where it hurts this time: in his pocketbook. But before He does, He gives him til tomorrow to change his mind. "The Lord set a time and said, 'Tomorrow the Lord will do this in the land.'" (Exodus 9:5)

We don't know what time of day Moses goes to speak to Pharaoh here in Chapter 9. I suspect it's first thing in the morning down at the Nile River, as Moses has been doing prior to the previous plagues. If that's the case, then Pharaoh has twenty-four hours to reconsider his refusal to let the people go. God is so merciful to this wicked, idolatrous man! Is He more merciful than Pharaoh deserves? I think so, but then we could say that about ourselves, couldn't we? The Lord was certainly more merciful to me than I deserved during the years when I refused to heed His call. I enjoyed living in sin and I enjoyed knowing I was living in sin. It wasn't just the sin itself that was pleasant to me. I found it pleasant to go against everything I'd been taught was right. I relished my rebellion and hard-heartedness. I think Pharaoh relished his rebellion and hard-heartedness too. So yes, the Lord is certainly more merciful to Pharaoh than he deserves, and the Lord is absolutely offering Pharaoh more chances than He is required to offer. But we ought to be grateful for that! This same God showed us more mercy than we deserved and this same God offered us more chances than He had to offer us.

Pharaoh doesn't budge an inch. The next morning the plague falls. "And the next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died." (Exodus 9:6a) As an animal lover I find the death of any animal disturbing, but this massive death of animal life appears to occur suddenly and mercifully. Because the Lord is the creator and giver of all life, He has the right to take life when He chooses. He takes the lives of every animal belonging to the Egyptians in one fell swoop and, as far as we can tell, it happens in an instant.

Pharaoh doubts that the plague spares the lives of the animals belonging to the people living in the district of Goshen. He finds it hard to believe such a thing hits every area of the nation except where the Israelites live. He sends men out to check on the situation in Goshen and finds out that it's just as Moses predicted: not a single animal belonging to the Israelites is dead. Their flocks are all still grazing in the fields. Their chickens are still scratching around in the barnyards. Oxen are still pulling plows and wagons. If a person only visited the district of Goshen he'd have no clue that a plague has just fallen in Egypt.

It's clear that the Lord's favor is upon the Israelites and His disfavor is upon the wicked king and his idolatrous people. A thing like this ought to make Pharaoh take stock of his life and his attitude. But it doesn't. "Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go." (Exodus 9:6b) The God of Israel is powerful. No one can undo anything He does. He's demonstrated His sovereignty over the waters, over the reptile kingdom, over the insect kingdom, and over the domesticated animal kingdom. What more is He sovereign over? The land? The crops? Everything else? Indeed, yes, and He will demonstrate that fact even further when Pharaoh continues to refuse to obey Him. Eventually the Lord will have to demonstrate His sovereignty over human life, and more specifically over the human life of Pharaoh's own son and heir to the throne of Egypt.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Exodus. Day 29, The Plague Of Flies

The fourth plague falls upon Egypt as Pharaoh continues to resist the will of God.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, 'This is what the Lord says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me. If you do not let My people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them.'" (Exodus 8:20-21) What a disgusting development this will be! But it's not that surprising that the land is about to be infested with flies. There's so much death and decay due to the plague of blood that killed the fish and the plague that produced frogs which are now dead and lying in heaps about the country. The flies will come as flies do when there is decay, but the narrative indicates that the number of flies is unusual. It's natural that they'd show up but they'll show up in numbers that have never before been seen.

The Israelites, however, will not be affected by them. The Lord says, "But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where My people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. I will make a distinction between My people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow." (Exodus 8:22-23) The Israelites have been living in the district of Goshen ever since Joseph the son of Jacob invited them there during the famine over four hundred years earlier. Flies are going to be everywhere except in Goshen, displaying the Lord's favor upon His people and demonstrating His disfavor of the pagan, racist Egyptians. The Lord is blessing those who honor His name, as He has a right to do. He's also making a statement to Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt. It won't go unnoticed by anyone that the Israelites are unaffected by the plague. This is not how the situation would play out if there were not a supernatural element to it. The Lord is saying to these people, "I am God and am able to protect those who are Mine. You are getting on My bad side by mistreating those who are Mine. I am merciful to those who honor Me but My judgment will fall upon those who oppress the people who call upon My name."

"And the Lord did this. Swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh's palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies. Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.'" (Exodus 8:24-25) Pharaoh wants to try to compromise with God. He thinks he can earn a blessing from God by being partially obedient to Him. He's not willing to let the people go but is willing to make some concessions regarding allowing them to perform the more public rituals of their religion. He says, "You don't need to go into the desert to worship God. Whatever it is you want to do, do it here in Egypt. I won't let the people go but I won't stop them from sacrificing to their God."

Moses isn't going to budge an inch. He will not compromise. He will not partially obey God in this matter. Even if Moses wanted to give up on rescuing his people, in this moment Pharaoh isn't taking into consideration that what he's asking the Israelites to do would be offensive to the Egyptians. The sacrificial animals of the Israelite religion are animals considered sacred by the Egyptian religion. "But Moses said, 'That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as He commands us.'" (Exodus 8:26-27)

"Pharaoh said, 'I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.'" (Exodus 8:28) Pharaoh is severely tormented by the presence of the flies. As they swarm around him and all over him, he makes a promise in his distress. He says, "Okay, you can go outside the borders of Egypt to sacrifice to your God. But you mustn't travel very far away. You'll all be watched to make sure you don't run off. The Israelites are my slaves and I own them; I'm not willing to set them free. But I'll allow you to go far enough away to perform your rituals if you'll ask your God to remove these flies."

Does Pharaoh mean what he says? In the moment perhaps he does. When in deep distress it's a human tendency to make promises to God. Sometimes people will try to bargain with God when they find themselves in a tight spot. How often, though, are those promises kept once the trouble is lifted? It would be better not to make promises at all than to make them and break them, which is what Pharaoh is going to do. When we pray to the Lord, we are supplicants asking for His mercy. We're not there to make promises or bargains. What do we have that the Lord needs? What can we give Him that He doesn't already possess? The entire creation is His. We come to Him with empty hands. The only offering we can make to Him is our faith and our obedience. So let's not behave as if we're meeting the Lord at some sort of bargaining table. Let's not come to Him in pride as if He needs something from us and has just been waiting for the day when we'd promise to do some great thing on His behalf. He does the great things; our job is to trust and obey Him.

"Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go." (Exodus 8:30-32) The flies disappear as suddenly as they appeared. The Lord displays His power once again in the sight of Pharaoh and all of Egypt. He's proven once again to the king that He the one in charge of things in Egypt and on all the earth, but as soon as Pharaoh gets relief from the flies he changes his mind. We would expect Pharaoh to have realized by now that this is not a God to be trifled with, yet we still find him resisting the truth. We still find him rejecting the Lord. The more Pharaoh rejects the Lord, the easier it is to keep on rejecting Him. That's how repeated sin and the repeated hardening of the heart works. The longer we persist in rebellion the easier it is to remain there. The more we harden our hearts against the calling of the Lord the more difficult it is for us to hear His pleading, merciful voice. Pharaoh continues to stubbornly refuse to obey the Lord and let the people go. The fifth plague falls in tomorrow's study.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Exodus. Day 28, The Plague Of Gnats

Before the third plague falls there is no conversation mentioned between Moses and Pharaoh. Some scholars think Moses didn't appeal to Pharaoh before the Lord brought the plague we'll be studying today, but I think he did, for right after the second plague was lifted we were told, "But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said." (Exodus 8:15) Naturally after Moses prayed to the Lord to the remove the frogs, and after the frogs fell dead everywhere except in the Nile River where they normally resided, Moses went back to Pharaoh to see if he would keep his promise to let the people go. Although Moses doesn't take the time to provide the details of this meeting, I feel that verse 15 alludes to such a meeting taking place in which the king "would not listen" and broke his word to Moses and Aaron.

Hence the third plague falling in today's study. In some versions of the Bible the word for this insect infestation is translated as "lice". The NIV, which I use for this study, translates it as "gnats". Some scholars feel that "fleas" would be the appropriate translation. Still others suggest "ticks" is the word indicated here. I think gnats make the most sense in the context of what's going on here. They feed on decaying organic matter and there's plenty of decaying organic matter in Egypt. The first plague caused all the fish in the waters to die, so now they're floating on the surface and decaying. The second plague caused the frogs and now that the frogs are dead they are lying in heaps and decaying.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron, 'Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,' and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.' They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals." (Exodus 8:16-17) Imagine the aggravation. You know how annoying it is when you're taking a walk and gnats start flying around your head and getting in your face. Picture this happening twenty-four hours a day during the third plague. There's no escape from the persistent clouds of gnats. And because the purpose of swarming is so the gnats can mate, they are making more gnats all the time. The number of gnats is increasing by the day.

Pharaoh's magicians attempt to duplicate this plague just as they duplicated (on a smaller scale) the plague of blood and the plague of frogs. For the first time they're unable to bring forth anything. Even with all the powers of darkness behind them, they can't produce a single gnat. "But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not." (Exodus 8:18a) Moses doesn't specify what their secret arts are and I'm sure he knows a lot about the subject, considering he was brought up as an Egyptian prince and provided with the best education money could buy. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, says that Moses "was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22) and when Luke says "all" I think he literally means "all". Moses knows what type of occult rituals and spells these magicians use. He knows the spiritual forces the magicians call upon to perform their dark deeds. But he doesn't describe the process and I think it's because he doesn't want anyone indulging in these occult practices. In fact, such things are so abhorrent to the Lord that He will prohibit the Israelites from indulging in them by making it a capital offense to practice witchcraft.

Their failure to bring forth even one gnat brings the magicians to a conclusion Pharaoh still stubbornly resists. "Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, the magicians said to Pharaoh, 'This is the finger of God.' But Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said." (Exodus 8:18b-19) I picture these men standing in Pharaoh's court, miserably and helplessly waving fans and slapping at gnats in an attempt to at least speak without gnats getting into their mouths, and proclaiming, "This is the work of the God of the Hebrews! Just as Moses and Aaron have said, their God is real. Their God is powerful. He has done this and we cannot reproduce it. We cannot undo it either. We and the gods we serve are no match for the God of Israel!"

As we discussed earlier in our study of Exodus, evil forces do exist. Satan is a real entity and so are the angels who followed him when he rebelled against the Lord. But the power of these entities is limited. In no way is Satan the Lord's counterpart. Satan and God are not equals who are duking it out daily in the spiritual realm. This is not an even match and the magicians of Egypt are wise enough to realize it. Pharaoh, as he sits on his throne while his servants fan him madly to keep gnats out of his mouth and eyes, is not wise enough. Or perhaps he does realize it on some level but is too proud and arrogant to ever admit that anyone or anything is more powerful than he is. Remember, the pharaohs professed themselves to be a god incarnate. Admitting the God of Israel is real, and that He is more powerful than the king and the gods of Egypt, is to admit Pharaoh is not worthy of being worshiped by his people. Such an outcome is unacceptable to Pharaoh. He sees himself as a god. He wants his people to see him as a god. If he bows his knees to the God of the Hebrews, he loses his status among the people. He loses his image of himself. He is not willing. He'd rather go down to death and through the gates of hell than submit to God.

When we give our hearts to the Lord, we are admitting we are not the lords of our own lives. We submit ourselves and our lives to Him. This is why the Lord Jesus said, "Whoever loses their life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:39) Jesus isn't speaking of martyrdom. If we study Matthew 10:39 in context He's talking about putting our relationship with Him above everything and everyone else. He's talking about taking up our cross (denying ourselves) and following Him---putting Him before ourselves, putting His will before our will. It's in losing ourselves to Christ that we find ourselves and become who we were created to be. Pharaoh has no interest in putting the Lord first in his life; Pharaoh is first in his own life and he intends to keep it that way. Pharaoh is the type of person about whom Jesus says, "Whoever finds their life will lose it." (Also found in Matthew 10:39) The person who finds Christ finds life. The person who finds Christ finds salvation of the soul. But the person who insists on being lord of his own life, and who refuses to acknowledge his Creator, and who lives in the idolatry of this world, loses out on the fullness that life was intended to be and loses out on the salvation of his eternal soul.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Exodus. Day 27, The Plague Of Frogs, Part Two

Pharaoh has nothing to say when Moses warns him a plague of frogs is coming if he doesn't let the Israelites leave Egypt. In our passage today the plague falls and the frogs invade the land.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.' So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. But the magicians did the same thing by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt." (Exodus 8:5-7) While it's true that through demonic powers these magicians  produce similar works to that of Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh's magicians are actually making the problem worse. They are bringing more frogs onto the land! Just as was the case with the waters turning to blood, these occult practicians cannot undo the plague, which is the only action that would be useful at this point. But this is par for the course for Satan. He and his fallen angels cannot bring goodness or life or light into the world; they can only bring tragedy and death and darkness.

It suddenly dawns on Pharaoh that his magicians are doing him no favors. So what if they can produce frogs similar to those of Moses and Aaron? The last thing in this world the king needs right now is more frogs, so he calls for Moses and Aaron to lift the plague. "Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.' Moses said to Pharaoh, 'I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.' 'Tomorrow,' Pharaoh said. Moses replied, 'It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God. The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people; they will remain only in the Nile.'" (Exodus 8:8)

Why does Moses tell Pharaoh to pick the specific time for him to pray? I think it's so Pharaoh can't claim the frogs disappeared for some other reason than by the hand of God. He won't be able to say they disappeared naturally at all once due to some mysterious act of nature. And he won't be able to say that Moses chose the time because he had a plan in place to somehow remove the frogs on a particular day at a particular hour.

When Pharaoh asks Moses to pray to the Lord does this mean that Pharaoh is turning to the Lord? No, we'll see in a few minutes that he isn't. Has he become a believer? In a way, but only in the way some people acknowledge that there must be a God even though they have no interest in giving their hearts to Him. I think Pharaoh is having to face the fact that the God of the Israelites exists. He can hardly deny it now. But that doesn't mean he's about to bow on his knees and give his heart to the Lord. It doesn't mean he's going to forsake the gods of Egypt and give his allegiance to the one true God. Have you ever had someone who doesn't serve the Lord ask you to pray to the Lord on their behalf? I think that's the situation we find here in verse 8. Pharaoh is willing to admit that the God of the Israelites exists and that He is capable of causing plagues. He knows that if God is able to bring a plague He's able to lift a plague. Pharaoh has no interest in forming a personal relationship with God but since he's personally inconvenienced by the frogs he would like them gone. He humbles himself only enough to request prayer be made on his behalf. He doesn't humble himself enough to submit to the Lord.

"After Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh, Moses cried out to the Lord about the frogs He had brought on Pharaoh. And the Lord did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields. They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them." (Exodus 8:12-14) The frogs are gone from the people's presence but their memory lingers on for a while through this vile stench. This is a natural consequence, much like the natural consequences of sin. There are some sins whose natural consequences linger even though we may have repented and been forgiven. For example, if I ruin my health with drugs, I can repent and obtain forgiveness from the Lord along with the strength to stop doing drugs, but I won't necessarily be healed of the damage I did to my body. The Lord heard the prayer of Moses on behalf of the Egyptians and He caused the frogs to die, but the smell of the frogs is still in the land. Sometimes the "smell" (the consequences) of sin lingers even after the primary crisis has been resolved.

Pharaoh is much worse off than a man who has repented of his sins but who still has to face the natural consequences of his actions. Pharaoh has not repented. As soon as the frog crisis appears to be on its way out he reverts to his usual hard-hearted attitude. "But when Pharaoh saw there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said." (Exodus 8:15)

Earlier in our study today we talked about people who don't want to serve the Lord but who want us to pray to the Lord on their behalf. We should always pray for them when they ask, but do they usually turn to the Lord as soon as their problem goes away? I can't think of anyone who ever said to me, "Wow, the Lord really answered these prayers! My troubles have resolved, and because they have resolved, I've decided to give my heart to the Lord. From now on I'm living for Him!" I wish that were the case, but typically what we see is them going right back to their lives as usual as soon as the crisis is over. Don't get me wrong, I'm not passing judgment on them. I resisted the Lord for a lot of years even though I grew up in a believing family and grew up hearing the gospel preached in church on a regular basis. A lot of people prayed for me over the years before I gave my heart to the Lord. I'm also not saying we should refuse to pray for them even though we know they aren't interested in the Lord. We aren't being Christlike if we do that. If Christ prayed for His tormentors while He hung on the cross then we certainly are to pray for anyone who asks. No, what I'm saying is that a lot of times it takes the cumulative effect of various crises and many years of prayer to turn some of our fellow human beings to the Lord. That's what it took for me as well. Pharaoh isn't at that point. There's no evidence in the Bible that he ever turns to the Lord. As soon as the frog problem starts clearing up he goes right back to his regular way of living. But at least Moses did his part. He prayed for this man and for the nation of Egypt. The Lord lifted the plague even though He knew Pharaoh wouldn't repent. The Lord, in His goodness, is doing His part to offer salvation to this wicked man. The Lord offers salvation to everyone but not everyone accepts. As far as we know, Pharaoh never accepts, but he won't be able to say the Lord never reached out to him. If I had never turned to the Lord, I could never have said He didn't reach out to me. No one can say that.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Exodus. Day 26, The Plague Of Frogs, Part One

Pharaoh was unmoved when the waters of the Nile and the streams and ponds of Egypt changed into blood. He turned his back to Moses and walked back into the palace and refused to even entertain the idea of allowing the Hebrew people to leave. The plague of blood lasted seven days and now that this period of time is up Moses again requests that Pharaoh let the people go. The king will refuse and another plague will fall upon the nation.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the Lord says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.'" (Exodus 8:1) The Lord keeps repeating His command in a specific way, telling the king to let the people go "so that they may worship Me." The Bible never tells us about any religious oppression the Hebrews may have faced in Egypt, but I tend to think they were not allowed to practice their religion openly in any way. I can easily picture Pharaoh not allowing them to pray anywhere but inside their own homes and passing a decree that no one within the borders of Egypt is allowed to perform any acts of worship unless those acts are directed toward Pharaoh and the gods he recognizes.

Pharaoh's gods haven't been any help to him so far. They weren't able to lift the plague of blood the Lord poured out upon the waters. Pharaoh's magicians couldn't do a thing about that either, but they were able to turn some fresh water, dug from the ground, into blood. Whether they changed the water supernaturally through demonic powers (as is most commonly believed) or whether they somehow dyed the collected water by sleight of hand, it was enough to make Pharaoh believe things were not spiraling out of his control. It was enough to help him convince himself that the gods of Egypt were still going to protect the land. He's in denial that the god of the Nile wasn't able to protect the Nile. Next he'll be in denial that a frog-headed goddess named Heqt is not actually a "giver of the breath of life", as the Egyptians believed. This goddess was believed to give breath to newborn children and she was represented as having the body of a human and the head of a frog. Therefore, frogs were considered sacred in ancient Egypt. But soon they will cover the land and enter all the homes of the Egyptians---including the palace of Pharaoh. A creature he once celebrated as the symbol of a goddess will suddenly become unwelcome and loathsome in his sight. But still he will not relent.

Moses is to say to the king on behalf of the Lord, "If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will come up on you and your people and all your officials." (Exodus 8:2-4) Some experts on Egyptian mythology believe that it was illegal to kill a frog in ancient Egypt. If that's the case, imagine what a predicament the people find themselves in when frogs take over their homes! Nobody will be able to go about their normal tasks, not even sleeping, and there won't be a thing they can do about it but wait for the plague to end. They won't be allowed to lift a finger against even a single frog due to their religious beliefs, and in my mind I picture them sitting dejectedly and bleary-eyed at their kitchen tables while frogs try to crawl up the material of their robes and while frogs hop merrily all over everything in the house. It's worth noting that frogs are not potty trained, so in addition to the unwelcome presence of the frogs themselves, the people will have to deal with the frogs' bodily wastes and the resulting stench.

In yesterday's passage Moses didn't tell us what Pharaoh said in response to the threat of having the Nile turn to blood. Today Moses doesn't tell us what Pharaoh says in response to the threat of having frogs invade the land. I think this may be because Pharaoh says nothing at all. I think he's giving Moses the silent treatment, sitting stony-faced upon his throne, refusing to open his mouth.

This begs the question: Why does Pharaoh keep allowing Moses into his presence at all? I tried and failed to find any information on this subject. I googled it in every way I could think of and came up with nothing. My best guess is it was for one of two reasons or a combination of the two. First, Moses is an Egyptian citizen by virtue of his adoption by an Egyptian princess. We don't know all the legal rights granted to citizens of ancient Egypt but it's safe to assume that a citizen was allowed to have his grievances, requests, and legal cases heard by the king. Since Moses brings his case to Pharaoh several times, it appears that a person whose initial request was denied had the right to appeal the king's decision more than once. Second, Moses and Pharaoh may very well be step-brothers. Earlier in our study of Exodus we discussed the most popular theory of who Moses' adoptive mother may have been and who the Pharaoh of the exodus may have been. If Moses' adoptive mother was Hatchepsut, then the king on the throne during the exodus could be Tutmoses III, the son of her husband by a secondary wife. Though Pharaoh doesn't seem to feel any brotherly affection toward Moses, he seems reluctant to put Moses permanently out of his presence. He doesn't ban Moses from the palace or order him out of the country or have him arrested on any charges, and he could have manufactured charges and evidence against Moses if he'd wanted to. Is there any compelling reason for the king of Egypt to allow a shepherd from Midian to keep coming into his presence to make bold requests on behalf of the Hebrews and to make threats against the nation and its security? No, not if that shepherd isn't a citizen of Egypt with legal rights in the land of Egypt, and perhaps also because that shepherd is a relative of the king.

Join us tomorrow as Pharaoh continues to maintain his hard heart and the Lord brings the plague of frogs upon the land.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Exodus. Day 25, The Plague Of Blood, Part Two

Moses is confronting Pharaoh on the banks of the Nile River. He's telling him the Lord will turn the waters to blood if he does not let the people go, but Pharaoh is unyielding.

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron,'Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt---over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs---and they will turn to blood.' Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone." (Exodus 7:19) The Egyptians worshiped gods of water, and we took a look at one of the Nile gods (Hapi) yesterday. The Lord is about to put the false gods of Egypt to shame and He begins with spoiling the river the king honors in worship every morning. Not only will the Nile turn to blood, but so will all the other water in Egypt, even water that's already been collected in buckets and jars. If an Egyptian placed a cup of water on his bedside table the night before, the water left in that cup is about to turn to blood.

"Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt." (Exodus 7:20-21) Some scientists believe what occurred in Egypt was a red algae bloom, also known as a "red tide". If you have time you might want to google some pictures of red algae blooms for an example of what the Nile may have looked like if this is what happened to it. The waters would have been the color of blood and the algae would have produced toxins resulting in the death of the fish. But whether all the waters literally turned to blood in Egypt or whether a red algae bloom occurred (causing the water to look like blood), something extraordinary is still happening here in Exodus 7. A red algae bloom in the Nile doesn't explain how every other water source in the land turns red as blood at the same time, including water that had already been collected in storage vessels in the homes. A lot of people would have brought jugs of water home the day before to use in the morning for bathing, cooking, or washing dishes. They would have collected pitchers of water for drinking during the night and in the morning. How does every drop of water turn red at the exact same time? Science falls short in providing an explanation. Something supernatural is clearly going on.

For further evidence that the water turns to blood by supernatural means, Pharaoh has to call on his occult practicians to produce similar results. He calls for the magicians to come out and engage in a showdown with Moses and Aaron. "But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts and Pharaoh's heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said." (Exodus 7:22) Where did the magicians obtain water that wasn't already affected? The Bible seems to indicate that only the water that was already above ground turned to blood: the waters flowing in the Nile and in streams, the waters in ponds, and the waters already collected in vessels. When we arrive at verse 24 we'll find the Egyptians digging for water to drink, which tells us that waters still underneath the ground were unaffected. This makes sense, for there's little point in the Lord turning unseen waters into blood. This plague had to be highly visible, all at once, in a dramatic fashion, to get the attention of Pharaoh and his officials. 

Because Pharaoh's magicians are able to duplicate the plague on the waters, he dismisses the words of Moses and Aaron and goes on with his day. "Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart." (Exodus 7:23) Some of the commentaries I consulted suggested that if Pharaoh's magicians really wanted to produce a great sign they'd have undone what the Lord did. They'd have lifted the plague. But they can't. The only powers they have are the powers of darkness, and darkness can't make anything clean and pure. Darkness can only produce more darkness, more filth, more wickedness, more blood. If Pharaoh had really stopped to think about it, all his ministers of the occult did was compound the problem, not solve it. They turned more waters to blood in their attempt to say to Moses and Aaron, "See, our gods are just as great as your God. They are able to do the same things. Your God turned water to blood. So did our gods. Why should anyone listen to you or the God you serve?" 

The king's own people are now forced into the hardship of digging new wells or digging deeper wells in order to obtain drinkable water. "And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile to get drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the river." (Exodus 7:24) Pharaoh has put them in this position by refusing to obey the Lord. He's hurting his own citizens with his stubborn rebellion. But he cares as little about that as he does about his cruelty toward the Hebrews. If his people have to suffer because of his pride, then they'll just have to suffer. He doesn't intend to budge an inch. He's insulated enough by his power and wealth at this time not to feel the effects of what has just happened. If Pharaoh or his family members want a drink of water, they'll be able to have it at no personal cost to themselves, for servants will be sent out to dig up fresh water for the king's household. Like many hard-hearted and wicked people, Pharaoh doesn't care about tragedies or hardships that don't affect him personally. 

All the above-ground water remains bloody for a week before the Lord lifts the plague. "Seven days passed after the Lord struck the Nile." (Exodus 7:25) During that week I'm sure the citizens of Egypt wondered if the water would ever be drinkable again. Pharaoh must have wondered this himself. But still he does not relent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Exodus. Day 24, The Plague Of Blood, Part One

Pharaoh wasn't impressed with the first sign he was given: the staff turning into a snake. He still refuses to believe in or obey the Lord and let the people go. As a result of his wicked hard-heartedness, the first plague is about to fall upon Egypt.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Pharaoh's heart is unyielding; her refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river.'" (Exodus 7:14-15a) It sounds as if Pharaoh is in the habit of beginning each day by going down to the Nile. I think he does this as part of a pagan religious practice to honor or appeal to a god named Hapi who was believed to be the god who ruled over the Nile River. Hapi was credited by the ancient Egyptians for causing the Nile to flood every year and inundate the dry desert land to make the land fertile enough to support the growing of crops. Sometimes Hapi was depicted in paintings and statuary as being attended by groups of frogs, which is important to remember since the second plague upon Egypt will involve frogs. But we see Pharaoh going down to the Nile first thing in the morning, every morning, to perform some type of observance related to the god Hapi. But the God of Israel is about to show Pharaoh who is in charge of the Nile River! There is no Hapi to which to appeal, but there is a God who created all things and He is going to demonstrate His power over the Nile.

When Moses finds Pharaoh at the Nile he is to repeat his request to let the people go. The Lord says, "Confront him on the bank of the Nile, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. Then say to him, 'The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened." (Exodus 7:15b-16) The king is being presented with a fresh opportunity on this new day to do the right thing. While he stands beside the river that means life or death for Egypt (agriculturally speaking) he's presented with a choice by the God who gives life and who holds all power over all things. But the king doesn't feel any differently than he did yesterday. He's still unwilling to let the people go.

Moses continues, "This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in My hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.'" (Exodus 7:17-18) The king is being asked, "Is this really what you want for your people? All of Egypt depends on the Nile for agriculture and for the fishing industry. But its waters are about to be rendered unusable for a time. If you'll treat the Hebrew people right, your own people won't have to endure a time of distress. Your own people won't turn against you in their hearts and blame you for their hardships. I'm laying out for you everything that's about to go wrong with these waters if you continue to refuse to obey Me, but right here and now you have an opportunity to make everything go right."

When Moses wrote the book of Exodus he didn't mention anything Pharaoh says during the passage we're studying today. I wonder if that's because Pharaoh says nothing at all. I can't help picturing him standing there with his arms stubbornly crossed and his heart closed off to feeling any decency or compassion toward the Hebrews whom he's oppressing. I think he stands there with his head lifted high in pride, confident in the ability of his god Hapi to protect the waters of the Nile, confident in his own ability to maintain control over the land of Egypt.

Join us tomorrow when, upon Pharaoh's continued refusal to let the people go, the Lord follows through with the plague of blood.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Exodus. Day 23, The Shepherd's Staff Turns Into A Snake

Moses and Aaron go back to Pharaoh to ask him to let their people go. During this visit they perform the sign the Lord showed Moses in Midian. Moses' shepherd staff turns into a snake.

"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'When Pharaoh says to you, 'Perform a miracle,' then say to Aaron, 'Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,' and it will become a snake.'" (Exodus 7:8-9) This is the same staff Moses had in the wilderness even though here it's referred to as Aaron's staff. The Lord instructed Moses to take the staff along with him to Egypt to perform a sign with it and Moses obeyed him. It's fitting for Aaron to carry the staff because in yesterday's passage the Lord said to Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet." (Exodus 7:1) Since Moses is the one called by the Lord to deliver the people, the king can see that he is the one with the most authority between the two brothers. In that sense Moses is "like God" to Pharaoh. Moses is on a mission for God, and because this puts Moses in a position of authority, he gives the orders to Aaron and Aaron acts as a bearded prophet of old, performing signs and wonders at Moses' command just as the prophets performed signs and wonders at the Lord's command. 

The Lord knew Pharaoh would demand signs and miracles. Remember what the king said when told that the God of the Israel wanted the people to go into the desert on a three-day sabbatical to worship and make sacrifices? He scornfully asked, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?" Pharaoh laughed in their faces. He doesn't believe in the God of Israel and he doesn't believe God sent Moses to ask for the peoples' freedom. When these two men appear before his throne again, the king is going to say something like, "If your God is so real and powerful, prove it! Show me something to convince me that He exists and that I should obey Him!"

Moses doesn't share with us the details of his and Aaron's conversation with the king, but things go as the Lord predicted. The king demands to see a miracle. "So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake." (Exodus 7:10)

In the desert, when the Lord first demonstrated this sign to Moses, Moses fled in fear from the snake. We would expect the king to do the same in fear and astonishment. But evidently he's as unmoved by this miracle as Yul Brynner was when he portrayed Pharaoh in "The Ten Commandments". Instead of being moved by fear and reverence for the power of the living God, Pharaoh's attitude is: "So what? You think the gods of Egypt can't do the same?" He calls in his own men---those who indulge in the dark practices of the occult---to imitate the miracle that just occurred in his court.

"Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake." (Exodus 7:11-12a) How do these wise men and sorcerers do this? Do they arrive at the palace with snakes hidden up their sleeves so they can perform sleight-of-hand tricks like a modern day stage magician? No, I don't think so. Their staffs undergo the same transformation as Moses' staff, but the power they use to accomplish this feat is the power of demons.

In our day it's becoming more and more common to scoff at the idea of wicked supernatural forces. But the Bible makes it clear to us that these forces are real and that they are dangerous. Later in the Old Testament the Lord will provide strict laws against dabbling in the occult. The penalty prescribed for breaking these laws is going to be death. Why? Because the danger was so real! Because an entire nation could have fallen into idolatry if such a thing weren't nipped in the bud. If demonic forces don't exist, why did the Lord Jesus Christ speak to them and cast them out of those they had afflicted? If the powers of darkness aren't as real as anything else in the seen and unseen realms, why did Jesus issue so many warnings about Satan and about hell? If spiritual wickedness doesn't exist, why are we told that in the end times the devil will put on a show of "powers, signs, and lying wonders" in order to try to deceive the whole world and turn it away from the truth? (See 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10) The Lord told us to be shrewd and on the alert because He knows (as no one else does) just how fierce the battle is for souls in the unseen realm. But at the same time He never once tells us to live in fear. He says to watch and pray, to be alert and sober minded, so we won't get caught off guard and pulled into sin and idolatry. We don't have to walk through life thinking the devil is hiding behind every tree we pass and that we are constantly in danger, for "greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4) But we are to use the wisdom available to us in the Scriptures to recognize and avoid the traps the devil sets along life's pathways. There's a difference between being alert and being afraid. There's a difference between being wise and not looking where we're going. Satan is not God's counterpart and he's no match for Him, but if we don't make ourselves familiar with the word of God and if we don't stay "prayed up", we might sometimes fall for the devil's lies and make mistakes big enough to haunt us for the rest of our lives. The Lord doesn't want that for us, so He warns us to be alert (not fearful!) and avoid a lot of unnecessary pitfalls along the way.

To prove to Pharaoh and to everyone present in his court---and to prove to us as well---that Satan is no match for God, the snake manifested by Moses' staff thrown down by Aaron has the upper hand over the snakes of the magicians of Egypt. "But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs." (Exodus 7:12b) I think this one snake literally swallows all the others, but it's important to note the symbolism here. In the Bible the phrase "to swallow up" is used to symbolize something that is being irrevocably destroyed, abolished, done away with, overthrown. When the snake that appeared by the power of God swallows up the snakes that appeared by the powers of darkness, the Lord is announcing His ability and His intention to overthrown and completely destroy the works of the devil. Satan will fall someday never to rise again. Evil will be no more. Our Lord will reign in righteousness forever and ever over a world where there will never again be sin or sorrow. Satan is a defeated foe. He always has been. Long before the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, the Lord had a plan of salvation in place for anyone willing to accept the sacrifice He planned to make for us. Because God had this plan, the devil's fate was already sealed. When the snake from Aaron's staff swallows up the snakes of the occult magicians, the Lord is making a powerful prophetic statement. Victory for the Lord is a foregone conclusion. It's a done deal. There is no match for Him. To quote the lyrics of one of my favorite contemporary songs called "What A Beautiful Name It Is," the Lord has no rival and no equal. There may be battles taking place in the unseen realm, but they are not battles where the opponents are evenly matched.

When Pharaoh sees the snakes of his magicians swallowed up, the hair on the back of his neck doesn't stand up. He doesn't get cold chills. He doesn't tremble in fear. Instead he hardens his heart even further. He doesn't believe in the God of Israel because he doesn't want to believe in Him. And I think he doesn't want to believe in Him because he doesn't want to serve Him. Serving a holy God calls for holy living on man's part, and Pharaoh isn't interested in holy living. The sight of his magician's snakes being swallowed up doesn't bring him to his knees before the living God; it only makes him angry. He doesn't want to submit to the Lord's authority (indeed, the kings of Egypt considered themselves the chief god and authority in Egypt) and he refuses once again to let the people go. "Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said." (Exodus 7:13)

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Exodus. Day 22, The Lord Encourages Moses And Aaron

After having his words rejected by his own people. Moses is reluctant to go back to the king. But this is what he came to Egypt to do and the Lord gives him a pep talk to get him and Aaron back on course.

"Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, He said to him, 'I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.' But Moses said to the Lord, 'Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?'" (Exodus 6:28-30) Moses asked the same question while he was still in Midian, before he'd ever tried any form of public speaking. Now that he's had some experience with it---and unfruitful experience at that---he's even more doubtful that he can accomplish anything for the Israelites.

But the work doesn't depend on Moses' ability. It depends on the Lord's power. The Lord needs to get Moses' mind off of himself. Besides, the Lord still intends to let Aaron do the most of the talking just as He promised Moses in Midian. The Lord would have preferred using only Moses, of the "faltering lips", to do the talking because that would have convinced Pharaoh even more (eventually) that the power behind Moses is the God of Israel. If Moses stood before the king speaking in slow and halting words, perhaps with a speech impediment as some scholars believe, Moses wouldn't have seemed very intimidating to the king. The power of the Lord in Moses would have been that much more stunning and impressive. The king would have had to acknowledge Moses wasn't working alone or in his own strength. But in His patience and mercy the Lord allows Moses to take his brother along to be the spokesperson. I am not sure whether Moses would ever have had the courage to go before the king without his brother to do the talking. His insecurities have too strong of a hold on him, so the Lord allows Aaron to be a part of this process.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.'" (Exodus 7:1) The Lord's intention is that when Pharaoh sees Moses, by extension he sees God. Pharaoh is going to come to fear Moses because of the God behind him. Aaron, because he is the main speaker, will be like a prophet.

"You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply My signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay My hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out My divisions, My people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out My hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.'"(Exodus 7:2-5) As we discussed earlier in our study of Exodus, the Lord isn't forcing Pharaoh to be anyone he doesn't want to be. Pharaoh is already a hard-hearted man. He proved it by how he's treating the Israelites. The Lord is going to allow the king to continue resisting. The Lord isn't going to step in and miraculously change the king's heart against the king's will.

The more Pharaoh hardens his heart, the more powerful the Lord's works become in Egypt. The Lord will show Pharaoh and all the Egyptians exactly Who they are dealing with. It's not Moses and Aaron Pharaoh is rejecting; it's Almighty God.

Moses and Aaron are encouraged. They get on with the work. "Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh." (Exodus 7:6)

These men don't use their age as an excuse to sit back and let someone else work for the Lord in their place. They don't say, "Lord, let some younger guys do it. We are past our prime. Let some of these strong, confident young men lead the people out of Egypt. The people will rally behind them better than they'd rally behind a couple of dudes who look like their grandpa." No, Moses and Aaron may have had their insecurities, but age isn't one of them. The Lord can use us at any age to do great things for Him. Think of the Apostle John, for example, who is believed to have been in his nineties when he wrote the book of Revelation. The fact is, the Lord can do great things with us if we're willing to let Him, no matter what our age and no matter what insecurities we have. The power is of Him, not of us. If God had chosen a charismatic speaker to go before Pharaoh, Pharaoh's eyes would have been on the man and not on the God behind the man. If God had chosen a young man who stood 6'5" tall and weighed 250 pounds of pure muscle to go before the king, the king might have been afraid of the man instead of the God behind the man. Instead, to stand before Pharaoh, God chose an eighty-year-old shepherd who was slow of speech and filled with doubts and insecurities so His own power and glory would be displayed. As the Lord said to the Apostle Paul when Paul prayed for an unnamed affliction to be removed from his life, "My power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Exodus. Day 21, The Family Record Of Moses And Aaron

At this point in Exodus Moses takes a break from the action and shares with us his and Aaron's family tree. I am not sure why this genealogy is inserted where we find it unless it's to show us the pause that takes place while Moses delays his return to Pharaoh. Or it could be that while this delay goes on we get to take a look at the genealogical qualifications of Moses and Aaron. They are born from what will later be known as the priestly tribe of Levi and in this qualifies them to shepherd the flock of Israel through the wilderness. In the Bible we sometimes find priests and prophets and apostles referred to as "shepherds" because they are leading flocks of believers. Today we'll see why Moses and Aaron are qualified, by genealogy, to shepherd the nation of Israel.

We back up and begin the genealogy with Jacob's three oldest sons. "Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites and about Pharaoh king of Egypt, and He commanded them to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. These were the heads of their families: The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel were Hanok and Pallu, Hezron and Karmi. These were the clans of Reuben." (Exodus 6:13-14) We don't yet find the term "tribe" used in Israel. In Exodus we see clans and chieftains.

"The sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman. These were the clans of Simeon." (Exodus 6:15) Simeon was Jacob's second-oldest son.

Now we move on to Jacob's third-born son, Levi, the direct ancestor of Moses and Aaron. "These were the names of the sons of Levi according to their records: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Levi lived 137 years." (Exodus 6:16) We will find the names of Levi's sons mentioned again later on the Bible because their descendants will be assigned specific tasks in the Lord's tabernacle after it has been constructed. Some scholars believe Levi lived longer than any of Jacob's sons although it's difficult to say for certain since the Bible only tells us the lifespans of Levi and Joseph. This could be because the two of them lived the longest (Levi 137 years, Joseph 110), but we really can't be sure of that.

Moses will mention the descendants of each of Levi's sons but he and Aaron are descended from the middle son, Kohath. "The sons of Gershon, by clans, were Libni and Shemei. The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. Kohath lived 133 years. The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi. These were the clans of Levi according to their records." (Exodus 6:17-19)

Kohath's firstborn son, Amram, is the father of Moses and Aaron. "Amram married his father's sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years." (Exodus 6:20) Did Amram marry his aunt? The meaning of the word translated as "father's sister" (the Hebrew dodatho) is in dispute among Bible scholars, with some scholars thinking it simply means a close relation like a cousin. Yet in other places in the Old Testament this word clearly indicates the word "uncle" and here in Exodus 20 it may also be used to indicate "aunt". If Amram married his aunt then she is likely a much younger sister or half-sister of Amram's father. Just because she's his aunt doesn't mean Amram married a woman many years his senior. It's likely Jochebed was close in age to Amram or even younger. For example, I became an aunt not long after I turned a year old because my mother had me late in her childbearing years and my sister, who is 22 years my senior and was already married when I was born, had her first child the next year. So there's no need for us to picture the marriage of Amram and Jochebed as a May/December romance.

Moses backs up and gives us the descendants of his grandfather's other sons. "The sons of Izhar were Korah, Nepheg and Zikri. The sons of Uzziel were Mishael, Elazaphan and Sithri." (Exodus 6:21-22) You're going to want to remember to name of Korah, for his descendants will rebel against the leadership of Moses.

We move back now to the descendants of Amram through his son Aaron. "Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar." (Exodus 6:23) One commentary I consulted states that Aaron's wife's name can be translated as "Elizabeth", for both "Elisheba" and "Elizabeth" mean "the oath of the Lord". The only other Elizabeth mentioned in the Bible is the cousin of Mary the mother of Jesus, and she is found in the book of Luke as the mother of John the Baptist. Aaron's wife's genealogy is given here because she is a descendant of Jacob's son Judah whose line will become the royal line of Israel.

Moses graciously speaks of the sons of Korah (his uncle) in our chapter although they later found his leadership over them so abhorrent. "The sons of Korah were Assir, Elkanah and Abiasaph. These were the Korahite clans." (Exodus 6:24) A great number of Korah's descendants will die in the rebellion of Numbers 16, not by the sword but through what appears to be both a natural disaster and a following plague, but by the time the book of Psalms is written we will find some of the descendants of Korah writing psalms and living in close fellowship with the Lord, so all is not lost for this particular family.

When the children of Israel leave Egypt and the priesthood from the line of Levi is established, Aaron will become high priest of Israel. Upon Aaron's death his son Eleazar inherits the role of high priest, so Moses takes care to tell us the beginning of the family line of Eleazar. "Eleazar son of Aaron married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas." (Exodus 6:25a) Phinehas will perform an action in Numbers 25 that turns a plague away from the nation of Israel.

"These were the heads of the Levite families, clan by clan. It was this Aaron to whom the Lord said, 'Bring the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.' They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt---this same Moses and Aaron." (Exodus 6:25b-27)

And with verse 27 Moses brings us right back to where we left off on Saturday, with the Lord telling him to go back to Pharaoh and speak to him again, and when we pick up tomorrow that's what we will find Moses and Aaron doing.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Exodus. Day 20, The Lord Tells Moses To Go Back To Pharaoh

The Lord repeated His promises to Moses in our passage yesterday because Moses was very discouraged. His first meeting with Pharaoh did not go well for him and Aaron. It didn't go well for the Israelites either; Pharaoh increased the difficulty of their labor while expecting just as much work to be performed every day. Today Moses goes back to his people and shares what the Lord said to him but no one wants to hear what he has to say. The Lord tells Moses to keep moving ahead anyway and to go back and speak to the king again.

After Moses has time in prayer with the Lord and the Lord reassures him, he goes to the Israelites to try to pass along the reassurance to them. "Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor." (Exodus 6:9) They're angry with him and we can understand why when we consider what they've been through in just a few short days. Moses and Aaron came and spoke to them and convinced them the Lord has seen their misery and is about to rescue them from Egypt. They believed this revelation. They got behind Moses and Aaron and expected something really big to happen quickly. Instead Pharaoh ridiculed the name of God and made the people's work harder than it ever was before. The Israelites feel like they were lifted to a hopeful high only to have their hopes crushed. It would be hard enough to accept such a huge disappointment but on top of their disappointment their circumstances are now worse than they've ever been. They don't want to get their hopes back up only to have them dashed again so they dismiss what Moses has to say.

The Lord tells Moses to keep going. Yes, the people are upset with him right now. No, they don't want to listen. But that doesn't change the Lord's calling on the life of Moses. He's in Egypt for a purpose and he has to keep working toward that purpose even when it looks like nothing he's doing is fruitful. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.'" (Exodus 6:10)

Moses has just had his words rejected by his own people. He's not inclined to go immediately to see the foreign king again. "But Moses said to the Lord, 'If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?'" (Exodus 6:12) He says, "But, Lord, my own people rejected my words! It's only because we share the same heritage that they kindly allowed me into their presence again and let me have my say. If not for sharing the same ancestry I doubt they'd have ever allowed me to see their faces again. So why should an Egyptian king let me speak my piece? If people who actually care about me don't want to listen, why would a wicked heathen king listen? Lord, I told You once before that I'm not a good speaker. I don't have the ability to talk people into things they don't want to do. I'm not a charismatic, persuasive guy and I can't convince them with eloquent words to believe what they don't want to believe. If my own people aren't willing to consider what I'm saying, I hardly expect Pharaoh to be persuaded."

Moses is in a tough spot right now but the Lord has a purpose for it. It's my opinion that this is a training ground for Moses, just like the training ground of those forty years he spent leading fearful stubborn sheep in the wilderness of Midian. Moses has to learn how to negotiate with people. He has to learn how to keep leading even when people are resistant to his leadership. He's building the backbone to keep standing tall even when it seems like nothing he's doing is producing any positive results. For the next forty years he's going to be leading a flock of people in the desert and the skills he's developing right now are going to be necessary then.

We can compare what he's going through to athletic training. Nobody goes from being a couch potato today to running and winning a marathon tomorrow. Training is involved. Strength and endurance have to be developed. Moses has a long race ahead of him and he's got to get ready for it. Is it unpleasant at times? Sure it is. Are there days when he feels like he's not making any progress? Of course. But that's true of any big thing we try to achieve in life. There are going to be days when the work is hard. There are going to be days when we don't feel like we're moving ahead. But if we quit we'll never get there! We can't win if we quit. I think in our passage today Moses would like to quit and go back to herding sheep in Midian. The work appears hard and unfruitful. But he'll never win if he quits and the Lord is telling him not to quit even though he wants to and even though it seems like he's getting nowhere. The Lord isn't a quitter and He plans to be with Moses all the way. In his own strength Moses couldn't fulfill this enormous task, but he doesn't have to do it alone. He's not expected to do it alone. He has the power of Almighty God behind him.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Exodus. Day 19, I Will Bring You Out

Moses is heartbroken and discouraged. The plight of the Israelites is worse now than before he ever came to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh. In our passage today he goes before the Lord in prayer to ask Him why things seem to be going so wrong.

The Israelite overseers have just blamed Moses and Aaron for Pharaoh's decision to cause the people to have to find their own straw to make the bricks. These men pointed their fingers at Moses and Aaron and said, "May the Lord judge you!" We can easily understand why the overseers feel like they do. And we can understand how devastated Moses feels. He goes someplace to be alone with the Lord and cries out to Him. "Moses returned to the Lord and said, 'Why, Lord, have You brought trouble on this people? Is this why You sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and You have not rescued Your people at all.'" (Exodus 5:22-23)

There's nothing wrong with asking God "why" if we do it with reverence and respect for His sovereignty and wisdom. Sometimes our problems are a result of sin in our lives that we haven't recognized and repented of, so it's imperative to ask God if we've done anything to cause our hardships. At other times, as in the case of Moses, we've done exactly what the Lord told us to do and still our circumstances look grim. Moses obeyed the Lord and went to Egypt and spoke to the Israelites and to Pharaoh just as the Lord commanded him to do. Moses had been warned Pharaoh wouldn't listen at first, but he certainly didn't expect Pharaoh to treat the Israelites even more cruelly than before. Naturally he wants to know what the hold up is on leading his people out of Egypt. Has he messed up somehow without knowing it? Has he misunderstood the Lord? Did the Lord have an ulterior motive in sending him to Egypt? I think that's what Moses is asking when he says, "Is this why You sent me?", as in, "Was Your intention to use me as an instrument to bring judgment upon the people? Were You displeased with them and did You decide to cause them more hardship than before as discipline for their shortcomings?" Moses is so distraught that perhaps for a moment he doubts the honesty and goodness of God. This is when the Lord speaks up to rescue Moses from his downward spiral of emotions.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of My mighty hand he will let them go; because of My mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.'" (Exodus 6:1) There's a secondary thing going on here besides the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt. A lesson needs to be taught to the wicked king. But first the Lord is honor-bound to provide him with opportunities to repent. Pharaoh already refused his first opportunity when he was asked to allow the people to take three days off to worship the Lord. He had no compassion on them and no respect for their religion or for God. Because Pharaoh has no pity, the Lord is going to send plagues on the land and Pharaoh is going to lose all semblance of any control over anything that goes on in his country. But he'll never ask the Lord "why". He'll never search his own heart and find the sin there and repent of it. During and after each plague he only grows more evil and hard-hearted, but he'll never be able to stand before the judgment seat of God and claim the Lord didn't try to show him the error of his ways.

When the sinfulness of Pharaoh reaches the tipping point, the Lord will bring the people out by His own power---not by Moses' power. And that's something Moses needs to be reminded of right now. Moses is throwing a pity party for himself, and I can't really blame him because I'd probably be doing the same thing, but Moses needs to be reminded that the success of this mission doesn't depend on him. He needs to stop beating himself up wondering whether he misunderstood the Lord or wondering whether he handled the meeting with Pharaoh in the wrong way. God is going to perform the work at the right time and in the right way. Moses' only job is to follow instructions even when it looks like he's getting nowhere.

To back up His promise to do what He's already said He's going to do for the Israelites, the Lord reminds Moses of who He is. "God also said to Moses, 'I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by My name the Lord I did not make Myself fully known to them. I also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered My covenant.'" (Exodus 6:2-5) The Lord says, "I spoke with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and they trusted Me. They knew me by My name 'God Almighty' (El-Shaddai, meaning "mighty, all-sufficient, able to supply") but I've revealed a name to you that none of them ever knew. You know me as 'I Am Who I Am', which is a greater and more secret name for Myself which I never revealed to the patriarchs. If the patriarchs trusted Me based on what they knew of Me, you have even more reason to trust Me. I've revealed more of My character to you than I did to them." (For references regarding the meaning of the name "I Am Who I Am", see Day 11 of our study of Exodus.)

The Lord tells Moses to go back to the Israelites and remind them who He is. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God in whom the patriarchs trusted. He is the God who helped their ancestors. He is the God who will help them too. "Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as My own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord." (Exodus 6:6-8)

The Lord is saying to the Israelites, "Your fathers trusted in Me. I promised them I would give their descendants the land of Canaan and I have not changed My mind. I do not change my mind or break promises. I made a solemn oath and I intend to keep it. And how can I keep it unless I bring you out of Egypt? Your deliverance from Egypt must take place because otherwise I can't fulfill My promise to give you the land. So take courage! Trust Me! Trust me just like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Exodus. Day 18, Bricks Without Straw

Pharaoh is enraged that Moses and Aaron asked him to allow the Israelites to go into the wilderness for three days to worship the Lord. In yesterday's passage the king decided the people needed more work to do so they wouldn't have time to complain, so he ordered them to gather their own straw for the mud bricks they were making. Previously this straw was supplied to them.

"Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, 'This is what Pharaoh says: 'I will not give you any more straw. Go out and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.' So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, 'Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.' And Pharaoh's slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, saying, 'Why haven't you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?'" (Exodus 5:10-14) As we said yesterday, right now the people are worse off than they were before Moses and Aaron ever spoke to Pharaoh on their behalf. That's the king's intention. He's afraid Moses and Aaron are here to stir up a revolution and he hopes to turn the people against these two brothers. Plus he hopes to weary the Israelites enough to break their spirits and put all thoughts of leaving Egypt out of their minds.

The Israelite overseers are granted an audience with the king. Likely they are periodically called before him to give an account of the work, so I don't think it's unusual that they are allowed to stand in his court. During this visit they plead with him to lighten the cruel new workload. "Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: 'Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, 'Make bricks!' Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.'" (Exodus 5:15-16) They say, "We're working our fingers to the bone! It was hard enough to complete the daily quotas even when you were supplying the straw. Now we're expected to gather the straw ourselves and still meet the quotas. It's not possible! There aren't enough hours in the day! Yet we are being beaten for our inability to complete the work."

The king feels no pity. Instead he lashes out angrily. "Pharaoh said, 'Lazy, that's what you are---lazy! That is why you keep saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.' Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.'" (Exodus 5:17-18) He accuses them, "If you didn't have extra time on your hands to just sit around being idle, it would never have entered your minds to ask for three days off to worship whatever little deity it is you want to honor. It's funny how you had time to complain and feel discontented and yet you don't have time to gather straw!"

Though Pharaoh's religion involves many gods, he himself is worshiped as a god by his people, much in the same way the Roman emperors would later require their subjects to declare, "Caesar is Lord!" One of the primary ways the pharaohs maintained control over the Egyptians was by controlling the religious system and by insisting they were the incarnation of the god Horus in the flesh. This meant the kings presented themselves to their people as the mediator between the people and their pantheon of gods. The people were told that if they didn't please Pharaoh they weren't pleasing the gods. Since the kings of Egypt didn't recognize the God of the Israelites, they certainly didn't want the Israelites to conduct the rituals of their religion publicly. To Pharaoh this business of going off into the desert to make sacrifices to the God of Abraham is nothing but foolishness. He doesn't believe this God exists and sees no point in giving in to what he considers a whim of his slaves. He doesn't see any way he can personally benefit from granting their request. Instead he imagines himself losing control over his slaves, and he imagines his slaves losing respect for him, if he is agreeable to what they ask.

"The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, 'You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.' When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, 'May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.'" (Exodus 5:19-21) I picture Moses and Aaron pacing the floor somewhere as they wait for these men to return. When the men do return, they point their fingers bitterly in Moses' and Aaron's faces, saying, "You are to blame for our predicament! Things were bad enough before you came along, but you've made our circumstances ten times worse. Shame on you! May the Lord judge you for meddling with us and causing the king's wrath to fall upon us. Moses, how dare you come here promising us freedom with your wild story about God appearing to you in the desert and appointing you as our deliverer! You two are nothing but a couple of frauds and we wish we'd never laid eyes on either one of you."

The Lord warned Moses that Pharaoh wouldn't agree to let the people go, but Moses never imagined the king would retaliate by making the Israelites' lives far worse than they ever were before. What's happened in our passage today brings him to a very low point spiritually and brings him to his knees before the Lord in tomorrow's passage. He's discouraged and broken. He's doubting whether he heard the Lord correctly. He wanted to help his people but instead he's brought extra harm upon them. But as the saying goes, it's always darkest before the dawn. The Lord will meet with Moses while he labors in prayer and will repeat all His promises to rescue the children of Israel. The Lord intends to display His awesome power in the midst of one of the spiritually darkest nations that has ever existed. His light will soon break forth and He will set His people free.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Exodus. Day 17, Moses And Aaron Speak To The Elders Of Israel And To Pharaoh

While the Lord was getting Moses ready to go to Egypt, He was getting Aaron ready to meet Moses to go with him. "The Lord said to Aaron, 'Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.' So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. Then Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had sent him to say, and also about all the signs He had commanded him to perform." (Exodus 4:27-28) We don't know how long it's been since Moses saw his older brother, but the two of them are happy to see each other. These men are going to clash with each other at times and they are going to make some mistakes while watching over the Lord's flock for forty years in the desert, but they love each other, their people, and the Lord. They are both being obedient to Him in spite of any doubts and fears they may harbor. Just as the Lord predicted, the elders of Israel listen to and believe Moses' story of his encounter with God. And just as the Lord predicted, Pharaoh scoffs at their words and refuses to accept the Lord's command to let the people go.

"Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped." (Exodus 4:29-31) I'd love to hear all the details of this meeting but Moses has told us what we need to know about it. The people believed the Lord sent Moses and Aaron to help them. The people drew comfort from knowing their plight had not gone unnoticed by God. Sometimes when our troubles drag on and on we start to wonder if God is even watching. Or we'll acknowledge that God sees and knows everything and we'll wonder why He hasn't done anything about our problems. Here we find the people reassured that God not only sees their troubles but that He intends to deliver them out of their troubles.

The next step is for Moses and Aaron to go before the king of Egypt and make their request. Again, I'd love to know the details of how this meeting came to be arranged, and what Pharaoh's court looked like, and how matters were handled in his court. But Moses skips straight to the point and tells us what we need to know, which is that Pharaoh refuses just as the Lord said he would.

"Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'Let My people go, so that they may hold a festival to Me in the wilderness.'" (Exodus 5:1) Remember that we said a few days ago that the Lord isn't telling anyone to lie to Pharaoh. If Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to go into the wilderness for three days to worship the Lord and make sin offerings to Him, they would return after three days just as promised. This would show Pharaoh that they have no intentions of joining forces with the enemies of Egypt to come back and fight against the king. I assume, although we don't know for certain, that the Egyptian government is not allowing the Israelites to have religious freedom. They may be worshiping God privately at home, but they are likely not allowed to make offerings or to hold worship assemblies anywhere inside Egypt's borders. If the king had allowed the people to go away for three days and then return, he might have lost some of his prejudice toward them. He would have understood that they had a chance to run away and join with his enemies but that they didn't take it. He'd have seen that they are a peaceful people. He might also have lost some of his hard-heartedness toward the God of Israel. This is a test for him and he fails it.

"Pharaoh said, 'Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.'" (Exodus 5:2) I picture him sneering while he makes his reply in a sarcastic tone of voice. His attitude is: "The Lord? Why should I recognize the Lord of these slaves? I don't know Him! He hasn't done anything for me. He hasn't done anything for His people either, or else why are they in slavery to me? The name of the God of Israel is meaningless to me. I neither know Him nor serve Him. In fact, I don't even believe He's real. Why should I listen to or obey the words of a false God? I won't listen! I cannot be compelled to listen or obey. I will not let the people go."

Moses and Aaron continue to press their case, adding a little something extra to try to make Pharaoh think he's in danger of losing his workforce if he doesn't comply. "Then they said, 'The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or He may strike us with plagues or with the sword.'" (Exodus 5:3) They say something like, "The people have been unable to observe the important rituals of our religion. God has commanded them to go into the wilderness for a time of worship and offerings. If they do not obey Him, what if He becomes angry with them? Something bad may happen to them if they don't do what He says!" Of course God isn't going to punish His people for not doing something they aren't able to do, but the king doesn't know that. The pagan gods of the king's culture, and of many other ancient cultures, were believed to have personalities just like human beings but with a whole lot more power. The king can comprehend the idea of a deity who flies into a violent rage when demands for offerings are not met. He gets the idea, but he rejects it. He doesn't believe the God of the Israelites will strike the Israelites dead for not making sacrifices. He doesn't believe God is real at all. The king dismisses the threat that he might lose his slave laborers if they aren't allowed to observe their customs.

Pharaoh feels this meeting is a waste of time and he wants to bring it to an end. "But the king of Egypt said, 'Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get back to your work!' Then Pharaoh said, 'Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.'" (Exodus 5:4-5) He says, "Why should the Israelites lose three days of work for the foolishness of going into the desert to make offerings to some deity who either doesn't exist or who lacks the power to help them? I never heard of such nonsense! I will not grant them a three-day 'vacation' to loll about in the wilderness while I've got projects going on here that need to be completed. And as for the two of you, don't you have anything better to do? I know I sure have better things to do than listen to this! Whatever your normal occupations are, you need to get back to them immediately."

The king ends the meeting and Moses and Aaron are compelled to leave his presence for a time. I picture him sitting on his throne, fuming at the audacity of what has been requested of him. He decides that if the Israelites have time to complain, they have time to do more work. "That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: 'You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.'" (Exodus 5:6-9)

The Israelites are worse off now than they were before Moses and Aaron went before the king. That's the king's intention. He suspects Moses and Aaron intend to stir up a revolt, but if the people see that these men have made their plight worse instead of better, perhaps they'll reject anything the men have to say.

Things are going to get worse before they get better, as is sometimes the case for us all. But that is never to be taken as a sign that God isn't working on our behalf or that He isn't going to rescue us from our circumstances. Satan fights tooth and nail to hold onto anyone on his side, and Pharaoh is definitely the devil's pawn in this game whether he realizes it or not. The devil is playing on the king's insecurities and prejudices. The devil is amplifying the king's unfounded fear of the Israelites. Satan knows Pharaoh's wicked character and he knows that the more the king resists the Lord, the harder the king's heart becomes. Why does the Lord allow the situation to continue and grow worse? Why does He let the devil whisper in Pharaoh's ear while Pharaoh grows more and more cruel and despicable? Because the Lord intends to show His great power to everyone in Egypt. By the time the Israelites leave the nation of their oppression, they are going to have the courage to follow their mighty God. By the time they leave Egypt, everyone native-born in that land from the king all the way down to the poorest peasant will have no doubt that the God of Israel is real. I believe all this is a display of God's mercy, for His people need to see His power displayed so that their faith in Him is strengthened. God is being merciful not only to His own people but to the heathen Egyptians as well. I think some of the Egyptians very well may have turned to the Lord after witnessing His great power and after witnessing their own gods doing nothing. I think some of them came to the conclusion that the gods of Egypt didn't exist but that the God of Israel was a God to be worshiped and revered. Right now in Exodus 5 the situation seems more grim than ever, but there's a purpose for it. Each time Pharaoh's heart grows harder, God is going to perform an even greater wonder.