Today we resume the story of God’s salvation of Israel, a.k.a. the hesitantly faithful Moses and Aaron vs. the hard hearted Pharaoh. After turning the water of Egypt to blood, God brings frogs over the land of Egypt. And, again, the sorcerers of Egypt imitate the plague. But again, they cannot undo the plague. We see the hardness of heart that is typical to fallen man in Pharaoh. He asks God (through Moses and Aaron) to remove the frogs, but as soon as they’re gone, he forgets all about his promise to let them sacrifice to God, and winds up with an even harder heart.
And if we’re honest, we have all done the same thing. When the going gets tough, we are very aware of our need for God. When the going gets easy, we easily forget our need, and even worse, we too easily forget God.
In the plague of the gnats, we see that the sleight of hand tricks no longer work, and even the sorcerers realize that this is God’s doing. And Pharaoh continues to harden his heart. So we see, when his sorcerers could imitate (to an extent, anyway) what God had done, it resulted in a hard heart on his part. When his sorcerers could not imitate what God had done, it resulted in a hard heart on his part. And so we see, the problem is not what was going on around Pharaoh – the problem is what was going on inside Pharaoh!
What we see in the fourth plague of the flies, is that Pharaoh becomes willing to let Israel go to worship as long as they do not go “very far away” (8:28). And again, his heart reveals itself when he does not. In the fifth plague, we shift from God creating life to God taking life. Notice that God preserves His people through his judgment on the unbelievers (9:6). In the sixth plague, God now afflicts the bodies of the Egyptians (note the similarity to the progression of Satan’s attack on Job).
When the seventh plague is threatened, notice that God says He could have simply cut off the Egyptians from the earth (v.15), but chose to afflict them in this manner for His own glory (v. 16) because Pharaoh exalted himself (v. 17). We see in this the lovingkindness and patience of God. He gives fallen man so much room – and so much time – to repent and acknowledge Him (2 Pet 3:9).
And we see that, in addition to the sorcerers, other Egyptians start to recognize the hand of God in these plagues (v. 20). It was only those who denied God that were affected by His judgment (v. 21, 25). And again, God’s people are preserved through the judgment (v. 26). Pharaoh now promises to let Israel go worship, but again breaks his promise and hardens his heart, as God promised he would.
In chapter 10 we have the plague of locusts, which is used throughout the Bible as a symbol of the judgment of God (Deut 28:38, Joel 1:4, Rev 9:3). In 10:3 we see the self-exaltation of Pharaoh is explicitly said to be the reason for the plagues. We see Pharaoh again try to negotiate what he will allow to stop the plagues – this time, he will let them go where they want, but only the men. But God does not negotiate, and He sends the locusts. And we see the reason locusts are used as a picture of God’s judgment: they thoroughly destroy all life.
In verse 17, we see the false repentance of the sinful heart. Pharaoh asks for forgiveness not because of the wrong he has done, but because of the consequences of his sin. Not because he recognizes his sin, but how it negatively affects him. This shows the fallen nature of man, because this is natural for a child until they are taught otherwise. Most never really learn. And we see this the result of this kind of “repentance” – as soon as the negative affects of his sin are gone, so is his repentance.
The ninth plague is darkness. This time, there is no threat by Aaron and no chance to avoid it. God just does it. But again, not to His own people (v. 23). Pharaoh again tries to negotiate, but God does not negotiate. And again, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. As God promised Moses, Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened until the death of the all the firstborn sons of Egypt.
Notice, once again, the interplay between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. After the frogs, Pharaoh causes his own heart to be hardened (causal verb). After the gnats, we are told, simply, that his heart was hardened (simple verb). After the flies, he hardens his heart (causal). After the death of the livestock, it is hardened (simple). After the boils, the Lord hardens his heart (intensive verb – meaning it was VERY hardened). After the hail, it is again hardened (simple). After the locusts and then again after the darkness, God hardens it (intensive). God has turned him over to his sin, causing him to harden his own heart, causing it to be hardened, and God Himself hardening it (again, Romans 1 in action).
Yet, God will use this hard-hearted king for the good of His people. Despite the fact that sin abounds, God’s purposes will stand. Why? He has all the power.
And, I know, this is the conclusion we have drawn from so many passages in just the first sixty chapters of the Bible. And that is the point. This is exactly the groundwork that the Scriptures are laying. Remember why Moses wrote this: Israel needed to see that all throughout history – even their own up until that point – sin has abounded, and yet God’s good purposes for His people have never, indeed could never, be thwarted. And it may seem repetitive, but let’s be honest, we have heard the same thing about God’s purposes a million times, and we still forget when the going gets tough.
As we move forward (just like I said with our old buddy Job), be careful not to judge Israel for their doubt, their forgetfulness, very often: their unwillingness to obey, and their lack of faith. It’s easy to read this history, see how God revealed their end from the beginning, and wonder why they are so thickheaded and hard-hearted. He has done the same for us. What are we?