Sermon for Sunday, May 9th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 9:1-35 ESV] 1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, 3 behold, the hand of the LORD will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. 4 But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”‘” 5 And the LORD set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land.” 6 And the next day the LORD did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. 7 And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go. 8 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses. 13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 14 For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18 Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 19 Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.”‘” 20 Then whoever feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, 21 but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the LORD left his slaves and his livestock in the field. 22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.” 23 Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. 24 There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. 25 The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. 26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail. 27 Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” 29 Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. 30 But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the LORD God.” 31 (The flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the emmer were not struck down, for they are late in coming up.) 33 So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the LORD, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured upon the earth. 34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. 35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.
New Testament reading:
[Rom 9:14-18 ESV] 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
[Mar 13:14-23 ESV] 14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
There is a pattern that is followed in the recounting of the plagues in the book of Exodus. Certain elements are often repeated for each of the plagues. (1) God gives a warning to Pharaoh through Moses to “Let my people go” or else a plague will come upon him. (2) Israel is saved from the plague. (3) The Magicians repeat the miracle, or at attempt to anyways. (4) Pharaoh pleads (but dishonestly) for the plague to go away. And (5) though God ends the plague, Pharaoh hardens his heart.
I. God Protects All His People
While the fact that God saves Israel is not mentioned in each plague, it is probable in my mind that such was the case. The Israelites, in their slavery, have had much oppression from the Egyptians. And God is saving them from that condition. It doesn’t seem likely that God would have added to their difficulties. Rather, in a number of instances, the text is explicit that God protects His people from the plague in view.
Here in chapter 9, not only does God save Israel, but he also gives a warning that is heeded by all who fear God among the servants of Pharaoh.
18 Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 19 Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.”‘”
And the response to God’s warning is explained:
20 Then whoever feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, 21 but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the LORD left his slaves and his livestock in the field.
Because these servants of Pharaoh have slaves, it is very likely that these are not Israelites, but Egyptians. So there are some even among the Egyptians who fear God. And, of course, we know throughout the Scriptures that God’s people reside among all nations, not just the Israelites. God’s mercy comes upon even some of the Egyptians.
In the New Testament — our reading today from Mark’s Gospel — there is similarly a warning for all who believe to take heed.
14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
We see warnings given to believers in the prophets as well as they foretell disasters to come.
God warns his people so that they may take proper action. His people are saved from the plagues. God protects all His people.
II. God Proclaims His Name in the Judgment of Unbelievers
The magicians; they repeated the miracles of the staff into a serpent, the blood into water, and the production of frogs. But ever since they failed to produce gnats they seem to have given up entirely! You no longer hear of them even trying to make flies, or kill livestock, or spread boils, or produce hail. The magicians have long been defeated, but Pharaoh remains hard hearted. In fact, while not all of the elements in our chart are present in each of the plagues, without fail, the word always has recorded that Pharaoh hardened his heart. Clearly this is of importance.
And we hear of God’s purpose for Pharaoh in 9:16 – “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
This is the verse that Paul quotes from in Romans 9:17.
17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
In that same chapter of Romans, Paul explains that God—the divine potter—makes both “vessels of mercy” and “vessels of wrath.”
Pharaoh is the prime example of a vessel of wrath.
And our modern sentiments might lead us to say “Why make a person at all, just to have him be punished both on earth and eternally in hell?”
God has his purpose. And he tells us, regarding Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
All things are for the glory of God.
God is glorified in the “vessels of mercy” in that His love is shown and his name is praised. And he is glorified in the “vessels of wrath” in that his righteous judgment and power is shown and proclaimed in all the earth.
His Name is proclaimed.
Paul continues in Romans explaining God’s purpose for Pharaoh and all who are reprobate; that is, all who do not come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul says, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory.”
Simply put, we see God’s judgment upon His enemies, and we know that we too were once his enemies and deserve His wrath. We know what we deserve. But we do not get what we deserve. Rather, God has chosen us for belief in Him and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Knowing what we deserve, and seeing what we instead get, we all the more praise God for His salvation.
Think of it this way: when you buy something at the store, you thank the clerk for giving you the item. But you’re not that thankful. You paid for it! But when someone gives you a gift, you are truly thankful, for you did not earn it, but it was gifted to you.
If we were to earn our salvation, we would not be truly thankful to God. But he has given us the gift of salvation.
As Paul tells us, in one of my favorite passages:
For by grace we have been saved. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are this workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
III. Plagues 5, 6, and 7
As for the three plagues in view in today’s reading, they regard the livestock, boils, and hail.
Each week we add to this list.
God is bigger than Pharaoh.
God is bigger than the Nile; than any god of the water.
God is bigger than Heqet, the frog-god.
God is bigger than the land as well as the water.
The plagues expose the emptiness of the Egyptian religion. In fact, in Exodus 12:12 God says “Against the gods of Egypt I am executing judgment.” So it isn’t just something I’m making up in saying that each plague attacks another false Egyptian God. God clearly says “Against the gods of Egypt I am executing judgment.” And consider this: no one believes in the gods of Egypt anymore! They are in the dustbin of history.
We have three plagues now in this chapter.
A. Livestock (Plague #5)
First there is the plague on the livestock. This is Plague #5.
Livestock was crucial in the ancient world. They provided food and fertilizer for crops. And if there was a drought and no grain grew, then cattle might act as a backstop, becoming food for people.
So this plague was another plague striking a vital element of the Egyptian civilization. The plagues were no mere annoyances; they were life and death affairs.
Cattle were of such importance in the ancient world that they were in places the very unit of currency. Coins did not come into existence until almost 1000 years later. Gold and silver were traded by weight, but where they were scare people reckoned the value of things in cattle. You might sell your house for 100 head of cattle. Or pay ten cattle for an alabaster jar of oil.
So the Egyptians had a cattle God, Hesat, and another Hathor, who could take the form of a cow. In Yawheh’s plague on the cattle He shows again God is bigger than Hesat and Hathor.
But this plague wasn’t merely on the cattle, it was on “the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks.”
The Israelites had their own livestock. Even though they were slaves, they were allowed their own herds. They had taken their herds and flocks into Egypt over 400 years previously (Genesis 46:6), and were allowed to keep them. And when they leave, they take their flocks with them. (Exodus 12:32) God protected the animals of the Israelites.
B. The Plague of Boils (Plague #6)
We then have the plague of boils. This is plague #6 if you are counting.
And I thought these were something that only came upon people who didn’t bathe. Until I once had a boil. Perhaps I was a dirty hiker. At the seminary in Colorado, I, and two other guys, decided to visit the neighboring town. It was only 8 miles away, as the crow flies. The only problem is that it was on the other side of the mountain range, the Sangre de Cristo mountain. And so we had to pass over 12,000 ft elevation by foot and walk down into that town. The actual road to the place went around the range, an hour and a half drive! Well, we got caught in a rainstorm, and were soaked. And one of the guys was having serious knee issues. So we stayed at a hotel in that town. And, long story short, I took the couch, slept there, and woke up the next morning with a boil on my neck. And it was painful, for about a week. And, you know, I don’t buy into the “essential oil” business anymore than the snake oil business, but a lady at seminary mixed up some potion, which I put on my neck-boil and it healed in a couple days.
There isn’t exactly an Egyptian god of boils. But there is Sekhmet – the lion-headed goddess of healing. And where is she now, in their time of greatest need? The Egyptians have no one who can save them from the boils. (If only they had essential oil sellers <sarcasm>)
C. The Plague of Hail (Plague #7)
The plagues keep coming. Next is the plague of hail.
These plagues keep coming because Pharaoh keeps resisting God. This shows us that humans, even though they go through some calamity, they don’t necessarily learn from it! God often uses calamities to wake us up to his presence. But some, like Pharaoh, continue to harden their hearts.
There isn’t, so far as I can tell, an Egyptian god of hail. But there was an Egyptian god of the sky, Shu. S – H – U, not like those things on your foot.
But it is Yawheh who controls the sky. Yawheh controls all things. His power is beyond any limit.
This is a miracle, not just a natural phenomenon. To prove that fact, the time it shall come is predicted ahead of time. He says, “18 Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.”
And the storm He sends is no mere hail storm. It says “The LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire.” Imagine making an insurance claim on that! What happened? “Umm, hail, and thunder and lightning, and fire.”
So we continue to see that God is bigger than all things. It is his purpose that stands. His glory is what matters. And God is glorified, his name is proclaimed, even in the punishment of Pharaoh and other evildoers.
I want to conclude with one final observation on these plagues. That is, Pharaoh is unmoved at the plight of his people. If he cared about his people, he would relent, and let the Israelites go as God has commanded.
Now, consider the character of God.
While Pharaoh throws his people into the punishment of the plagues, God (the Lord himself) put his own Jesus Christ on the cross for the punishment we deserve. Pharaoh exalts himself leading to the trampling of his people. But God exalts himself through the death of Jesus Christ, who was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities.
God is fully in the right when he punishes evildoers as they deserve. And His power is proclaimed and His name glorified in that justice.
But we who believe in Jesus Christ proclaim his name and praise Him all the more for that undeserved salvation we have in Him. Praise be to God who proclaims His name, who protects His people, and who provides salvation in Jesus Christ. In his name we pray, Amen.