Grab your Bibles, and let’s go deeper into Exodus chapters 5-10!
Let’s do a little recap of the bigger picture here. God’s people have been in Egypt for quite some time now, and God has decided the time for their slavery to Egypt has come to an end. So God tells Moses and Aaron to inform Pharaoh that God wants His people to be allowed to travel into the wilderness and worship Him. Now at the very suggestion, Pharaoh immediately adds to the labor of the Israelite slaves and begins punishing them for not carrying out this new burden he requires. We see all of this play out in chapter 5. So how did the Israelites respond? Let’s look at the passage and see:
Exodus 5:15-16 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.”
So the ones representing the Israelites, their “foremen,” come to Pharaoh and ask, “What’s going on? You demand the same work from us, but you’ve made the work ten times harder. How do you expect us to do this? If you are making this change, then why are your men beating our people when we aren’t able to do the required work?” Essentially, the foremen say, “We can’t do the work because of the changes you’ve made, but you are beating us for it. What gives?”
So Pharaoh answers them in verses 17-18:
But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.”
Pharaoh responds by saying the fault falls on the Israelites, because if they have time to go worship their God, then they must not be working hard enough. (This reminded me of a line my old boss used to say: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”)
This isn’t really what Pharaoh was trying to communicate to the Israelites. What Pharaoh was really saying was, “I am your god (the one in charge of you), and you will do what I want. I have the power to change your life--not this so-called God that you worship.” Pharaoh wanted the Israelites to see his power and be angry with their God and Moses. If you can divide a people against themselves, it is not hard to conquer them! We see this in their response:
Exodus 5:19-21 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
See how quickly the people turn against the very one sent to set them free. This was Pharaoh’s aim. It worked so well that even Moses blames God for the trouble.
Exodus 5:22-23 Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”
So Moses blames God for doing evil, because instead of delivering them from slavery, He has brought more burden to the people. Now God has an interesting answer for Moses, which we find in Exodus 6:1:
But the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”
God lets Moses know that he hasn’t seen anything yet. The Lord spends most of chapter six reminding Moses who He is and what He is going to do. He tells Moses to share this reminder with the people and let them know that God is going to free them and take them as His own. The people still won’t listen because their spirits have been crushed by the burden that Pharaoh has placed on them. I’m sure many of you can relate to a crushed spirit from the burdens of this world.
When we continue in the story, God tells Moses, “Go and tell Pharaoh to let my people go.” Moses says, “But my own people wouldn’t listen to me; how in the world is Pharaoh going to listen?” Then God reminds Moses that Pharaoh won’t listen! Look at Chapter 7:
Exodus 7:1-5 And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
God responds by telling Moses that this is just the beginning! How defeating it must have felt to Moses to hear God say, “Oh you’re going to do even more than this, and I (God) will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not listen to you!” Many times in life, we see the commands of God, and they just don’t make sense to us. Moses must have felt discouraged to know that he was right that Pharaoh wasn’t going to listen and that God was going to ensure that Pharaoh wouldn’t listen. Like Moses, I believe many times we can’t see what God is going to do, but also like Moses, that is not our job. We like to be in control, but what is glaringly obvious throughout these chapters is that no matter how much man wants to be in charge or in control of things, God is the only sovereign being.
So Moses goes to Pharaoh and he doesn’t listen. Then God bring plagues through Moses, beginning with turning the Nile to blood. The passages say that the land stunk, the fish died, and the Egyptians had to dig to find water to drink. However, Pharaoh did not let God’s people go. So God bring frogs. I remember thinking when I was younger that frogs don’t seem like that big of a deal. As I grew older, I realized that if frogs were covering the land, it would certainly cause some issues. Can you imagine so many frogs that they cover the ground and you literally are walking on them? When the frogs died, they were piled up and causing the land to stink as well. At this point, any reasonable human would have listened and realized they were not in charge; however, this was not the case for Pharaoh, so God brought gnats. I truly can’t think of something more annoying than being covered in gnats and not having relief. It would have been hard to breathe without sucking these little bugs in. In fact, though this was the smallest animal plague that God brings, it sure causes the Egyptians to respond. We see this in the magicians’ response in chapter eight, after being unable to reproduce this event:
Exodus 8:19a Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”
So even when the people tell Pharaoh, “This is God; we should listen here,” Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, and he would not listen. This may have surprised you if it’s the first time you’ve read through this story. I remember when I had first read through this asking why was it so hard for Pharaoh to get that he was not going to win this battle. I was surprised because I didn’t see or understand what the rest of the verse had said, though.
Exodus 8:19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
What we must see is that this is not a surprise to God. The passage ends with this phrase “as the LORD had said.” So when did the LORD say this would happen? This clarity was actually given to us back in chapter 4:
Exodus 4:21-23 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
I have heard this taught so many times with a focus on Pharaoh’s hardening of his own heart, which does happen according to the Scriptures. What we need to see, though, was that this was God’s plan. Even before we hear of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, God declares that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart and do so until He brings Moses to the final plague. That’s what God is mentioning when He says He will kill Pharaoh’s first born. Now we will study this more in next week’s passages, but we really can’t begin to see the bigger picture of what God is doing if we don’t see this clarity now.
When God brings the next plague, we see some more distinctions being made; namely, we see the difference between God’s people and the Egyptians. The land where God’s people lived would no longer be affected by the plagues he was bringing so that Pharaoh would have no doubt that it was God who was doing this work. So God brings flies, then pestilence upon Egypt’s livestock, then boils upon the people of Egypt, and then we see Pharaoh’s people begin to do to Pharaoh what Gods people did to Moses when Pharaoh had increased the burden upon them:
Exodus 10:7 Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?”
Here’s where God turns the tables. In chapter five, Pharaoh had meant to display his power to the Israelites and make them submit to his authority by increasing their burdens and “flexing his muscles,” so to speak. Well God returns the favor through these plagues, and now it’s Pharaoh’s people who are realizing the trouble that’s brewing for them if their leader doesn’t submit to the far greater power of God. Pharaoh’s servants are now saying to him, “Your hard-heartedness is killing your land and your people”. We see this very clearly in the last part of verse 7: “Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” Pharaoh’s own people are pleading for Pharaoh to see with a clear mind what everyone else has already realized. However, Pharaoh would not listen because GOD had hardened Pharaohs heart! God said that was what He was going to do way back in chapter four, and God keeps His word! To be clear, Pharaoh is guilty for his own sin; God has not sinned in any way, and Pharaoh is not innocent. But see that all throughout these chapters, God has declared something, and He will bring it to pass. God could have ended all of this already. He says so quite plainly in chapter nine verse fifteen:
Exodus 9:15 “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. “
So why didn’t God just wipe them out? Let’s read on:
Exodus 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.”
God had a plan for Pharaoh and for his very existence. He raised Pharaoh up for this purpose: to do with Pharaoh what He (God) willed to do. He used Pharaoh to show His power so that His name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
Exodus 10:1-2 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.”
God used all of this to display His power and to make known to His people that He is LORD! Let me show you this in a way that might be more helpful:
Exodus 10:1-2 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you [Moses] may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you [Moses and his offspring] may know that I am the LORD.”
God has given us plenty of reasons why He is hardening Pharaoh and carrying out all of these plagues. One of those reasons He gives here is so Moses and those who learn these truths from Moses may know that He is indeed LORD!
We see this same cycle continue through the end of chapter 10:
Exodus 10:14 The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again.
Exodus 10:20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go.
Exodus 10:21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.”
Exodus 10:27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.
How many times in your life personally have you wondered what God was doing when things seemed out of control? Rest assured and see through this story that God is never out of control, and in all His working, He has a purpose. You and I may not always understand what that purpose is, but God is never confused. This is why it takes a real faith to trust God, and since God is sovereign over the hearts of man (just look at Pharaoh), it is God who must give you faith to trust Him!
*Special thanks to my friend and ministry partner, Steven Obert, for his help in writing this week’s study.