Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Exodus and looking at the Ten Plagues. We have seen the plague of blood, the plague of frogs, the plague of gnats and the plague of flies. In Exodus 9-10 see five more plagues: the plague on livestock, the plague of boils, the plague of hail, the plague of locusts, and the plague of darkness.
We have been moving rather slow through them, looking at one or two at a time. Today, I want to do something a little different. I want to do an overview of all of these plagues today. I want you to try to see the bigger picture. I do not want us to lose the forest for the trees. What do we know about the Egyptian plagues?
Overview of the Ten Plagues
1) These plagues were judgments of God.
Some have read Exodus and tries to find scientific explanations for the plagues. They miss the whole point. These plagues did not have natural causes. This was divine judgments. They were ACTS OF GOD and not just ACTS OF NATURE. We have had plagues before (the bubonic plague). These were supernatural events and not just natural events, like natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, tsunamis). In fact, even unbelievers could tell that these plagues came from God. By the third plague, the pagan magicians said “This is the finger of God”. We are going to learn some things about God from these plagues.
2) There were ten plagues
Why ten? Why not fifteen or twenty? Ten was the number of perfection in Egypt. In ancient Egypt, ten “symbolized the number of completion and perfection.” Many of these plagues did not last long. The first plague lasted for seven days (Ex 7:25), the ninth lasted for three days (Ex 10:21-23), and the tenth plague lasted only one night. It started at midnight (Ex 12:29-31).
Egypt experienced a terrible plague which was unbearable. Right after they finally got over that plague another one fell and then another one and another one. This went on ten times but none of these plagues had to happen. They happened because of Pharaoh’s stubbornness and defiance to the will and program of God.
The Bible says that in the future more plagues will fall on the earth. Read the Book of Revelation and you will see what will happen during the Tribulation Period. Many read that and think it could never happen. It seems hard to believe this could ever happen. It has already happened. It happened in Egypt. In fact, many of the plagues in Revelation are pattered after the ones in Exodus (plague of locusts, darken, boils).
3) The plagues get progressively worse.
The Ten Plagues end with the death of the first born son. God did not start with that plague. He ended with it. There is a general progression of these plagues. They first plagues were annoying. They were a big inconvenience. You had frogs in your bed and in your food. You had gnats and flies all over the place. They did not kill people, just drove them crazy.
Then, some cows died. The first death took place. It was animal death. You can picture mountains of dead carcasses pilled on the field. They led to a loss of property. Cows are not a big deal to us. Most of us are not farmers.
It was a big deal to these people. They lived in an agricultural society. It was their source of food. Without cows, there was no red meat, no milk and no cheese. It was also a sign of their wealth and prosperity. How many animals you possessed was important to your standing in the community.
Their pocketbook was affected. Then, their health was affected. They suffered painful boils all over their body. The last stage was death. The plagues seem to go from bad to worse.
4) The plagues came in groups of three.
How do we know that they come in groups of three? They all follow a pattern. The first two plagues came with a warning and the last one did not. The first of the three always came early in the morning. There are three cycles of plagues.
The key word in the first three plagues is the word IMITATION. We learned there that Satan has the power to perform miracles. The magicians were able to duplicate some of these miracles but while they could imitate them, they could not reverse them.
The key word in the second three plagues is the word DISTINCTION. The plagues fell in Egypt but not in Goshen. God said, “I will put a DIVISION between My people and your people” (8:23). That idea of a division tells us two things.
First, it tells us that God does not view everyone the same. The Jews were put in a different category than the Egyptians. God put a division His people and Pharaoh’s people. Pharaoh thought the Jews were his people. They were his slaves. God says, “They are NOT your people. They are My people.”
God still does this today. He calls some people His people today. I John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (ESV). There are only two kinds of people in this word: saved and lost, believers and unbelievers, sheep and goats. Many people believe that everyone is a child of God but that is not what the Bible teaches. We are all God’s creatures but we do not all have a personal relationship with Him.
Second, it tells us that God is able to protect his people. II Peter 2:9 says, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (ESV). God is able to punish the wicked. He is also able to preserve and protect the righteous.
The key word in the third cycle is the word UNIQUE. In the last three plagues God does something never been done before. The seventh plague was hail. When it fell, God said, “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” (9:18 ESV).
Notice how the eighth plague is described. “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. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt” (10:14-15).
The ninth plague was also unique. It was a plague of darkness that could be felt (10:21) and it last three days. It was so bad that they could not do anything or go anywhere for three days (10:23). That is a rather interesting plague. We think of darkness as evil. It is often symbolic of Satan in the Bible but not here.
On the first day of creation, God created light. In the Ninth Plague, God created darkness. Jesus describes Hell as a place of “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). In fact, Jude describes it a place where the blackest darkness imaginable exists (Jude 13).
God creates light and darkness. Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things” (NIV). That is interesting. This doesn’t fit into the theology of some people. Many believe that God only creates health and prosperity and not pain and calamity. That is Satan.
This verse says that God also creates suffering and disaster. The KJV says “I create evil” but it is not talking about moral evil. God is not the author of evil. It is talking about calamity or disaster. All of these calamities that fall on the Egyptians, all of the suffering and diseases (boils) were sent by God.
How did Pharaoh respond to the plagues? Some people are made better by punishment and some people are made worse. Pharaoh was made worse, like a man who has been locked up in prison for fifty years. He hardened his heart. Pharaoh’s heart was as hard as a rock.
He received a word from God. He had a clear command. He was not about to obey it. In fact, he did the exact opposite. God said, “Let the people go.” He made their slavery worse. He was like many people today. We do exactly opposite whatever God tells us to do. God says, “Go left” and we go right. God says, “Slow down” and we speed up.
God judged Pharaoh. Plagues fell on Egypt. Pharaoh did what he could to get the plagues to stop but he wasn’t about to change his behavior. He said repeatedly that he would change and let the people go but it was all a lie. Pharaoh was a con man.
He was a good actor. He asked Moses to pray for him. He said the words “I have sinned”. He even asked Moses to forgive him. He asked for forgiveness. He said “I have sinned” twice in this section.
Exodus 9:27 says, “This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong” (ESV). Exodus 10:16-17 says, “I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me” (ESV).
Was Pharaoh’s Repentance Genuine?
No. You can say the words “I have sinned” and not really repent. Bill Clinton was caught having sex with Monica Lewinski. He denied it for a while and tried to cover it up but, when all of the evidence came out and finally said “I have sinned” in a speech on September 11, 1998. He only said that because he was forced to say it. He was being investigated by an independent counsel.
The Pentecostal preacher Jimmy Swaggart was caught in a motel with a prostitute in 1988 and gave an emotional speech and said publicly “I have sinned” but a few years later he was caught with another prostitute.
Confession of sin is important. You cannot be saved if you do not say the words “I have sinned”. You cannot be forgiven of your sins if you do not believe you are a sinner but there is a big difference between confession and repentance. Real repentance involves a change of actions.
If you say “I have sinned” and do the same thing over and over again, there is no repentance. That is exactly what Pharaoh does. He says he has sinned and he would let the Jews go but once the storm was over, he was the same person. There was no change. It was all an act. Pharaoh repeatedly broke his promise to Moses and Aaron.
Some people never say the words “I have sinned”. They never admit they do anything wrong. Other people say the words “I have sinned” and do not really mean it.
Message from the Plagues
Pharaoh learned some things from the plagues. These lessons are still true today. These plagues preached. They had a message. I want to look at six messages that we learn from these plagues.
1. The plagues teach that God EXISTS
When Moses and Aaron first spoke to Pharaoh they said, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness” (5:1). Pharaoh’s answer was, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (5:2). Pharaoh says that he does not know who the Lord is, so God is going to show Pharaoh who He is in a very dramatic and visible way.
The first lesson to Pharaoh was that God exists. Yahweh is real. Exodus 7:17 says, ““By this you shall know that I am the Lord”. There is a great story in I Kings 18 of a contest between the prophets of Baal and the prophet Elijah. They have a contest on a mountain. It was a contest between God and Baal to determine which one was real. Both put an animal on an altar and prayed for fire to fall.
The prophets of Baal went first. They prayed but nothing happened. Hours went by with no response. Elijah began to mock them. Then it was Elijah’s turn but before he went, he had them pour twelve jars of water on the altar so they know that it is not a trick. Elijah prays, fire falls and the false prophets are stunned. All they can say is “The Lord He is God! The Lord He is God!”
2. The plagues teach that God is WORKING
God not only exists, he is at work IN EGYPT. Exodus 8:22 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” (NIV).
In the ancient world, pagans believed that gods possessed no power except in their own land. Yahweh is the true God and He is at work in Egypt. In fact, He is more powerful than the Egyptian gods. God was at work in Egypt and is at work in our world today.
3. The plagues teach that God is POWERFUL
God said of Pharaoh, “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” (9:16). These plagues were an awesome display of God’s power in the earth. They displayed incredible power over the animals.
They displayed power over nature and even the weather. They displayed power over Pharaoh. Who was the most powerful man on the planet at that time. They displayed power over the magicians and power over the gods of Egypt who were powerless to do anything about these plagues. The Egyptian Sun god Re could not do anything to stop the plague of darkness. Pharaoh, who was a totalitarian leader, could not protect them from the plagues. He could have prevented them by doing what God told him to do but once they came, he was powerless to stop them.
4. The plagues teach that God is UNIQUE
Exodus 9:14 says, “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” (ESV). Pharaoh that that there was no one like him in the earth. He was the greatest king on the planet.
God does things that no one else can do. Their magicians cannot do these things. Their gods cannot do these things. These are signs and wonders that only God can do. Psalm 86:8 says, “Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours” (NIV).
5. The plagues teach that God is SOVEREIGN
What does it mean that God is sovereign? It means that God rules over the earth. We see that God is sovereign from Exodus 9:16. God says of Pharaoh, “for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (ESV).
That is a very important verse. It is quoted in the NT by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9. Exodus 9:16 is quoted in Romans 9:17. What does it mean? It says God used Pharaoh. He raised Pharaoh up. That sounds like something all of us would want God to say about us. We should all want God to raise us up so His power and glory could be displayed. There is one difference.
We want God’s power to be displayed in us through our OBEDIENCE. In Pharaoh’s case, God’s power was displayed through his DISOBEDIENCE. Does God do that? Yes. He uses the righteous to glorify Him. He uses the wicked to glorify Him. Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD works out everything to its proper end, even the wicked for a day of disaster” (NIV).
Now we have to be careful here. Some think that God makes some people wicked, just so He can punish them. That is not what that passage is saying at all. It says that He uses everything, even the wicked. God sometimes uses evil to accomplish his plans.
He does NOT cause people to be evil. God is not the author of sin. Pharaoh had free will. God did not force him to do something or not do something against his will.
God does not CAUSE evil but He USES evil for his own purposes. He uses even bad people to do his will. That seems strange. Pharaoh fulfilled God’s purpose. God used him. This is a paradox. There are many examples of this in Scripture.
God used the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar to carry out his purposes. Jeremiah 25 says, “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation” (25:8-9 ESV)
Nebuchadnezzar was a pagan king. He was not a believer. God calls him “my servant”. God used Nebuchadnezzar to judge the Jews. He says, “If you do not listen to my servants the prophets, I will send you my servant Nebuchadnezzar”. He conquered the Jews in 586 BC. God used another pagan king named Cyrus.
“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me” (45:1-5).
God used Nebuchadnezzar to get the Jews into Babylon. He used Cyrus to get the Jews out of Babylon and bring them back to their homeland. Cyrus was Persian. He was Iranian. He was not a believer. God said two times in Isaiah that Cyrus did not know him but God calls him his messiah, his anointed one. He carried out God’s will. God can use the wicked to carry out his purposes. He used Nebuchadnezzar. He used Cyrus. He even used Hitler. The Jews may not have a homeland today in Israel, if it were not for Hitler.
6. The plagues teach that sin has CONSEQUENCES
Every time Pharaoh disobeyed God, he suffered. When Pharaoh sinned against God, he ends up only hurting himself and those around him. It affected his family. It affected everyone in the country. It affected animals. They started dropping dead. It even affected nature. It caused pollution.
It affected the economy of the country. It caused poverty. We can never expect to disobey God and be better off in the end but that is what we often do. We have a clear word from God about something. The Bible is clear. We do something else because we think we know better. The boils went on both people and animals (9:9).
Sin has consequences and the Day of Judgment is coming. It came for Egypt and it will come for our world as well. Pharaoh did not believe it would come and many today do not either. God means what He says and says what he means. If we do not repent, God’s judgment will fall on us like it did the Egyptians. In fact, those who do not repent will face a judgment far worse than the Egyptians faced.