A sermon on Exodus 7:14-10:29 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on August 9, 2020, the eighth Sunday after Pentecost. This is the fourth sermon in an ongoing series on the book of Exodus.
I. Introduction: Identifying with…Pharaoh?
When we read Scripture, it’s helpful to ask ourselves who we are to identify with in the passage we’re studying. So, as we come to the plagues, and you hear the Scriptures read, who are you identifying with? Moses? Aaron? The Israelites? One of the people here that we need to see our affinity with is, in fact, Pharaoh himself. I sometimes think that we like to keep the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart at an abstract level without having the spotlight turned it on ourselves.
By the way, before we go on, I want to give a plug to Ted Wright of Epic Archaeology, who we’ll be hosting in November (sign up today!). He has an excellent video on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, in which he demonstrates that this was, at least partially, an Egyptian concept. Why is this important? Well, because it shows that person who wrote Exodus had a thorough and deep knowledge of Egyptian culture (Moses!). So it backs up the historicity of Exodus. You can find the title to the video in the sermon outline.
By the way, before we go on (x2), I do want to say that the biblical answer to the question who hardened pharaoh’s heart – God or pharaoh? is, simply, yes. Here we quickly run into mystery – the antinomy of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. We need to hold those two in tension, and yet, there is an interplay there that we cannot fully penetrate. But, as Tim Chester says, “The workings…are mysterious. But its purpose is clear.”
And it’s that purpose that I want to focus on this morning. And I see that in two ways: first, a warning and second, a pointer to Christ.
II. Pharaoh: A Warning Against Sin & Idolatry
1) The deceit and madness of sin
Pharaoh is a case study in the deceit of sin. It’s like a slow-motion car crash that allows us to see the tragedy unfold. We want to step in to make it stop. But in the real-time action of our own lives, we ourselves to often get caught up in the insanity of sin. … the hardening of our hearts overthrows reason. We find excuses for our sinful and proud desires. We find reasons for doing what we want to do. When it all unravels, we wade further into sin, rather than accepting our terrible mistake and backing away from it. We’re like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who, having murdered his king, is confronted with the choice of admitting his actions or murdering again, and concludes: “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as [to] go [onward].” (Tim Chester, Exodus for You, pg. 70)
Research tells us that those who come to faith usually do so early on life. Why is? Well, when we think about this in relation to Pharaoh, one of the reasons is because the longer we push down God’s call to repentance and faith, the harder our lives are set into the concrete of sin.
Here, our young people, and all of us, need to take heed here. Please don’t miss this! The longer you go on rejecting God’s claim on your life, the easier it is to simply keep moving in the same direction toward destruction. That’s part of what Pharaoh teaches us!
I remember as a teenage new Christian having people tell me that I believed the Christian message simply because I was youthful and uninformed. The point seemed to be that one day I would grow up and realize how unimportant Christianity really was. I find just the opposite to be true: apart from God, as they grow older, people tend to become more and more set in their sinfulness.
Lastly, seeing the madness and deceitfulness of sin teaches us to see the greatness of the grace of God poured out upon us. It also teaches us that we need to be about the work, in the words of Hebrews 3:13, of exhorting one another day-by-day, that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
2) Idols in our hearts
The war that the Lord wages on Egypt is primarily a war against the idols of Egypt. The plagues are not random, but designed by God to demonstrate that he is greater than all the gods of Egypt and that creation serves him. Here are some examples, again from Tim Chester:
“Hapi, the god of fertility, was closely associated with the Nile. Without the River Nile there was no fertility in Egypt – there was no Egypt. But the Lord turns the Nile to blood. It may be that Pharaoh had come to the Nile in the morning to make an offering to Hapi. … Sekhet, the lion-headed goddess of plagues, might have been expected to heal the epidemic of boils. … Re, the sun-god, was thought the sail through the celestial sea in a boat. Then at night he would descend into the netherworld before rising victorious again with the dawn. But during the ninth plague he did not rise.” (Exodus for You, pg. 75)
You see, the Lord is showing up each of these gods for what they are – a false hope. This is part of the enduring relevance of Exodus. Exodus is practically shouting to us – to our culture that loves religious pluralism and hates any suggestion of objective, exclusive truth. This idolatry in our hearts is exposed in the presence of the Living God. From Tim Chester again:
“The nine plagues systematically undermine Egypt’s pluralist claims. They are a lecture against religious pluralism – the belief that all religions are valid – and personal autonomy – the belief that I have the right to live how I like. It is a curriculum with ten unforgettable lessons. And the message is clear: there is only one God.” (Exodus for You, pg. 74)
What Tim Keller says about Herod the Great in the New Testament can be equally applied to Pharaoh in the Old Testament:
“In every heart, then, there is a ‘little King Herod’ that wants to rule and that is threatened by anything that may compromise its omnipotence and sovereignty. Each of us wants to be the captain of our own soul, the master of our own fate. There is a natural enmity of the human heart against all claims of sovereignty over it. It rises up a little when minor claims are made over us. But Jesus’ claims of authority are ultimate and infinite. No heart, unaided, can gladly surrender to them.” (Hidden Christmas, pgs. 68-69)
Friend, Jesus Christ makes an exclusive claim upon your life today. And the question, will you respond to that exclusive, or become more hardened in the deceit of sin and idolatry. But before you respond, you need to know who this Jesus. Oddly enough, the plagues lead us there.
III. Plagues: Displaying the Riches of His Grace in Christ
Yes, the plagues reveal the depth of sin and idolatry in our hearts. But they also lead to the sweetness of the Gospel and greatness of God’s mercy. In the plagues, creation begins to cave in on itself, so to speak. It begins to revert back to chaos.
But when read the biblical story backwards, or rather from the center, interpreting it through Jesus, what we find is that this points us to the moment in history when the God-man will take these judgments upon himself for the life of the world. In fact, the three days of darkness will be mirrored in Christ’s cross, with the three hours of darkness. The plagues point us forward to the moment where the heart of God toward man will be revealed in Jesus – When Christ, who knew no sin, will be made sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus was wrapped in our sin that we might wrapped in his holiness. Once more from Tim Chester: “At the cross, the Maker came to be unmade so that we can be remade! The son was unraveled under the judgment of the Father.” (Exodus for You, pg. 80)
When we read the story of the Scriptures as one story, centered on Jesus, we’ll have no need to remain in the judgment the plagues represent, because we’ll find that Jesus has already borne that for each of us and for the world. Learn from Pharaoh, but do not walk in his way. Instead turn to Christ – he is not only your maker, but your redeemer.
Thanks be to God. Amen.