Exodus: Journey to Freedom (8:20-9:12)
- March 20, 2023
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Well, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Exodus 8. We looked at the first 3 of the 10 plagues of Egypt last week. This week, we’re going to be looking at the second 3, or the second cycle, and that begins with plague number 4.
20 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 21 Or else, if you will not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. 22 But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. 23 Thus I will put a division between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.”’” 24 And the LORD did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.
25 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” 26 But Moses said, “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the LORD our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He tells us.” 28 So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away. Plead for me.” 29 Then Moses said, “Behold, I am going out from you and I will plead with the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow. Only let not Pharaoh cheat again by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” 30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. 31 And the LORD did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.
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.
“Our Father in heaven, once again we ask for the assistance of the Holy Spirit: that what we know not, He’d teach us; what we have not, He’d give us; what we are not, He’d make us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
So, last week, when I introduced us to the plagues, I offered a couple of general thoughts and observations. For example, they can be grouped in various cycles. One of those cycles sees plagues 1, 4 and 7 all begin with an outdoor morning confrontation with Pharaoh. One of the other things we noted is that the plagues grow in their intensity, and I also mentioned that all of them – to some degree or another – were intended to humiliate the various gods of the Egyptians. Changing the water of the Nile into blood was mocking the Egyptian god Osiris. It was thought that the Nile was his lifeblood. So, to mess with the Nile was to poke fun at Osiris – a god that was incapable of responding.
Causing the Nile to produce a plague of frogs was an affront to the Egyptian god, Heket. Actually, this was one of the Egyptian goddesses of fertility. To the Egyptians, the frog was an ancient symbol of fertility. And guess what, the fertility of the frog was related to the annual flooding of the Nile. So, again, you have our mighty God humiliating the gods of Egypt.
The plague of gnats was directed at Geb. He was the Egyptian god of the earth. Remember what God told Aaron to do in order to bring this plague about? “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 8:16). God was saying, “I’ll show this false earth god a thing or two. I’ll hit him directly between the eyes and cause his domain to become gnats.” And now we pick up with the…
Fourth Plague – Flies
Whether it was the common housefly that we think about, or whether it was the scarab beetle, we don’t know. Certainly, the scarab beetle is a very well-known image in ancient Egypt, so that’s definitely a possibility. Either way, it seems that this plague was directed at the Egyptian god, Wadjet, who was believed to help the dead enter the afterlife.
Now that’s important because other people in the area knew this god as Beelzebub, and in 2 Kings 1:2 we’re introduced to Beelzebub for the first time. And if you look at the Hebrew origins of that name, guess what it means (Lord of the flies, or god of the flies). Later on, the name Beelzebub was changed to Beelzebul, meaning “Lord of dung” or “god of filth” because that’s where these insects tended to lay their eggs. And it shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us that the name Beelzebul is what the Pharisees called Jesus when He healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. Jesus said, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of His household” (Matthew 10:25). Listen, folks, our God knows a thing or two. Don’t you think? This entire plague flies directly in the face of Wadjet, the Egyptian “Lord of the flies” (no pun intended), and, in some sense, it flies in the face of Satan – the true god of filth.
But there are couple of addition things that are different about this plague. For example, notice verse 22. This is the first time that God begins to make an explicit distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites.
In the first three plagues there’s some question about whether or not the Israelites also suffered. The text isn’t particularly clear. It seems that the plagues were, indeed, limited to the Egyptians. For example, in the first plague (of the water turning into blood), verse 24 says, “all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink.” It doesn’t mention anything explicit about the Israelites. Now, I say explicit because you have to imagine that the stench from all the dead fish was at least a little noticeable for the Israelites. So, maybe they didn’t avoid everything, but certainly most of the impacts from the plagues were avoided.
When we get to the fourth plague, and specifically verse 22, we realize that God is beginning to show definite signs of His providential and protective care for the Jews. Listen, “But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. Thus, I will put a division between My people and your people.”
These are God’s people. These are His children. Like any good Father, He’s going to provide for them and protect them. But make no mistake about it – God knows how to make a distinction. God knows how to rightly divide people. Jesus said, in Matthew 25, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left” (Matthew 25:31-33).
Regardless of your interpretation of the Book of Revelation, there’s coming a day in the future when plagues and judgments will be poured out upon the earth that will make the plagues of Egypt look silly. And I know that there are as many views of the rapture as there are people in this room, so I’m not taking a theological side on the pre/mid/post-tribulation issue, but there’s something you need to know about your God. Our God knows how to make a distinction when it comes to judgment. If you’re a child of God, through the blood of Jesus Christ, then you can be assured that you’ll be protected from His ultimate wrath.
There’s one more thing that’s different in this plague – it’s in verse 25. Pharaoh says, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” This is the very first time that Pharaoh gives permission for them to go and sacrifice. But notice the qualifier “within the land.” What’s that called? (Compromise, right). We’re familiar with compromise, aren’t we. Satan is great at negotiating a compromise. He’ll say, “Well, go ahead and go to church but just don’t become one of those Christians. You can visit a church, that’s okay. Just don’t be a fanatic.” Or if you happen to already be a believer, then he’ll say things like, “Go ahead and be a Christian but keep some of those old habits because that’s who you are.” He wants us to compromise.
It’s rare that I recommend books as “must reads” (except for the Bible), but one that I highly recommend is The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. It’s about a senior demon named Screwtape teaching his nephew Wormwood how to be a good demon and ruin people’s lives. It was written from that perspective. And Screwtape, when he writes to Wormwood, always calls the newly converted Christian your patient. And one of Screwtape’s lines in the book goes like this, “…the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
That’s what Satan does. It’s all about compromise. As Casting Crowns put it, “It’s a slow fade / When you give yourself away / It’s a slow fade / When black and white have turned to grey / And thoughts invade, choices made / A price will be paid / When you give yourself away / People never crumble in a day / It’s a slow fade.”
Satan says, don’t let him go far away with this thing. Negotiate with him. Compromise with him. Tell him to compromise. Go and sacrifice but do it in the land. Stay in the land. And think what a temptation it might have been for Moses to stay in the land. “After all, we could do it in the land. This is where we’ve been living for a long time. We’re familiar with it. At least we get food here. We get provisions here. Maybe we’re oppressed, but it’s better than nothing out in the wilderness.”
Thankfully, Moses has learned that doing it God’s way is the best. So, he says, in verse 26, “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the LORD our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” So, first Pharaoh says, “Go ahead, but do it in the back yard.” Moses, “We can’t do it in the back yard. We’re going to kill animals. You’re not into that stuff. We’re going to get beat up.” Pharaoh says, “Okay, well, go ahead and go. But don’t go very far.” (Sounds like your mom when you were growing up, right.)
So, Pharaoh is lengthening the chain but there’s still a chain. He’s not anxious to let two million people on his workforce take a leave of absence. Again, one of the world’s favorite lines is something like this, “Hey, I hear that you’re in to religion now? Do me a favor, just don’t go too far into it. I mean, I know people that really got in to this Christian ‘born again’ stuff, and they read their Bible all the time. They go to church all the time and they went crazy. I mean, they put their hands up in the air and say ‘Amen’ and stuff. Don’t go that far.”
What happens? Pharaoh hardened his heart again. What’s the condition of your heart? Is it soft before the LORD? Are you still letting God speak to you? You still letting Him in? Or is the world penetrating your heart. Does the Good News stop at a certain place and you kind of think about it, but then harden your heart?
Fifth Plague – Death of Livestock
Remember last week when we looked at the plague of gnats. Do you remember what the magicians said – “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). Well, if that was the finger of God, then this is what the full hand of God gets you – the death of horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and flocks. Basically, anything that was left standing that wasn’t a human was killed. Do you see how the plagues are growing more intense? The first couple of plagues were annoying. They were inconvenient. They were bothersome. But now, God is touching their wealth.
Now watch this; in the Nile delta, there were four separate provinces, or areas that had one of these animals as their primary god. Notice that there are three specific kinds of animals mentioned: horses, donkeys, and camels. Then there’s two groups that are generic names: herds and flocks. One of the Egyptian gods that’s being targeted here is Apis. Apis was considered to be the sacred animal of the god Ptah. And in Memphis, Egypt archaeologists have discovered several sarcophagi containing mummified livestock.
One of the other Egyptian gods that’s being targeted here is Hathor. Hathor was another goddess of love and fertility, beauty and joy. She appears in Egyptian art as having the body of a woman and the head of a cow. Some of the depictions show the Pharaoh being suckled by this cow god. In fact, in 1906, they found a sandstone monument showing Hathor, the goddess, and Amenhotep II, (who some believe was the Pharaoh of the Exodus), nestling himself under Hathor’s chin. Talk about humiliating the gods of Egypt; now you’re striking right at Pharaoh’s supposed family tree.
Then there was another goddess or a god that was represented by a cow or a bull and that was Mnevis. So, when God touches the livestock, once again, it’s a direct assault on the ideology, the belief system of these pagan Egyptians. Now, here’s what’s interesting. When we get to chapter 32, (which will be in the year 2032, at this rate) we’re going to be reminded that Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. And he’s gone so long that the people think he’s dead. And they get Aaron and they say, “Hey, Moses ain’t coming back and we need a god to worship.” And what do they make? (A golden calf.)
That’s because, in their minds, they’re not used to an unseen god. In Egypt, everything had a god-like representation, visible representations all around them. And so, that golden calf represented, to the Israelites, the strength and beauty and nourishment and tangibility of the false gods they used to worship back in Egypt. Besides the fact that it was false worship, which was bad enough, this is another reason that Moses got so mad. It’s as if Moses was thinking, “Are you kidding me? You just saw what our mighty God did to all the livestock in Egypt with the fifth plague, and yet you’re still worshipping cows!”
And folks, let’s be honest. We’re not too different. Really. In many ways we’re just like the Israelites. Think about the average 15 minutes of commercials: pharmaceuticals, healthcare, class action lawsuits, weight loss, automobiles, alcohol. Now, you tell me; who does it seem like we’re worshipping? (Ourselves, right.) Now, I’m not saying that any of those things are bad. Trust me; when I have nausea, heartburn, upset stomach, diarrhea, then I want Pepto-Bismol. I get it. But until the recent He Gets Us campaign, there have been ZERO commercials even trying to communicate a Christian message. Rather, everything seemed to suggest that we worshipped longer life, better looks, more money, newer toys.
Again, I recognize that this calls for perspective and balance, but last week we had the announcement of three US banks going under: Silicon Valley, Signature, and Silvergate. Now, I’m not in favor of people losing their investments. I’m not in favor of major economic chaos. These are real issues that involve real people. But when God strikes the horses, the donkeys, and the camels – when the bank accounts and investments and portfolios are shaken you sometimes wonder if we aren’t putting a little too much emphasis on Benjamin, Grant and Jackson. While it may sound silly to you and me that Egypt had a god for everything, when we look around us, we’re not too different.
Finally, notice that God protected the Israelites in this plague, just as He did in the previous one. The livestock of the Israelites wasn’t touched. Pharaoh even sent people to check it out, and once again he hardened his heart. There’s a Proverb you may want to write down in the margin of your Bible. Proverbs 28:14 says, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.” By this time, I’m sure that the everyday Egyptian was thinking, “What’s next? What kind of a plague could happen after this? Come on, Pharaoh, you gotta see that there might be something to this God of the Hebrews.”
Sixth Plague – Boils
Something to notice about this plague. In the previous plagues there was a warning, “Okay, you’ve got 24-hours to think about this. Tomorrow this is going to happen.” But not this time; no 24-hour grace period. “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 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” (Exodus 9:8-9).
Anybody watch TLC on cable? Recognize the name Sandra Lee (a.k.a. Dr. Pimple Popper)? I know, bad image, right. But that’s what we’re dealing with. Listen, sometimes you have to get a little creative when reading the Bible – not creative in the sense of changing the meaning. I haven’t changed the meaning. I haven’t changed anything about what God did or didn’t do. All I’ve done is give you a modern image to help you feel the weight of what’s actually written on the page.
One of the doctors that researches diseases in the Middle East noted that in the summertime, there’s a phenomenon called “Nile Blisters.” The intense heat in Egypt along with the dust of the land, you mix that together and you get these Nile blisters, and the skin turns almost purple. And all these pimples start forming on the skin and soon they cluster into thick ulcerations around the entire body. The Egyptians called it “Hamm el Nil,” that’s their Egyptian term, which means the inundation of heat.
This plague is meant to humiliate the goddess, Neit, sometimes spelled Nuit, or Nut. I like N-U-T the best. She was a nut. She was the sky goddess – the domain that brought all the blessings of the atmosphere upon the earth. There was this incantational prayer, and the priest of Egypt would take the soot and throw it into the air, and it would be a blessing from the sky goddess, Nut. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Hebrews, the Great I Am has taken that which was once a blessing and has now made it a curse.
One final comment and we’ll be done. In all the plagues thus far, Pharaoh has been hardening his own heart, hardening his heart. Time and time again, and finally we read (in verse 12), “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.” Remember, we talked about this. When people ignore the repeated promptings of the LORD time after time after time, He will confirm the decision made in their hearts.
The New Testament refers to this as a reprobate mind. Listen to Romans 1 (and we’ll be done), “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things… And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:18-23, 28).
If God is calling you today. If you sense the Holy Spirit convicting you of your sin and your need to receive the free gift of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, then please do not leave this building until you speak with me or someone that knows Jesus. For the rest of us, may we once again be reminded of the absolute sovereignty and power and majesty of our almighty God. Yes, we’ve been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Yes, we’re His chosen and beloved children. Yes, “if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But He’s still God, and He still calls us – like the Israelites – to leave our Egypt that we can serve Him and worship Him.