Today we are continuing in the Exodus narrative, which we are planning to finish on Christmas Eve. And today we’re going to spend some time looking at what we might learn from Pharaoh’s rebellious heart. If you’ve been here, you know the overarching theme of the Exodus is God showing his might and power to the whole world through his awesome acts which eventually, and finally force Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go out of Egypt. But not only is he showing the world his power and might, he’s also showing the world that he is a God who fulfills his promises.
Today, specifically, we’re going to read parts of the end of chapter 9 and chapter 10, looking at 6 Observations from Pharaoh’s Rebellion. Even though the goal for the book of Exodus and the primary reason it was written was not to show us how our sin is much like Pharaoh’s, it is still worth taking a Sunday to note what we can learn from Pharaoh’s rebellion. The overarching thesis that we’ll see from these particular considerations in the book of Exodus is this: Sin leads to destruction; submission leads to life and salvation. Sin leads to destruction; Submission leads to life and salvation. With that thesis or main idea in mind, let’s see the first observation from Pharaoh’s Rebellion:
- Obedience is more than just talk; it is action. (Ex. 9:23-35)
If you remember back to last week, the last plague we looked at in chapter 9 was the plague of hail. It was very similar to the other plagues in that God brought about this just massive amount of hail. In fact verse 25 says that it was so much hail that it struck down every plant of the field and broke down every tree of the field. This was a BIG deal. Verse 14 of chapter 9 gives us this taste of God showing Pharaoh and the Egyptians the “full force” of his power, and really the full force of his judgment, which is often what hail is associated with in the Old Testament. This plague was the biggest and worst plague so far. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last plague, and the ones after this get even worse. But, finally, what we’ve been waiting for throughout this entire narrative, finally, Pharaoh gives in, or at last we think he does.
In verse 27, Pharaoh says, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.” And then he says in verse 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.” That is about as clear a confession and apparent repentance as possible, right? He seems completely genuine in this confession and in this statement that he’s finally going to let them go. In fact, he even seems to start with understanding the core problem: his own sin! I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better start with someone who’s actually deciding to repent.
The problem is that there is a big difference between what Pharaoh says and what he does. Vs. 34- “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.” As SOON as the hail and the thunder were gone, he went back on what he had said. This seemingly genuine repentance and admission of sin and even submission to God’s will in letting the people go, ALL of it turned out to be disingenuous. It wasn’t real. Even if he emotionally meant it in the moment, his heart was not truly there. How do we know that? Because obedience is more than just talk; it is action.
True obedience results in action. True repentance, which IS 100% a change of HEART and MIND, results in different actions. This is such an important thing for you and I to remember as believers. You can have the greatest intentions in the world, but not following through is not following through. You can mean so well in your mind and heart, but unless there is actual obedience in your actions, there is no real obedience. As we talked about so often going through the Sermon on the Mount a few months back, it is so true that God desires our hearts and NOT just our actions. But we must remember, that if God has our hearts, TRULY, he will also have our actions. That’s the first observation. The 2nd observation from Pharaoh’s Rebellion:
- The desire to be our own god is at the heart of all sin.
1 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, 2 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.”
3 So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me. 4 For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country, 5 and they shall cover the face of the land, so that no one can see the land. And they shall eat what is left to you after the hail, and they shall eat every tree of yours that grows in the field, 6 and they shall fill your houses and the houses of all your servants and of all the Egyptians, as neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.’” Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh.
Why does it take SO MUCH for Pharaoh to let the people go? Well, I’d say two reasons. First, of course, because God wanted it that way, because he wanted to show his incredible power and might to the whole world, but secondly, because Pharaoh was his own god, and he did not like the idea of bowing down to another God. It is an INCREDIBLY powerful thing, this desire we can have to be our own gods. And this is TRULY the heart of all sin. The heart of why Adam and Eve ate from the one tree from which God told them not to eat.
We don’t want to be told what to do. We honestly think in our minds that no one has the right to tell us what to do, not even God! He can ask me, but the idea of obedience and submission, there’s nothing that so offends us! In fact, in mainstream Christian cultures, we have replaced terms like obedience and submission with terms like follow and trust. And “follow” and “trust” are very biblical terms that need to taken seriously, but we must take care not to avoid offensive terms and thus fluff up what God has called us to, which is what? Obedience! Submission! This is GOD that we’re speaking of, after all.
The biggest problem here for Pharaoh, the lessen that he still has not learned is that he cannot compete with the God of Israel. He can’t, even though he certainly wishes to do just that. Apparently he still has not learned what is our thesis for today: that sin leads to destruction; submission leads to life and salvation.
Maybe you’re here today, and you’ve never given in, never submitted to God fully, by trusting in Christ alone for salvation, his sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Perhaps verse 3 is the question you should hear today, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” Or perhaps you’re a believer, but your harboring this little hidden sin that no one knows about. Hear this question that God asks Pharaoh: “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?”
The heart of sin of pride, it’s this desire to be our own gods and Kings. We must know, as clear as daylight, that there is only one God and King, and it’s not us, and we should be THANKFUL that it’s not us. The 3rd observation:
- Our blindness to truth directly corresponds to the extent of our sin.
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?”
If you remember back to the third plague, the plague of gnats back in chapter 8, you might remember Pharaoh’s magicians and officials say something similar. Back when God brought gnats upon the people of Egypt, and the magicians were unable to replicate this incredible act, they said to Pharaoh, in chapter 8 verse 19, “This is the finger of God.” They knew! They had nothing else to say! They couldn’t do what Moses had done by the power of God. But Pharaoh didn’t listen then, and he doesn’t listen six plagues later in chapter 10.
The verse we just read in chapter 10 here, verse 7, especially the last question his officials ask him, is so telling: “Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?!” It’s almost as if they were baffled by Pharaoh! What are you doing?! Just let them go, that they not be a snare to us any longer! But he wouldn’t.
This question, though, in particular, “Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined,” reveals that Pharaoh’s sin had blinded him. And it seemed that the more he sinned, the more blinded he became! I mean, let’s just look at these 10 plagues and the very clear and obvious statement that God is making with these 10 plagues. Here are the false gods that the true God is completely undermining and just delegitimizing. An even better word for this: God is showing his DOMINANCE over these false gods of Egypt:
- Nile turned to blood: Hapi- was the god of the Nile who would bring about this annual flooding that would deposit all this rich soil along the banks allowing for lots of crop growing. Hapi was a false god. The true God was showing his dominance over Hapi.
- Plague of Frogs: Heqet- an Egyptian goddess of fertility, represented by a frog, which was an ancient symbol of fertility. God is showing his dominance over Heqet.
- Plague of Gnats: Geb- the god of the earth.
- Plague of Flies: Khepri- the Egyptian god that had the head of a fly.
- Plague of cattle disease: Hathor (goddess with the head of a cow), Egyptian goddess of love and protection. Multiple other gods associated with cattle that it could also be pointing us to.
- Plague of boils: perhaps Isis- Egyptian goddess of medicine and peace. Multiple other gods he could also be communicating his dominance over.
- Plague of Hail: Nut- goddess of the sky, or Shu- the god of the atmosphere.
- Plague of Locusts: Seth- god of storms and disorder, or Serapia- protector from locusts.
- Plague of Darkness: multiple Egyptian sun gods, in particular Ra.
- Death of the Firstborn: guess what false god many theologians place as the one related to the 10th plague? Pharaoh himself. Pharaoh was worshipped by the Egyptians. He was considered the greatest God of all. Many thought he was the son of the god Ra, in the flesh. The death of the firstborn, including Pharaoh’s firstborn son, was a direct statement of God’s dominance of Pharaoh.
With all of these obvious statements of God’s power and might, you’d think Pharaoh would have a clue. But no; he’s still blinded by his sin. So blinded that he still doesn’t see that he can’t compete with the one and only true God. He couldn’t see that all these Egyptian gods had just been mocked, to say the least, and he couldn’t see that Egypt had been ruined. Or, honestly, maybe he did see these things, but he refused to let these obvious truths change his actions, or change his heart.
This should wake us up a bit when we see this. We are not different when it comes to being blinded by our own sin. We may not be a position to see our sin ruin an entire nation, but we are in a position where our sin could ruin our lives, perhaps without us even realizing it until it’s too late. Do NOT be blind to your sin. One of the greatest ways for us to have our eyes open is by being fully plugged into a local body of believers, where people know us and can see perhaps blind spots that we don’t see!
Maybe, for you, this means joining a small group that meets every week. Next week, you’ll hear about our small groups starting up in January. No matter what specific step it is for you that you need to take: do not be mistaken- sin is deceiving. Let the urgency that comes with this great joy of Advent, both looking back at Christ’s first coming, and eagerly awaiting his second coming, let that help us realize our great need for accountability. Because there’s not time to waste. We don’t have time to be blinded by our own sin. The fourth observation from Pharaoh’s rebellion, and this one goes right along with the first:
- Partial obedience is disobedience.
8 So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, “Go, serve the Lord your God. But which ones are to go?” 9 Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.” 10 But he said to them, “The Lord be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. 11 No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.
So, Pharaoh was wanting to compromise here, wasn’t he? He’s giving in, but not exactly on Moses’ terms! He says, “Go, but, just the men. That’s all you need.” The problem here was not necessarily that Pharaoh was being unreasonable. It’s that he still didn’t understand to whom he was talking. This was GOD himself giving him a command that was to be obeyed. This wasn’t a request, or a suggestion; this was a command that he was to obey. But he didn’t.
We also see this in the ninth plague at the end of chapter 10. After God brings about darkness for three whole days, Pharaoh gives in! Sort-of. In verse 24, he says, “Go, serve the Lord; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.” But Moses said, of course, no. He also made the logical argument that, “Hey, we can’t sacrifice to the Lord without any animals to sacrifice.” And then Pharaoh got mad and didn’t let any of them go.
We must remember, yet again, to whom we’re submitting. We’re submitting to God. There is no such thing as compromise with God. “Well, I love God but I don’t care the the church, also known as his bride.” Even with all its faults, Jesus calls the church his bride. “Well, he may not be a believer, but maybe dating him will be a good influence on him.” No, the Scripture is clear: do not be unequally yoked. “Well, I love God, but I don’t need to try and obey everything he says.” “Well, I lied, but it doesn’t hurt anyone.” There are too many examples to give here of how easy it is to justify our compromises. When all the while, we miss the incredible BEAUTY of fully submitting ourselves to God! Giving ourselves FULLY to him knowing not that we’re earning our place in heaven, but that Christ has earned that place for us! There is no fuller expression of gratitude toward Christ that of whole-hearted and full obedience to Him and His Word. The 5th observation:
- Sin causes us to blame others, instead of taking responsibility.
Now, this is just a brief thought that I wanted to point out from verses 10-11. After Pharaoh asks them, which ones are to go? Like, he’s giving in partially, but then asks which ones Moses wants to actually go. And Moses responds, of course, with, “everyone!” Then Pharaoh responds, vv 10-11:
10 But he said to them, “The Lord be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. 11 No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.
Here’s the funny thing about this. It’s not that Pharaoh was being paranoid here, in saying “you have some evil purpose in mind,” kind-of accusing Moses and Aaron. In fact, up to this point, it’s likely that Pharaoh really thought that Moses was asking him only to let them go for a few days to worship, and then come back! So, it’s not likely that he’s being paranoid in accusing them. BUT, he STILL completely misses the point! There have been seven plagues already, and God’s about to bring on the eighth, and he still seems to be trying to shift blame for his own decision onto the Hebrews!
Sin causes us to blame others, instead of taking responsibility. I think this is particularly true within close relationships, like marriage, but certainly not limited to marriage. We, naturally, do not want to accept any responsibility for tension in relationships. We just don’t. Even if we know we could’ve done better, in our minds their faults are so much bigger than ours! Have you ever noticed that? It’s pretty much a guarantee that divorce comes about in the midst of two people blaming the other for what’s going on. Even when it’s really obvious that there is fault on one side or the other or both, no one wants to admit it!
If we’re honest with ourselves, it is a RARE thing that one person is 100% to blame for what happened. I’m not saying that excuses what people do; I’m just saying that oftentimes the first step to realizing where things could be better is looking to ourselves. Where have I not served my wife like Christ served the church, no matter what she may have done? Where have I not followed and supported the leadership of my husband, no matter what he has done? In all types of relationships, especially our relationship with God, we must stop shifting the blame. The sixth and final observation from Pharaoh’s Rebellion:
- Sin is a cycle that must be broken, and only Christ can do the breaking.
In verses 12-20, which we’re not going to read, we see God bring about the eighth plague, that of locusts. And locusts being such a damaging plague, it doesn’t take long for God to bring Pharaoh to his knees once again. In a panic, he calls Moses and Aaron back to him and, yet again, confesses his sin. Verses 16-17: “Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the Lord your God only to remove this death from me.”
Obviously, that should sound familiar to you, yes? Whether or not he means it this time doesn’t even really seem to matter, because at this point, Pharaoh is not giving in, even if in this moment he really means what he says. He’s too far in; he’s going to take a stand against God. AND, obviously, at this point, GOD is going to bring about what he wishes to bring about, which is the complete destruction of Pharaoh for his glory, that the world may see that there is no God like the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, then, finally, for today at least, God brings about the ninth plague in verses 21-29, the plague of darkness.
And after God brings about this plague, yet again, Pharaoh seems to give in, but he has to have some sort of last say, doesn’t he? So he says, “OK, go, but leave the animals!” I mean, this guy just doesn’t get it, does he? It is literally baffling that he seriously gives a qualifier to his obedience, at THIS stage in the narrative, NINE plagues into it. It’s unbelievable.
But before we jump too quickly into judging Pharaoh, let’s not forget to look at ourselves. We must never think ourselves above potentially falling into sin. We can never get to that point, because when we do, we likely have already fallen somewhere that we don’t even realize.
Pride is blinding. We see that so clearly with Pharaoh. We were born with the incessant desire to be our own gods and Kings, to call our own shots, to be our own bosses. We inevitably think of ourselves as greater and more powerful and mighty than we are. Then, as the cycle of sin continues, we start even to have disdain for people who want what’s best for us, as we see Pharaoh tell Moses at the end of chapter 10 never to come to him again, otherwise he would kill him! Pharaoh had gotten to the point where he had a hatred for righteousness or for anyone wishing to reveal that righteousness to him! The cycle of sin continues and spirals out of control, eventually, leading only to destruction. But, as we’ve mentioned several times with our main idea: submission leads to life and salvation.
There’s no such thing as giving in only a little bit. Because once we do, we’ve given in entirely. This doesn’t mean we must be perfect, as in perform perfectly. But it does mean, by God’s grace and according to the freedom we have in Christ, that we fight sin and pride in particular with every fiber of our beings! We fight it as people who are no longer enslaved to it, and who find our energy to fight it from our Lord Jesus who is with us to the end of the age.
Christ has BROKEN the power of sin in us, and now we are FREE to live in obedience for the glory of God. This morning, if you’re a born-again believer, and you’re holding on to some sin, perhaps a secret sin, STOP pretending like you still have chains on! Stop pretending like your identity is still as a slave. You are free. Christ on the Cross and in the resurrection has broken the power of sin. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us:
“Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
What a beautiful thing. That our fight against sin and for the glory of God is not in vain. It has a purpose, no matter how hard it gets. By the grace of God, in the power of the Spirit, fighting for our marriages, fighting for our children, fighting to eradicate sin, even the most secretive sins, like lust and pride. Fighting, ultimately, what all sin can be categorized under: idolatry. Fighting to see God as He is, and treat Him as He is. Fighting to experience the indescribable joy of fully submitting ourselves to Him, and receiving life and salvation. That fight is not in vain.
My question for you, today: Are you fighting in vain? Are you, like Pharaoh, fighting for something that obviously untrue? Fighting for your own kingdom, your own deity? Don’t fight in vain. Submit to God; there is no one like Him.