15 – God versus a Tyrant
I have spared you for this very purpose, that I might show you my
power and that my name
be proclaimed in all the earth. (Ex
of Chapter 15
Setting the Scene: Putting Egypt in context
The Call of Moses
Approaching Pharaoh: The opening gambits
The Start of the Plagues
Some Temporary Conclusions
Setting the Scene: Putting Egypt in Context
book about God's activities through Israel
would be complete without reference
to the Pharaoh of Exodus, chapters 1 to 14.
many of us, to talk about love or even justice in the context
of Pharaoh might seem strange, yet I suggest that all that we
see of God's dealings with Pharaoh conform to all else we learn
about God throughout the rest of the Bible.
God is Exodus 1-12 is the same God as in the rest of the O.T.
see this we will need to examine the accounts quite carefully to take
in things we might not have known previously, or certainly not noticed
before, if we had negative feelings about the way God dealt with this
end conclusion of God's activity with Egypt
was a large number of dead bodies.
The end conclusion of God's dealing with Pharaoh was the death of
Pharaoh and of his army. Were such acts just? Were they acts of a
God who described as ‘love' (1 Jn 4:8,16)? You can make your own judgment
by the end of the two chapters.
those who do not want to work through the detail of the story,
you may prefer to jump to the end of the chapter – but you won't have
the understanding that produces the conclusions. We will leave out
some detail for clarity sake but will include the main facts that
reveal what was happening.
those who do want to work through these events, but who might
not know the story, we need to lay out the history as it happened:
The Historical Context
see what went before the story really gets under way:
are the names of the sons of Israel
who went to Egypt
with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah;
Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. The
descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in
Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but
the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly
numerous, so that the land was filled with them.
Jacob and his twelve boys had gone to Egypt
as a result of the famine
and settled there.
- Time passed and the original families
grew – some suggest after four hundred years they exceeded a million
and a half people, and the text seems to confirm that.
- The large number may explain, partly
at least, what followed.
a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt
"Look," he said to his people, "the Israelites have
become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with
them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out,
will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country."
So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor,
and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.
king of Egypt,
or Pharaoh as he was called, who had originally welcomed Jacob and
his family into the land, has passed on and a new king or Pharaoh
- Feeling threatened by these foreigners
in his land, he makes slaves of them.
- Thus the years pass and life gets
harder and harder for the Israelites.
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The Call of Moses
Preliminary overview of Moses' life so far
|Now I am not
going to say much about the call of Moses because this is not
really his story. However, we should lay down some basic facts
of this ‘Prince of Egypt':
about the Prince of Egypt
was an Israelite who was taken as a baby into the court of the king
of Egypt, and adopted by the king's daughter. (See Ex 2:1-10)
- When he was forty, Moses killed
an Egyptian who had been beating one of the Hebrew people – he was
standing up for his people, but in the wrong way! (see Ex 2:11-14)
news of this leaked out and Moses had to flee from Egypt.
(see Ex 2:15)
the next forty years Moses worked as a shepherd in the land
(see Ex 2:22)
the previous king of Egypt
died and a new king or Pharaoh
is in place (see Ex 2:23)
who clearly thinks in the same manner as his predecessor.
the fullness of time, God decided it was time to act (Ex 2:23
- We need to realise that Moses is
a failure with very low self esteem:
- he had been brought up as a Prince
- he threw that away when he tried
to help his biological people,
- he has lived as a shepherd for
40 years with no hope of anything else happening to him,
- he is now eighty years old!
- Thus we start with an encounter
between the Lord and Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3 & 4)
God's revelation of Himself to Moses
much for the preliminaries about Moses. We need to then go on
and examine Moses' early encounters with the Lord to see what
is on God's heart. See what he says to Moses and what He reveals
about His intentions towards Pharaoh.
out Moses' earliest encounter with God
he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob."
- God first of all reveals Himself
as the One who has had dealings with the Patriarchs, so this would
give content to Moses' knowledge of who it was speaking to him.
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say
to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.' " God also said
to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, the God of your
fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac
and the God of Jacob -- has sent me to
you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered
from generation to generation.
- Although God has described Himself
as the God of Abraham etc., Moses still wants a name to refer to
when he goes to his people.
- The name, “I AM” suggests 'the ever-present
One', or 'the eternal One', a God who is utterly different from
us. (LORD in capital letter in the Bible from now on means, “The
- This designation is very important
because through it, God reveals Himself as the eternal God and this
makes Him very different from the ‘gods' of human imagination and
manufacture found in Egypt.
- But God also reiterates that He
is the One who has had dealings in history with the patriarchs,
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This gives Moses a great deal of context
in order to identify and understand God.
God's Intention made clear
LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.
I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I
am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue
them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that
land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the
home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and
Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I
have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I
am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of
- God's motivation for acting is His
concern for the family (now a nation) with whom He had a relationship.
- He declares His twofold intention:
rescue them out of Egypt,
give them a new land to live in, the land
- His means of rescuing them is to
- Moses is not very excited about
this and in the next two chapters are all the excuses he makes about
why he shouldn't be the one to go.
assemble the elders of Israel
and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob -- appeared to
me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done
to you in Egypt
And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into
the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites
and Jebusites--a land flowing with milk and honey.'
- Moses is to go to the elders of
the Israelites first and tell them who he has met, using both the
eternal name and also refer to the God who has dealt with the Patriarchs.
- He is thus both the eternal God
who is outside of history, and the God who intervenes in
Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt
and say to him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us.
Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices
to the LORD our God.' But I know that the king of Egypt
will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch
out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will
perform among them. After that, he will let you go.
- Now comes the first instruction
to go to the king and ask him to let the Israelites go into the
desert to offer sacrifices to their God.
- It is a simple request with no suggestion
of completely leaving.
- Yet God knows Pharaoh and knows
he will not comply with this request until God has done something
powerful in their midst to compel them.
- This is the first sign that Moses
is dealing with an intransigent ruler.
- Pharaoh thinks he is all-powerful,
and has yet to learn otherwise.
But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you,
take some water from the Nile
and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will
become blood on the ground."
is given two miraculous signs to perform with his shepherd's rod,
but this will not be enough.
will need to perform another miracle and he is to use water from
the Nile –
this would surely leave Pharaoh thinking seriously.
LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt,
see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you
the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let
the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, `This is what the LORD says: Israel
is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may
worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your
- Here we come to the mystery of the
question of ‘hardening if heart'.
- The subsequent text in the following
chapters shows that sometimes it is God hardening Pharaoh's heart
and sometimes Pharaoh hardening his own heart.
- Hardening can simply be taken to
mean ‘becoming more obstinate'.
- The truth is that Pharaoh's heart
– before God intervened – was clearly set. He was the king and what
he wanted, happened!
- God hardened his heart by challenging
him and thus his obstinate heart becomes more obstinate – I will
not give way! Just like a little child having a tantrum!
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Approaching Pharaoh: The Opening Gambits
were all part of Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush
in the desert. We now need to move on and see what happened
when Moses first approached Pharaoh. How did it conform to what
God had said?
carefully to see how Pharaoh responded.
Initial Contact which Fails
Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the LORD,
the God of Israel
says: `Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in
the desert.' "Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should
obey him and let Israel
go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel
go." Then they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with
us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices
to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the
- This is the first time they come
- There is no threat, just the demand
for the people to go.
that it is a demand that comes from the “I Am,” Israel's
what we haven't noted before is that Egypt
worshipped many ‘gods'
- History tells us that they had multitudes
of gods linked to the land, the sky, the seasons, almost anything.
They were very superstitious.
- Pharaoh's response was to reject
this call and load the slaves with even harder work.
obviously considered Israel's God to just be another of the multitude
of gods like his own nation had, who appeared powerless and were
able to be appeased or manipulated by sacrifices. So far he sees
no need to co-operate with this God.
returned to the LORD and said, "O Lord, why have you brought
trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went
to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this
people, and you have not rescued your people at all.
- Despite being told previously by
the Lord what would happen, Moses acts in surprise. He clearly hasn't
taken in what the Lord had said previously, or perhaps it had dulled
- He is upset at the response of Pharaoh.
The Divine Purpose Reiterated, will Prevail
the LORD said to Moses, "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh:
Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty
hand he will drive them out of his country." God also said to
Moses, "I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to
Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself
known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them
where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of
the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered
- The Lord reiterates that He will
have to deal severely with Pharaoh which will eventually mean Pharaoh
driving them out of the country, not merely letting them go.
- The Lord also reiterates who He
is and reminds Moses (what he probably already knew) that He is
acting because of an agreement He made with Abraham etc.
said to Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and
your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything
I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the
Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart,
and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he
will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with
mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the
Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I
stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of
- The Lord is quite clear about His
- He will speak to Moses, Moses to
Aaron and Aaron to Pharaoh.
- This approach will settle Pharaoh
even more in his resolve not to let them go.
will thus have to increase the pressure on Pharaoh more and more
– and Egypt
will know very clearly what is happening!
Initial Competition of Miracles
LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "When Pharaoh says to you, `Perform
a miracle,' then say to Aaron, `Take your staff and throw it down
before Pharaoh,' and it will become a snake." So Moses and Aaron
went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his
staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a
snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian
magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one
threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron's staff swallowed
up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not
listen to them, just as the LORD had said.
- The contest has started to see who
is the greatest.
- Note that the Lord expects Pharaoh
to demand a miracle and the Lord has already prepared Moses for
this (see back in Ex 4:2-7).
- What is interesting is the Pharaoh's
sorcerers using the occult could do the same thing. This occultic
power gives a strong indication of the spiritual darkness of this
- The fact that Moses' snake ate up
their snakes ought to have alerted Pharaoh that this was no second
rate magician he was dealing with!
- Pharaoh doesn't like his men being
made to look foolish and hardens his heart even more against Moses
and against the Lord.
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The Start of the Plagues
well, the game has started! Pharaoh has been asked and Pharaoh
has refused to let Israel
go. So far the consequences
of opposing God have not been spelled out. That is about to
carefully how the 'plagues' increase
The First Plague – Blood
the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is unyielding; he refuses
to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out
to the water. Wait on the bank of the Nile
to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into
a snake. Then say to him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent
me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in
the desert. But until now you have not listened. This is what the
LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff
that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile,
and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the
will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able
to drink its water.' "
- Now the Lord is moving into direct
was incredibly important for transport and also for watering the
lands for crops etc. and, it would seem, for bathing in.
also had its own ‘god' in their thinking. To attack the Nile
was to attack the heart of
- This was a devastatingly simple
miracle with great effects, which have major physical, social and
- But it does NOT directly harm people
or animals and it will be done directly infront of Pharaoh so he
will know where it has come from!
the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and
Pharaoh's heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron,
just as the LORD had said. Instead, he turned and went into his palace,
and did not take even this to heart. And all the Egyptians dug along
to get drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the
the Egyptian magicians copy this miracle – presumably in other streams
– reducing the amount of available water in the land even more!!!
retreats into his palace – an early example of denial perhaps! He
is not going to be moved. Now this was quite a severe ‘plague' yet
Pharaoh is not moved.
The Second Plague – Frogs
said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, `This is what the
LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse
to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs.
The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace
and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials
and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The
frogs will go up on you and your people and all your officials.' "
- A second clear warning and a second
- To save space we'll simply recount
- The frogs came – and the magicians
somehow managed to copy it – occult powers seriously at work! Again
rather stupid for it only makes it worse.
- Pharaoh says he will relent if Moses
removes the frogs; he does, and Pharaoh goes back on his word and
refuses to let them go.
- Again note the nature of this plague.
The blood was passive, but the frogs came up into people's homes
and into the royal palace. It could not be escaped; it was a severe
- Yes again, it did not directly harm
people or animals.
The Third Plague –Gnats
to Moses, "Tell Aaron, `Stretch out your staff and strike the
dust of the ground,' and throughout the land
the dust will become gnats ."
- So it happened and they settled
on people and animals. This is a stage worse than the frogs which
could be shut out. This time the magicians could not copy it.
- Do we see the gradual increase in
‘nuisance value' of each of these first three plagues?
- This time Moses did not appear to
confront Pharaoh but just did it.
- Pharaoh hardened himself against
The Fourth Plague – Flies
the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning and confront
Pharaoh as he goes to the water and say to him, `This is what the
LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you do
not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies
on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The
houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground
where they are. "But on that day I will deal differently with
where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you
will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. I will make a distinction
between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur
it happened! This may seem a continuation of the previous plague
but it is a different insect AND
it was only upon the Egyptians
and NOT the Hebrews!
- This steps up the intensity and
effect of the plagues even more!
- This time Pharaoh said they could
worship God in the land, but once Moses prayed for the flies to
go he hardened his heart again and refused.
The Fifth Plague – Livestock
the LORD said
to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, `This is what the LORD
the God of the Hebrews, says: "Let my people go, so that they
may worship me." If you refuse to let them go and continue to
hold them back, the hand of the LORD
will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in
the field--on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle
and sheep and goats. But the LORD
will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel
and that of Egypt
so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.' "The
set a time and said, "Tomorrow the LORD
will do this in the land." And the next day the LORD
- The pressure is now on! This time
it is herds and flocks - definite financial loss!
- Again there is the distinction between
Egyptians and Hebrews
- Surely Pharaoh can't be under any
illusions now – he is in serious trouble!
sent men to investigate and found that not even one of the animals
of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would
not let the people go.
- Pharaoh's stupidity is now quite
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pause up and think about what has happened up to this half-way
mark of the plagues. For ease of reading we'll deal with the
rest in the next chapter. So what should be note here?
need to pause and think about what has happened so far
are Two Perspectives:
- Pharaoh's – why is he persisting
in this downward path?
- God's – why is He doing this, why
didn't He end it at the beginning?
is a slave driver, an all-powerful
tyrant, king over Egypt.
slaves because he was afraid
of the power of their growing numbers.
surely he should have been glad to
go – to get rid of them?
but he doesn't like anyone telling
him what to do.
possibly he is in bondage to fear
of the ‘gods' in his own land, but they seem powerless against The
“I Am” who states His intention and then does it.
is described as having a hard heart
that gets ever harder.
is all-powerful and could have wiped
Pharaoh out with a single word.
yet He allows Pharaoh to exercise
his free will, again and again, until now it is costing all his
is a judge (Jas 4:12, 5:9) and so
is perhaps holding Pharaoh to account for not wisely ruling his
people and not leading them to be the people God intended them to
be. Instead he has allowed them to be foolishly superstitious –
but why him? Was it that he was any different to any of the Pharaoh's
before him? Or was it more that in Moses, the Lord had an instrument
to reveal the pure folly of these powerful kings?
almost graciously He has only gradually
increased the intensity of the plagues, only gradually has he put
pressure on them.
He has given Pharaoh every opportunity
to comply and avoid worsening discipline.
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Some Temporary Conclusions
we conclude the chapter it might be helpful to consider some
of these things in more detail and from a wider perspective.
We will hold the rest of the plagues and what followed for the
let's think more deeply
The State of Egypt
before the Plagues
are some specific characteristics that we should note about
the state of Egypt - the people, the King and his advisors:
was in a bad state!
The superstitious beliefs
- The presence of so many ‘gods' indicates
a culture full of superstition.
- Such gods are clearly mere superstition
and so while people rely on such things, it is difficult or even
impossible for them to rely upon God at the same time.
- Such superstitious beliefs indicate
a blindness to the truth, and a life lived in fear. This was the
state of the nation - and it was not helped by having a vicious
dictator ruling over them creating even more fear.
The occult activity
- That there were sorcerers or magicians
who were, initially at least, able to imitate the supernatural works
of God indicates a strong involvement with those ‘other powers'.
- The use of occult powers also suggests
people who wish to have power but not be answerable to God.
- There is inherent in this activity
a rebellion against the One True God, whether they knew of Him or
The characteristics of the king
- This king, as is often common, was
fearful of being undermined and overthrown. This is seen in his
responses to this growing alien nation within his borders, as he
makes them, like his predecessor, slaves. Indeed he makes life harder
and harder for them.
- His has little respect for human
- If we see such kings as stewards
of their country which is ultimately ‘owned' by God, then we must
also see them as answerable to the Lord – yet that seems to be the
last thing he intends.
also comes over as either a pathological liar or a man lacking any
moral integrity because again and again he says he will let Israel
go – but then changes his
mind the moment the plague is lifted!
there are also some specific things we should note about the
Lord. There is no 'crisis management' about all this.
He is working to a Plan.
has a master-plan
God's foreknowledge & purposeful plan
foreknowledge is observable in what we might call His prophetic
utterances to Abram (Gen 15:13,14)
when He spoke of all this happening four hundred years before, declaring
that He would ‘punish' the nation who ‘enslaved and mistreated'
ability to know the future is seen from the outset of these circumstances
when he warns Moses that “I know
that the king of Egypt
will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will
stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders
that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.”
is reiterated in more detail later: “The
to Moses, "When you return to Egypt
see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given
you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will
not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, `This is what the LORD
is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he
may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill
your firstborn son.”
(Ex 4:21 -23)
- This makes it very clear that God
knew not only how Pharaoh would respond but also how He, the Lord,
would deal with him right through to the end.
God's Ultimate Intention
that we've just seen we know that God intended to take it right
up to the point of deaths throughout Egypt,
but was death His intention?
is a great deal of difference between wanting to kill people and
using the death penalty as the ultimate and only eventual tool to
bring about the release of Israel. We have seen in previous chapters
that God was later to declare through Ezekiel, “I
take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign
- His ultimate intention
is something else and we had to wait until chapter 9 for it to be
spelled out “I
have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you
my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
This is about punishment and it is about power, but primarily it
is about revealing God to Israel and the rest of the world.
what, so far, does it show about God? He:
chosen to look after Israel,
chosen Pharaoh and Egypt
to make them an example
for the rest of the world to see,
determined to release Israel
while at the same time punishing
and Pharaoh to determine the extent of the punishment – at any
time they could release Israel
and send them away – it
is only their sin that brings on them all that occurred.
Human responses and consequences
- We saw in a previous chapter references
to the way God sometimes brings His discipline to bear – by lifting
off His hand of restraint from us and letting us get on with what
the sinful nature in us wants to do – with all of the painful consequences
- We bring on ourselves the fruits
of our own folly by living contrary to God's design – in fact all
human pain and suffering is that.
- The bigger picture in the early
books of the Bible is that God has designed us to work in specific
ways and the way we live determines whether we feel self-worth and
self-fulfilment OR stress, strain, pain, anguish, upset and unhappiness.
- It is what the Bible calls our sinful
nature that causes us to reject the former course of receiving the
blessing and goodness of God, and opting for the later self-orientated
path that brings all the other fruits.
- We choose what we get, but God does
not enjoy it when we bring suffering on ourselves, and we'll see
more about that later in the book.
be sufficient to prepare us to move in to consider the final stages
of this drama, that we'll see in the next chapter.