"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 15





Chapter 15: The Judgments of Exodus

Plagues on Egypt / Demise of Pharaoh / To Sinai / The Golden Calf



Chapter 15 Contents 

15.1 Pharaoh & the Plagues of Egypt

15.2 Pharaoh's Demise – Prelude to Travel

15.3 To Sinai

15.4 The Golden Calf

15.5 Recap


We move on to consider the amazing events leading up to one of the greatest milestones in the life and history of Israel, the Exodus, culminating in the death of the Pharaoh who opposed Moses. We will then observe Israel making their way to meet God at Mount Sinai and the episode involving a golden calf, which brought about the first judgment that Israel experienced themselves.



15.1 Pharaoh & the Plagues of Egypt


The Judgment Warned

Ex 4:21-23 The 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 firstborn son.' "


What is quite remarkable about this series of events which take up eight chapters of Exodus, is that the Lord laid out before Moses the basics of what would happen:

i) Moses is to go to Egypt and perform signs and wonders before Pharaoh.

ii) The point of those is to add weight to his demand for Pharaoh to let Israel go and release them from slavery to go to a land of their own.

iii) In that process God would harden Pharaoh's already hard heart so that he would refuse to let Israel go (we have covered this in detail in my previous book, “God's love in the Old Testament” and in chapter 8 here.)

iv) The final judgment would be in respect of the death of every first-born son in Egypt.


The Nature of the Judgment(s)

The Exodus is both one major judgment and a number of lesser judgments all at the same time. To get the full picture you need to read chapters 5 & 6 for preliminaries and then 7 to 12 for the actual plagues. Let's simply observe them and then make comment:


a) The First Plague – Blood - Ex 7:14-18

b) The Second Plague – Frogs - Ex 8:1-3

c) The Third Plague – Gnats - Ex 8:16

d) The Fourth Plague – Flies - Ex 8:20-23

e) The Fifth Plague – Livestock - Ex 9:1-6

f) The Sixth Plague – Boils - Ex 9:8-12

g) The Seventh Plague – Hailstones - Ex 9:18-21

h) The Eighth Plague – Locusts - Ex 10:1,2

i) The Ninth Plague – Darkness - Ex 10:21-23

j) The Tenth Plague – First born - Ex 11:1-5


Another look at the Cause

Now first, the cause. At first sight it is simply a judgment on a despot who refuses to heed God's call to let His people Israel go. It is that simple and that call comes again and again and Pharaoh's refusal is a demonstration of a hard heart and the pride that goes with it. However, when one considers the state of Egypt we find that not only was it ruled over by an all-powerful despot, but it was incredibly superstitious, worshipping ‘gods' of all kinds and some suggest that the plagues attack the fundamental belief in the (occult) powers of these ‘gods' and included in that might be the belief in the deity of the Pharaoh.


We may be able to suggest, therefore, that the Lord was bringing judgment on each of these things and specifically used the presence of His people in Egypt as the stumbling block over which Pharaoh would fall. In that case it was a plan that had been made known over four hundred years earlier when the Lord spoke to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13,14)

This was no accident, something that caught the Lord by surprise. The Lord never made Israel stay in Egypt and in their early years there they could have easily returned to Canaan but perhaps their prosperity and wellbeing in Egypt kept them there psychologically.


Three main things to note about these plagues is that

a) they were clearly spelt out to Pharaoh and his people and

b) there is a gradual intensity in the power and effect of each ‘plague'.

c) Pharaoh could have given in and God would have stopped, at any time.


These have got to be the two greatest examples in history of

  • God giving opportunity after opportunity to a people to repent, and
  • the crass stupidity of the despot and his people (and may speak to the slave mentality that occultic activity and sin produces.)


It underlines the Lord's heart revealed three times through Ezekiel:

•  “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and

•  “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) and

•  “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel ?'” (Ezek 33;11)


A threefold declaration through the prophet! The plagues of the Exodus reveal a God who holds back and holds back destruction. He could have given one warning and then killed Pharaoh and then sent a plague to wipe out the rest of the country, but instead He chose to give them opportunity after opportunity to repent and be saved while Israel left them.


Listen to God's intent: “I am the LORD, and

  •  I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
  •  I will free you from being slaves to them, and
  •  I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
  •  I will take you as my own people, and
  •  I will be your God.

         Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” (Ex 6:6,7)


Note the words, “Then you will know”. At the end of this there will be no grounds for doubt. God wants His people to know! (also 7:17, 10:2)


But there is more: “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 it." (Ex 7:3-5)

By the end of all of this, the remnant that is Egypt will also KNOW! (see also 8:10,22, 9:14,29, 14:4,18)


Again and again in Scripture we see that the Lord's intent is to reveal Himself through these things, so that people will know and turn to Him. His desire is to draw all men to Himself in order that they may receive all of His blessings.



15.2 Pharaoh's Demise – Prelude to Travel


On their way out of Egypt and before Israel get under way on their journey to Sinai and then to the Promised Land, we have a final judgment in respect of Pharaoh. Observe first of all the panic that the people of Israel felt when they found themselves hemmed in by sea on one side and Pharaoh's approaching army on the other.


Ex 14:10-12 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt ? Didn't we say to you in Egypt , `Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"


To all intents and purposes they were doomed. What is interesting is that the verses tell us that “they cried out to the Lord” AND they berated Moses for getting them into this apparent mess.

Moses responds in faith: “Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." (Ex 14:13,14)


The Lord's only negative response, if you can call it that, is to gently chide Moses: “Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me?” (v.15) and He then tells Him what to do and what will happen. Deliverance comes as the seas part, Israel pass through, Pharaoh follows and is then drowned as the seas pour back. A miraculous deliverance to finalise the Exodus.



15.3 To Sinai



Coming out of Egypt, Israel enter into a number of ‘trying situations' and to save time we will summarise them in the following table:




The Lord's Response


Fear seeing Pharaoh chasing them

Deliverance & Pharaoh killed (see above)


Grumbling about unclean water

God cleanses the water


Grumbling for lack of good food

God provides quail & manna


Complaint over lack of water

God provides water from the rock


Amalekites attack them

Victory given as they prayed


Absence of Judgments – despite grumbling

Now we mention these ‘difficulties' that occurred on the way from Egypt to Sinai because of the absence of judgments! Yes, indeed, because at first sight this may appear quite surprising. Putting aside the attack of the Amalekites (because there was no indication that this was a disciplinary act of the Lord), let's look in a little more detail at what took place in each case.


The first incident in the table above (Fleeing from Pharaoh) we include, even though we have already covered it, because it is the first example after the Exodus actually started, of Israel grumbling. Having just witnessed TEN incredible examples of the power of God, you might have thought that they would start feeling secure before Him by now – but no! Nevertheless He does not discipline but simply deals with Pharaoh.


The second incident (stagnant water) involves grumbling because they are frustrated in not having their need for clean water being met: “So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?" Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.” (Ex 15:24,25) Note again that there is no rebuke from the Lord, only a word of wisdom to Moses and then what has to be a miraculous cleansing of the water.


The third incident (lack of food) similarly involves more grumbling but now it is because of fear, no doubt, because of their lack of food: “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt ! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." (Ex 16:2,3)


Yet again, quite remarkably, the Lord does NOT chide them but allows His glory to be seen (Ex 16:10) and then provides quail (Ex 16:13) and then the Manna (Ex 16:14,31) which required a faith response in collecting it. (And twice they failed to do that – see Ex 16:19-20 – keeping manna over night, and Ex 16:27-30 – going out in seventh day to collect it)


The fourth incident (lack of water)  is not, unlike the second incident, over stagnant water, but over the simple fact that there was no water at all! “The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin , travelling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarrelled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses replied, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?" But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" (Ex 17:1-3) The Lord does not chide them but enables Moses to produce water from a rock, clearly another miracle (Ex 17:4-7).


The fifth difficulty (the Amalekites) they encounter, is different in that they are attacked by an enemy. Moses intercedes while Joshua leads the people to fight and then overcome. We simply mention this incident because it was a difficulty they encountered in the desert and the Lord did enable them to overcome it.


With the first four of these incidents there are several commonalities:

1. A difficulty arose,

2. The people grumbled over the difficulty,

3. The Lord did NOT judge them for their grumbling and

4. The Lord provided for them in each instance – deliverance, cleansed water, food, and then water. To that we may then add, deliverance from an enemy.

Now why are we even considering these things if there are no judgments involved in their time of travelling from Egypt to Sinai? The answer is exactly because of that, because AFTER their encounters with the Lord at Sinai, suddenly it is very different and the Lord DOES hold them responsible for the way they then responded. We will see this in detail later on but for now we need to note the Lord's forbearance with this embryonic nation who have not yet learned to trust the Lord.


They have been distant witnesses to the plagues but now they have had their own dealings with the Lord whereby He clearly allowed (if not led them into) difficulties so that they might learn that He is there for them. Their personal dealings with Him have so far been very limited and so we must assume that for this reason the Lord simply provides for them again and again and takes no action against the grumbling.


The lesson must be that the Lord tolerates those who are young in their faith and does not discipline; that comes later and seems to accompany revelation. The more we know of the Lord, the more He seems to hold us accountable. Challenging!



15.4 The Golden Calf


The Judgment

Ex 32:27,28 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel , says: `Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.'" The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.


As we come to this particular judgment we have to acknowledge from the outset that this must be one of the most terrible judgments we have seen. It is one thing for a flood to kill people or for a plague to kill people, but for people to kill their own brothers, friends or neighbours is horrendous. To try to make any sense out of it we must consider their recent history and, indeed, long-term future history.



i) The Events

First of all the facts of what has recently occurred – recent in terms of the last few months.

  •   Israel have been recipients of freedom as God judged Egypt.
  •   They were witnesses to His incredible power and destructive potential through the ten plagues and then in the Red Sea.
  •   They have witnessed His grace as when a number of times they grumbled over difficulties while travelling through the desert to Sinai, and the Lord simply provided for them again and again. There was no judgment involved.
  •   When they arrived at Sinai they witnessed God's presence on the mountain or at least signs of it – thunder, lightening and black cloud and trumpet blast (Ex 19:16) but that was only after the Lord had offered them a covenant relationship: “if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'” (Ex 19:5,6) and when Moses presented them with this, “The people all responded together, "We will do everything the LORD has said.” (Ex 19:8).
  •   This was followed by a call to consecrate themselves (v.10) and by warnings not to go on the mountain on pain of death (v.12), a sense of God's holiness was being created.


We then see Moses going up and down the mountain a number of times, it seems, to meet with the Lord and in that he receives not only the Ten Commandments but a series of laws which Moses wrote down and which became the basis of the covenant (Ch.21-23) and we find, “When Moses went and told the people all the LORD's words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the LORD has said we will do." Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. … Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey." (v.3,4,7)

Three times now they have declared their acceptance of the covenant with God!


We then find, “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel . Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (v.9-11) This is amazing and we tend to forget that 74 Israelite leaders were given a unique revelation of the Lord – and lived! This was the first and last time such a thing would happen – but bear in mind, in what follows, this incredible experience.


Then Moses is told to leave the others there and go up the mountain (v.12) to meet with God and receive the previously given ten commandments but now on tablets of stone that are to be a lasting reminder for Israel – and there he stayed for forty days. Now presumably the other seventy three went back down the mountain to the people and no doubt told what they had seen. (Joshua went at least part of the way with him v.13)


ii) The Stupidity of Sin

This is where the crass stupidity of human Sin makes itself known. The days pass and Moses does not come down. Eventually the people tire of waiting and we find, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." (Ex 32:1)


Now you would have thought that Aaron and the other seventy two would have reminded these people of what has only recently happened and the incredible revelation they received but one way and another this either didn't happen, or it did happen and was rejected, and so Aaron gave way and the end result was a golden calf to be worshipped as an idol – and then Moses returns (Ex 32:2-8,19) and we have this terrible command to execute large numbers of Israel.


iii) Questions about the Judgment

Now the problem is that we don't have a reason given why ONLY 3000 people died and we don't know how the Levites decided who should die. Although it is not stated I believe it is a fair assumption that the people killed were the ones who had been joining in the orgy of the golden calf. There is no other logical possibility or way they could have decided and the fact that they ONLY killed this relatively small number presupposes this was their way of deciding – the guilty will die.


Now we need to look at the big picture. In an earlier chapter we considered the glory of the Lord and said that one of THE most important things that Israel had to do in their role as God's people was reveal the Lord to the rest of the world. They had to reveal the fact that idols were simply man-made images and worthless and just superstitious rubbish, and the only real, genuine living God, One worthy of worship, was The LORD, the I AM.


What we have here, as hard as it seems, is a people who at least three times committed themselves to the Lord and to the task of revealing His uniqueness (holiness) to the world and yet who, within just over a month reverse or forget those commitments and, even worse, set up idol worship, there on God's doorstep, so to speak. It was the greatest insult and rejection possible and therefore the remedy had to be absolute if this people are to start off their life with God on a right footing. The whole of their future ‘ministry' is at stake here.


A devastating judgment and yet tiny in comparison to the large number of Israel (somewhere between 1 and 2 million people), and a lesson that should be held on to, to help them keep to their role and task.


An area that we have not looked at is what would have happened if judgment had not been brought over this incident.   I leave you to think about the ongoing rebellious attitude of a number within that camp and the effect they would have on the rest and the potential future for Israel, and as for the name of the Lord??? Seriously, think what alternative there was to this course of action and what harm to the ongoing wellbeing of this people would result if this hadn't happened.



15.5 Recap


The Events

The events in Exodus are a strange mixture. In this chapter we have observed

i) In Outline the Plagues and Pharaoh

  •   What stands out there is not so much the power behind the plagues but God's grace in allowing them to come so gradually giving Pharaoh so many times to respond well.


ii) Pharaoh's Demise – a prelude to Travel

  •   We include this final judgment as it serves to show that although God spared Pharaoh's life with the earlier plagues, when Pharaoh goes all out to destroy Israel, God allows his own folly to bring his end as he presumes that the miraculous holding back of the water will continue to allow him to catch Israel.

iii) To Sinai

  •   In this section we noted how, amazingly, God did NOT bring any disciplinary judgments on the grumbles of Israel as they made their way across the desert to Mount Sinai .

iv) The Golden Calf

  •   The is the first judgment the Israel experience and it is made all the more dramatic by the fact that it had to be self imposed.



There are strange things about these judgments. We have already commented upon how remarkable it was that the Lord did not judge Pharaoh and Egypt outright but allowed a very gradual build up through the plagues. We have hardly made anything of it in this chapter because I covered it at length in my previous book, but Pharaoh's blindness, his intransigence, his stubbornness, and ultimately his wilful pride and stupidity, have got to be one of the world's greatest examples of these things in sinful man.


Having said that, one does wonder about the mentality of three thousand Israelites who gave up on God, gave up on Moses, and worshipped a golden calf, and that after merely a matter or months of having witnessed the judgments on Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh. Moreover they have witnessed miraculous provision in the desert a number of times.


In trying to understand their stupidity, we can offer the following excuses for them. First, because Israel are probably well over a million (possibly approaching two million ) people, it is possible that the succinct information we have in these chapters was not conveyed to many of them; they only heard it second or third hand.

Second, even if they have heard the accounts of Egypt's downfall and Pharaoh's destruction, it is possible that, having been through months of travel through the wilderness, the reality of the Lord's provision for them may, again, only have been conveyed to them second or third hand and because they have not received any censure for their grumbling, they may have arrived at the wrong conclusions that a) God is at a distance, b) He didn't care about their behaviour and so c) they could get away with anything.


Excuses they may have been but at the end of the day they did not save their lives. Before the final judgment on the last day, as every person stands before God to account, there will surely be many excuses given but again, the answer will be given, you had every opportunity throughout your life to come to your senses and repent but you chose not to. When you line up the folly of large numbers of the human race failing to seek and find God, the folly of Pharaoh and then these Israelites does not seem that great. However the lesson is clearly, no excuses accepted!


We now move on to consider the two judgments in Leviticus.


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