15: The Judgments of Exodus
on Egypt / Demise of Pharaoh / To Sinai / The Golden Calf
Pharaoh & the Plagues of Egypt
Pharaoh's Demise – Prelude to Travel
The Golden Calf
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.
Pharaoh & the Plagues of Egypt
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
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:
Moses is to go to Egypt and perform signs and wonders before Pharaoh.
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.
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
The final judgment would be in respect of the death of every first-born
son in Egypt.
Nature of the Judgment(s)
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:
The First Plague – Blood - Ex 7:14-18
The Second Plague – Frogs - Ex 8:1-3
The Third Plague – Gnats - Ex 8:16
The Fourth Plague – Flies - Ex 8:20-23
The Fifth Plague – Livestock - Ex 9:1-6
The Sixth Plague – Boils - Ex 9:8-12
The Seventh Plague – Hailstones - Ex 9:18-21
The Eighth Plague – Locusts - Ex 10:1,2
The Ninth Plague – Darkness - Ex 10:21-23
The Tenth Plague – First born - Ex 11:1-5
look at the Cause
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.
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)
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.
main things to note about these plagues is that
they were clearly spelt out to Pharaoh and his people and
there is a gradual intensity in the power and effect of each ‘plague'.
Pharaoh could have given in and God would have stopped, at any time.
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.)
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
“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 ?'”
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
to God's intent: “I am the LORD,
will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
will free you from being slaves to them, and
will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of
will take you as my own people, and
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)
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)
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)
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.
Pharaoh's Demise – Prelude to Travel
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.
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!"
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.
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)
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.
out of Egypt, Israel enter into a number of ‘trying situations' and
to save time we will summarise them in the following table:
seeing Pharaoh chasing them
& Pharaoh killed (see above)
about unclean water
cleanses the water
for lack of good food
provides quail & manna
over lack of water
provides water from the rock
given as they prayed
of Judgments – despite grumbling
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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).
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.
the first four of these incidents there are several commonalities:
A difficulty arose,
The people grumbled over the difficulty,
The Lord did NOT judge them for their grumbling and
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
of all the facts of what has recently occurred – recent in terms of
the last few months.
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!
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.
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
The Stupidity of Sin
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."
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.
Questions about the Judgment
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
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.
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.
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.
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
events in Exodus are a strange mixture. In this chapter we have observed
In Outline the Plagues and Pharaoh