From the Hard Rock Bottom of My Heart, Part 2
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 9/25/2016
“From the Hard, Rock Bottom of My Heart - Part 2”
Exodus 9: 14 - 16
Revelations 9: 20-21
Hebrews 3: 7-8
Swarms of Flies
Disease of Livestock
Skin Sores and Blisters
Hail and Thunder
Death of Firstborn
When we last left Pharaoh he was sitting in the relief of God’s removal of lice from the land of Egypt. So, imagine his “happiness” when he looks up from his bath and sees good ol’ Moses and Aaron coming down the walkway. I imagine he was full of anger, fear, and, possibly, curiosity. But, safe to say, he was not thrilled to see the pair venturing his way. They waste no time with pleasantries, but just go right into God’s demands, “The Lord says, “Let my people go, so they can worship me.”
Following these words is an important shift in the narrative. For up to this point, the plagues have been bothersome to the Egyptian people, but they have not truly suffered because of the plagues. Now, however, God makes it a point to tell the Israelites they will be set aside. They will be spared of the plagues as a promise from God to His people. The discerning reader should pick up on and understand that this means things are about to escalate.
And escalate they do. The next three plagues are considered to be Painful Plagues because they cause physical discomfort to those they inflict. The plagues are 1. The swarming flies or insects, 2. The decimation of the livestock by disease, and 3. The skin sores and blisters on the Egyptian people. The final four plagues are much worse and are called the Destructive Plagues for the crippling effect they have on the land of Egypt. Those plagues are 1. Hail and Thunder, 2. Invasion of Locusts, 3. Darkness, and 4. The slaying of the first born.
We will discuss the plagues somewhat, but, I think it might be important to focus on the person of Pharaoh for a moment before we do so.
Pharaoh’s Mental State
Pharoah is ruler of a powerful and wealthy nation. He is worshipped as a god and is equal among other gods idolized by the Egyptians. Needless to say he has a very high opinion of himself and his identity has been created by his many ancestors and the culture of a nation that preceded him by many years. He considers himself to be great, if not the greatest, man who walks the earth. He refuses to bow to anyone. He believes in himself and in his power and in his wealth and in his knowledge. He cares about nothing else. He has faith in nothing else. It is only about him and God is making him look bad.
These plagues...everything that is going on around him; the inadequacy of his religious experts, the disease and pestilence, the darkness, the pain of the sores...they do not just show Pharaoh that the gods of Egypt are inept and ineffective and non existent. They show Pharoah something much worse...much harder to swallow...they show him that he is just a man. A man that is powerless against the one true God, who now seeks the freedom of His people.
Each time the realization of this inadequacy creeps into the mind of Pharaoh, we see him start to bargain with God. His bargains, however, are steeped in insincerity and, to borrow a phrase from 2004, “strategery”. He makes promises that he has no intentions of keeping. He asked for prayers that he does not care whether or not he receives. He just wants the plague to stop and the Israelites to suffer for the damage they have done to Egypt and to him personally.
Pharaoh's heart is hardened because he cannot see God for the sovereign being God is. For to see God in that light means he must think less of himself. He must put God before himself. He must put God before his own desires. He must become obedient to God. Which is what he never wanted to do in the first place.
Even the night that Pharaoh walks into the throne room and finds his oldest child lifeless on the throne, he still seeks to be free from the obedience of God. He calls Moses and Aaron and tells them to take the Israelites and leave the land. But then he adds, “And bring a blessing on me as well.” Pharaoh's blessing would be that the Israelites were leaving and taking their God with them. He could return to his status and place as a deity in the Egyptian culture. Even though he and all of the Egyptians would know the truth, they would also prefer to return to the good life they had before. But, perhaps, it is this persistent truth that God bested him that causes Pharoah’s heart to harden one more time. It is this understanding that nothing will never be the same because it will always be known how great the Israelite God is and that Egypt’s Pharoah was powerless against God. Without beating God there was no truth for Pharaoh, his existence would be a lie.
He goes after the Israelites one more time and this time in an awesome display of the realtime power of God, the entire military might of Egypt and Pharaoh, himself, are washed into oblivion by the crashing waters of the Red Sea.
There is an interesting association in the text regarding the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. The resoluteness and stubbornness of Pharaoh is mentioned 12 times in the text of Exodus. Often it is mentioned that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It seems like that is a merciless thing for God to do and, as a believer in a merciful God, how do I reconcile that? Remember the covenant. The truth of the narrative is that the people of Israel are the chosen people of God. The people of Israel are the people that a new creation will originate from and within. God has taken a side and it began with Abraham. The proof lies in the narrative at the Red Sea. Moses tells the Israelites, “The Lord will fight for you. You just keep still.” Then God tells Moses, “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I gain honor at the expense of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his cavalry.” As Michael Coogan stated in his assessment of this phrase, “Yahweh is the god of Israel and is on the side of his people: Their enemies are his enemies, and whatever he and they do to these enemies is deserved.” (Coogan, p99)
But, to be honest, I think there is another side to the coin here. Pharaoh really didn’t need God to harden his heart. It was already hard. Why? Because, as he stated with this saga began, “He does not know this God.” To be blunt, he does not want to know this God. To say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart is to me a juxtaposition of God’s power to do something by acting and to do something by omitting. For maybe the true assertion is that God did not soften Pharaoh’s heart. God allowed Pharaoh to go down a path of destruction without making him change his way. Yet, the whole time, throughout the whole narrative, in the middle of every plague, Pharaoh has the ability to cry out to God, “Stop this! I believe in you and your power! I have faith that you will do anything for your people! I give you the lives of my fellow Egyptians! I give you the lives of the members of my court! I give you my life!”
But Pharaoh remains silent. He does not cry out for forgiveness and redemption. He chooses to challenge God.
The Final Thought
As God rescued Israel he caused great distress and loss among the Egyptians. The plagues of God were designed to show the futility of a worship system separate from God. They were designed to show that things considered important among the nation of Egypt, were really not that important. The most important thing, the one thing that could have saved Egypt from the wrath of God, was the one thing they most refused to do...worship God.
Our scripture reading today comes from Revelation. And although I do not consider myself a fire and brimstone type of guy, there is great importance in these words. <<Read Revelation 9: 20>>
It is the mission of any Pastor to take the events of the world and to put them in the context of God, Christ, and our salvation. So, in light of the mass shootings, the civil unrest, and the racial related debate that hangs over our nation right now, let me offer you these final points.
God has demonstrated God’s power time and time again. It is not God that hardens hearts in the world today. It is the work of evil. It is the work of the one who benefits most from a world which seeks no obedience to and no association with the creator. Evil cannot do the miraculous works of God, it can only use smoke and mirrors to make us second guess these miracles. As a society we are letting evil run rampant among us. Evil cannot create the plagues seen in Egypt, but it can cause us to turn on ourselves out of doubt, fear, and desperation.
What began as an escape from slavery in Egypt ended on a cross at Cavalry. God’s setting apart and rescue of a select few, grew into the salvation of all. Our identity, our common identity, is that of a child of God redeemed by the blood of Christ. Do not let evil harden your hearts. Know that God is stronger than all things and continues to fight on the side of His children for righteousness in this world. In a society of Pharaohs, unwilling to bow in obedience and lift up arms in reverence to God, be different. Being a Christian does not mean we assimilate to the status quo, we do not take the idols of others and worship them as our own. No, we stand up tall and voice our faith and obedience to God above. We let our voice be heard and we remain true and steadfast in our love of God and love of one another.
Do not let your heart become hardened
Know that God is stronger than all things
Know that God is fighting for righteousness in the world
Know that if we want to do right by humanity, we cannot keep these things to ourselves
Salvation came from one God for all people, that is our common identity.