Last week we took a closer look at the fourth chapter in Exodus, which concluded with Moses arriving in Egypt and the people of Israel worshiping God for answering their cries for freedom. Today we are going to look briefly at the next six chapters in Exodus and extract a few principles and themes:
In Exodus 5 & 6 Moses and Aaron speak to Pharaoh and request freedom for the Israelites. Pharaoh’s response is exactly as God told Moses it would be. Pharaoh claims he does not know the Lord and refuses to let Israel go free. Pharaoh increases his oppression of Israel by making their work nearly impossible. Moses blames God for not holding onto His end of the bargain, even though events are progressing exactly as God said they would. Israel despairs and complains. Moses slips right back into his habit of elevating his weaknesses over God’s ability, power and character. All the while, God continues to remind Moses and Israel who He is and His ability to fulfill the promises He has made to them.
In Exodus 7 we begin to see that God’s purposes for bringing plagues upon the Egyptians were not just to show His power to Israel or to punish Pharaoh’s hard heart, but to show Himself to Egypt. God wanted the Egyptians to know Him as the only living God. This is so important because God’s heart was not to punish Pharaoh but for Pharaoh to know Him and turn to Him in repentance. Moses and Aaron do exactly as God commands them without question; moving from a place of insecurity to a place of complete trust and faith in God. They continue to perform miracles and signs for Pharaoh to demonstrate the authority given to them by God. For example, in Exodus 7:10-13 Aaron casts down his staff before Pharaoh as it turns into a serpent. This miracle is replicated by Pharaoh’s magicians as their own staffs turn into snakes. Yet God’s miracle swallows up counterfeit magic tricks as Aaron’s serpent swallows up all of the other snakes. (Can I just say this passage gives me the heebeegeebees?!) As much as Pharaoh and his magicians wanted to discredit these acts of God, they could not explain them away. Over the following chapters we find the magicians unable to replicate certain plagues, starting with the plague of gnats, and acknowledge to Pharaoh God’s existence and power. Pharaoh repeatedly refuses to listen to even his most trusted advisers, as he continues to lead from a place of stubbornness even at his nation’s expense.
Over and over again in these chapters we read a repeated phrase, “As the Lord had said.” It is mentioned three times in Exodus 7 alone. Anytime phrases are repeated in a passage of Scripture it is a good indication that God wants us to hear a specific message. In this case, it is that God is faithful to His word and trustworthy. His consistency in warning Moses and Aaron of Pharaoh’s future responses established a firm foundation of trust that enabled them to act with greater confidence in the Lord.
As God continues to send plagues to Egypt from Exodus 7-11, His heart is consistently for Pharaoh, Egypt, Israel, and the surrounding nations to come to know Him as God. We can observe how generational cycles of fear and paranoia in the royal family are cultivated and culminate in this one Pharaoh’s hard, fearful heart. What we see in Pharaoh as a leader is an incredibly stubborn heart that knows nothing of humility, of repentance, or of the value in listening to wise and trusted counsel. We witness this leadership style lead to destruction, death, and plunder of his family and his people. It would be easy to look at God as a terrible god in this story for plaguing Egypt, but in reality they had a terribly selfish, fearful and stubborn leader who at any point could have let Israel go, sparing his country and arguably blessing it with a future ally, yet refused to put the good of others above his own greed and lust for power. Please do not miss the reality that Pharaoh’s narcissism led to his country’s destruction, plunder, and to the death of many (including his firstborn son).
In Exodus 7:16, God tells Moses to request the following from Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” Not only did God want to bring His people into the promised land, while making Himself known to the world, He wanted to show Israel how to serve Him in the wilderness. God understood that how Israel served Him in the wilderness would set the tone for how they would live and serve Him in the promised land. The wilderness would not be a coincidental season in Israel’s story, but an essential time of God shepherding, teaching, and building intimacy with His people.
As we close, I hope we take home two truths: 1. God’s heart is that we may know Him. His heart is for us, not against us; for us to live in relationship with Him, in freedom, and not in bondage to fear or greed. 2. How we serve God in the wilderness sets the tone for how we live and serve in the place of promise. The wilderness seasons of our life are not punitive nor pointless; they are the fertile soil in which our roots grow deeply into the heart of God, producing nourished fruit in the promised land.
Until next week,