Week 7: Moses and the Plagues

Exodus 1-14

My wife and I started watching the series Blacklist several months ago. It’s a great show full of breathless moments and suspenseful plot turns. We have taken a long break from watching it, falling further behind with the new season becoming available on Netflix since our leave watching the drama. We took the break to watch a sitcom that is not so serious and thus easier to turn our minds and emotions off, to allow us to fall asleep quicker and easier. Before our Blacklist sabbatical, an episode began with Reddington waking up in the back of a jeep driven by boy soldiers. To make his coming back to consciousness even more troubling, Reddington hears gunfire as the boys exchange fire with the soldiers chasing them in a humvee. The young soldiers eventually exchange their automatics for a single rocket launcher bringing an end to the chase and their chasers.

The young soldiers escort a handcuffed Reddington to a dictator in a recliner on a sandy, jungle-surrounded beach in Cameroon. Yabaari is the dictator that Reddington is sat before and questioned by. In this brief but tense conversation, Raymond quickly reveals to Yabaari that he didn’t find him; instead, he found him. In exchange for 3 million dollars, Reddington hopes this jungle dictator will provide him with the name of another person Berlin has hired to hunt him. Yabaari denies knowing anything about a hired mercenary until after the second missile strikes near his vicinity because of Raymond’s planning. After the second explosion, this now desperate dictator begins to do his best to recall the name of the man Berlin has contracted to eliminate Reddington. From the stumbling words of Yabaari, Reddington is able to conclude that he needs to focus his attention on Lord Baltimore and neutralize this threat to himself. The scene fades with Raymond cooly and dramatically setting the cash ablaze to safely make his escape from his captors.

When we first begin reading the opening chapter of Exodus, it may seem as if God’s people are awakening to a scary and bleak situation like Reddington, as a new Pharoah arises to power. Unaware of Joseph and his actions, the Pharoah is afraid of the Israelites because they are great in number. He and the nation of Egypt enslaved the descendants of Abraham. His fear of the Hebrew’s size eventually leads to the Pharoah ordering the midwives to kill all newborn boys upon delivery. While the current situation of the Hebrews experiencing slavery in Egypt might have caused many to wonder if God had forgotten the covenant promise He had made to their ancestor Abraham, those who remembered the details of God’s promise realized that while Pharoah and the Egyptians believed they were enslaving the Hebrews for their own benefit, it was God who allowed His people to be enslaved so that He might indeed keep His word spoken to Abraham.

Genesis 15:13-14

Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth.

Anyone who remembered these details of God’s revealed plan to Abraham would have been able to have their strength renewed as they patiently waited on the LORD to act according to His timeline, knowing that He was faithfully working out His plans. We, too, can be spiritually and physically recharged if we wait patiently on the LORD to work out His plans in our lives and all of redemptive history, even if our current circumstances are less than pleasant. As the end of four hundred years draws nearer, God delivers a baby boy who He will use to deliver His people from their slavery in Egypt.

Exodus two tells us that this baby is named Moses. After he is weaned, he grows up in the household of Pharoah. Once a man, Moses went out to visit his people. During this expedition, Moses sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a fellow Hebrew. Enraged, Moses rushes to the defense of the enslaved person and kills the taskmaster. The next day, when he tries to mediate between fellow Hebrews at odds with one another, one sarcastically questions his authority and asks if will murder him as he did the Egyptian the day before. Moses knew that his killing of the taskmaster was no secret. Pharoah soon found out about Moses’ deed and tried to have him killed. Moses escaped and fled to Midian.

About forty years later, Moses is watching his father-in-law’s sheep when he sees a bush on fire but not being consumed. Moses goes to investigate the strange sight and encounters the living God.

Exodus 3:5-6

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father —the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.

God then lets Moses know that He is not unaware of His people’s suffering and that He will rescue them from Egypt. He will soon judge the nation of Egypt for the oppression of His people. God informs Moses that He is sending him to lead His people out of Egypt. Moses protests God’s newly revealed plans for his life as he asks for a sign of credibility to give his fellow Hebrews when he arrives and tells them that the God of their ancestors has sent him to them. Specifically, Moses asks what name he should say to them when they ask him for the name of their ancestor’s God who sent him. God graciously reveals His name to Moses in Exodus 3:13-15.

God replied to Moses, “I am who I am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.

This is my eternal name,
    my name to remember for all generations.

God says His name is, “I am who I am.” The English transliteration for “I am who I am” is YHWH. YHWH is commonly translated as LORD or Jehovah in our English Bibles. At its basic level, YHWH carries the idea that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the self-existent God, meaning “I am the One who is.” While these verses have inspired countless volumes of commentary, all Bible commentators agree that God’s name carries the idea that He exists independently of anyone or anything. Scholars also agree that God’s name declares His absolute uniqueness. Scripture claims that no one is like the God of Israel (Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 44:6-7). Finally, since God is self-existent, time, circumstances, or experiences do not change who He is. God is immutable. The doctrine of immutability means that God does not change. God is, has been, and forever will be loving, gracious, merciful, fair, righteous, holy, and faithful. God’s immutability gives us the surety of His faithfulness in keeping His promises to Abraham and us today through His Word (Exodus 6:6-8)!

It is difficult to keep this post to a readable length because so many good things are in these chapters, but I’ll keep trying as we fast forward in the narrative. Moses and his brother Aaron have arrived in Egypt and have declared God’s desire for Pharoah to let His people go. Pharoah responds by telling Moses and Aaron that he doesn’t know who YHWH is, so why would he even entertain listening to Him (Exodus 5:2). Pharoah’s arrogance against and ignorance of his Creator God, YHWH, brings me to Exodus 7:3-5 where God declares,

But I will make Pharaoh’s heart stubborn so I can multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Even then Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you. So I will bring down my fist on Egypt. Then I will rescue my forces—my people, the Israelites—from the land of Egypt with great acts of judgment. When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.

God will not only keep His promise to Abraham to judge the nation that oppressed his descendants, but through His judgment, He will reveal Himself to Pharoah and the Egyptians. The Egyptians were in no shortage of gods and goddesses, yet they did not know the LORD. To reveal Himself as God alone to the Egyptians, each of the ten plagues used by God to judge Egypt was an attack on one of their deities. God displayed His superiority and the worthlessness of Egyptians’ pantheon of gods with each plague He sent.

After displaying His power and authenticity as the only divine being through the plagues, Pharoah sends for Moses and Aaron at night and tells them and the Israelites to get out of Egypt! That same night, 600,000 men plus women, children, and livestock set out from Egypt – but not empty-handed.

Exodus 12:36

The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!

This verse is anything but an afterthought! This verse is the Holy Spirit intentionally pointing out through Moses that God kept all His promises to Abraham concerning his descendants hundreds of years earlier! God told Abraham that his people would leave with great wealth at the end of their captivity. God is omnipotent; not even the most powerful nation in the world at the time of the exodus could keep Him from keeping His covenant promises to Abraham, and nothing is powerful enough to keep God from keeping His covenant promises with us (John 10:10; Romans 8:38-39)!

As the Israelites leave Egypt, Yahweh still isn’t finished displaying His glory to either Israel or Egypt. God leads Moses and the Israelites to a seemingly dead end and hardens Pharoah’s heart so that he will rouse his army and give chase. God has set up the final scene where His judgment of Egypt will occur. God instructs Moses to raise his staff and separate the waters of the Red Sea. The people of Israel crossed to the other side on dry land with walls of water on each side. Once safely on the other side, the LORD hardened the hearts of the Egyptian army, and they gave chase after the released Hebrews on the same path which they had safely traveled. However, the LORD had other plans as He twisted the chariot wheels of the Egyptians and caused the waters to rush over the army as Moses raised his hand back over the sea. These rushing waters drowned all of Pharaoh’s army that had pursued them into the sea, leaving no survivors. After pointing out the totality of God’s defeat over Pharaoh, his army, and the Egyptian pantheon, Moses points out the totality of God’s faithfulness to all of Abraham’s descendants and the people’s response to the LORD because of His power displayed through both circumstances.

Exodus 14:29-31

But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides. 30 That is how the Lord rescued Israel from the hand of the Egyptians that day. And the Israelites saw the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the seashore. 31 When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

God continues to carry out His plan to rescue sinful rebels as first proclaimed in Genesis 3:15. He is furthering His strategy of redemption by keeping His promises to Abraham. He has judged Egypt and freed the Israelites and has already made progress in making them a great nation with 600,000 men plus women and children. Now He must continue to reveal Himself to them, provide guidelines on how to relate to Him and each other, and give them the land designated for this nation that will be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

Several years ago, when my kids and I finished playing Monopoly for the first time, at least one of them wanted to keep the Monopoly money to go shopping. I had to explain that while the paper bills had value while playing the game, they had no purchasing power in the real world. This reality went against my child’s wishful preconceived notion that they could buy toys with Monopoly money because they could buy properties around the gameboard. What they thought was valuable was utterly worthless.

When we look at Moses and the ten plagues as God revealing Himself to the Egyptians by showcasing His power over their gods, He shows them that the gods they worship are as useless as Monopoly money at our local Target. The LORD uses the plagues to reveal to us that He alone is worthy of our worship; this is the message He powerfully taught the Egyptians through these plagues. YHWH is alone worthy of worship because He is the only God with the power to redeem a people for Himself and safely guide them home (Exodus 15:11-13).

Exodus 15 is a song of deliverance that Moses and the people sang to the LORD after His mighty rescue of Israel through the Red Sea. However, two months after leaving the land of Egypt, the Israelites resorted to the very thing God demonstrated as useless, idols (Exodus 32 and 33). We would be wise not to follow their example, yet we are no different than they were, so we must humbly ask God to help us not to give in to this same temptation. I invite you to read and think about Psalm 24:1-6 and then pray those verses back to God. Ask God to reveal any idols in your life, give you the desire and strength to rid your life of those idols, and help keep you keep your life pure of idols.

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