In Exodus 5:2 Pharaoh asks the question, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” This question is the question that every human asks. I do not have regard for God and has no need to obey him. Who is God that I should have to listen to him? It is not a question that seeks to know God. It is a question that reflects rebellion. Who is this God that I would have to listen to him? I can do what I want to do. I can listen to myself. I am my own god and I follow my own decrees. Who is God that he can tell me what to do? The question of Pharaoh is the question of our culture and society. So God’s answer to this question is extremely important. In the event of the plagues, God is going to teach Pharaoh, and ultimately teach the world, who the Lord is so that people will obey his voice. Exodus 7:3-5 declares that this is God’s purpose.
But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them. (Exodus 7:3–5 ESV)
What God is saying is that the plagues that are about to fall on Egypt are acts of revelation. God is revealing himself. There is a purpose to what God is doing. We should consider this because there are ten plagues. Why doesn’t God just start with the tenth plague if the goal is merely to let the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery? Why not just go right to the death of the firstborn and get this liberation started? Why have five chapters before getting to the plague that God declares will cause Pharaoh to let the people go (11:1)? The answer is that God is revealing himself. We must not memorize the plagues and think that is all we need to know. These plagues have a purpose. God is declaring himself. God is revealing himself. So what is God teaching from these plagues?
People Will Know That God Is The Lord
The first point God is communicating through the ten plagues is that people need to recognize that God is the Lord. We just saw this in reading Exodus 7:5. Notice that God keeps saying this throughout the plagues. In 7:17 God says, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord.” God says it again in 8:22 and 10:2. People are to see the power of God and know that he is the Lord. This is the very point the apostle Paul makes in Romans 1.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18–20 ESV)
What are people in the world to see? They are to see the eternal power and divine nature of God. Interestingly, by the time we get only to the third plague, gnats, the magicians are already confessing that this the work of God. Look at Exodus 8:19.
Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. (Exodus 8:19 ESV)
When we get to seventh plague we see that some of the Egyptians are becoming believers in the message of God. Moses declares that the next plague is going to be hail and everything not brought in the home is going to die. Look at Exodus 9:20-21.
Then whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slaves and his livestock in the field. (Exodus 9:20–21 ESV)
This is the goal: to get people to know the Lord and believe in him.
No One Is Like God
The second goal of God’s revelation is to reveal to all that there is no one like God. Most recognize that these plagues are an attack on the Egyptian gods. Moses records that this is what happened in Numbers.
On the day after the Passover, the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them. On their gods also the Lord executed judgments. (Numbers 33:3–4 ESV)
However, the goal of the plagues is not that we would go through each plague one by one and show how each plague attacked one particular deity. The Egyptians worshiped over 100 pagan deities. Rather, these ten plagues show that God is over all of it. Remember that pagan worshipers believed that deities controlled certain aspects of creation. They had a god of the sun, a god of the water, a god of health, and god of rain, and on and on. They also believed gods were gods of certain regions and hills. These gods ruled particular areas. These plagues show that there are no other gods. These plagues show that God is over all and in all. These plagues show that God is over every aspect of creation and rules over every place on earth so that you can run and leave God’s rule or his presence. Listen to how God announces this to Egypt in Exodus 9:16.
But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16 ESV)
What God does is destroy the idea of religious pluralism. God destroys the idea that all religions and beliefs are valid. We do not have the right to live how we want. We do not have the ability to say that we can pick how we want to worship God. God is destroying this religious pluralism in the plagues. There is no other God but him. There are not multiple ways to come to God. The plagues show who this God is and why you must listen to him alone. He alone has the power and no one else.
God’s Name Proclaimed In All The Earth
The third reason God performs these plagues is so that his name, power, and glory will be proclaimed throughout the earth. Look again at Exodus 9:16 where God says this.
But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16 ESV)
Look at Exodus 10:1-2 where God states this again.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1–2 ESV)
God is acting to display his own glory so that the world would know and proclaim his name everywhere. This was so important that God instructs the people of Israel to teach their children and the following generations how God did this so that they will know that he is the Lord. When God institutes the Passover in Exodus 12 he will declare the same thing that this is to be proclaimed for generations, teaching them that this is who God is. God wants his name proclaimed throughout the earth and it begins by teaching your own children about the mighty works of God. Our proclamation begins by teaching our children and teaching their children. If we are not teaching our children what God has done, we have already failed in understanding why God has displayed his wonders and mighty works. Second, we are to then proclaim what God has done to the world. We must tell everyone about what God has done, showing them who God is and why they must obey him.
Hardness of Heart
So what is the problem? Why does the world not submit to the power of God? Why do people, including ourselves, refuse to submit to the Lord and continue to rebel by not listening to what he says? Think about where we stand in God’s history. Not only have we read about the flood, the plagues, the kings and the prophets which all reveal God’s judgment against disobedience, but we have the cross and the resurrection to know the power of God. So why do we rebel and do not listen to the voice of the Lord? The same reason that Pharaoh watched his nation be destroyed by God and did not submit: hardness of heart.
The repeated refrain regarding Pharaoh is that his heart was hardened.
Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. (Exodus 7:13 ESV)
The exact same statement is made again in Exodus 7:22. Again and again the text tells us that Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35). Then we also read that the Lord repeatedly hardened Pharaoh’s heart (7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10). It is a shocking statement because the nation of Egypt is crumbling around Pharaoh and yet he continues to harden his heart, even to the amazement of the servants.
Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” (Exodus 10:7 ESV)
People are clamoring for Pharaoh to just let the people go as they are being wrecked by each plague. Why will Pharaoh not relent? Why does Pharaoh keep refusing? What does it mean that his heart was hardened? This is best described for us in Exodus 10:3.
So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Exodus 10:3 ESV)
What does it mean that Pharaoh’s heart was hard? It meant he refused to humble himself before the Lord. The effect of sin and rebellion is the hardening of the heart. Please consider this: Pharaoh does not care that Israel has a God that they serve. Israel has been serving God for hundreds of years. Pharaoh cares that this God is telling him what to do! Israel can believe in their God but do not tell me what to do! This is the heart of the problem. This brings us full circle to the beginning of our lesson. It is hardness of heart that says, “Who is the Lord that I should have to listen to him?” This is the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. Do not tell me what to do.
In fact, there are a few times where it appears that Pharaoh is going to relent. But the problem is he thinks he can relent on his terms. Look at Exodus 8:25. Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” (Exodus 8:25 ESV) But God said they were going to worship in the wilderness, not in Egypt. Pharaoh wants to obey on his terms. In Exodus 10:8 Pharaoh tells them to go worship, but not all of them, which is not obedience to God’s command. In Exodus 10:24 Pharaoh says to go worship but leave the animals behind. This is the hard heart. I am not going to listen to God. I am not going to do what he says. I will do what I think is best and “obey” on my terms which is not obedience at all.
So how did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? I think the narrative of the plagues makes it clear. God keeps offering for Pharaoh to relent and repent. God’s grace is hardening Pharaoh’s heart because God keeps sending Moses to Pharaoh, telling him to submit and listen to the Lord. Yet Pharaoh refuses each time and his heart grows harder. Pharaoh even tries to say the right words and yet it is not humbling yourself before God. Look at Exodus 9:27-30.
27 Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Plead with the Lord, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” 29 Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. 30 But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.” (Exodus 9:27–30 ESV)
Pharaoh says all the right things. But Moses says that he knows that he does not fear the Lord yet. Saying “I have sinned” is not fearing the Lord or humbling yourself before God. We see a lot of false repentance today. People want to just say their are sorry but do not exhibit the radical life change of submission which is the fruit of repentance. Fearing the Lord means full submission and the destruction of the hard heart that tries to obey on one’s own terms. Fearing the Lord means humbling ourselves completely before God and not rebelling against a single word from the Lord. True repentance shows submission, obedience, and radical life change, as the apostle Paul even described in 2 Corinthians 7.
Let us consider that the same warning is giving to us today.
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:12–15 ESV)
Do not harden your hearts. Our hearts are hardened when we refuse to humble ourselves before God. Our hearts are hardened when we try to obey the Lord on our terms. Our hearts are hardened when we say “I have sinned” but do not show a radical life change that fights against sin. Our hearts are hardened when we listen to our own desires rather than the revealed will of God. God has revealed why we must listen to him. God’s grace will harden your heart further, for each day he gives you yet another chance to humble yourself and obey. Every time you refuse to humble yourself, your heart moves further from God. Do not fall away from the living God and do not harden your heart. Submit to the will of God.