In Stephen King’s 2009 Science Fiction novel ‘Under the Dome’, the small Maine town of Chester’s Mill finds itself cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible barrier they call the dome. Inside the dome, things go from bad to worse as the air becomes increasingly polluted, there is very little good clean water, animals die from lack of water and heat, crops wither and their health deteriorates. Along the way, tempers flare and people turn on one other.
Add in a few problems with insects and darkness (which is probably in the book) and you almost have a retelling of what happened to the Egyptians during the 10 plagues. Steven King is a United Methodist and he often uses Biblical references in his stories.
Last Sunday we followed Moses and Aaron into Egypt until they finally arrived before the Pharaoh. They delivered God’s message to let his people go so that they could worship God in the desert. Unfortunately, this only made Pharaoh more upset and bordering on rage.
So then, Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians to continue making bricks but without straw, a nearly impossible task. Moses was beside himself. Soon the Israelites would turn on him. This led Moses back on his knees in pray to the Lord.
“Why, O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and You have not rescued Your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23
Then the Lord spoke to Moses and said, in so many words, this is part of my plan. “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: because of my mighty hand, he will let them go”, in fact, when I am done, “he will drive them out of his country.” Exodus 6:1
God declares that he remembers the covenant he made to their ancestors, and he will deliver his people. He continues, “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Exodus 6:6
As he was told, Moses reported God’s word to the Israelites, but they will not listen to him. They were discouraged and were receiving much harsher treatment from the Egyptians.
Have you ever prayed to God for relief, but things only got worse? Have you trusted someone to help you, only to be disappointed in their results? You prayed for a blessing but instead felt like you were cursed. That is exactly how the Israelites were feeling. Things were better before Moses came along. And where was their God?
Chuck Swindoll writes, “Moses felt as low as a slug’s belly.” I love that visual! Moses wondered, is this because I fumble my words? And where do we go from here? He did his best, but he was unable to turn the tide. What do you do when everything is out of your control? He prayed for guidance.
Chuck Swindoll writes, “That is when God rolls up his big sleeves and said, step back out of the way a moment, and watch me work.” Now, God could have just cut to the chase and cursed Pharaoh, causing him to suffer so much that he would probably relent, but he did not. Why?
By the time God is done, there will be no doubt who God really is.
This will leave a mark on Moses, the Israelites, the Egyptians, the Pharaoh and endless generations that follow. God is laying a foundation that will be retold, inspire awe (holy fear), and respect forever. You want to know if I am the God of the universe? What this and remember!
God knows the ways of the Pharaoh, he knows how this will progress, it will go from bad to worse. God knows how stubborn the Pharaoh is, because he knows his heart. You see, the Pharaoh believes himself to be a deity and so God knows that he will not give up until he is completely humiliated and defeated.
Have you ever met anyone like that? I have. I remember some kids in school who were bullies and they would not back down until they were beat down. Historically, I imagine you can name some past dictators who were made from the same cloth.
Just a note here, while the battle seems to be between Moses and the Pharaoh, the real battle is between the Lord and the so-called gods (small g) of Egypt. This is an epic battle that transcends all time.
Back when I was young, James Bond would fight to stop the villains from trying to take over the world. Today, our kids love Superhero movies. They fight villains to stop the destruction of the universe. But God’s battle is for the hearts and minds of his people.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, perform a miracle, then say to Aaron, take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.” Exodus 7:8-9
This is the first step or the first display of power. Pharaoh likes parlor tricks; he believes in magic. So, Moses and Aaron do as God tells them. Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a snake. Then the Pharaoh called upon his sorcerers and Magicians to do the same. Only when they did it, Aaron’s snake / staff swallowed all the others.
While this shows that Moses and Aaron do have some power backing them up, Pharaoh was unmoved. His heart became hardened. He was unimpressed; just as God had predicted. Now it is time to ratchet things up.
God tells Moses to, “Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. Then say to him, The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now, you have not listened.
“This is what the Lord says: By this, you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’” (Exodus 7:15-18)
In Egyptian mythology, the god of the Nile was called Hopi. The Nile river was central to everyday life from water to drink, to fishing, cooking, cleaning, and to bathing. And here is the thing, God turned all of the water to blood; even the water in jars and wooden buckets. This was a crushing blow, but the Pharaoh was again unmoved.
Just to be clear, many of the plagues appear to have been naturally occurring phenomena that at times afflicted ancient Egypt.
Scientist have found a type of Algae that can turn rivers red and cause the water to be spoiled. But you must understand, this is the perfect storm. God’s plagues reach far beyond what can be explained.
The 2nd plague was frogs. With the river contaminated, they came into the city and overwhelmed it. The 3rd plague was a swarm of gnats (lice). They were everywhere, in their ears, eyes, noses; they couldn’t keep from swallowing them if they opened their mouths. Have you ever taken a hike in the woods and been overwhelmed with bugs? This would be horrible.
These first 3 plagues affected everyone in the city and beyond. The Israelites were crying out to God and Moses for relief. So here is what God did, it is like he put an invisible dome over the city and said, “On that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur tomorrow.” (Exodus 8:22-23)
So then, the 4th plague of Flies, the 5th plague the death of the livestock, the 6th boils on the skin, the 7th the horrific large hail storm, the 8th the swarm of locusts, and the 9th the complete darkness, only fell on the city of Egypt. God blessed the Israelites and gave them some relief.
During these terrible plagues, at times the Pharaoh would give in, but after reconsidering, he hardened his heart repeatedly. Also, each of the plagues was a smack in the face of the Egyptian gods. Pharaoh was raging and demanded Moses leave the city. Moses agreed. But the final battle is yet to be waged.
We know what was going on with Moses and the Pharaoh, the question is, what was going on behind the scenes? As the Israelites watched, they had a newfound respect for Moses, and they were worshiping God like never before. They were praising, they were amazed, and dancing in the streets.
But things were also changing in the city. Pharaoh’s credibility was pretty much gone. Exodus 11:3 reads, “The Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed to the Israelites, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.”
If you don’t think this toasted the Pharaoh’s cookies, think again. With every plague, every time Pharaoh took a hit, his cold heart turned to stone. He was backed into a corner and was not going down without a fight.
In the Egyptian book of the dead, there are instructions for preparing a body for burial and what they believed happened in the afterlife. They believed that after you died, in the afterlife, the God of the dead would weigh your heart to see if you were just or unjust. The goal was to be light-hearted. So, the heart was weighed on a scale against an ostrich feather. If the heart was too heavy, it was devoured by the god of the dead. You see, the only way for the Pharaoh to break the heaviness of his heart was to defeat the God of Israel, he had too much to lose by giving up. So, he dug in his heals for the final battle; the battle over life and death.
“Now the Lord had said to Moses, ‘I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely.’” Exodus 11:1 God gave Moses the words to say and he then he went to see the Pharaoh.
Standing before Pharaoh Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Ever firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand-mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.
“There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal. Then, you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” Exodus 11:4-7.
God then instructed Moses to tell his people how to escape the coming of the Angel of Death. They were to slaughter a lamb, prepare a meal to be eaten and then use the blood of the lamb to smear on the sides and top of the doorframe so that the angel would Passover their homes.
You know the rest of the story, just as God said, during the night, the angel of death came, and all the firstborn of Egypt died. Pharaoh was more than happy to see them leave then. He had been defeated by God at every turn and so had the Egyptian gods.
Some people ask, “How could God do that? How could he be so cruel?” Others might say, “God gave the Pharaoh and the Egyptians every opportunity to relent but they refused, so they brought it on themselves.”
Here is what I see as the lesson we should learn. God wants to offer you blessings not curses.
Amid those horrible plagues, God had mercy on his people, when they cried out to him. He listened and acted with grace.
James 4:2-3 reads, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” It concludes like this in verse 6, “Scripture says, ‘God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Each of us is called to examine our hearts and minds for all our hidden motives. If we call on God with a deep faith, a pure heart and an obedient nature; God wants to rescue and bless us. And he will do it in his time and his way.
I cannot tell you why things happen or how long they may go on. But I can point you toward the one who can help. Jesus was our final sacrificial lamb who took away the sin of the world.
(Read John 1:29; Hebrews 9:15; or 1 John 2:2)
Seek to know him, accept him and make him Lord of your life. Then, trust him and remain obedient to him and not the things of this world. If you remain faithful, I believe he will bring more blessings than trouble upon your life.
As the Israelites ate the Passover meal, we will eat together the Holy meal that Jesus instituted in a few moments. This bread his body, this juice his blood. Take a few moments now, before we begin, to prepare yourself for this blessed meal.
And all God’s People said, Amen