Bow or Be Broken

Exodus 7-11

August 14, 2022 | Ray Pritchard

Some moments are frozen in time.

We remember them because they are unlike anything that has happened before.

They stand alone.

That’s what we face when we study the ten plagues of Exodus. There never was anything like this before, and nothing has happened like it since then.

The ten plagues stand alone.

The ten plagues stand alone.

Here we have an extraordinary story that stretches over five chapters. There is nothing else like it in the Bible.

On one level, it is the story of a confrontation between two powerful men: Moses and Pharaoh. We know only one of them will prevail. There must be a winner and a loser.

But Moses represented God, and Pharaoh ruled the most powerful nation on earth.

Israel had one God.
Egypt had many.

When it was over, Moses and the Jews were gone from Egypt, free at last of their long enslavement.

Two Preliminary Remarks

As we begin our study, two preliminary remarks are in order:

1. Something like this had to happen or Israel would never go free.

Pharaoh would never let the Jews go on his own. Why give up his free slave labor? Previous events had already made that clear. Instead of letting them go, he treated them harshly.

It would take something supernatural to change his mind.

Why give up his free slave labor?

That’s exactly what happened.

2. Nothing in this story makes sense apart from God.

The ten plagues were not just ten unfortunate events that by chance happened to follow one after the other.

Purely naturalistic explanations won’t work.

There are times when God must act.

The Bible records three periods of remarkable miracles surrounding three men: Moses, Elijah, and Christ. Those miracles occur at key points in the biblical record, as if to say, “Now we will hear from the Lord God of the universe.”

There are times when God must act.

The Nile River did not turn into blood every day.
That only happened once.

If God doesn’t do something, the Jews will never be free.

Listen to the words of Exodus 7:5,

“The Egyptians will know that
     I am the LORD when I stretch out
my hand against Egypt and
     bring the Israelites out of it.”

We call this a “teachable moment,” not just for Israel but also for Egypt.

Would Pharaoh learn anything from this?
Would he change at all?

Here we come up against a profound mystery. The Bible says that God hardened Pharoah’s heart (Exodus 7:3-4). But God hardened his already-hard heart. It’s not as if he loved the Jews in the beginning. On the contrary, he never cared for them except as a source of slave labor.

He did learn something, which he promptly forgot. As we will see, there is a lesson in this for us today.

Battle of the Gods

What can we say about these ten plagues?

They occur in a definite order. The first nine plagues fall into groups of three.

First, blood, frogs, and gnats bring great discomfort.
Second, flies, cattle, and boils bring great destruction.
Third, hail, locusts, and darkness bring great devastation.

There is also an increase in severity. What starts with blood and frogs ends up in darkness and death.

What starts with blood and frogs ends up in darkness and death.

Why did God send the 10 Plagues?

To defeat the gods of Egypt.
To display his power.
To deliver his people.

This is the story of the “battle of the gods.” The God of Israel faces off against the gods of Egypt. It was many gods versus the one true God.

Since the Egyptians worshiped many gods, the Lord Almighty will now defeat them in a battle so public it could not be denied.

“I will execute judgment against
     all the gods of Egypt,
for I am the Lord!” (Exodus 12:12)

John Calvin said, “The human heart is a perpetual idol factory.” The Egyptians proved him correct.

Pharaoh will now learn the hard way that there is one God and only one.

A Quick Survey

Let’s do a quick survey of the ten plagues.

The human heart is a perpetual idol factory.

1. Water turned to blood (7:14-25)

The plagues begin with the Nile River turning into blood. That makes sense because without the Nile, there is no Egypt. The country exists because the river is Egypt’s only source of water.

All the water in Egypt turned into blood, causing a horrible odor as the stench of dying fish filled the land.

Even the water in the jugs turned to blood. This meant the people had no source of clean water to drink. “Blood was everywhere in Egypt” (v. 21).

When the Egyptian magicians duplicated this plague, Pharaoh hardened his heart.

2. Frogs (8:1-15)

When Moses warned Pharaoh about this plague, he was very precise about what would happen:

“The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs” (v. 3).

Suddenly frogs were everywhere!

Open a door, find a frog.
Pick up a cup, and a frog jumps out.

Look! There’s a frog sticking out of your bread dough.

Frogs may make good pets for children, but it would be disgusting to find a frog in your bathtub or under the covers of your bed.

Look! There’s a frog sticking out of your bread dough.

Imagine waking up with a huge frog perched on your face.

Somehow the Egyptian magicians duplicated this feat. When Pharaoh begged Moses to ask God for relief, Moses said, “When should I ask the Lord?” “Tomorrow,” Pharaoh said.

Soon the land reeked with the smell of dead frogs, but Pharaoh hardened his heart anyway.

3. Gnats (8:16-19)

These tiny sand fleas produced painful bites and sores. When Aaron struck the dust with his staff, it became a swarm of gnats that covered all of Egypt.

The magicians tried to duplicate this miracle, but they failed.
Satan’s power is vast, but also limited.

The magicians told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God,” but he would not listen because his heart was hard.

4. Insects (8:20-32)

Moses warned Pharaoh that God was about to send swarms of flies on the land. The Hebrew word is very general. It was an infestation of flies, mosquitoes, beetles, spiders, and other insects.

For the first time, the Jews were exempted from a plague. That’s how God made a visible difference between his people and the Egyptians.

It temporarily worked because Pharaoh told Moses to sacrifice to God in the land of Goshen. He then agreed to let them go on a three-day journey into the desert.

But he hardened his heart once the plague ended and would not let the people go.

5. Livestock (9:1-7)

This plague touched the foundation of the Egyptian economy: cattle, donkeys, camels, and sheep. On the appointed day, every bit of livestock in the fields died. Not one animal survived.

But God spared the Israelite livestock, once again making a visible difference between his people and Egypt.

Pharaoh hardened his heart again: “His heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go” (v. 7).

6. Boils (9:8-12)

This plague touched both man and beast. When Moses threw furnace soot into the air, it became fine dust that caused festering boils over the people and animals of Egypt. It even covered the Egyptian magicians.

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to Moses.

7. Hail (9:13-35)

Because it hardly ever rained in Egypt, the people had never experienced hail.

This severe judgment nearly destroyed the country. When God warned the Egyptians to take shelter, those who did were spared, while those in the open were killed by the hailstorm.

God added one alarming warning: “I could have wiped you out by now if I had wanted to” (v. 15). He sent the plagues to demonstrate his power in an unmistakable way.

By giving a warning, he made a distinction between Egyptians who feared him and those who didn’t.

The hail destroyed people, animals, crops, and trees.
The whole country was devastated.

When the plague had ended, Pharaoh hardened his heart again.

Once again, God spared the Jews.

This time Pharaoh temporarily came to his senses and said, “I have sinned.” He even asked Moses to plead to God to end the hail.

But when the plague had ended, Pharaoh hardened his heart again.

8. Locusts (10:1-20)

God told Moses to pay attention so he could tell his son and grandson about the miracles God performed.

Nothing happens in the natural world by chance. There is a reason we talk about natural disasters as “acts of God.”

In the ultimate sense, that’s exactly right. When Moses asked Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to let the Jews go?” he added that the Lord would send locusts to devastate the land.

Pharaoh’s men had had enough. They urged Pharaoh to let these troublesome Jews go.

Pharaoh agreed they could go, but only the men, forcing them to return to their women and children.

No deal, said Moses.

When the locusts came, they covered the ground until it was black. It was the worst locust invasion in Egyptian history. The locusts ate everything that the hail had not destroyed.

When the locusts left, so did his temporary repentance

Once again, Pharaoh said, “I have sinned.”
Once again, it was temporary.

When the locusts left, so did his temporary repentance. The Lord hardened his heart once more.

9. Darkness (10:21-29)

The darkness was so deep you could “feel” it. That thick, palpable darkness lasted for three days.

No one in Egypt dared move because it was so dark.
But there was light in Goshen where the Jews lived.

This time Pharaoh told Moses to take the people and leave, but they must leave their flocks behind. That wouldn’t work because the Jews needed animals for sacrifice. Moses declared that “not a hoof will be left behind” (v. 26). He would not compromise with Pharaoh. When God’s people leave Egypt, their animals must go with them. Because everything belongs to the Lord, we must leave nothing behind on the devil’s playground.

The ending here is significant.

When Pharaoh told Moses he didn’t want to see him again, Moses replied, “I will never appear before you again.”

The final act was about to unfold.

By refusing to see God’s man again, Pharaoh sealed his own doom.

10. Death of the Firstborn (11:1-10)

This final judgment involved the death of every firstborn son in Egypt.

A great wail of anguish spread across Egypt when the death angel visited at midnight.

But in Goshen, not a sound, not even a barking dog. Thus did God make a final distinction between the Jews and the Egyptians.

In a summary statement (Exodus 11:9-10), God took full responsibility for how things happened. He always intended to show his power on behalf of his people.

Though he saw “wonder” after “wonder,” Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not let the people go.

The God of the Ten Plagues

If we stand back and consider all ten plagues, what do they teach us about God?

1. His Judgment is Certain.

Taken together, the ten plagues were

Devastating, and

God starts with the Nile, moves to the frogs, then to insects, then to livestock, then to the human body, then to natural disasters, and finally to death in every Egyptian home.

2. No One Can Stand Against the Lord.

No puny human dictator can stop him when God determines to deliver his people. No one can stand in his way, not even the most powerful man in the world.

3. God is Jealous for Our Undivided Worship.

In our modern age, when anything goes and almost nothing is wrong, we don’t think much about God’s jealousy.

But the Bible is clear. We serve a jealous God who will not allow rivals to his throne.

We cannot understand the ten plagues apart from this truth. They answer the question, “How far will God go to deliver his people and to protect his honor?” The answer is, as far as it takes.

What starts with discomfort leads to revulsion, itching sores, destruction of livestock, destruction of plant life, painful sores, destructive hail, terrifying darkness, and heart-stopping sadness in every Egyptian home.

God knew it would end this way.

God says, “If you want freedom, obey my Word.”

He is the Lord. That’s why we sing, “There is none like you.”

To a world that rejects authority, the church must declare the sovereignty of God. The world says, “We want freedom.” God says, “If you want freedom, obey my Word.” Today the world follows the false trinity of tolerance, diversity and pluralism. We must proclaim the truth of God even to those who reject it because it is the truth that sets men free.

There is a note of poetic justice in these plagues: Do you revere frogs? I will put frogs in your bread dough!

The plagues are God’s answer to idol worshipers: “Here are your gods, O Egypt!”

God’s Message to Us

What should we learn from this?

1. Beware of superficial repentance.

The ten plagues stand as a warning to all of us, especially to church people.

Any heart may become hardened when we resist the Lord.

Pharaoh knew the Word of God, saw the Works of God, and still refused to listen.

God intends to make his name great in both judgment and mercy through these awful plagues. They are “missional” in the deepest sense because

Pharaoh knew the Word of God, saw the Works of God, and still refused to listen.

They reveal God’s supremacy,
They display God’s judgment,
They demonstrate God’s glory, and
They point to God’s mercy.

Pharaoh could have repented at any moment.

He said the right words several times, but he would not bow in submission to the Lord.

Let this be a lesson to all of us.

What happened in Egypt sends a message we need in America.
It happened over there, but we better learn it over here.

During the plague of hail (Exodus 9:13-35), God reveals three purposes for the 10 Plagues. Three times he declares the universal nature of these very local disasters.

  1. Unique Omnipotence: There is no one like God “in all the earth” (v. 14).
  2. Universal Praise: God’s power must be proclaimed “in all the earth” (v. 16).
  3. Unlimited Authority: This will happen so that “you will know that the earth is the Lord’s” (v. 29).

Every plague was both a terrible judgment and a severe mercy. During the plague of hail, the Egyptians who feared the Lord found shelter for their slaves and livestock. Those who didn’t ended up with dead slaves and dead livestock.

Every plague gave Pharaoh one more chance to repent.

Twice Pharaoh said, “I have sinned,” and one time he even asked for forgiveness.

And yet!
He hardened his heart.

The problem was not a matter of knowledge, but of the will.

God gave him nine opportunities to save himself and his people. Unfortunately, he didn’t do it.

That leads to this solemn truth:

Light received leads to more light.
Light rejected only to the darkness.

That’s why the ninth plague is so terrifying. The deep darkness in Egypt pictures the deep darkness inside Pharaoh’s heart.

After the ninth plague, Pharaoh and Moses are at an impasse. There is nothing left to say or to do.

Pharaoh has made his choice.
He knows the truth but doesn’t care.

Did Pharaoh repent? Not in the biblical sense. His “repentance” came only after calamity and soon disappeared.

So it is with many “foxhole prayers” and desperate pleas from the sick bed. Under duress, many people promise God anything if only he will help them.

But they are as wicked as ever when the crisis has ended.
They vow and then relapse.
They promise and then backslide.

But this message is not just to them; it’s also for you and me. As I write these words, my heart reminds me, “Pastor Ray, beware! Do not harden your heart against the Lord!”

The root of unbelief is in the heart, not the head.
Skepticism is a moral issue.

Unbelievers sometimes say, “If I had seen the miracles, I might believe.”
But the miracles Pharaoh saw only hardened his heart.

If God unleashed judgment once, he can certainly do it again.

There is a huge difference between saying “I can’t believe” and “I won’t believe.”

There is none so blind as he who will not see.

In 1832 Joseph Addison Alexander wrote a poem called “The Doomed Man.” Let me quote the last two stanzas:

How far may we go on in sin?
How long will God forbear?
Where does hope end, and where begin
The confines of despair?

An answer from the skies is sent;
“Ye that from God depart,
While it is called today, repent,
And harden not your heart.”

2. Bow or be Broken

This truth goes against the grain of the modern age. We read these ancient plague stories and think, “That’s a fable or a parable, but it isn’t real. And even if it is, it doesn’t matter because that couldn’t happen today.”

Before you make that judgment, read the book of Revelation.

Read it slowly.
Read it carefully.

Read about the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls. Ponder what lies in store for planet earth. When John wrote Revelation, he clearly saw parallels between the ten plagues and the judgments coming during the Tribulation.

What God did in a limited fashion In Egypt, he will do again, only this time on a worldwide scale.

If God unleashed judgment once, he can certainly do it again.

In the end, we must all choose our God, and the God we choose will either save us or destroy us.

In the Battle of the Gods, there can be no ties. There must be a clear winner and a clear loser.

If you prefer the gods of this world, you will die with them. But if you live for Christ, you will still be glad you did 10,000 times 10,000 years from now.

If you do not bow, you will be broken.

Good News, Bad News

If you don’t repent, you will perish. That’s what Jesus said in Luke 13:5. There is good news and bad news in that sentence.

The bad news is that many will not repent, and therefore they will perish—banished, judged, sent to hell forever.

The good news is that you can repent of your sin and turn to Christ. When you do, you will be saved, cleansed, and given new life in Christ.

Bow or be broken!

So what should we do?

Run to the cross!

Run to the cross! Lay hold of Jesus with the hands of faith and take him as your Lord and Savior.

Pharaoh had nine chances to repent, but he refused. Twice he admitted he had sinned, and he even asked Moses to pray for him.

So close!

But in the end, he made his choice, and his choice left his nation in ruins, his army destroyed, and the people of God set free.

God brings down the high and mighty, and he sets the captives free. If we miss this truth, we have missed the message of the ten plagues. We can stand with the people of God and be saved, or we can follow Pharaoh to our own destruction.

In the end, we must all choose our God, and the God we choose will either save us or destroy us.

If we will not respond to God’s love in Christ, there is nothing left for us but to perish with Pharaoh and his people.

Come to Christ!
Don’t wait.
Do it now.

Come to Christ this very moment, and you will have everlasting life!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?