Exodus 11

Jimmy JoExodus, O.T. Survey, SermonsLeave a Comment

In a Nutshell…

Read the passage here.

Today we come to the final plague in Egypt – the plague on the Firstborn. We’ll spend a couple of weeks on this plague, as we spent a couple of weeks on the previous plagues.

A couple of things to note about the final plague. Firstly, the plague on the firstborn, God’s judgment on Egypt and His passing over the Israelites, is celebrated in the Jewish calendar as Passover.  In the New Testament, we get an identification of the Passover with the saving action of God and specifically an identification of Jesus Christ as the Passover lamb.  We’ll talk more about this next week, during which time, we’ll focus on the Passover, specifically.

The other thing to consider is the shocking nature of the plague. We can identify a kind of escalation in the plagues narrative, but this one seems to really take things up a notch.  So what do we do with that?  Let’s take a look at what happens.  After 9 plagues, to this point, Pharaoh has still not let the Israelites go. We’ve talked a little bit about the structure of the plagues and some of the motifs we see.  As we’ve mentioned, we’ve only hit on a couple of them (there’s a lot going on in these chapters).  Let’s go back and take another look and see how they lead up to, and inform our passage today.

Firstly, we remember that the overarching theme of the plagues (and indeed Exodus as a whole) might be, “So that you will know that I am the Lord.” Each triad of plagues (1-3; 4-6; 7-9) are introduced with this theme.  (We also see this in God’s revelation of His personal name (YHWH) to Moses as well as His revelation of His plans for redemption to Moses).  To a world that has forgotten God, that has rejected God, redemption is fundamentally about remembering who God is – it’s fundamentally about being reconciled to God as King.

Within this overarching theme, the framework of three triads of plagues each seem to focus on slightly different things.

  • Plagues 1-3 (Water into Blood; Frogs; Gnats)
    • One of the distinguishing marks of this series of plagues is that Pharaoh has his court magicians duplicate the plagues that Moses performs.
      1. (1st Plague – Water into blood)
        1. 7:22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.
      2. (2nd Plague – Frogs)
        1. 8:6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.
      3. (3rd Plague – Gnats)
        1. 8:18But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not.  Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” …

As we’ve mentioned before, then, the key theme in this initial triad seems to be the victory of God, or the superiority of God, over the gods (i.e. Pharaoh) of Egypt – and by extension, all other gods.

  • Plagues 4-6 (Flies; Livestock; Boils)
    • Here, in this series of plagues, the theme seems to be the introduction of the idea of a people set apart:
      1. 8:23“…I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’ ”
      2. 9:4“…But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’ ”
      3. 9:11The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians.

We talked about this at length last week so we won’t go into it, but the theme appears to be of “making a distinction.”

  • Plagues 7-9 (Hail; Locusts; Darkness)
    • In this third triad of plagues, the motif that we see appears in Pharaoh appearing to negotiate with Moses, the terms of Israel’s release.
      1. (Hail) 9:27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Pray to the Lord, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”  29 Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. 30 But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God.”
      2. (Locusts) 10:Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he said. “But tell me who will be going.”  Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.”  10 Pharaoh said, “The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. 11 No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence. …16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”
      3. (Darkness) 10:24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.”  25 But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.”

So in other words, what seems to be going on here is that Pharaoh claims that he is willing to meet Moses’ demands, but he is only willing to do so halfway. He is only willing to meet Moses’ demands on his own terms.  Pharaoh’s reluctance to submit completely underscores the battle that is going on: between God and Pharaoh, between God and Egypt; between God and a fallen world. God’s sovereignty is not something we can submit to halfway – we either let Him be king, or we do not.

The reason we’ve spent time going over this today is because, in my opinion, it’s actually pretty important in understanding the final plague. And it’s important to get some understanding on this because this final plague, especially, is a difficult one.  The death of all of the firstborn, from Pharaoh to slaves to livestock, is a harsh one.  It’s difficult for those of us who have grown up believing that God is Love (which is completely true); it’s difficult for those of us who have grown up believing that God is grace and mercy and forgiveness (which is also completely true); It’s difficult if we think that God wants to save everyone (also true); and it’s difficult if we think that we should be able to do whatever we want, live however we want, worship whatever we want, and serve whoever we want, and God should just be okay with that (this is not true).

But even though the final plague is harsh and severe, we have to remember what’s going on in this story (So that you will know that I am the Lord), which is (remember) a story about deliverance.

  • God over Pharaoh
  • God over election
  • God over everything

Now it’s also worth noting that several scholars have noted a kind of un-doing of creation in the entire plague sequence. God demonstrates an un-doing of, and therefore sovereignty over, plants, animals, waters, weather, even over light and darkness itself.  By the Egyptians refusal to recognize the source of life, they receive the natural consequences – essentially a creation that is not-good.  The final judgment is a reversal of life itself.

This final plague, then, seems to punctuate the plague sequence, demonstrating God’s sovereignty over life and death itself. In the battle between God and all that is not-God, in the battle between life and all that is not-life, we see that God prevails.  We see that God is victorious.

That the plague is on the firstborn is significant because it is through the firstborn that the family line is continued. It’s the firstborn that receives the inheritance, the blessing, and it’s the firstborn that has the responsibility of carrying on the family name (so to speak).  God’s plague on the firstborn demonstrates his sovereignty not only on Pharaoh, but over all the generations.  It’s a sovereignty over history.

Now understanding what’s going on in the narrative structure may or may not be helpful in our coming to grips with what’s going on – that is, the death of all the firstborn. Indeed, at least part of the point is exactly how tragic it is when we (that is to say humankind; a fallen creation) reject God; refuse to acknowledge (and worship) the source of life.

I think that it might be helpful for us to make one final distinction in reading this plague account. The distinction is basically this:  If we are inclined to read the plague accounts, and this plague account in particular, as a demonstration of power, we will probably be uneasy.  This is a reasonable response inasmuch as the history of humankind seems to demonstrate that, as is frequently quoted, power corrupts. What we’ve seen throughout history is that human beings always seem to abuse power; and human beings always seem to be corrupted by power.

But God is not a human being that He should be led astray by the things that lead us astray. He is not like even the best among human beings that He should act in the ways we do.  Although certainly the plagues are a demonstration of God’s power, it is much more than that.

What I would suggest is that, instead, we understand that this is actually a demonstration of authority.  The plagues, culminating in this final plague on the firstborn, are not just a demonstration of God’s power. Certainly, God has power enough to do all these things.  Rather, they are a demonstration of God’s authority.

To put it another way, in human terms, authority is derived from power (generally speaking). We give authority to those who demonstrate themselves as the strongest, the smartest, the most charismatic, or whatever.

God’s power, seen from a human perspective, stems from His authority. Because God is God, all creation obeys Him (as seen in this plagues account).  Because God is God, all creation is subject to Him.  He doesn’t overpower creation, or overpower Pharaoh.  He doesn’t beat creation into submission.  Rather, God exercises His authority, and creation obeys.  Egypt’s allowing the Israelites to leave is not a result of their being “beaten”, but a result of recognizing (however unwillingly) the authority of God.

11:7 … Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.”

So What Now…?

I realize this seems like a nitpicking distinction. However, I think it’s important for us to wrestle with this because it has to do with our understanding of the nature of God.  And our understanding of the nature of God is fundamental to why we choose (or not) to serve Him; to worship Him.

Inasmuch as our decision to serve or follow Him – to be part of the people of God; to participate in the Kingdom of God – inasmuch as our decision is founded in God’s power, we tend to think about the Christian life as a matter of either reward or punishment. What am I getting out of it; or what can I avoid by it?

In coming to grips with the authority of God, we are acknowledging God as God. What it comes down to is whether we choose God because of what we get, or what we avoid; or whether we choose God simply because He is who He is – God and King.

The wonder of it – though if we’ve been following the story, we shouldn’t be surprised – is that by choosing God, we are choosing life.  Because that’s God’s desire for us.  His desire is that we would leave behind the lies and the temptations of the world, leave behind the promises of power of Pharaoh and Egypt, and choose life.

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