Striking Signs

Scripture: Exodus 7:14-25 (followed by 8:1-9:7)

 

Title: Striking Signs

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Striking
  • Signs
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Please turn with me to Exodus 7, page 65 near the beginning of your pew Bibles

  • This morning we continue our series on Moses in the book of Exodus
  • Moses & Aaron have, by this stage, met with Pharaoh twice and both times the king refused to let the Israelites go
  • Now come the plagues

 

There were 10 plagues altogether – this morning we will cover the first five: blood, frogs, gnats, flies and the death of animals

  • For the sake of time I will only read the account of the first plague in full and then give you a brief overview of the next four plagues
  • From Exodus 7, verse 14, we read…

 

[Read Exodus 7:14-25]

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

So that was the first plague God brought on Egypt – turning water to blood

 

The next plague was an infestation of frogs

  • Frogs everywhere – all through the house, in people’s kitchens, bedrooms, pantries, toilets, you name it
  • As with the first plague Pharaoh’s magicians were able to replicate it – although this would be the last plague they could copy
  • But unlike the first plague Pharaoh said to Moses, pray to the Lord to take away the frogs and I will let your people go
  • So, the next day Moses prayed and the frogs all died leaving a terrible stench in the land from rotting flesh
  • Sadly, Pharaoh went back on his word and refused to the let the people go

 

 

The third plague was to change the dust of Egypt into gnats

  • We are not sure exactly what type of insect is meant by a gnat but it was something annoying and disgusting like mosquitos or fleas or lice
  • Unlike the first two plagues, Pharaoh’s magicians were not able to replicate gnats and admitted, “God has done this”
  • But still the king refused to release the Israelites

 

 

The fourth plague was swarms of flies – once again an incredibly annoying and disgusting plague

  • The main difference here is that God makes a distinction so that only the Egyptians are affected while the Israelites in Goshen have no flies
  • Pharaoh tries to negotiate with Moses at this point saying, ‘you can offer sacrifices to your God here in Egypt but you can’t leave’
  • Moses doesn’t compromise though
  • So Pharaoh says, ‘Okay, I’ll let you go, just don’t go too far’
  • Moses prays and the next day the flies leave
  • But the king remained stubborn and went back on his word a second time

 

The fifth plague was a disease which killed all kinds of animals – horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep and goats.

  • As with the fourth plague the Israelite’s animals were not affected
  • And yet still the king refused to let the Israelites go

 

All these plagues are both a striking of Egypt and a sign to Pharaoh at the same time

  • First let us consider the plagues as a striking of Egypt

 

Striking:

We are going to have a little quiz now – it’s multi-choice so it’s fairly easy

First question:

  • What was Moses’ job before he encountered God at the burning bush?
    • A.) Camel salesman
    • B.) Preacher
    • C.) Shepherd
    • D.) Farrier
    • [Wait]

Yes – that’s right – C.) Shepherd 

Okay – next question, something slightly harder this time:

  • What two shepherd’s tools are mentioned in the fourth verse of the 23rd Psalm?
    • A.) Slingshot & knife
    • B.) Slingshot & shears
    • C.) Rod & spear
    • D.) Rod & staff              [Wait]

Yes – that’s right – D.) “Your rod & staff they comfort me”

 

Now, one more question. This one is a bit tricky though:

  • Which one of these diagrams best resembles a shepherd’s rod?
    • A.) or B.)?
    • [Wait]

The shepherd’s rod is A.)

  • B.) is a picture of a shepherd’s staff (what we might call a shepherd’s crook)

 

A shepherd’s rod is basically a weapon – like a mace or a club

  • The shepherd’s rod is shorter than a staff with a lumpy heavy round bit on the end for hitting predators with
  • The shepherd uses their rod to protect the sheep from wild animals
  • They use the staff for gently bringing the sheep back into line and steering them in the right direction
  • For this reason both the rod & the staff are a comfort to the sheep – because they make the sheep safe

 

When it comes to the plagues and God striking Egypt we need to be careful to remember the character of our God

  • Some people are frightened by the plagues and come away with faulty ideas of a God who is always violent and angry and out to punish people
  • That perception of God is quite unfair

 

It is more accurate and more helpful to think about the Lord as a good shepherd who cares for His sheep

  • This includes protecting His flock (Israel) from predators like Pharaoh.
  • The shepherd does not want to kill the wolf but if the wolf is attacking his sheep, and won’t be scared off, what choice does the shepherd have?

 

As Israel’s shepherd the Lord God takes His rod and strikes Egypt with plagues in order to protect His flock

  • What we notice though is that the first four plagues (blood, frogs, gnats and flies) are not calculated to hurt anyone, but rather to make life unpleasant
  • It’s not until the sixth plague (of boils) that God actually strikes people
  • So in protecting His flock from the big bad wolf (that is from Pharaoh) God does not go in for the kill straight away
  • God tries to warn Pharaoh off first

 

In God’s hand the rod of the plagues is both an instrument of judgement and an instrument of salvation at the same time

  • In general terms, the rod means judgment for Egypt & salvation for Israel
  • We see this pointed to in the fourth plague, where flies trouble the Egyptians but not the Israelites,
  • And in the fifth plague, where many of the Egyptian’s animals die while the Hebrew animals live
  • God makes a distinction you see – He doesn’t use His rod on His own sheep – God only uses the rod on those who threaten His sheep
  • So while the plagues are terrifying to the Egyptians they are a comfort to the Hebrews because they demonstrate that God is doing something to help His oppressed people – thy rod & staff comfort me

 

Now at this point I need to make it clear, just because God was behind the plagues in ancient Egypt, it does not automatically follow that all natural disasters, pandemics, famines and pestilence can be attributed to God

 

New Zealand suffers from a pestilence of opossums, which threaten our natural environment, but that is not God punishing us

  • The opossums were introduced by man in 1837 to establish a fur trade
  • God didn’t plague NZ with opossums – our ancestors did

 

I don’t believe the earthquakes in Nepal were a punishment from God

  • As far as I know the Nepalese people are not oppressing anyone like the Egyptians did
  • Earthquakes are caused by the movement of tectonic plates
  • If you live on a fault line you have to expect earthquakes from time to time – but that doesn’t mean God is striking you

 

Not every bad thing that happens in the world can be thought of as a divine punishment

 

Signs:

If something is a plague from God then usually there is some kind of relationship between the plague and the problem

  • The plague serves as a sign (or a clue) as to what the evil is

 

So when God turns the River Nile to blood we see how this points to the crime

  • Pharaoh once decreed that Hebrew babies be thrown into the Nile to drown or be eaten by crocodiles
  • By turning the river to blood God is reminding Pharaoh of what he has done – Pharaoh has spilled innocent blood in the Nile
  • But Pharaoh ignores the sign

 

The first two plagues (of blood and frogs) both caused an awful stink

  • Perhaps God was saying here, ‘Pharaoh, your injustice stinks – it is an offensive stench to me – if you get up my nose I’ll get up yours’

 

The other thing the first two plagues share in common is that Pharaoh’s magicians were able to replicate them

  • They were able to turn water into blood and produce more frogs
  • The irony is, this only made matters worse
  • If the magicians had any real power they would have used it to reverse the plagues – surely
  • The point is: the magicians of Egypt are part of the problem – Pharaoh should get rid of them

 

The third and fourth plagues of gnats & flies also give a clue to what the problem is

  • Generally speaking the Egyptians were scrupulously clean – they shaved off all their hair and they showered 5x a day in order to pray to their idols
  • So you can imagine what a horror it was for them to be covered with lice and fleas and mosquitos and maggots and flies
  • It would have interrupted their religious rituals
  • Perhaps the Lord was saying to them here, ‘You may pride yourself on cleanliness but in reality your deeds are filthy – if you won’t let the Hebrews go to worship me, I will interrupt your worship’

 

The fifth plague (the death of animals) also highlights a problem

  • Animals of all kinds were sacred to the Egyptians [1]
  • We see this in verse 26 of Exodus 8 where Moses says the Egyptian people would be offended by our sacrificing animals to the Lord
  • While animals are important to God they are not as sacred as human beings, who are made in God’s image
  • The irony is, the Egyptians had more respect for their livestock than they did for the Hebrew people and that is wrong
  • Not that our world is much better today
  • You know there’s something wrong when cattle are fed corn while human beings go hungry

As well as pointing to the problem the plagues also point to God, who is the solution

 

Back in chapter 5, when Moses first confronted Pharaoh, asking him to let the people go, Pharaoh said…

  • “Who is the Lord? Why should I listen to him? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”

 

So, in verse 17 of Exodus 7, Moses says to Pharaoh…

  • “Now your majesty, the Lord says that you will find out who he is by what he is going to do…”
  • The plagues are striking signs (or clues) designed to communicate something about God to Pharaoh and the whole world

 

Okay – so what do the plagues say about God?

  • Well, essentially that Yahweh (the God of the Hebrews) is Lord of all
  • He is Lord over creation
  • He is Lord over time
  • And He is Lord over life & death
  • Taken together the plagues make it clear to everyone that God is in charge, not Pharaoh and not any of the so called Egyptian gods

 

The Egyptians worshipped the Nile [2] because it provided so much of what they needed for survival – water for drinking, fish for food and irrigation for crops

  • The Pharaohs took credit for the Nile as their own creation [3]
  • By turning the river to blood God shows clearly that He is in fact the creator of the Nile – not Pharaoh
  • Therefore the Egyptian people should be worshipping the Lord God – for He is the one who sustains life

 

If Pharaoh had let the Hebrews go after the first sign he would be admitting that he wasn’t creator of the Nile – which means he would lose face with the people

  • Better to lose face though than to ruin the nation

What about the frogs – what’s the connection there?

  • Well, the frogs were associated with the Egyptian god Hapi and the goddess Heqt who the ancient Egyptians believed assisted at child birth [4]
  • So frogs were a fertility symbol in ancient Egypt

 

By making the frogs prolific and then killing them Yahweh was demonstrating that He is Lord over life & death – not Hapi and not Heqt

  • And by making frogs a pest Yahweh was also saying, ‘these false fertility gods you worship are actually a nuisance – you don’t need them’

Incidentally, with the frogs, Pharaoh became so fed up with them that he called for Moses and Aaron and said…

  • “Pray to the Lord to take away these frogs and I will let your people go”
  • And Moses replied, “I will be glad to pray for you. Just set the time when I am to pray… then you will be rid of the frogs”
  • The king answered, “Pray for me tomorrow”
  • So Moses did and, when he did, the frogs died

 

This shows us Yahweh is in control of events and indeed is Lord of time

 

Pharaoh went back on his word though – so the plagues continued

 

The plagues are striking signs

  • They point to the problem of injustice
  • And they point to the solution of God
  • They also point to the future outcome for Egypt

 

Okay – now for something different

  • Who remembers playing pass the parcel when you were a kid?
  • If you haven’t played pass the parcel in a while let me remind you how it goes
  • As long as the music plays you must keep passing the parcel to the person next to you
  • So in this case you would pass it along the pew and then when it gets to the end of the pew you pass it to the pew behind you and they pass it along their row and so on
  • But when the music stops – so does the parcel
  • And the person left holding the parcel opens just one layer of paper

 

You need to open the paper carefully though because the underside of each sheet has a clue written on it – a clue to the gift inside

  • Whoever unwraps a layer must read out the clue and we’ll see if anyone can guess what’s coming

 

Okay – here’s the parcel

  • Music please – play the song Yahweh by U2 – track 11 on CD

 

  1. 33% cocoa – that’s the first clue
  2. 50 grams net – that’s the second clue
  3. 24 Mohuia Cres
  4. Peanuts

 

Okay can anyone guess what’s underneath?

  • Yes – that’s right

 

Sometimes our lives are a bit like pass the parcel

  • We carry along our merry way, moving to life’s music, but every now and then we are stopped, we take a layer off and we go deeper
  • We discover something new about ourselves and about God – something which changes our outlook
  • It might be a pleasant realisation, like when a child is born
  • Or it might be a difficult realisation, like when we face our own mortality
  • But we keep going and with each layer we get closer to the core, closer to the truth, closer to God

 

As I keep saying the plagues are signs – signs with clues attached

  • Put all the clues together and you get an idea of what’s coming
  • Unfortunately for Pharaoh it wasn’t a nice surprise

 

Blood in the water, dead fish, dead frogs and dead animals – all pointed toward Egypt’s future – when the first born would die and thousands of Egyptian soldiers would drown in the Red Sea

 

So how do we interpret our clues – how do we read the signs of our times – to know what is in store for us?

  • Well, appearances can be deceiving
  • Misfortune now is no indictor of calamity later
  • In fact suffering now can mean peace later

 

In Matthew 5 Jesus says…

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them

 

 

The poor in spirit are those who have come to the end of their own resources and they know it

  • This first beatitude describes the Hebrew people in slavery in Egypt
  • Despite appearances, God had good things in store for Israel

 

Generally speaking, in the west today, we think the opposite to Jesus

  • We think, blessed are the self sufficient
  • Blessed are those who win
  • And blessed are those who get even
  • Jesus’ interpretation of the clues is as counter cultural for us as it was for his original listeners

 

So does that mean powerful countries in the West today are like ancient Egypt – on track for disaster?

  • Not necessarily – we all have a choice

 

Jesus went on to say…

  • Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy

 

  • The merciful are, by definition, those in a place of power – because you can’t show mercy unless you have some kind of power
  • Pharaoh had power and he could have used it to show mercy to Israel
  • If he had, things would have turned out a lot differently for Egypt
  • They would have received the peanut slab instead of rotten tomatoes
  • It is similar for powerful countries and powerful individuals today – those who use their power to help others will be shown mercy by Christ
  • The measure we use for others is the measure God will use for us

 

Perhaps the plagues were God’s way of bringing Pharaoh & the Egyptian people to the end of their own resources?

 

Conclusion:

This morning we have looked at the first five plagues in Exodus chapter 7 through to chapter 9

  • These plagues are striking signs from God
  • God doesn’t want to hit Egypt with them but as Israel’s shepherd He must use His rod to protect His flock against Pharaoh the wolf

 

More than punishment though the plagues are signs (or clues) which point to…

  • The problem of Egypt’s injustice,
  • The solution in God (who is Lord of all)
  • And the future outcome for Egypt

 

While the plagues spell disaster for Egypt they are a comfort and a hope to Israel

 

Let us pray…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/animal_gallery.shtml

[2] Alan Cole, Exodus, page 97

[3] Ezekiel 29:3

[4] Alan Cole, Exodus, page 98

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