The Scripture claims about itself that it is “living and active, and sharper than any two edged sword” (Heb 4.12). There are countless depths realized by those three simple truths as we walk throughout our Christian life, but every time I read through Scriptures – particularly the Old Testament historical books – there are small tidbits that catch my attention over which I have passed many, many times. In preparation for Easter, I have been reading about the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt, the plagues, Moses interceding with Pharaoh and the Exodus.
The interaction of God, Moses, Pharaoh and all the people during the midst of the plagues is remarkable. God sent Joseph into Egypt to save the known world from a seven year famine, and He blessed the Hebrew people in the land of Goshen. For four hundred and thirty years (to the day, Moses tells us), the Hebrews multiplied in Egypt and were forced into slavery because they grew so quickly and had such success and strength. God decided to bring the people up out of slavery and into the land He had promised Abraham, but He intended to make His name known throughout the world by the plagues He would send on Egypt. Pharaoh hardened his heart against Moses and God, but God also takes credit for hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that His power would be known. Moses even told Pharaoh clearly of God’s plan:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.“
– Ex 9.9-16
Ten plagues God sent against Egypt. He turned all of the water in the country (except the Hebrew’s) into blood. He sent frogs that covered the land, lice or gnats that fed on humans and animals, flies so dense that they could hardly see, He killed all the livestock, afflicted everyone with boils, a hail storm that destroyed the land and killed people, and locusts. He also stopped the sun from shining for three days – intentionally proving his power over Ra the sun god, and lastly He killed the first born of every living creature: human and animal. There was not an Egyptian household in which someone had not died (Ex 12.30).
What particularly caught my attention, however, was the progression of the Egyptian people in responding to the plagues – even though Pharaoh was hardened by God. The magicians were able to preform the first few signs, even turning water into blood, but they quickly realized that their magic was no match for God. By the third plague, the gnats, the magicians themselves said that “this is the finger of God” (Ex 8.19). They were outmatched and could not compete with God’s power.
Moses boldly proclaimed the upcoming plagues every time. There was no mystery, no waiting, simply a prediction (usually with an assigned hour of the coming terror), and fulfillment. After six plagues had already wreaked havoc on the people and the land, Moses predicted the upcoming hailstorm that would kill everything left outside, and this is how Scripture records the response:
“The one among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses; but he who paid no regard to the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.”
– Ex 9.20-21
Even in the day when there was a man standing up and predicting to the hour massive catastrophes, one right after the other, there were people who chose to ignore him and the God he represented. And they suffered the consequences.
There will always be people who ignore the warnings and admonitions of God. Even within the Church. The author of Hebrews tells us that if we go on sinning willfully after hearing the Gospel and “believing” in Jesus for salvation, we are not saved and will be damned (Heb 10.26). But yet every day Christians appease their guilt and conviction with cheap grace, believing that God will forgive us no matter what we do and it really does not matter how we live. The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus is the way, that no one comes to God and Heaven except through Him (John 14.6), yet every day people turn to other religions or add Jesus to their list of potentials and good teachers.
Sometimes we think that if God would just do something dramatic – like write in the sky, shake the world, or send us someone from the grave to attest to the after life – that everyone would believe. But the reality is, He did all of those things and more! And God told the rich man who was sent to Hell that enough had been done to prove God:
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
– Luke 16.27-31
We must remember, thus, that it is in God’s hand alone to change hearts. God hardened Pharaoh for the duration of ten plagues so that He could exemplify His power and sovereignty. He then changed Pharaoh’s heart to allow the people to go, and again changed his heart to pursue after them and ultimately led them to their demise in the Red Sea. As believers, we are responsible for our own obedience, actions and hearts alone. We are commanded to preach the Gospel, warn one another of judgment and sin, but leave the working of the heart to God. Even in the midst of the plagues, there were people who had no regard for God. There will be people still – even when the truth seems to clear to us – who have no regard for God. But there are people from every tribe, tongue and nation who will believe and be called children of God. Let us go out, share boldly, look for those people, and entrust God with the fruit.
“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
– 1 Cor 3.7