There is a lot going on in this chapter as God accomplishes His objectives. It is helpful, though to step back for a moment and fully realize that is precisely what He is doing. Freeing the descendants of Israel (Jacob), and even placing them in the land He had promised would be easily accomplished by the creator of the universe – as would punishing Pharaoh for his defiance. He gets all of those things done in His own time, but He is teaching His people, and the world in the process.
The Fifth Plague: Egyptian Livestock Die
The plagues, as assaults upon the foolishness of the worship of specific false “gods,” exposes such man-made creations as the empty promises that they are, which ultimately can facilitate the very destruction that falls on those that worship them. The same can be said of the empty things that man tends to “worship” today – fortune, sex, and selfish pleasure, to name a few. Those same plagues demonstrate that all of the things of the earth itself come from our one true God, who shows Himself in these verses to be sovereign over them all.
Further comments on Pharaoh’s “heart condition”
(I apologize for the length of today’s blog, but I feel the need to give my comments about this subject more adequately because of its troubling nature to some people – and because of the urgency of what it means to us today)
Notice again in verse 34, as in Exodus 8:15 and 8:32, the text says that Pharaoh hardened his heart – just as we are told elsewhere in these chapters, as well as other books (such as in 1 Samuel 6:6). Most honest readers will admit to being somewhat disturbed at some point by the other passages in Exodus that refer to God being the one that hardens Pharaoh’s heart – as if God actually caused Pharaoh’s own demise, when he might otherwise have been repentant. And indeed many commentators and theologians, by their interpretations, have not only failed to adequately dispel those concerns, rather their analysis has often actually increased those feelings.
While it is true that the Lord is sovereign over all, and can choose to show mercy on whom He wishes (as Paul reminds us in Romans 9:16-18), the suggestion that He in any way was the cause of Pharaoh’s failure to obey is a terrible misunderstanding of the scripture as it was written, and indeed the very nature of our Lord. God tells us in his word that he “desires all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), and God never lies (Titus 1:1-2). Moreover, He is without injustice, as said beautifully in the NKJV version of Deut 32:4:
He is the Rock, His work is perfect;
For all His ways are justice,
A God of truth and without injustice;
Righteous and upright is He.
The Lord’s part in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was that He forced him over and over again into a position that he would not otherwise have been in – to face undeniably, the impotence of his false “gods,” to see for himself the might and sovereign power of the one true God – and knowing this, to make up his mind whether he would obey or defy. God absolutely knew Pharaoh’s heart, but know this for certain – Pharaoh chose to defy the Lord.
This is where the relevance for us today is so sad because we see it for (in?) ourselves far too often. By our continued defiance to God, insisting instead to live in sin and worship our own “gods,” we are quite capable of hardening our own hearts. Paul warns in Romans 8:7-8, which I quote below (keeping in mind that the “mind set on the flesh” refers to both unbelievers and to those unwilling to truly repent, who are by definition in bondage to sin):
7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God,
for it does not submit to God’s law;
indeed, it cannot.
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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