“And the Lord said unto Moses . . . stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him. . .
And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.”
Each day it was becoming more clearly evident in Egypt that the God of Moses spoke truth. He is Jehovah, the I AM THAT I AM, the covenant God and Defender of His chosen people Israel. Each plague testified to that anew.
But Pharaoh was far from an objective judge of what was happening. The more clearly the truth was revealed before him, the more he was inclined to deny it. He was caught up in a personal passion for power. His pride would not allow him to acknowledge that there was anyone greater than himself. Every new demonstration of power only made him more determined to prove that his power exceeded that of Israel’s God. Step by step he was being Gardened in the way of sin. It was the normal reaction of a wicked heart to God’s truth.
These same demonstrations of Jehovah’s power which hardened the heart of Pharaoh were felt also by the children of Israel. At first under the threats of Pharaoh, they had lost confidence in the promises of Jehovah and had renounced the leadership of Moses. But now under the hand of the Lord in the first three plagues, they saw the folly of this sin. They saw clearly what Pharaoh refused to acknowledge, that Jehovah was much greater than all the kings of the earth. Faith revived and Israel repented from its sin. The seed of Abraham once more began to look unto its God and to wait for the promised salvation. The same Word which was hardening the heart of Pharaoh was restoring the people of God.
God heard Israel’s cries of repentance and forgave. With the announcement of the next plague to Pharaoh He told Moses to say, “I will put a division between my people and thy people.” Henceforth a new aspect of the name Jehovah would be made known. Not only is Jehovah a God of all power, able to control all of nature to the consternation and punishment of the wicked, He is also a God who is faithful to reward the righteous and to show favor to them that love Him. Throughout the rest of the plagues the favor of God to His chosen people would be clearly seen.
A second series of three plagues was soon to begin, and once again God told Moses to rise up early in the morning and go to Pharaoh and meet him as he went to engage in his daily worship at the Nile’s brink. He was to say unto him, “Thus saith Jehovah, Let my people go, that they may serve me. Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shaI1 be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are. And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am Jehovah in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be.”
The morrow came and just as Moses had said, swarms of flies settled down upon the land. They were mean, biting flies that lighted on a man’s body with a piercing sting. There was no escaping them, for they covered the land and filled the houses. Every surface was covered with flies and they corrupted everything: the water, the food, the land. Once again Pharaoh found himself surrounded by the misery of another plague. Jannes and Jambres were powerless. There was nothing they could do. Gradually there emerged in the mind of Pharaoh the conviction that perhaps it would be best if he would seek a compromise. He would allow the children of Israel to sacrifice in his own land. It was a foolish idea. The sacrifice of animals, such as the Israelites practiced, was an abomination to the Egyptians. His people would become enraged if they saw the Israelites conducting such sacrifices in their land. But it was not this that concerned Pharaoh. He had to prove himself capable of influencing the God of Israel, and, if nothing else would do it, a compromise would suffice.
He summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land.”
To this Moses responded by exposing the folly of Pharaoh’s proposition. “It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the Lord our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to Jehovah our God, as he shall command us.”
The reasoning of Moses was only too evident, and Pharaoh knew not what to reply. All he could think of was to resort once again to subterfuge, to promise that which he had no intention of doing. The flies had to be taken away. He said with feigned humility, “I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to Jehovah your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far: entreat for me.”
Moses was beginning to recognize the duplicity of Pharaoh’s heart. Carefully he warned Pharaoh, “Behold, I go out from thee, and I will entreat Jehovah that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, to morrow: but let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to Jehovah.”
On the morrow the flies were taken away just as Moses had said, but the heart of Pharaoh was hard as always and he would not let the people go.
Again the Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh to say, “Thus saith Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if thou refuse to let them go, and wilt hold them still, behold, the hand of Jehovah is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain. And Jehovah shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children’s of Israel. To morrow shall this sign be.”
For a fifth time the land of Egypt was beset by a plague from Jehovah. Step by step every different aspect of life was being touched by the hand of God. Jehovah was proving with many indisputable proofs that His power extended over all the earth; nothing can withstand His will. Pharaoh felt himself being driven to distraction. He had tried Jannes and Jambres and they had bolstered his pride for a while. Now even they were helpless. He had tried subterfuge, and he had tried compromise. Each time the hand of Jehovah descended to smite him once again; each plague seemed heavier than the one before. What was he to do? If only he could find one thing that could withstand, or limit, or in the least bit mitigate the power of Jehovah’s hand, then he could maintain his pride. Desperately he sent to Goshen to find out whether Israel was actually being spared; but even that was so. It seemed that only one possibility remained. If he could wait out this plague and maybe another, perhaps the God of Israel would withdraw. So with a hardened heart Pharaoh waited until this plague subsided.
But it was not long before Pharaoh felt the hand of Jehovah yet again. This time it came unannounced. The Lord commanded Moses to take of the ashes of the furnace, to sprinkle it toward heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. Without one word to the king Moses did so, and when the dust descended upon Pharaoh’s skin it brought forth boils. Quickly it spread throughout the land affecting man and beast. As always Pharaoh called for his magicians, hoping that they would be able to do something once again; but this time they could not come because of the boils that had already broken forth on their bodies. Nevertheless, Pharaoh was firm in his resolve. He would wait it out. Perhaps the God of Israel would tire and withdraw His hand. So with hardened heart he waited until also this, the sixth plague, subsided.
The second series of three plagues was ended. They had demonstrated more clearly than ever before the great power which belonged to the God of Israel. It was a power that included every phase of life. Water and land, animals and man, all were subject to his will. Pharaoh saw it all but would not believe. God was preparing him for the end. Yet three more plagues, and then the final judgment would come.
The third series of plagues, as the first two, was preceded by a special explanation of the intent of God. Pharaoh would never be able to say that God had not explained to him what was taking place. Each time it was explained more clearly than before. Before the first plague God had said, “In this thou shalt know that I am Jehovah.” That gave to Pharaoh the general significance of all the plagues. They proved that God is Jehovah as He said. Before the fourth plague God said to Pharaoh, “And I will put a division between my people and thy people.” The power and judgment of Jehovah will show mercy upon His people even at the very time that it goes forth in consuming wrath upon the wicked. Now before the seventh plague God would say to Pharaoh, “For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth. And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.”
In this word of God to Pharaoh we have one of Scripture’s clearest statements of the place of the reprobate in God’s creation. They are there for the purpose of God. So was it very explicitly with Pharaoh. He was not a wicked and rebellious man who just happened to be upon the throne at the time, resisting the grace of God. He was not a king whom God would have liked to save, but who, because he would not, had to be destroyed. Many would like to say this, but the very clear teaching of Scripture is other. God knew long beforehand what Pharaoh would be like. God according to His own determinate counsel raised Pharaoh up. God had for Pharaoh a very definite purpose. That purpose was that Pharaoh’s heart should be hardened in sin, that Pharaoh and his people might be justly smitten by Jehovah’s hand and destroyed, and thus that the power of God might be revealed in him. Unto all generations Pharaoh remains the perfect example of the man who hardens his heart against the evident truth of God’s Word to his own destruction and to the glory of God’s name.
One marvels at the obduracy of Pharaoh’s heart. Before this very explicit revelation of God it was made so very clear what a terrible place he was making for himself in history. When all was made so plain, could he keep himself from falling to his knees in repentance and tears? But no, Pharaoh only hardened his heart the more. God had ordained it so. No matter how clear it would be, he would resist the Word of God. He would do it unto the end.