Obey. Submit. Pray.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. – Hebrews 13:17-19 ESV

In our culture, we tend to view leadership through a distorted lens. We aspire to leadership. We see it as something to be sought after and as kind of a reward for a job well done. Leaders are the successful ones, the over-achievers who have earned the right to be followed and to enjoy all the benefits that come with their title.

For many of us, leaders are not so much to be followed as envied. We covet their corner office and exorbitant salaries. We grow jealous of their prestige and power, and we dream of the day when we will get our moment in the spotlight. This mentality, while mostly visible in the secular arena, can even make its way into the church, the body of Christ. It can even lead to a sense of disrespect for leadership among God’s people. But this is nothing new.

Moses, the man whom God chose to deliver the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt and lead them to the promised land, found himself constantly questioned and blamed for everything. His own brother and sister tried to stage a coup and force him to share his power and authority with them.

The prophets of God were all ignored, disliked, and treated like social outcasts – all because their message was not what the people wanted to hear.

Jesus Himself was a victim of leadership loathing. As long as He performed miracles, handed out free meals, and talked about a new kingdom, the people flocked to hear what He had to say. But as soon as He started talking about suffering, taking up your cross, and dying to self, the crowds quickly thinned out. When He entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, fresh off the heels of His raising of Lazarus from the dead, the people celebrated Him with great gusto. But when news of His arrest got out, His former cheerleaders disappeared from sight, including His twelve disciples.

The author of Hebrews knew that people can be fickle when it comes to leadership, even in the church. So he encouraged his readers to do three things: Obey, submit, and pray. He knew that the role of a leader was difficult and virtually impossible if those being led refused to follow. He also knew that reluctant or disgruntled followers could make the life of any leader miserable. Gossips, grumblers, and discontented followers can become like cancer, spreading discord and disunity throughout the body. So, he encouraged his readers to obey and submit.

The Greek word for obey is peithō and it means “to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with.” But it also carries the idea of trust and confidence. As believers, we are to place our trust and confidence in those whom God has placed in leadership over us. We are to see them as hand-picked by Him, and we are to submit to them. The Greek word he uses is hypeikō and it means “to yield to authority and admonition.” It includes the concept of non-resistance. When we submit to and obey the leadership God has placed over us, we are ultimately placing our faith in Him. We are displaying our belief that He knows what He is doing and is working through those He has placed in authority over us.

Finally, the author of Hebrews encourages us to pray for those who lead us. It is easy to complain about leadership. We won’t always agree with what they are doing or where they are leading us. But rather than question our leaders, we should pray for them. Theirs is not an easy job, and we must never lose sight of the fact that they will one day answer to God for how they have led. Leaders in the church answer to a higher authority – God Himself. They will have to give an account of how they have cared for the flock of God.

It was Peter who warned the elders of the local church to “care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God” (1 Peter 5:2 NLT). Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV).

Leading the church of God is not easy. Shepherding the flock of God is a big responsibility. Do some godly leaders do their job in a less-than-godly way? Certainly. Do all pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons always lead in the way that God would have them? Sadly, the answer is no.

Moses was far from perfect. David had his flaws and failings. Solomon was wise, but not always the brightest bulb in the box when it came to leadership. But God had placed each of them where they were. Praying for our leaders is the best way to ensure that they become godly leaders. Obeying and submitting to them as having been placed over us by God is an expression of our faith in His sovereignty. But we must never forget that godly followers are essential to the success of any godly leader.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Faith Rather Than Fear

27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27 ESV

Once again, we have an apparent contradiction between the Exodus account of the life of Moses and that of the author of Hebrews. Exodus tells us that when Moses became aware that news of his murder of the Egyptian had gotten out, he became afraid.

Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” – Exodus 2:14 ESV

Then it goes on to say that when Pharaoh heard about Moses’ crime,  he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15 ESV). Yet, the Hebrews account states, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king.”

Which is it? Was Moses afraid or not? Did he flee or not? The author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides the answers. Yes, Moses was afraid, but the context tells us that his fear was based on his awareness that news of the murder had spread. His little secret was out. By the time Pharaoh heard about it, Moses had had time to think about his predicament and to reflect on what he should do. According to Hebrews 11, he had already made plans to go to Midian; not out of fear, but out of faith.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for “flee” can mean “to hasten” or “to put to flight.” The Exodus passage can make it sound like Moses fled for his life out of fear of Pharaoh. But when you combine the two passages, it makes better sense that Moses was put to flight by Pharaoh. We almost immediately assume that Moses was in fear for his life. He ran because he was fearful that Pharaoh would have him captured and killed. But think about what Hebrews 11:24-25 says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Moses had already made the decision to extricate himself from Pharaoh’s household. But as the adopted grandson of the Pharaoh, the likelihood that he would be put to death for murder was probably slim to none. What Moses feared was having to go back to his life in the royal palace with its “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 ESV). Again, we read that Moses left Egypt because, “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV).

So it was “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king” (Hebrews 11:27a ESV). Moses didn’t leave Egypt because of Pharaoh, but because of God.

He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27b NLT

Moses headed to Midian, not out of fear for his life, but out of faith in God. He somehow knew that God was going to fulfill His promise to His people and restore them to the land of Canaan. He didn’t know how yet. He didn’t know when. But he believed it was just a matter of time and he was content to go to Midian and persevere until that time came. Little did Moses know that it would be 40 years before God put that part of His plan into action. And when God finally did decide to act, Moses would be surprised to discover that He was God’s choice to set the plan into motion.

The day would come when God deemed it time to redeem His people. Exodus tells us, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV).

God knew their plight, and He knew where Moses was. He knew what Moses had been doing for the last 40 years. The flight of Moses to Midian had been part of God’s plan. Just as Moses had been kept alive in the basket made of bulrushes, He had been protected in Midian, removed from the effects of the fleeting pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt. During his 40 years in Midian, Moses had given up his quest to be the savior of the people of Israel. He still believed in God’s promise to redeem His people, but he had long ago given up the idea that he might play a role.

But God had other plans. He was still going to use Moses, but in a way that Moses would find surprising and a bit scary. Hebrews says that Moses “kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” During his time in Midian, he kept trusting in God. Remember how the author described faith in verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Moses had never seen God and yet he “kept his eyes” on Him. He kept believing in the reality of the One he could not see and the promises he had yet to see fulfilled. According to Hebrews 11:6, faith is required to please God and whoever wishes to draw near to God “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

It would be safe to say that Moses sought God during his time in Midian, and the day would come when God revealed Himself to Moses.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” – Exodus 3:1-4 ESV

Moses had a direct encounter with the unseen God. He came face to face with Yahweh, and it was a life-changing moment. Forty years after leaving Egypt, he returned, not as the grandson of Pharaoh, but as the representative of God. By faith, he had left Egypt and now he was going to be returning the same way – trusting in the promises of God Almighty.

To be directed by God requires faith in God. We must believe that He is at work in our lives in ways that we cannot see or even understand. When Moses left Egypt, he left everything behind.  He was forced to begin a new life. He left looking like an Egyptian (Exodus 2:19) but upon his return, he appeared as a Hebrew prophet and the personal spokesman for God.

His 40-year exile in Midian proved to be little more than a temporary pause in the plan of God. Yahweh was watching and waiting, preparing to implement His divine redemptive plan at just the right time and using just the right person for the job: Moses.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Future-Focused Faith

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

The first four words of this section of Hebrews 11 are critical: “By faith Abraham obeyed.” It would be easy to put the emphasis on the latter half of the statement, making Abraham’s obedience the main point. But the author is simply attempting to provide further proof for the opening line of this chapter: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Abraham’s obedience, while important, is meant to take a back seat to his faith. It is a byproduct of his faith. As the author said in verse six, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

We have to go back to the Old Testament book of Genesis to see the complete story of Abraham’s call and his subsequent obedience to that call. He was living in Haran with his father and the rest of his family. They had moved there from Ur. And it was while he was living in Haran that God came to Abram (his original name), and said, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV).

What’s important to notice is that, according to the text, God had not given him the exact location of his final destination. Even the passage in Hebrews says that Abram “went out, not knowing where he was going.” This is an important part of the story. The extent of Abram’s knowledge was limited. He knew that God had called him and had promised to give him land and to produce from him a great nation. While these promises were substantial in scope, they were also a bit vague. Anyone would naturally want to know where and how. Where is this land you are giving me and how do you intend to produce a great nation from a man with a barren wife?

Abram would have had questions and concerns, yet he still obeyed God and did exactly as he was told. But the author’s emphasis is the faith that fueled Abram’s obedience. 

by faith Abraham obeyed. – Hebrews 11:8 ESV

He had no idea where he was going or how God was going to pull off what He had promised. Genesis tells us that Abram headed out, under the direction of God, and before long he found himself in the land of Canaan, a land occupied by none other than the Canaanites, the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah.

Abram was a descendant of Shem, another son of Noah. So once he arrived at his final destination, Abram found the land already occupied by some distant family members. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land” (Hebrews 11:9 ESV). Abram found himself living in a land that belonged to others, and its residents lived in well-furnished houses while his small family was relegated to the transient lifestyle of nomads, living in tents and constantly moving from one location to another.

They were little more than squatters and vagabonds who enjoyed no sense of stability or ownership, and this state of affairs would last for generations, spanning the lives of Isaac and Jacob. Abram had received a promise of land but he spent his entire life living like a stranger rather than an occupant. He never owned a home or lived within the secure walls of a city. In fact, the author of Hebrews states that during his entire tenure in Canaan, “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV).

The Greek word the author uses is ekdechomai and it means “to look for, expect, wait for, await” (Greek Lexicon :: G1551 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. Web. 4 Feb, 2016. <http://www.blueletterbible.org). Abram was waiting for, expecting, and anticipating something that had not yet come. He was eagerly and hopefully waiting for God to make his residence a permanent one. His understanding of the promise was that it would include a city made up of bricks and mortar, with walls, ceilings, and floors. Abram was eagerly anticipating the end of his nomadic existence spent living in tents.

But he had to wait, and along with having to deal with the existence of Canaanites, he had to endure the devastating impact of a debilitating drought. When he first arrived in the “promised land,” things were so bad that he was forced to take an unplanned detour to Egypt to seek food for his family. This was not what he had expected when he obeyed the call of God back in Ur. But through a series of unexpected but divinely ordained events, Abram arrived back in Canaan a wealthy man with an abundance of livestock. In fact, his flocks were so large that he and his nephew Lot had to part ways in order to keep from running into conflicts over pasturing rights. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land, his nephew chose the very best, leaving Abram with the less attractive portion. But Abram continued to trust God. He placed his hope and convictions in the promises of God. Even after Abram gave Lot the choice of the best land, God reconfirmed His promise to him.

Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you. – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

According to God, the land was as good as his – all of it. Every square acre of it, including all of the land occupied by the Canaanites and by Lot belonged to Abram. He had yet to take possession of a single square inch of the land of Canaan but, according to God’s promise, it was all going to belong to his descendants. Abram placed his faith and hope in God and His word. The fact that he did not possess a permanent home or the deed to a piece of property did not diminish his belief that God was going to follow through on His promise. Abram lived with the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Yet, the author states that Abram and all the others listed in chapter 11 “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Theirs was a future-focused faith. It was based on a promise, and that promise was assured because the promise-maker was trustworthy. Abram knew that the promise of God was far greater and encompassed far more than just his individual blessing. God’s promise involved future generations and had far-reaching implications. Abram would never live to see the complete fulfillment of God’s promise. He would be long gone by the time his descendants faced another famine in Canaan and returned to Egypt. He would never live to see them multiply and grow to such a degree that Pharaoh would become fearful of them and decree a pogrom designed to exterminate them. He would not experience the joy of watching God set his descendants free from their captivity in Egypt and lead them back to the promised land. He would not enjoy the thrill of seeing them conquer the land of Canaan and make it their own. He would never see the rise of King David or view the splendor of Solomon’s grand kingdom. And he would never live to see the coming of the Messiah, the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

But Abram believed. He had faith. He obeyed. He worshiped. He waited. And he left the future in God’s hands. He had future faith because he believed in an eternal God who never fails to keep His word or fulfill His commitments. And the apostle Paul would have us live by faith as Abram did.

…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:23-25 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Plague Number Eight

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.”

So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country, and they shall cover the face of the land, so that no one can see the land. And they shall eat what is left to you after the hail, and they shall eat every tree of yours that grows in the field, and they shall fill your houses and the houses of all your servants and of all the Egyptians, as neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.’” Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh.

Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, “Go, serve the Lord your God. But which ones are to go?” Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.” 10 But he said to them, “The Lord be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. 11 No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, so that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left.” 13 So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind had brought the locusts. 14 The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. 15 They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. 16 Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. 17 Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the Lord your God only to remove this death from me.” 18 So he went out from Pharaoh and pleaded with the Lord. 19 And the Lord turned the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea. Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go. – Exodus 10:1-20 ESV

Exodus 12:12 contains a stunning statement from God that comes well after He has delivered nine of the ten plagues on the nation of Egypt. He simply states, “on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord” (Exodus 12:12 ESV). As He prepares to launch the tenth and final judgment, He reminds Moses and Aaron that every one of the devastating signs He has sent upon Egypt has been a direct assault on their false and, therefore, unreliable gods.

And chapter ten contains Moses’ account of the eighth plague which brought a supernatural infestation of locusts upon the land. This too meant to pit the God of the Israelites against one or more of the gods of Egypt. Locusts were nothing new to the Egyptians. These voracious and destructive insects were a normal part of life in that region of the world. Their arrival and the subsequent damage they could do to all vegetation could wreak havoc on the Egyptian agricultural economy. That’s why the Egyptians had gods they relied upon to ward off this destructive menace, including the grain gods Neper, Nepri, Heneb, and Renenutet, as well as Isis and Set, two gods responsible for protecting the nation’s crops. Renenutet, in particular, was revered as a goddess of nourishment and the harvest. She was responsible for the fertility of the fields but was also deemed the protector of the royal office and power.

But with this eighth plague, God would bring another wave of destruction upon the land that would virtually destroy the nation’s economy and cripple Pharaoh’s administration.

God makes it clear to Moses that Pharaoh’s hardness of heart has all been part of the plan. From the very beginning, God had intended to bring a series of judgments against the Egyptians that would prepare the way for His people’s deliverance. Each plague was pre-planned and necessary and, all combined, they would have a cumulative effect that eventually forced Pharaoh to submit to God’s will. Not only that, they would serve as powerful reminders to the people of Israel of God’s power and providence.

“I have made him and his officials stubborn so I can display my miraculous signs among them. I’ve also done it so you can tell your children and grandchildren about how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and about the signs I displayed among them—and so you will know that I am the Lord.” – Exodus 10:1-2 NLT

Moses and Aaron did as they had done so many times before. They came before Pharaoh and delivered their latest message from God.

Let my people go, so they can worship me. If you refuse, watch out! For tomorrow I will bring a swarm of locusts on your country. They will cover the land so that you won’t be able to see the ground. They will devour what little is left of your crops after the hailstorm, including all the trees growing in the fields. They will overrun your palaces and the homes of your officials and all the houses in Egypt. Never in the history of Egypt have your ancestors seen a plague like this one!” – Exodus 10:3-6 NLT

But, by now, the reader has already come to expect the same outcome as before. Pharaoh will reject their warning. And that is exactly what happens, despite the pleas of Pharaoh’s officials. They warn the king that the nation may not survive another assault from the Israelite’s God. The plague of hail left their crops and orchards in ruin. What was not destroyed would most certainly be devastated by an infestation of locusts. So, they strongly suggested that Pharaoh make a concession to allow the men of Israel to go and worship their God. By demanding that the women and children remain in Goshen, it would ensure that the men would return to their families. In a sense, Pharaoh’s counselors were suggesting that he use the women and children as hostages.

But when Pharaoh announces his intention to let only the men go and worship, Moses argued, “We must all join together in celebrating a festival to the Lord” (Exodus 10:9 NLT). Unused to having his will opposed, Pharaoh erupted against Moses and told him that the deal was off. It was going to be his way or no way at all. At this, Moses and Aaron left the king’s presence and the locusts descended upon the land.

…the locusts swarmed over the whole land of Egypt, settling in dense swarms from one end of the country to the other. It was the worst locust plague in Egyptian history, and there has never been another one like it. – Exodus 10:14 NLT

Once again, the gods of Egypt proved powerless to stand before Jehovah. The Egyptians probably cried out to their gods, but there was no answer. They offered sacrifices and offerings, but there was no relief in sight. Wave after wave of locusts descended upon their fields and orchards, devouring “every plant in the fields and all the fruit on the trees that had survived the hailstorm” (Exodus 10:15 NLT).

And it didn’t take long before Moses and Aaron were summoned back into Pharaoh’s presence. They had gotten his attention and he was ready to negotiate. But first, he begged them to pray to their God so that this latest plight might come to an end.

“Forgive my sin, just this once, and plead with the Lord your God to take away this death from me.” – Exodus 10:17 NLT

He appears to be sincere. His pride appears to be broken. But after Moses prayed and God miraculously removed every last locust from the land of Egypt, Pharaoh resorted back to his old stubborn ways and refused to let the people go.

The land lay in utter disarray, devastated by the effects of the hail and the damage done by the locusts. But Pharaoh remained steadfast in his refusal to give in to God’s demands. He still thought he was in control. Despite all that God had done to his land, Pharaoh believed he remained the king over his domain. His great pride would not allow him to bend the knee to another, even the all-powerful God of the Israelites. He somehow believed he could win this battle of wills. But what he failed to understand was that the sovereign will of Yahweh can be resisted but never thwarted. Pharaoh could stubbornly stand his ground, but he would one day bow his knee to the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Plague Number Six

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses. – Exodus 9:8-12 ESV

Following Pharaoh’s latest demonstration of hard-heartedness, Moses and Aaron are given further instructions from God. This time, the judgment that God brings upon the Egyptians will be unannounced and bring with it an increased level of physical pain and suffering. With each successive plague, God was upping the ante and revealing yet another aspect of His power and authority over kings, nations, creation, and all the mythical, man-made gods of humanity.

These assignments would have served as tests for Moses and Aaron, determining the depth of their faith and the level of their faithfulness. It must not have been easy to stand before one of the most powerful men in the world and issue demands from an unseen God. And many of the things God commanded Moses and Aaron to do were outside the pale of human reason and required a great deal of trust. Each new directive from Jehovah took them into unexplored territory and required them to exhibit an increased level of faith in His ability to do the impossible.

In this case, God commanded His two servants to take ash from a kiln and disperse it into the air. And for some reason, it was Moses who was to take the lead in carrying out this latest supernatural sign. When Moses tossed the ash into the air, it would turn into a fine dust that would spread throughout the land of Egypt, “causing festering boils to break out on people and animals throughout the land” (Exodus 9:9 NLT).

It’s likely that this “kiln” or furnace was used in the manufacture of bricks. This would have tied the ashes to the suffering of the Israelites.

…the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands. – Exodus 1:13-14 NLT

Pharaoh sent this order to the Egyptian slave drivers and the Israelite foremen: “Do not supply any more straw for making bricks. Make the people get it themselves! But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don’t reduce the quota.” – Exodus 5:6-8 NLT

These massive kilns would have been located all over the land of Egypt, wherever there was a state-sanctioned construction site. These furnaces would have contained the ashes of the straw that the Israelites had been forced to scavenge and knead into the clay that they formed into the bricks used to build edifices to Pharaoh’s glory. It is almost as if God was taking the unjust pain and suffering of His people and spreading it among their Egyptian overlords. And no one was spared. The rich and the poor alike would suffer the debilitating effects of this plague as the dust settled on their skin and produced boils (šiḥîn) or inflamed spots on the skin that erupted and became festering sores (‘ăḇaʿbuʿōṯ). There is no way to determine the identity of this skin disease, but it must have been extremely painful and left its suffering unable to perform even the most simple tasks. The text indicates that Pharaoh’s magicians were completely incapacitated and “unable to stand before Moses, because the boils had broken out on them and all the Egyptians” (Exodus 9:11 NLT).

These men had been able to replicate some of the previous signs that Moses and Aaron performed, but not in this case. And it seems highly unlikely that they would have wanted to reproduce this particular sign, even if they could.

As Pharaoh looked on, Moses carried out the command of God, and the king and his royal officials watched the ash turn to dust, miraculously spread over the land, and then settle back down on their own skin. But it appears that Pharaoh was exempted from the effects of this plague. Moses indicates that “the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians” (Exodus 9:11 ESV), but he doesn’t mention Pharaoh. It seems that God was sparing Pharaoh and preparing him for the final plague that was designed to bring judgment right to his doorstep. God had reserved something far more painful and personal for Pharaoh. He even foreshadowed this final plague when He spoke to Moses in Midian.

“When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go. Then you will tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son. I commanded you, “Let my son go, so he can worship me.” But since you have refused, I will now kill your firstborn son!’” – Exodus 4:21-23 NLT

But for now, Pharaoh was forced to stand back and watch the God of Israel demonstrate His sovereign power through a nationwide pandemic that brought intense pain but not death. And like all the other plagues, this one was a direct attack on the gods of the Egyptians. It only makes sense that those suffering from this disease would have called out to their gods for deliverance and healing. They would have sought relief from one of their many deities.

In the Egyptian pantheon of gods, Serapis was a lord of healing and of fertility. Interestingly enough, this god’s cult was celebrated in association with that of the sacred Egyptian bull Apis, which we looked at with the last plague. The priests and priestesses associated with Serapis would have been expected to call upon their god for healing. But, like the magicians, they would have found themselves unable to perform their priestly duties because of the very malady they were hoping to eliminate.

They called out, but no one answered. They begged for relief, but none came. The sores erupted on their skin but no miracle was forthcoming. It was as if their gods had grown silent or apathetic about their plight. But It is simply a demonstration of the truth that the psalmist would later articulate.

Our God is in the heavens,
    and he does as he wishes.
Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:3-8 NLT

When Separis proved impotent, they must have turned to Imhotep, the god of medicine and the guardian of healing sciences. This particular god had actually been a man who had served as the second king of Egypt’s third dynasty. After his death, he was deified and worshiped by the Egyptians as the god of medicine.

But he too proved helpless before the God of Israel because he was a fraud and a fake. None of their gods were real and, therefore, they had no hope of delivering the people of Egypt from their pain and suffering. These so-called gods were the figments of men’s imaginations, just as Jeremiah the prophet later wrote.

“Their gods are like
    helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field!
They cannot speak,
    and they need to be carried because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of such gods,
    for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.” – Jeremiah 10:5 NLT

So the ash went up, the dust rained down, the boils broke open, and the people cried out. But no relief was in sight. And Pharaoh remained unmoved by what he saw. At this point, he stood aloof and distant from the pain of his people. He was not having to share in their suffering, so he was unmoved by their plight. Moses indicates that “he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Exodus 9:12 ESV). But this time, it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Anywhere along the way, God could have miraculously moved in Pharaoh’s life and softened the hardened condition of his heart. But He continued to allow the king to display the natural evidence of his sinful disposition. Rather than intervene, God allowed Pharaoh’s inherent wickedness to take its normal course. This demonstrates the way that God has always worked with fallen mankind. Paul describes it well in his letter to the Romans.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! – Romans 1:22-25 ESV

Pharaoh stood his ground. But he was up against far greater and more powerful than he could ever imagine. All the plagues should have served as a wake-up call but God exactly what it was going to take to open Pharaoh’s eyes and break the hardened callouses of his heart. But the time for that plague had not yet come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Plague Number One

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. 16 And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed. 17 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.”’” 19 And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”

20 Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. 21 And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 23 Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. 24 And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile.

25 Seven full days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile. – Exodus 7:14-25 ESV

Things were about to get busy for God’s two elderly representatives. At an age when most men would be slowing down, Moses and Aaron had been assigned the God-ordained task of delivering His people from their captivity in Egypt. And this formidable responsibility wasn’t made any easier by the recalcitrant Pharaoh. As God had warned, the king of Egypt would do everything in his considerable power to keep the Israelites enslaved.

God was not surprised by Pharaoh’s actions. He had actually predicted it and claimed that He was the motivating factor behind Pharaoh’s stubborn resistance.  The Almighty knew the king’s heart and was using his predispositions and natural tendencies to bring about the preordained plan for Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Pharaoh’s “hard heart” would play a major role in God’s redemptive plan.

Having enacted their first sign in the presence of Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron were given instructions to take things to the next level. Araon’s staff turning into a snake was a mere parlor trick compared to what God was about to do. Pharaoh’s arrogant refusal to accept the terms of God’s demands would be met with severe judgment. God was going to strike at the heart of Egypt’s economic, religious, and cultural life: The Nile.

This vast river was the source of all life for the people of Egypt. Its annual flood cycle ensured the dissemination of nutrient-rich silt on the shorelines, providing fertility and prosperity to the land. The Egyptians believed the Nile to be a gift of the gods and they associated a number of their deities with the river itself.

There were Apis and Isis, the god and goddess of the Nile. Khnum was considered the guardian of the Nile. There were at least two gods who were deemed responsible for the Nile’s flooding. The first was the crocodile-like deity Sobek, whose domain consisted of the Nile’s waters. The second was Hapi, who was sometimes referred to as “Lord of the River Bringing Vegetation.” Because of his role in the annual flood cycle, Hapi was also considered a god of fertility.

It makes perfect sense that God would choose this revered natural resource to be the site of His first judgment. He sent Moses and Aaron to meet Pharaoh on the banks of the river the next morning. The omniscient God of Israel foreknew that Pharaoh would be making a morning visit to the river’s banks and He instructed His two agents to get there early and be ready to confront the king upon his arrival.

Moses was instructed to have Aaron take the same staff that God had transformed into a snake and use it to strike the waters of the Nile. But before doing so, Moses was to deliver to Pharaoh the following short speech from God.

So this is what the Lord says: “I will show you that I am the Lord.” Look! I will strike the water of the Nile with this staff in my hand, and the river will turn to blood. The fish in it will die, and the river will stink. The Egyptians will not be able to drink any water from the Nile.’” – Exodus 7:17-18 NLT

It is likely that Pharaoh was accompanied by a royal retinue of armed guards, servants, and administrative officials. Perhaps his visit had religious overtones and there were priests to assist him in making sacrifices to one or more of the gods of the Nile.

But at the sight of these two elderly Hebrews standing on the bank of the river, Pharaoh must have been more than a bit surprised and irritated. And to hear them pronounce their far-fetched plan to turn the river to blood must have left him bemused. Who did these men think they were? Did they not know they were dealing with one of the most powerful men in the world?

But Moses and Aaron did as God had instructed them.

As Pharaoh and all of his officials watched, Aaron raised his staff and struck the water of the Nile. Suddenly, the whole river turned to blood! The fish in the river died, and the water became so foul that the Egyptians couldn’t drink it. There was blood everywhere throughout the land of Egypt. – Exodus 7:20-21 NLT

In a matter of minutes, the entire river had been transformed into blood. This supernatural display of God’s power was meant to demonstrate His superiority and sovereignty. The God of creation was giving irrefutable evidence of His status as the one true God. Hapi, Khnum, Apis, and Isis were all defenseless before the majesty and might of Jehovah. They could not protect their own domain from the devastating judgment of the God of the Hebrews. And all Pharaoh could do was stand back and watch.

According to the text, the effects of this miracle were not localized but widespread throughout Egypt, impacting “all its rivers, canals, ponds, and all the reservoirs” (Exodus 7:19 NLT). Every source of drinking water was affected. And, not only that, the fish that served as a primary source of food for the Egyptians were wiped out as a result of this nationwide catastrophe. 

In what will become a rather strange and repeated scene, Pharaoh’s magicians responded to this devastating display of God’s judgment by replicating it. In other words, they mimicked the actions of God and actually made matters worse. If they had the power to turn water into blood, why did they not choose to do the opposite? Once again, God seems to be using these so-called magicians as instruments of His sovereign will. It is ironic that they display similar power to that of Moses and Aaron, but they cannot repair or resist what God’s agents have done. They can only replicate it and increase the suffering of their own people.

Seven days would pass. During that time, Pharaoh would go about his business as if nothing had happened. He refused to think about the devastation brought upon his nation by the God of Moses and Aaron. Safely ensconced in his palace, he was unaware that his people were busy digging wells in a vain attempt to find fresh drinking water.  And little did Pharaoh know that this was just the beginning. The book of Psalms records the litany of miraculous judgments that were headed Pharaoh’s way.

They did not remember his power
    or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,
when he performed his signs in Egypt
    and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
He turned their rivers to blood,
    so that they could not drink of their streams.
He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them,
    and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave their crops to the destroying locust
    and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
    and their sycamores with frost.
He gave over their cattle to the hail
    and their flocks to thunderbolts.
He let loose on them his burning anger,
    wrath, indignation, and distress,
    a company of destroying angels.
He made a path for his anger;
    he did not spare them from death,
    but gave their lives over to the plague.
He struck down every firstborn in Egypt,
    the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.
Then he led out his people like sheep
    and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. – Psalm 78:42-52 ESV

The blood-filled Nile was only the precursor to so much more that God had planned for the nation of Egypt. And when He was done, they would know that He alone was Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Just When Things Were Looking Up

1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” – Exodus 5:1-9 ESV

Chapter four ends with the promising statement, “And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction” (Exodus 4:31 ESV). Moses and Aaron had presented God’s message word for word.

“Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has appeared to me. He told me, ‘I have been watching closely, and I see how the Egyptians are treating you. I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey…’” – Exodus 3:16-17 NLT

Then, as God had commanded, they backed up their words with actions, performing the signs Moses had received in the wilderness of Horeb. And evidently, their efforts proved successful in convincing the Israelites to believe that Jehovah had heard their cries and had come to deliver them from their miserable conditions in Egypt. Encouraged by what they heard and saw, “they bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 3:31 ESV).

Having faithfully communicated God’s message to the people of Israel, Moses’ next stop was the royal throne room, where he and his brother hand-delivered an ultimate to Pharaoh.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go so they may hold a festival in my honor in the wilderness.” – Exodus 5:1 NLT

Moses and Aaron were sticking with the plan and, so far, everything was happening just as God had said it would.

“The elders of Israel will accept your message. Then you and the elders must go to the king of Egypt and tell him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So please let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord, our God.’ – Exodus 3:18 NLT

But God had already warned Moses that Pharaoh would prove to be a hard nut to crack. This powerful, self-deified monarch was not going to play along with Moses’ request. In fact, he would find the very thought of it ridiculous and not worthy of consideration. But even that was part of God’s sovereign plan.

“I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand forces him. So I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians, performing all kinds of miracles among them. Then at last he will let you go…” – Exodus 3:19-20 NLT

And as if reading a script written by the hand of God, Pharaoh responded, “Is that so?…and who is the Lord? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2 NLT). Overflowing with hubris, Pharaoh mocked his two visitors and belittled the status of this Jehovah (Yᵊhōvâ) who dared to order him around.

Interestingly enough, back when God called Moses to serve as His deliverer, Moses had expressed concern that the Israelites might know who Jehovah was.

“If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” – Exodus 3:13 NLT

But according to the opening verses of this chapter, it was not the Hebrews who needed a primer on Jehovah’s identity, it was Pharaoh. And, in response to Pharaoh’s sarcastic inquiry, “who is the Lord?”, Moses simply stated, “The God of the Hebrews” (Exodus 5:3 NLT). He uses the generic term ĕlōhîm, which is a Hebrew word used of Jehovah, but also of all other gods. But Moses makes it clear that he is talking about a very specific “God,” the God of the Hebrews. The one true God who created the heavens and the earth.

Moses reiterates his request for Pharaoh to permit the Israelites a take what would be a six-day break from their work so that they can travel into the wilderness and worship their God. In a sense, he was asking Pharaoh to agree to unpaid time off for all Hebrew workers. But he insisted this was not so they could go on holiday, but so that they might worship their God. And then he added a previously undisclosed bit of information.

“If we don’t, he will kill us with a plague or with the sword.” – Exodus 5:3 NLT

Moses was insisting that they were obligated to obey the commands of their God. If they refused, Pharaoh could end up losing all his laborers, not just for six days, but for good. The ball was in Pharaoh’s court. He could accommodate Moses’ request and suffer a drop in productivity for about a week, or he could refuse and watch his primary labor force get wiped off the face of the earth. It was up to him.

After 400 years, the Egyptians had become familiar with the strange religious rites of the Israelites. They would have known that the offerings they made to their God involved animal sacrifices, and the Egyptians considered many of those animals to be sacred. They believed their gods manifested themselves through these creatures, and the idea of the Israelites sacrificing bulls and goats within the borders of Egypt would have appalled and disgusted them. That is why Moses asked permission to journey three days outside of the borders of Egypt.

But Pharaoh was not buying what Moses was selling. He was not about to release the Israelites into the wilderness for any reason or for any length of time, for fear that they might try to escape. So, Pharaoh doubled down on his previous answer and rebuked his two visitors for wasting his time and filling the heads of the Israelites with false hope.

“Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their tasks? Get back to work! Look, there are many of your people in the land, and you are stopping them from their work.” – Exodus 5:4 NLT

Having drawn a line in the sand, Pharaoh upped the ante and ordered his Egyptian slave drivers to make the lives of the Israelites worse than before. Even the Hebrew foremen who oversaw the chain gangs of laborers were ordered to drive their fellow Israelites harder than before. To increase their suffering and get their mind off of the messages of Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh ordered that all brick production be done without the benefit of straw. It wasn’t that the Israelites were permitted to make strawless bricks, but that they now had to gather the hay and stubble on their own. It added another layer of back-breaking labor to their already difficult task.

Pharaoh concluded that the Israelites were lazy and easily distracted by Moses’ offer of a week off from work to worship in the wilderness. He was going to teach them a valuable and painful lesson they would not soon forget.

“Load them down with more work. Make them sweat! That will teach them to listen to lies!” – Exodus 5:9 NLT

It doesn’t take a psychologist to deduce that this treatment was going to produce an adverse reaction among the people of God. They had been pumped by Moses’ announcement that Jehovah had heard their cries. They were looking forward to seeing how God was going to improve their lot in life. Now, things had taken a very dark turn for the worse. Rather than experiencing deliverance, their pain and suffering had actually increased. And it wouldn’t take them long to decide that they had been far better off before Moses and his brother showed up on their doorstep.

But little did the Israelites know that this was all part of God’s sovereign plan. Their God was not up in heaven wringing His hands in worry. He had not been caught off guard by Pharaoh’s harsh reaction. God had known all along that this would be Pharaoh’s response. It was built into the whole plan and was part of the sequence of events that would ultimately lead to the release of the Israelites and the judgment of the Egyptians.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Just Say Yes

1 Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

10 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” 13 But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16 He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. 17 And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.” – Exodus 4:1-17 ESV

Moses has seen a burning bush, heard a disembodied voice, and been given a name to go with the source of that voice. By now, he is convinced that it is indeed Jehovah, “the existing one,” with whom he has been speaking, and he fully understands the parameters of the mission he has been given. All of that becomes clear from the very next words that come out of his mouth.

“…behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord [Jehovah] did not appear to you.’” – Exodus 4:1 ESV

Moses understands that he is to return to his people in Egypt and give them a message from Jehovah, but he is unconvinced that this mission will succeed. Despite all of God’s assurances, Moses is reluctant to accept the assignment he has been given. There can be little doubt that fear is a primary factor behind Moses’ reticence. He knows that a return to Egypt, even after his lengthy absence, will be risky and potentially deadly. He has a bounty on his head for the murder of an Egyptian, so returning to the scene of the crime doesn’t seem like a particularly smart thing to do.

And it is apparent that Moses has strong doubts about his ability to win over his fellow Hebrews. After all, he had spent the majority of his life living in luxury within the walls of Pharaoh’s palace. To the Israelites, Moses was a turncoat and a traitor. From their perspective, he had “slept” with the enemy and could not be trusted.

So, Moses steps up to the bar and pleads his case with the Almighty. This time, he argues that the Israelites will never believe that he has spoken with Jehovah. After all, no one has heard a word from the Lord for more than 400 years. During that extended period of silence, most of the Israelites had chosen to align themselves with one or more of the gods of Egypt. It was a common belief in those days that deities were regionally based. Their authority and sphere of influence were localized to a particular geographic area. The ancient pagan nations perceived each god or goddess as having a particular domain or sphere of power on the earth. They even assigned oversight of the different parts of that domain to different gods. So, there were gods of the forests, the crops, the mountains, the seas, and the rivers.

Moses feared that when he returned to Egypt declaring to have received a message from Jehovah, the Israelites would never believe him. Some would believe that Jehovah was somewhere back in Canaan and had forgotten all about them. Others would believe His power was limited and prove to be impotent in distant Egypt. Still, others would simply deem Moses a liar who never heard from Jehovah in the first place.

God listens patiently, then proceeds to assuage Moses’ fears with a convincing demonstration of power that was also meant to foreshadow His judgment. God ordered Moses to throw down his shepherd’s staff and, when he did, it was miraculously transformed into a snake. While it’s likely that this powerful visual demonstration got Moses’ attention, he may not have immediately recognized its meaning. God was making an important point that was meant to convey His supreme authority as the one true God.

In Egyptian culture, the snake played an important role. The Uraeus (“rearing cobra”) was the stylized form of an Egyptian cobra that graced the crown of the Pharaoh. Displayed with a flared neck and in an upright position as if preparing to strike, this symbolic image was meant to represent Pharaoh’s sovereignty, royalty, and divine authority.

Whether he realized it or not, Moses was standing before a living symbol of Pharaoh’s power and authority. And when God commanded Moses to pick up the snake by the tail, he must have had second thoughts. He didn’t have to be a snake charmer to know that this tactic would probably not turn out well. But he obeyed. And when he did, the snake turned back into a shepherd’s staff.

God immediately explained the meaning behind this powerful, yet petrifying demonstration. It was so “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you” (Exodus 4:5 ESV). Jehovah, the existing one, would declare His presence in Egypt by having His appointed messenger easily manipulate the serpent of Egypt (Pharaoh). Every time Moses performed this miracle, it would deliver a powerful message to the people of Israel.

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
    to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
    he removes kings and sets up kings…” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

Jehovah was sovereign over all, including the Pharaoh who wore the symbol of a cobra on his crown. But Egypt’s sovereign would prove to be no match for the sovereign God of the universe. The Israelites would know that the God of their forefathers was amongst them and their days of suffering at the hands of the Egyptians were coming to an end.

But God had one more thing to show Moses. This time, He ordered Moses to put his hand inside his cloak, and when Moses pulled it back out, he was shocked to find it covered in leprosy. While Moses, the author, doesn’t divulge what went through his mind when this happened, it is safe to assume that he was not happy with the outcome. The very hand that had picked up the snake was now diseased and, therefore, unclean. I believe this particular sign was meant to deliver a personal message to Moses. He could refuse to answer God’s call and continue hiding in Midian, but he would pay dearly for it. When this encounter with God was over, Moses would return to Midian (“Put your hand back inside your cloak”), but he would eventually obey and make his way to Egypt.

God was not issuing Moses an invitation to participate in His divine deliverance of the people of Israel. It was a command and it was non-negotiable. In a sense, Moses had entered Midian as an unclean state. He had committed murder, and was damaged goods. But his impurity would be removed and he would become “the hand” of God, declaring the will of God to Pharaoh and the Israelites.

God informs Moses that these two signs were to be used to win over the people of Israel. But if they proved insufficient, Moses could use one more visual demonstration of God’s power. He could take some water from the life-giving Nile and transform it into blood. This great river that sustained all life in the region would become a source and symbol of death. Once again, God was revealing to Moses His power and sovereignty over all things.

But even after these incredible displays of God’s power, Moses continued to balk at obeying God’s command. This time, he argued that he was unqualified for the role.

“O my Lord, I am not an eloquent man, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” – Exodus 4:10 NLT

In essence, Moses was telling God that He had chosen the wrong guy for the job. Moses begged God to reconsider and find someone else to take his place.

“O my Lord, please send anyone else whom you wish to send!” – Exodus 4:13 NLT

But God doesn’t make mistakes. He knew what He was doing and He would not take no for an answer. But He did make a concession. He agreed to give Moses an assistant, someone who could act as Moses’ mouthpiece before Pharaoh. But this was not a knee-jerk reaction or some kind of compromise on God’s part. It had all been planned ahead of time.

“What about your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak very well. Moreover, he is coming to meet you, and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart.” – Exodus 4:14 NLT

God had already arranged for Aaron to begin the long journey from Egypt to Midian, long before this conversation had begun. God had known in advance how this encounter with Moses was going to go, and God had always planned to have Aaron play a role in the deliverance of His people. And God told Moses exactly how this symbiotic relationship with his brother was going to work.

“So you are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And as for me, I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you both what you must do.  He will speak for you to the people, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were his God. You will also take in your hand this staff, with which you will do the signs.” – Exodus 4:15-17 NLT

At this point, the discussion was over. Moses had nothing else to say. He had his assignment and had been given an assistant. Now all that was left to do was to make the long journey back to Egypt.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Unfolding Plan of God

11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”

23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. – Exodus 2:11-25 ESV

Moses fast-forwards this section of his biography by skipping from his infancy to his young adulthood as a member of Pharaoh’s household. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses enjoyed the privileges and prerogatives that came as a grandson of the most powerful man in the land of Egypt. He was raised in an atmosphere of opulence and wealth. He would have received a first-class education and had access to all the trappings that come with his royal rank.

But while it appears that Moses grew up in relative isolation as a member of the royal family, he was not ignorant of his Hebrew heritage. His mother had played a role in the early years of his life, acting as his nursemaid on behalf of Pharaoh’s daughter. It seems likely that Moses continued to have contact with his parents, Amram and Jochabed, as well as his sister Miriam and his brother Aaron. This means he would have been aware of his heritage and the conditions under which his fellow Hebrews were living as a result of his adopted grandfather’s policies.

So, Moses relates a day came when he ventured outside the walls of the royal palace in order to observe the situation among his people, the Hebrews. It is not clear if this was a first for Moses or whether he made these excursions on a regular basis. But on this particular occasion, he witnessed “an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people” (Exodus 2:11 ESV). Perhaps Moses had seen this kind of harsh treatment before and chosen to ignore it. But in this instance, he decided to take matters into his own hands and teach the offending Egyptian a lesson he would not soon forget.

Moses killed the man and buried his body in the sand, and the only witness was the Hebrew whose life he had protected. But somehow, word got out. The very next day, Moses attempted to insert himself in the middle of a confrontation between two Hebrews, but they did not appreciate his interference in their affair.

“Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Are you planning to kill me like you killed that Egyptian?” – Exodus 2:14 NLT

Suddenly, Moses realized that his little secret from the day before was anything but secret. This thought petrified and rightfully so, because Pharaoh got wind of Moses’ little stunt playing judge, jury, and executioner and was livid. His grandfather had no love affair with the Hebrews and when he heard that his adopted Hebrew grandson had taken the life of an Egyptian, he was livid. So much so, that he put a bounty on Moses’ head.

So Moses fled from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he settled by a certain well. – Exodus 2:15 NLT

Moses fled for his life. It appears that he took no time to say goodbye to his adoptive mother or his biological parents and siblings. He simply ran and he didn’t stop until he got all the way to Midian. This proved to be quite a trek and it covered territory that would become very familiar to Moses in the days ahead. To get to Midian, Moses had to cross the Sinai Peninsula, a path that would take him through the wilderness of Shur, Paran, and, possibly Sin. It would have been a long and arduous journey, made even more difficult by the knowledge that Pharaoh could have sent a posse in hot pursuit of his runaway grandson/murderer.

At this point in the narrative, it is important to consider how the author of the book of Hebrews describes Moses’ flight to Midian. In chapter 11 of his book, the author includes Moses in his “hall of faith,” a compilation of Old Testament characters whose lives exhibited faith in God. Of Moses, he writes:

By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s anger, for he persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:24-27 NLT

This gives a whole new perspective on what was going on behind the scenes and within Moses’ heart during this critical period of his young life. According to the author of Hebrews, Moses had long ago made the conscious decision to reject his royal status and embrace his true ethnic roots. He had heard about Jehovah, the God of his people, from his mother, and he had embraced the promises of God that made been passed down from Abraham all the way to Jacob. The author of Hebrews suggests that Moses knew about all the promises concerning the land of Canaan. He knew that Egypt was just a temporary holding place for the people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob. Moses was aware of the promise that Jehovah had made to Abraham.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. – Genesis 15:13-14 NLT

And Moses had been willing to jeopardize his standing in the royal court in order to align himself with the much-maligned and hated Hebrews. They were his people and he was willing to give up his status, wealth, and life of privilege in order to secure the better future God had in store for them. It even states that he “left Egypt without fearing the king’s anger” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT). He didn’t leave Egypt in a state of fear, but in a state of hopeful anticipation that God was going to do something for his people. He had no idea what the future had in store, but he was willing to give up all he had to be part of whatever God was going to do.

Moses eventually arrived in Midian, where he came into contact with seven daughters of the priest of Midian. These people were descendants of Abraham through Keturah, the wife he took after the death of Sarah. So, they were blood relatives of Moses. And in this distant land, Moses would meet his wife and settle down to a much different life than the one he led back in Egypt.

God was preparing Moses for something significant, but this young exile from Egypt was unaware of all that God had in store for him in the days ahead. And while Moses was settling into his new life in Midian, God was busy orchestrating things back in Egypt.

During that long period of time the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites groaned because of the slave labor. They cried out, and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God. God heard their groaning; God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and God understood. – Exodus 2:23-25 NLT

Moses was living in relative peace and security, oblivious to the conditions his family back in Egypt was having to endure. The persecution of the Hebrews had only increased in intensity. A new Pharaoh on the throne did not bring about any change in their conditions. Moses could not hear their cries, but God was listening and watching, and He had a plan in place that was going to radically alter their lives forever.  And soon, Moses would know the role he was going play in God’s grand redemptive plan for the people of Israel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Pitiful Plans of Men

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” – Exodus 1:8-22 ESV

As the story of Exodus begins, approximately 360 years have passed since Jacob’s descendants first arrived in the land of Egypt. During the nearly four centuries they had lived in Goshen, a rich and fertile land located in the Nile delta, their numbers had exploded. Moses explains that “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7 ESV). This statement is intended to prepare the reader for what comes next. It is essential to recognize that the Israelites’ 360-year stay in Egypt had been marked by relative peace and prosperity. They were living in the well-water plains of Lower Egypt and had plenty of pasture lands for their growing flocks and herds. While Jacob’s son, Joseph, was still alive and functioning as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, they enjoyed his patronage and protection. With Pharaoh’s permission, Joseph settled his family in Goshen and provided them food from the storehouses of Egypt.

Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. – Genesis 47:11-12 ESV

And for 360 years they enjoyed a full and satisfying life in Egypt. This is important to understand because, too often, we operate under the impression that the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for 400 years. But the reality is that the vast majority of their time in Egypt had been marked by God’s blessings. He had greatly increased their numbers and had graciously multiplied their flocks and herds. They actually lived better lives than many of the Egyptians from the lower classes who must have resented the prosperity of these Hebrew refugees.

And Moses points out that the burgeoning numbers of the Israelites had gotten the attention of none other than Pharaoh himself.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” – Exodus 1:8-10 ESV

Moses does not provide the name of this Pharaoh because it is not relevant to the storyline. There has been much debate and scholarly speculation as to the identity of this “king over Egypt.” Some have identified him as Ahmose, while others have determined him to be Amenhotep I or Thutmose I. It is virtually impossible to know with any certainty which of these men was the Pharaoh mentioned in Exodus 1:8. But, whoever he was, he saw the Hebrews as a threat to his kingdom. From his throne in Zoan, the capital of Egypt at the time, he likely received regular reports that kept him informed about the expansive Hebrew population in Goshen. He describes them as being “too many and too mighty.” For nearly four decades they had lived alongside the Egyptian people and had posed no threat to the nation. But for some reason, this particular Pharaoh became paranoid about their presence and decided to take steps to bring them under control and mitigate their potential for joining forces with one of Egypt’s adversaries.

“…if a war breaks out, they will ally themselves with our enemies and fight against us and leave the country.”

So they put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor. As a result they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. – Exodus 1:10-11 NLT

This represents the turning point in the Israelites’ existence in Egypt. For the next 40 years, things would grow increasingly difficult for the descendants of Jacob. Almost overnight, their prospects in the land of Egypt would take a decidedly negative turn.

Notice that Pharaoh had no desire for the Israelites to leave the land of Egypt. He was not looking to expel them but was only interested in bringing them under his control. It is likely that the Egyptians benefited from the presence of the Israelites. During the days of Joseph, his brothers had served as shepherds over the royal herds.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best region of the land. They may live in the land of Goshen. If you know of any highly capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” – Genesis 47:5-6 NLT

It is likely that this arrangement still existed and the new Pharaoh had benefited from shepherding skills of the Hebrews. And the sheer number of Israelites would have made them a powerful trading and economic force in Egypt. So, Pharaoh decided to institute a series of measures that would bring the Israelites under his mastery.

It began with what can only be described as forced enslavement. Pharaoh ordered the conscription of all able-bodied Hebrews and used them as an unpaid labor force to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses. These construction projects would have taken decades and would have subjected the Israelites to grueling conditions designed to crush their morale and beat them into submission. Yet, Moses indicates that “the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread” (Exodus 1:12 NLT).

The resilience of the Hebrews frustrated and enraged the Egyptians, causing them to increase the intensity of their oppression.

They made their lives bitter by hard service with mortar and bricks and by all kinds of service in the fields. Every kind of service the Israelites were required to give was rigorous. – Exodus 1:14 NLT

But despite the brutal conditions placed upon them, the Israelites seemed to prosper. This led Pharaoh to turn up the heat. This time, he ordered a pogrom that utilized infanticide as a means of controlling the ever-increasing numbers of Israelites. If he couldn’t beat them into submission, he would simply eradicate them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you assist the Hebrew women in childbirth, observe at the delivery: If it is a son, kill him, but if it is a daughter, she may live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. – Exodus 1:15-17 NLT

Pharaoh attempted to lower the birthrates of the Hebrews by ordering the immediate execution of every male infant, and he chose to implement this sadistic strategy by enlisting the services of the Hebrew midwives. These women were ordered to carry out this gruesome plan by using their intimate role as midwives to murder innocent newly-born male babies. But they refused to carry out those orders. Fearing God more than Pharaoh, they risked their own lives by sparing the lives of every baby boy they helped deliver. And when Pharaoh caught wind of what they were doing, he confronted them.

Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this and let the boys live?” – Exodus 1:18 NLT

These women responded with what appears to be a lie.

“Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women—for the Hebrew women are vigorous; they give birth before the midwife gets to them!” – Exodus 1:19 NLT

It seems that these two women oversaw a network of midwives who served the large Hebrew population. In an attempt to explain the higher-than-expected number of successful male births, they chalked it up to the “vigor” of the Hebrew women. The labor time of the Hebrews was so fast, that the midwives weren’t able to get there in time to help with the birth. It’s likely that there was an element of truth to Shiphrah and Puah’s statement, but they were also disguising the fact that they had ordered non-compliance to Pharaoh’s edict among their fellow midwives. They were not going to play his sadistic game. And Moses makes it clear that God was pleased with their actions.

God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. – Exodus 1:20-21 ESV

God blessed them because their sacrificial efforts resulted in the saving of many lives. As a result, the people of Israel continued to increase in number and God blessed these women with families of their own.

In a final, last-gasp attempt to control the Hebrew population, Pharaoh ordered every Egyptian to play a part in his nationwide infanticide program.

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” – Exodus 1:22 ESV

He was not giving up. His fear of and hatred for the Hebrews only intensified with time and with each setback to his plan. But this conflict was going to set the stage for the rest of the story. because God also had a plan. And His plan was bigger and greater than that of Pharaoh. The persecutions and pogrom of Pharaoh were not going to get in the way of what God had in store for His chosen people. As a matter of fact, it was going to be the very thing God would use to set His people free. Slavery and persecution would become the backdrop for His plan of redemption for them. But to set them free, they would have to be enslaved. Had they never been persecuted by the Egyptians, the Israelites would never have wanted to leave. They had nothing to go back to. They had no land, no home, no gardens, and no farms.

They were content living in Egypt. But things were about to change. The situation was about to heat up because God was about to do something unexpected and unprecedented. He had a promise He was going to fulfill.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.