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The King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Date: Aug. 1, 2021

Author: Michael Mark

Exodus 8:20-10:29

Key Verse: Exodus 9:16

But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

When you think of the greatest among all of the presidents of the United States, what names come to mind?  According to the 1982 Murray-Blessing Survey, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt were identified as the top 3 ranking US presidents in American history.  What do these three men have in common?  They were all wartime presidents, and boldly and bravely led America through and out of the greatest conflicts in our history, to bring us to new levels of freedom and prosperity.  Their presidencies were by no means easy, and they went up against the most powerful of enemies, and we honor them for their battles and their service to their people.  These are men worthy of our admiration, honor and respect.  God, in the same way, proves his worthiness to be honored, praised and revered as King.  Though he has nothing to prove to us, as if he needed anything from us, still he condescended to demonstrate his mighty power, to give us in these dark times assurance that he can deliver and save, to win our faith and our hearts that will overflow to his praise and glory.  As we continue through the book of Exodus, and through the plagues, we will learn more about the King of kings and Lord of lords, and what this means for us.

As you may have noticed, we have a very long passage today – it covers 2 and a half chapters, and 6 out of the 10 plagues.  These plagues were designed by God to demonstrate his awesome power to save to his people, and to show the world who the ultimate King is.  Last week we saw the opening blows of this battle between Pharoah and God.  God commanded Pharoah, “Let my people go,” but Pharoah had the same attitude he always had, “Who is Yahweh that I should obey him.”  So God brought out 3 miraculous signs to get Pharoah to relent – the plague of blood, of frogs and gnats, but still Pharoah’s heart was hard.  Even his court magicians said to him “This is the finger of God,” acknowledging God’s existence, but Pharoah still wouldn’t listen.  Now the magicians just said “God,” maybe in their own hearts they acknowledged Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, but Pharoah could take that as some other god.  But over time, and over these plagues, God would make it abundantly clear that it was Him and no other.

We now come to the fourth plague, look at v.20, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Get up early in the morning and confront Pharoah as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’”  God is repeating himself here, for at least the fourth time, increasing the guilt of Pharoah for not listening each time.  This time he will send flies, but this time will also be different from the first three.  It marks a turning point in the plagues where the rest of them will follow the same rule.  Look at v.22-23, “ ‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land.  I will make a distinction between my people and your people.  This sign will occur tomorrow.”  This is the first time God will separate and treat his people differently.  In the first 3 plagues, his people might have had to deal with the bloody water, the stinky frogs and the annoying gnats, but from here on out, they are exempt from judgment.

This highlight’s God’s power to save, even in the midst of his judgment.  This would make it pretty clear to Pharoah and the Egyptians that this is the work of the God of the Hebrews, and not some coincidental act of nature or by their own gods.  In fact, God uses what they worship to judge them.  The Egyptians venerated flies.  They made gold jewelry with the shapes of flies in them.  They acknowledged the fly’s nimbleness in flight and sometimes sharp bite.  But what they revered would now, by the judgment of God, bite them back.  In this way God was humiliating their own idols to their face.  Nine out of the 10 plagues could be linked to Egyptian gods.

When the swarms of flies came, they filled Pharoah’s palace and the official’s homes, and ruined all of Egypt.  Can you imagine your home filled with flies?  I get like 1 or 2 every other day at home in the summer, and I’m always chasing them around with a rag trying to swat them.  But imagine a house full!  So Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron back, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.”  Pharoah was trying to accommodate, but he wanted to do things his way, not God’s way.  God had instructed that the Israelites take a 3-day journey away, not in the land.  And Moses gave good reasons for this: one, it is detestable to the Egyptians, and two, it would anger some to the point of throwing stones.  Pharoah, not really listening, said ok, just pray for me, and go, but not very far.  Moses prayed and all of the flies left.  But Pharoah did not keep his word, and denied the Israelites permission to go anywhere.  I wonder too, and I think it was likely, he still made them slavishly make bricks without straw and beat them regularly while they were still around.  So yet again Pharoah hardened his heart.

Now it was time for the fifth plague, so Moses went to Pharoah, and said “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’  If you refuse, the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field – on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats.”  Apparently, this might only apply to livestock out in the field, and not inside of a stable – but this would cause significant damage to the Egyptian economy.  What’s more is that cows were considered sacred animals to the Egyptians.  One of their goddesses, Hathor, had a cow head and woman’s body, and she was one of the most popular and most worshiped deities in Egypt.  This time around, Pharoah also investigated the livestock of the Israelites, and found that not even one, not even one of the animals of the Israelites died.

Why might God attack idols?  For one, idolatry is abhorrent to God, and likened to adultery and brazen unfaithfulness to Him.  Second, idols capture our hearts and our minds, but they are nothing but created things and figments of our imagination.  People will waste their energies and emotions, money and sometimes even sacrificing their children to idols.  When we multiply for ourselves idols, we find ourselves enslaved to something that can never satisfy, and leave us either feeling empty or makes more demands of us.  There’s materialism or covetousness, or pride and ego, self indulgence or other religions.  It is actually God’s mercy to remove, destroy or discredit such things that enslave us.  God wanted Pharoah to recognize him, but Pharoah’s heart was unyielding to God.

Now in the sixth plague, Moses and Aaron did not even confront Pharoah, but Pharoah could still see them.  God instructed them to take some soot from a furnace and throw it into the air, in Pharoah’s presence.  The soot will become fine dust, and festering boils will break out on people and animals in the land.  This time, there was no warning, and this was an act of judgment.  The warnings were merciful.  God even said when he would carry out the plague, usually it was “tomorrow,” giving time for Pharoah and his people to repent, but they never did.  One way the plagues could be divided is in sets of 3, and then the final.  In each set, Moses and Aaron give warnings for the first two plagues, but the third plague is a direct judgment.  Here, the soot is from a furnace used to make bricks.  God intended for Pharoah to see that the very instrument he used to oppress God’s people becomes an instrument of judgment on his nation.  For Pharoah this should be a terrifying warning, that he should stop oppressing God’s people.  For the Israelites, it should be a comfort to them, that God is judging their tormentor and oppressor.  Not that we should wish evil on our enemies.  In fact, Jesus said to love your enemies too.  But God here just shows that he can deal with our enemies, and not just flesh and blood enemies, but spiritual enemies as well.

Look at v.12, “But the LORD hardened Pharoah’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.”  This was the first time it is said that the LORD hardened Pharoah’s heart.  Someone might ask, if God did this, why is Pharoah to blame?  But remember, Pharoah was given 5 chances to repent, but he refused, and he sealed his own fate.  Pharoah had his heart bent on disobeying God, so God gave him to his desires.  That’s what it means that the LORD hardened Pharoah’s heart.  It’s not that God put evil in Pharoah’s heart, evil was already there.  But it’s that God withheld his grace, which is his sovereign right to do.

Still God give Pharoah yet another chance, in the 7th plague, where he says, “Let me people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and your officials and your people, so you may know that there is on one like me in all the earth.”  This is a severe warning for Pharoah to repent, and obey God, and let his people go.  In these last 3 plagues, God will unleash his full fury.  The magicians witnessed the finger of God with the gnats.  The hand of the Lord brought a terrible plague on the livestock.  Now he’ll see the arm of the Lord.  Look at what God says in v.15, “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.”  This is scary.  And you see what Pharoah and the Egyptians did to God’s people.  They subjected them to extreme labor, and beat them, of course that would anger their God.  God could have wiped them out with one blow, but he was merciful, for two reasons.  He was merciful because he prefers to have mercy, but he was also merciful for this purpose – let’s look at our key verse in v.16:

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  In some translations “raised you up,” is also translated as “allowed you to stand or remain.”  We can understand it both ways.  In one sense, God allowed Pharoah and the Egyptians to live and remain, that they might see his power, and that his name will be made known all over the world, by his deeds.  If the Egyptians were wiped out in one blow, we could not see the full range of the power or mercy of God.  But notice also, God says “I have raised you up.”  Who raised Pharoah up?  Did Pharoah raise Pharoah up?  Did the Egyptian voters raise Pharoah up?  God says he did.  And you can see now, that God is truly the King of kings and Lord of lords.  It is God who sets up authorities for his own purposes.  This is not exactly good news for Pharoah.  God is telling him that he raised him up, to show how powerfully he will deliver the Israelites from his hand, and how God will be praised for his awesome deeds.  This is an ultimate display of power, it’s like a cat talking to a mouse: “You know why I let you live…”  And it’s not that God is malicious, or has any evil intent – it’s actually out of his love for his people, and his absolute justice.  He tells Pharoah, “You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go.”  If you were on Pharoah’s side you should be scared.  But if you were on God’s side you would be cheering because a Mighty Fortress has come to rescue you.

So God sends another warning to Pharoah about the 7th plague: “By this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded until now.”  God instructed him to give an order for everyone to bring their livestock and belonging under shelter, otherwise anything left out will die.  God in his mercy, gave everyone 24 hours to escape this plague, by simply obeying his word to take shelter.  Those who listened would be spared, but those who ignored the word would face the consequences.  At the appointed time, the worst storm Egypt had ever seen had arrived – hail and lightning flashed back and forth, it was an apocalypse of fire and water.  But the land of Goshen, the land where the Israelites were, was spared.

At the sight of this, Pharoah said something strange.  Look at v.27, “This time I have sinned,” he said to them, “The LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.”  This was an almost repentance, but not full.  First, notice he said “This time,” unlike the other times where he thought he did not sin.  Now, Pharoah acknowledged God was right, and even that God was greater than their gods, as he admitted fault, but he was only saying this to stop the storm.  He may have been sincere at the time, but once the trouble was over, he went back to his old ways of disobedience.  This bad fruit is a sign of a false repentance.  Even Moses said in v.30, “But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the LORD God.”  They feared God when he was angry, but when God relented, they no longer feared God.  Imagine the scene.  Moses goes to Pharoah, and says, “Will you now let God’s people go?”  And Pharoah says “Pffft, what the?  Why?  No way.  Tell them to get back to work.”

So Moses and Aaron confronted Pharoah for the 8th plague, and started with “This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?  Let me people go, so that they may worship me.’”  So God has to ask this same question again to Pharoah, and this time, threatens a swarm of locusts never before seen, that will devour everything the hail didn’t destroy.  Now Pharoah’s officials were pushing Pharoah to relent.  Pharoah, maybe not really feeling in his heart to let them go, still called Moses and Aaron back for a token conversation.  He said, “Who’s going with you?”  And Moses answered, everyone, but Pharoah retorted, “The LORD be with you (sarcastically) – if I let you go, along with your women and children!  Clearly you are bent on evil.  No!  Have only the men go and worship the LORD, since that’s what you have been asking for.”  Then Moses and Aaron were driven from his presence.  See what they had to deal with.  Pharoah changes the request of God to whatever was in his own mind, and tries to force it onto Moses and Aaron.  So the locusts come, a swarm of locusts, millions upon millions, a sight so incredible it causes Pharoah to quickly call back Moses and Aaron.  Here you can see God’s command over the swarms of locusts, as well as the wind that carried them.  Pharoah says, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take away this deadly plague away from me.”  Moses prayed, and the Lord sent another wind to drive all the locusts into the sea.  This was another false repentance, as the LORD hardened Pharoah’s already hard heart, and he refused to let the people go.  Pharoah said all the right words, but in his heart of hearts he thought it not worthwhile to obey God.  He only said what was necessary to avoid trouble, but he cared nothing for God or his people.

So now the 9th plague comes as a judgment without warning.  God brought about a darkness that spread over the whole land for 3 days – so that no one could see anyone else or move about.  But only the Israelites were able to see.  This is an ominous, silent, powerful, but fitting plague before the final blow.  Darkness is like the absence of life itself.  It was also a heavy darkness, a darkness you could feel.  This may have been a supernatural darkness, God may have temporarily darkened the eyes of all the Egyptians, or somehow made their atmosphere very dark, and add that sense of dread.  Some commentators say that this was also an attack on the sun god Ra, who was one of the most important gods in that society. 

This darkness only lasted 3 days, after which Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron and gave them another compromised permission.  He said they may go worship, but they were to leave their livestock in Egypt.  Pharoah is always trying to scheme to permanently keep the Israelites in Egypt.  Moses told him “not a hoof is to be left behind.”  The Lord again hardened Pharoah’s heart, and at that, Pharoah became very angry and said to Moses, “Get out of my sight!  Make sure you do not appear before me again!  The day you see my face you will die.”  He kicks Moses, the representative of God out, and then threatens him.  So Moses replies, “’Just as you say, I will never appear before you again.’”  And this is true because God would now prepare the final blow to cause Pharoah to obey his command and let the people go.

We have seen that Pharoah was raised up by God, so that God could display his power, and make his name proclaimed in all the earth.  He did this by repeatedly confronting the ruler of the most powerful nation of that time, Egypt, and the plagues and miraculous works of the God of the Hebrews, the only God, with none other on earth, was well known to all the neighboring nations.  God showed here that he was not a local King, but the King of kings, one who rules not only over kings, but over nature and the earth itself, over land and air, fire and water, over the smallest critter to the strongest creature.

God is not only the King of kings in the sense that he has authority over every king, but he is known as the King of kings because he is the greatest of them all.  He is a King who is to be feared, because he executes righteous judgment, and no wrong deed is hidden from his eye.  He is a King who is to be praised, because he can free his people from slavery and bring them into new heights of freedom and prosperity.  He is a King who is to be obeyed, because his laws and commands are love.  He is a King who’s name is to be proclaimed in all the earth, because of all the great things he has done.  And we know this King of kings by name: He is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Proclaim his name to all the earth!  Rev 1:5-6 tells us: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever!  Amen.”  And our Lord and King tells us this in John 15:9-12 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love…My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  Now this is the true repentance God seeks.  Not the false repentance out of fear, as Pharoah had, but a true repentance out of love.  So do not harden your hearts, and so long as it is called Today, God is merciful, and calls you to put your faith in His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

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