We are in the middle of a sermon series on the Exodus. A bit of review - Pharaoh was the king of Egypt. He had forcibly made the people of Israel his slaves in charge of making bricks for his city under the hot sun. God called two brothers named Moses and Aaron to confront Pharaoh and ask for three days off to go into the desert and worship him.
They asked nicely.
Pharaoh did not let Israel go. (Exodus 5:2)
God turned a stick into a snake.
Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he did not let the people go. (7:13)
God transformed the Nile River into blood for an entire week!
Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to them. (7:22)
God sent a plague of frogs to cover the land.
Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go. (8:15)
God sent clouds of gnats to cover the people.
But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen. (8:19)
God sent swarms of flies that blocked the sky, covered the ground, and skyrocketed stocks in Flyswatters.
Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go. (8:32)
Hmm…There appears to be a theme.
I. Defining Hardness
Plague number five.
The Lord told Moses to go to Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go so that they may serve me. But if you refuse to let them go and keep holding them back, watch out, because the hand of the Lord will bring a very severe disease on your livestock which is in the field.” (9:1-3)
Livestock were very important in Ancient Egypt. Cows provided milk and meat. Horses pulled plows for farming. Camels were the main type of human transport. Donkeys carried loads of goods to merchants and neighboring cities. Sheep provide wool for clothing.
If you had a lot of animals, you were very wealthy.
If you didn’t, you weren’t.
If you had a lot of animals, then suddenly lost them, you were bankrupt.
Early on this particular morning.
The cattle were lowing.
The sheep baa-ing
The horses neighing.
The donkeys heehawing.
The camels…making camel noises.
Aaron lifted his stick.
God did a miracle.
Suddenly, all you could hear was a THUD!
Except among the Israelites…
“…But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of the Egyptians so that not one of the Israelites’ livestock will die.” (v.4)
The Israelites had milk that day.
The Egyptians didn’t.
The Israelite kids enjoyed their day at the petting zoo.
The Egyptian kids went home crying.
The Israelite equestrians had a great day training their horses.
The Egyptian equestrians buried theirs.
The Israelite sheep had all kinds of wool – a one bag for the master, one for the dame, one of the little boy who lives down the lane.
Which was good.
Because that little boy down the lane didn’t have any wool.
Because he was Egyptian.
And his sheep had just died.
Can you imagine the sadness?
Especially when the Egyptians found out that the Pharoah had been warned about this and still didn’t do anything about it!
But Pharaoh’s heart was unyielding, and he did not let the people go. (v.7)
This is the seventh time that Pharaoh refused to do what God says.
But it is the first time that the Scripture records it differently.
The first six times it describes what Pharaoh did to his heart – that he hardened it.
This time it describes what the hardened heart did to Pharaoh – that he became unyielding.
A HARDENED heart does not YIELD to the Lord.
Back in Driver’s Ed class, we were talking about STOP signs. My instructor told us of a guy who had told his girlfriend that any stop sign with a white outline around it was optional.
She believed him.
When she went on her road text, she proceeded to blow by every single stop sign.
She didn’t yield. “Because it was optional.”
A hardened heart does the same thing with God’s commands.
It views them as optional.
And does not yield.
How do you know if you have a hardened heart?
You won’t yield.
A hardened heart won’t show up on an x-ray.
It won’t appear on an MRI.
There isn’t some kind of blood test.
If you want to know if you have a hardened heart, just answer this question:
Have you been yielding to God?
Really answer the question.
God might not be telling you to release hundreds of thousands of slaves.
But he has probably told you other things:
Stop saying racist things.
Quit yelling at your wife.
Quit gossiping about your friends.
Control your temper.
Are you listening?
Are you yielding to God?
And if you aren’t…
Perhaps your heart is hard.
II. A Hard Truth
Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a kiln, and have Moses toss it toward the sky in the sight of Pharaoh. (v.8)
I imagine Moses and Aaron went to their local fireplace.
They filled a bowl with soot.
Made their way to the palace.
Got in front of Pharaoh.
And tossed the soot into the air.
Like Lebron James before a ball game.
Instantly, people all over the land develop boils on their skin.
People in suburbs.
People in the city.
People in the mansions.
People in the affordable housing.
People at work.
People taking a nap on the couch.
And they get the boils everywhere…
On their hands.
On their feet.
On their arms.
On their legs.
On their face.
On their scalp.
On their back.
Even on their pre-existing boils!
Everyone was moaning.
Everyone was groaning.
Picture him like your husband with a cold.
He called a meeting with his officials to talk about what to do.
But his officials couldn’t even make it.
Because they were too busy moaning and groaning on their own.
Everyone in Egypt was in pain!
The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them. (v.12)
Did you see the difference in that verse?
Just like every other time Pharaoh’s heart is hardened.
But unlike every other time Pharaoh isn’t doing the hardening.
Sometimes GOD hardens the HARDENED heart.
This is scarier than the plague of boils.
Because just like everything else.
God does things better than people.
He shows mercy better than people.
He provides blessings better than people.
He gives peace better than people.
God makes hearts harder than any human ever could.
A heart hardened by God is scary hard.
Almost like the only one who could unhardened a God hardened heart…
III. The Mercy Behind the Hardening
But why did God do it?
Isn’t God loving?
Isn’t God merciful?
Isn’t God kind?
Yet, God definitely hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
This means that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was done by a loving and kind God.
How does that mesh?
Let God provide the answer. “Let my people go so that they may serve me. For at this time I will send all my plagues against you yourself, your servants, and your people, so that you will know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague so that you would have been wiped off the earth. (v.13-15)
Do you hear what God is saying?
He could have chosen to do one plague.
The plague of snapping my fingers and Pharaoh disappears forever.
But God didn’t.
Because of his mercy.
His mercy to Pharaoh.
The very fact that Pharaoh was even alive was because of God’s mercy.
However, for this very reason, I caused you to stand: so that I could show you my power, and that my name would be made known over the entire earth. You still are acting arrogantly against my people by not letting them go. Watch out. At this time tomorrow I will rain down a very severe hailstorm, unlike any other in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. (v.16-18)
And sure enough…
Word got out from the palace that another plague was coming.
And they didn’t even have Twitter.
God said there was gonna be hail! The worst hailstorm of all time.
Are you sure? I remember the storm back in 513 B.C. that was a doozy! I’m not sure God can pull it off.
Well… judging from the fact that the other six plagues have come exactly as the LORD said…I have the boil scars to prove it…I think we bring our workers in.
Those among Pharaoh’s officials who feared the word of the Lord made their servants and livestock take refuge inside. (v.20)
This hadn’t happened before.
There hadn’t been any Egyptians who trusted God.
Any Egyptians who listened to what he said.
But after the last plague.
The one where Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.
God may harden one heart to SOFTEN others.
It’s like those DON’T SMOKE announcements. Do you remember those from back in grade school?
There’d be a big old poster sitting in our lunch room cafeteria.
On one side? A set of healthy-looking lungs.
On the other side? A pair of lungs from a 10-year chain smoker.
Those lungs were black.
Those lungs were pale gray.
Those longs were gross.
Kinda like 1980s lunchroom mystery meat.
The goal of this poster was to warn kids – Don’t smoke!
One goal of God hardening Pharaoh was to warn other – Don’t ignore God!
And it still is a warning!
Because this plague is written down.
These events are before our eyes.
Since God is all knowing.
And God is eternal.
And God loves you dearly.
Could it be…
One of the reasons that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart…
He wanted to warn you.
About whatever it is you need to be warned.
Because he loves you that much.
And he doesn’t want you to suffer the same fate.
So, it was out of love for his people that verse 23 occurs:
Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, and the Lord sent thunder and hail. Lightning also flashed down to the ground. The Lord rained down hail upon the land of Egypt. (v.23)
Branches were knocked down.
Flowers were ruined.
Plants were destroyed.
Flax was destroyed.
Barley was destroyed.
Broccoli was destroyed.
Any animals and humans that didn’t heed warning.
And didn’t go inside.
Pharaoh said, “I have sinned this time. The Lord is the one who is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. (v.27)
Moses took a few steps forward.
He looked into Pharaoh’s eyes.
I don’t believe you.
I’ll go and pray like every other time.
God will relent like every other time.
And you will change your mind like every other time.
Moses spread out his hands to the Lord. The thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the ground.
But when Pharaoh saw that the rain, hail, and thunder had stopped, he sinned again. He and his officials made their hearts unyielding. (v.33-34)
Did you see the change in wording again?
In the last plague, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
In this one, Pharaoh did the hardening.
God hadn’t kept the hardening going.
He gave Pharaoh another chance.
A chance to look back at the seven plagues that all occurred as a result of hard heart.
A chance to reflect on where he went wrong.
A chance to soften his heart and listen…
Pharaoh did NOT take the chance.
But this still reveals another truth about this hardening concept.
God may harden a heart in hopes of FUTURE softening.
You might know this as letting someone hit rock bottom.
When we don’t listen.
When we stay in sin.
When we refuse to listen to God.
Sometimes God allows that us to hit rock bottom.
In fact, God might even take us to rock bottom.
Spiritual rock bottom.
But if God takes us to rock bottom…
That’s only because God wants to raise us sky high.
If you are hitting some kind of rock bottom…
Maybe God is waking you up.
Because he wants to raise you up.
Because he has always wanted to raise you up….
Do you know what was so special about the Israelites?
Why God was so willing to send ten powerful plagues to save them?
He wanted to save them because he had given that nation a promise that one day…through the nation of Israel God would send a Savior.
For all people.
This means the Exodus is something that happened to…
(1) keep his people safe so that he could fulfill the promise of a Savior
(2) direct all eyes on this nation, because one day the Savior would come from that nation
That Savior has come.
He saved you from your guilt.
He saved you from all your sin.
He saved you from all your sin and guilt that stem from your hardness of heart.
He rose to lift you up out of guilt.
He rose to lift you up out of sin.
He rose to lift you up out of hardness.
He rose to lift you up – eternally – in heaven.
And God did all of this because His heart was not hard.
Have you ever considered that?
Sometimes people read this section and wonder…
How could God be so hard?
But after studying it for a while, I read this section and ask.
How could God be so soft?
He warned them.
They didn’t listen.
They shook their fist.
They continued to enslave others.
And God continued to give them chances!
Friends, maybe you haven’t listened.
Maybe you haven’t cared.
Maybe you’ shook your fist at God and continued to hurt others.
God has a soft heart.
He is merciful.
He still loves you.
Don’t harden your heart.