5 Ways to Make God's Name Famous

God takes His name seriously. That's why we have the third commandment:

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain" (Ex. 20:7).

We must - with no exception - use God's name with the honor that it deserves. A part of that means making it famous, bringing glory to Him by spreading His name.

That's what we talked about in Sunday School yesterday. My dad offered five ways to make God's name famous.

1. By calling upon His name (Acts 2:21).
We honor His name as holy by recognizing that it is the only thing that can save us. He is Savior; we are not.

2. By telling people that there is no other name by which they can be saved (Acts 4:12).
We honor His name as holy by recognizing that there is power only in His name. And we expressly tell the world that so that they can share our hope.

3. By preaching and teaching in Jesus' name (Acts 4:18). 
We not only evangelize but we also take the time to systematically teach others the gospel by relying on the authority of Jesus.

4. By suffering in Jesus' name (Acts 5:41; 1 Pet. 4:16)
We show the world our allegiance to His name when we suffer for the gospel. We show His sufficiency; He is truly all that we need.

5. By living in worship and obedience to God so that Jesus' name is exalted in our lives (Acts 11:26).
Ultimately, how we live our lives should make His name famous. We should be modelling to the world that His name is exalted in our lives.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Justin Vern.

Here Is Our God: A Review

I've already mentioned in a couple of posts that I've been reading Here Is Our God: God's Revelation of Himself in Scripture. This book is an edited collection of the eight plenary speakers' talks at the 2012 Gospel Coalition National Women's Conference. And so Here Is Our God offers eight chapters with each of the talks by these eight speakers/authors: Tim Keller, Paige Brown, John Piper, Carrie Sandom, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Jenny Salt, Kathleen Nielson, and D.A. Carson. Nielson and Carson edited this collection and put it together into this book.

There are many good things to talk about in regards to Here Is Our God. First is its emphasis on leading women to worship. As this book began as a conference for women, Here Is Our God is aimed at and written for women (of all ages). Yet, as Carson and Nielson wrote in the introduction,

We said repeatedly that the 2012 conference was for women but not all about women. The conference was about our God who reveals himself in his Word and redeems his people through his Son. [...] We want to be raising up women who shine forth Jesus, the one who shines from the Bible's pages from beginning to end. We want the church to be full of women whose lips and lives declare: "Here Is Our God!"

Second is its central importance on Scripture. Even though the subtitle is "God's Revelation of Himself in Scripture," there could have been lots of rabbit trails or at least "supplements." But there weren't. These chapters are scarce on stories and heavy on Scripture. This is sadly a bit of a rarity among lots of non-fiction written for women today, and so I found it rich and refreshing.

Third is its excitement about Scripture. These women and men love the Bible and that sings through the words they write. Each chapter is on a different portion of Scripture, covering Exodus 19, 1 Kings 8, Isaiah 6, Psalm 40, Matthew 17:1-15, 2 Corinthians 12, Revelation 4-5, and Revelation 21-22. These sparkling, thrilling accounts in the Word of God were not minimized or drained of life or cocooned in illustrations and funny stories. It was the Word that brought excitement and joy to this book.

If there was anything I had to criticize in Here Is Our God it would have to be that John Piper's chapter ("In the Throne Room: The God of Holiness and Hope" on Isaiah 6) was too short. Okay, that's merely personal, but I thought that this chapter was the absolute highlight of the book. Yet it was half the size of every other one! But do not not buy this book because of that. Please. Here Is Our God is a rich resource for women of all ages who want to dive into the Word and know our glorious God more. I would definitely encourage you to pick a copy up!

Buy Here Is Our God here.

*I received a copy of this book from Crossway through their Beyond the Page review system. I was not required to give a positive review

Image Credit: http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-ee2/articles/here_is_our_god_book_cover.jpg

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 10

“Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely." (Exodus 11:1 - emphasis mine) Today's the day. It will be finished. The Israelites will be freed. Pharaoh will suffer. God's power will be shown and His name magnified. The Israelites will be given favour in the sight of their Egyptian neighbours. Then they will go. Yet one more plague ...

But what is this last plague, this straw that will break the camel's back? "So Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’" (Exodus 11:4-7)

Death will mark the Israelites' freedom. They shall be emancipated at the cost of the Egyptians' blood. Their liberty march will be to the wail of the Egyptian mourners. All so the glory of God could be shown.

But before this plague actually took place, it was first only threatened, giving Pharaoh one last chance. (Exodus 11:1-8) But when Pharaoh clearly chose, once again, to refuse the Israelites' release (Exodus 11:9-10), action had to be taken. Before that happened, though, the Lord put the Passover in place, in which the Israelites were to mark their doorways with a lamb's blood, so that when the Angel of Death came to kill the Egyptian firstborns, it would pass over the Israelites' houses. This symbolism would later represent Jesus' death, when the perfect Lamb became a sacrifice for us, saving us from sin and death.

"At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”" Is it just me, or is it kind of interesting that even though our perturbed Pharoah told Moses and Aaron that they'd never see his face again (Exodus 10:28-29) ... they did? Twice? And the second time, they were specifically summoned to his presence. The HCSB Study Bible simply suggests that Pharaoh "could not keep his resolve." Still ... it's peculiar.

Well when Moses and Aaron arrived at Pharaoh's palace, they found a man more perturbed than usual. "Up!" Pharaoh must have groaned, choking back anger, fear, pain, tears. "Go out from among my people, all of you. Go, serve the Lord. Take your animals. Be gone! And bless me also!" Did anyone else notice that interesting phrase that seems like a tack-on at the end of his rant? "Get out, go, be gone ... but don't forget to bless me!" But why? Was Pharaoh simply scared? Did he want something else? The HCSB offers a bit of insight on this too: "Pharaoh's desire for blessing recalls earlier dealings of Egyptians and others with God's people that show things could have been far different for him." That's exactly it. If Pharaoh's cold hostility had capsized just one plague sooner, his son would still be alive. "If onlys" and "what ifs" probably clouded his brain. But it was too late, Pharaoh. Much too late ...

Well, the Israelites were free. Exodus 12:36 tells us that they were given favour in the sight of their Egyptian neighbours and were given lots of free stuff. And then they grabbed their belongings and left. They were on the move. God's purpose and plan had come about exactly as He had predetermined. The plagues proclaimed His power, and our perturbed Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go, though at a high cost. I'd quote Shakespeare and say with a sigh, "All's well that ends well," but in reality, this story didn't end so well. Blood flowed through the streets of Egypt. The Israelites were free, but because of their sin, they were destined to wander 40 years in the desert before they were given a land of their own. But don't be discouraged, be uplifted! Because if it wasn't for the 10 plagues, God's power, and one perturbed Pharaoh, the gears of the rest of Biblical history wouldn't be set in motion. And if they weren't set in motion, then our perfect sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ, would never have died for the sins of His people. So praise God that the Israelites are free, and, because of Christ, we are set free from the bondage of sin and death!

"The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!" Psalm 146:7-10

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 9

At the beginning of the plagues, the Egyptians probably jeered and tormented their Israelite neighbours. "Those stupid slaves. Why do you they have to practice their stupid magic on us? Blood and frogs. Ugh." But by Plague #9, their "magic" was stupid no more. They probably quaked in fear any time an Israelite footstep fell nearby. Yes, God's purpose in these plagues was being fulfilled as each blow to the Egyptians landed. The name of the LORD was being proclaimed in Egypt and His power was being shown. So by now, the Egyptians were probably wondering what plague would strike Egypt next. Well, they wouldn't have to wait long ...

"Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days." (Exodus 10:21-23)

I find that phrase in Exodus 10:21 interesting. This wasn't just darkness like darkness at night, when the moon still shines or when you can at least still see. No, this was "a darkness to be felt."

But why darkness? The HCSB Study Bible sheds some light on this: "Darkness seems appropriate as an attack on the Egyptian king, since Pharaoh was believed to be the son of Egypt's chief god, the sun-god Re. ... Pharaoh had refused to allow a three-day journey for the Israelites, and now, ironically, Pharaoh's people were surrounded by darkness and unable to go anywhere for three days, while the Lord's people had light for their activities." That's kind of interesting, isn't it? Darkness was not randomly picked; there's irony at play here.

"They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived." (Exodus 10:23 - emphasis mine) Yep, Egypt was black with their sin and idolatry, but Goshen remained light with the name of the LORD being proclaimed through the brightly-lit streets. "For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners." (Psalm 69:33)

"Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.”" (Exodus 10:24) Here we find Pharaoh trying to make yet another compromise with Moses. "Okay. Just the men was a no-no. How about I let you take the men and your little ones? How about that? No animals, but I think that's a pretty good deal."

"Not. A. Chance," said our fed-up Moses. "We need our flocks so that we can offer sacrifices to the LORD. Do you hear me? Not a hoof will be left behind when we leave this place." (Exodus 10:25-26) 

"But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go." (Exodus 10:27) Okay. This is getting a little old. Nine times and counting. We're sick of this, Pharaoh. Sick and tired. Well, apparently Pharaoh was too. "Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.”" (Exodus 10:28-29) Ooh. This was harsher than expected. "Bug me again and die," said our fed-up Pharaoh. The tension here had suddenly escalated to about a billion; Pharaoh was this close to killing Moses, and we're on our second last plague. Things are changing all ready. But don't go away yet. We've got one more plague before everything explodes ... and God's power is proclaimed with blood ...

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 8

Today there's something in the wind. I can feel it. In our story, we open with the Lord's orders to Moses. As we observe His words, it's clear to see that His righteous anger is building. He begins by telling Moses to go to Pharaoh. But He quickly adds that He's already hardened his heart. This is just like at the beginning of the the story. Moses already knows that his pleas won't work, but he trusts God and goes anyways. When he gains Pharaoh's audience, Moses' patience is waning. "Thus says the Lord, '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." (Exodus 10:3-6) Moses wasn't going to sit around and wait for this hard-hearted Pharaoh. He gave his speech, turned around, and walked out. So there.

Next we heard from Pharaoh's servants for the first time. Their interesting (and unusually bold) advice to the king of Egypt went like this. "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?" (Exodus 10:7)

So Moses and Aaron were sent for again. Pharaoh clearly took his servants' advice and promptly agreed to let the people of Israel go. Now this agreeing of Pharaoh's was very different from his previous ones, for, this time, the promised plague had not yet been sent. Pharaoh had a one way ticket to freedom. He could have easily bypassed Plague #8 - locusts - by simply letting the Israelites go.

"Go serve your God," said Pharaoh, but then a measure of trepidation suddenly entered his voice. "But which ones are to go?" (Exodus 10:8) I can hear Moses' matter-of-fact answer. "Why, everyone of course! Young, old. Sons, daughters. Flocks, herds. Everybody!" Pharaoh's angry now. This is ridiculous. "The LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go!" he snapped. "Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. No! Go, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you are asking.” (Exodus 10:10-11a) Then, "they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence." (Exodus 10:11b) So, needless to say, everybody's pretty keyed up right about now. But what's to happen next?

"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. 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. 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." (Exodus 10:13-15) Ah! I thought something was in the wind! Locusts! And in the east wind. Yes, Pharaoh's "gracious" offer to let the Israelite men go was really not so gracious at all. He was only giving a half-hearted answer, revealing that he really didn't care about the Israelites or their cause; he simply hoped to appease Moses and get him out of his hair.

"Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you." (Exodus 10:16) I find that verb there so interesting: "hastily." No lolly-gagging for this Pharaoh! He had no time to lose! He called Moses as quickly as possible. "Now therefore," he said, "forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me.” So he [Moses] went out from Pharaoh and pleaded with the LORD. 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. But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go." (Exodus 10:17-20)

Well the wind has changed. Literally. Moses called out to the Lord, so He sent a west wind which picked up all the locusts and blew them deep into the Red Sea. "Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt," we read. "But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go." It's the same old story, but we're nearing the end. Two more plagues left and then everything will change dramatically, and life as everyone knows it will never be the same. But what are the last two plagues? And what's to come? Well, you'll just have to wait and see. In the mean time, I encourage you to meditate on this plague, our great God's power, and this perturbed Pharaoh's actions, keeping this Psalm in mind,

"Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies." Psalm 68:34

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 7

Today when the Lord gets Moses up, He gives him His longest speech recorded in our story of the 10 Plagues. Basically, the Lord appears to Moses and starts with the typical instructions: Get up and go see Pharaoh. Tell him that the Lord says, "Let My people go that they may worship Me." But now it starts to get interesting. "For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go." (Exodus 9:14-17) In this speech, we see the Lord getting more personal. He zeroes right in on Pharaoh's sin and His purpose for the plagues.

Pharaoh's Sin: Idolatry (of himself!) "You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go." (Exodus 9:17)

God's Purpose: To show His power and proclaim His great name. "But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth." (Exodus 9:16) The Lord said to Pharaoh, "You know, I could have smote you long ago and wiped your entire nation off the planet, but I have a purpose, and that's to show my power." Pharaoh's idolatry attempted to thwart mighty God's plan, but we know that none can stay His hand. (Daniel 4:35)

So we've seen the Lord show His power and glory through blood. Through frogs. Through gnats. Through flies. Through the death of the Egyptian livestock. Through boils. And now ... through hail. Yes, the Lord made His name great through a hail storm.

Now this was no ordinary hail storm. This was "hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation." (Exodus 9:24) This hail "struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field." (Exodus 9:25) These were no jelly-bean size pieces of hail. These were grapefruit size pieces of hail, not to mention the flashing fire, or lightning, as the HCSB translates it.

I love what happens next. "Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, 'This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.'" (Exodus 9:27) Pharaoh doesn't wait for Moses to come to him; he calls straight for the man himself! Then he utters a beautiful phrase: "The LORD is in the right, and I ... [am] in the wrong." I love that! But I love what he says next too. I can just see Pharaoh's eyes wandering to the window, where the storm crashes and roars outside. "Plead with the LORD," he says, "for there has been enough of God's thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer." (Exodus 9:28) Pharaoh's finally had enough of "God's thunder." I just have to say, if God's thunder boomed and crashed against me, it wouldn't take too long for me to have enough! God is too powerful to have as an enemy.

Well, the Israelites are finally free to go ... as long as the biggest storm Egypt has ever seen dissipates. "So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the LORD, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured upon the earth." (Exodus 9:33) It truly amazes me how the Lord can powerfully strike Egypt with plague after plague and then stop them in an instant. With a snap of His mighty fingers, the rain and the hail can completely vanish, yet with another snap, they can start right back up again.

"But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses." (Exodus 9:34-35) Well what do you know? Pharaoh changed his mind. Imagine that. I just have to say, if I didn't have complete and utter trust in the Lord's sovereign power over Egypt and this indecisive Pharaoh, I'd wonder if the Israelites were ever going to be free. But, thankfully, I do trust the Lord's power; I also know that these plagues have a purpose, and that this one perturbed pharaoh is not in control. And that is really, really awesome.

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 6

Today our story picks up with Moses and Aaron being told to head to the kilns to scavenge some soot. I'm serious! Take a look for yourself:
"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.”" (Exodus 9:8-9)
So today marks Plague #6 ... boils. And we thought blood and frogs were gross! Now the people of Egypt were physically affected by these hideous sores. And to give you an idea of how horrible these sores were, the only other time they're mentioned in Scripture is in Deuteronomy 28, when God lists them as a punishment for disobedience to Him. These are not pleasant things.

The ESV Student Study Bible makes a really good point that I'd like to share with you about this rather grotesque plague: "The boils of the sixth plague are the first plague to affect the Egyptians physically. The plagues continue to grow both in what they show of the Lord's power and in their direct effect on the lives of Pharaoh and his people."

So the Egyptian people are covered in boils. But what happens next? Well, it seems that our old friends, the magicians, saunter back into our story for one last (minor) ha-za.
"And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians." (Exodus 9:11)
What does this mean, though? Well, it means, simply enough, the magicians were too ashamed to stand before Moses. They, like the rest of the Egyptians, were covered in boils. The HCSB Study Bible offers this - "Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh, but the magicians could not stand before Moses. This turnabout of wording enhances the status of Moses by putting him in the position of "holding court." The magicians were finished and are not mentioned again in Exodus." Interesting, huh?

The next verse finishes off this plague and truly highlights the Lord's hand in all of this.
"But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses." (Exodus 9:12)
The HCSB Study Bible, that I previously mentioned, points out that this is the first plague that specifically speaks of the Lord hardening Pharaoh's heart. But despite that rather interesting piece of information, this wording is actually not particularly important. What I mean is simply that just because in the other plagues it didn't say specifically that "the Lord hardened" Pharaoh's heart, it doesn't mean that He didn't providentially ordain it! Every plague has been used for His purpose and His glory and has been planned from the beginning. But it does clearly portray the power of this all-knowing, all-powerful God.

So as we near the end of our journey through the 10 Plagues, let's meditate on the Lord's providence and His power.

"Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power." ~ Psalm 21:13

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 5

We think we've seen it all. Blood, frogs, gnats, and flies. Seriously. What more could there be? Well, as we're about to see ... lots! Today our story picks up with the Lord's next instructions to Moses. "Go to Pharaoh," said the Lord, "and say to him, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks.'" (Exodus 9:1-3) I imagine Moses wasn't too surprised. I'm guessing Pharaoh wasn't either. They probably thought they'd seen it all, at least Pharaoh probably did. Moses perhaps had a different perspective, one of awe and fear, for he knew exactly what the Lord could (and would) do.

The next part of our story refers back to Exodus 8:22-23. "But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die." (Exodus 9:4) So once again we've got this clear distinction between Goshen and Egypt, the Israelites and the Egyptians, the people who trust in God, and the people who trust in Pharaoh. 

One thing about this plague (the death of the Egyptian livestock) is that, though some people tend to look at it callously, as if it's nothing, it is not meaningless at all. Much of the Egyptians' livelihood lay in these animals, their food, their income, their plows. This was a devastating blow to the Egyptians. 

Now Pharaoh heard that Goshen wasn't going to be affected by this plague, but Scripture seems to make it look like Pharaoh didn't really believe this. He had to go check it out for himself. "And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead." (Exodus 9:7) Were the Israelites' animals really not affected by the disease that slayed the Egyptians'? Pharaoh wondered. Nope, they definitely weren't. Their healthy animals thrived, while the Egyptians' withered and died. 

Once more, we see that Pharaoh's "heart ... was hardened, and he did not let the people go." Well, we're half way through this series now. We've seen five plagues strike the land of Egypt, one God who's mighty power surpasses all others, and one perturbed Pharaoh. But don't stop reading just yet. We've got lots more to see before the Israelites finally get to pack up their bags and hit the road!

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 4

Today we find the Lord telling Moses to set his alarm clock, 'cause he's got a breakfast date with Pharaoh. Well, to be exact, the Lord tells him to "rise up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water." I just have to say - I feel bad for Moses. I mean, I hate getting up early at the best of times! Poor Moses had to get up early to catch Pharaoh "as he goes out to the water," i.e. catch him on the way to the showers. But Moses did it. He went down to the waters, met Pharaoh and gave him the "let My people go ... or else" speech and then warned him that if he didn't let the Israelites go there would be ... not blood ... not frogs ... not gnats ... but flies! (Exodus 8:20-21) Swarms of flies, that is. Millions of flies. But there's a twist to this familiar exchange.

Suddenly, Goshen, where the Israelites live, will not be affected by the plagues! (Exodus 8:22-23) We see the Lord making a distinction between His people and the Egyptians. From now on, His people will be protected from the plagues. I think the Israelites must have been thinking something along the same lines as the Psalmist thought later on: "For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners." (Psalm 69:33) The Lord does not forget His people; He does not close His ears to their cries. And this is just one example of His steadfast love and faithfulness.

Now, back to the story. Scripture doesn't record Pharaoh's answer to Moses and Aaron's plea, but we don't need to guess. Exodus 8:24 tells us, "And the LORD did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants' houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies."

Pharaoh had refused Moses and Aaron, so the Lord fulfilled His promise. Flies swarmed the land of Egypt, buzzing incessantly, "ruining the land," says the ESV. I can just imagine the chaos breaking out among the Egyptians. The anger, the panic, the frustration, the sorrow.

Well, the next part of our story turns to Pharaoh. This passage marks another change in this story that will carry through for the rest of the plagues. Pharaoh does not call his magicians. After they couldn't produce the gnats, who knows what Pharaoh did to them! But we never hear from them again. Interesting, huh? So now that he has no magicians, what's Pharaoh going to do?
"Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” But Moses said, “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the LORD our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us? We must go three days' journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as he tells us.”" Exodus 8:25-27
So, to make a long story slightly shorter, Pharaoh said, "Okay, you can go, as long as you'll ask the Lord to take away the flies." Moses said, "Okay. I'll pray that the swarms of flies may be taken out of Egypt, as long as you promise not to cheat me again and refuse to let the Israelites go." So Moses went and prayed and the Lord got rid of the flies.

Now, unlike when He killed all the frogs, when the Lord removed the flies, "not one remained." (Exodus 8:31) This insinuates that the Lord made all the flies either a) disappear or b) fly away/disperse. To be honest, I think the second idea is more plausible, though, of course, we can't know for sure.

So what does Pharaoh do now? The flies are gone, so "[he] hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go." Surprise, surprise. Well, that's Pharaoh for you. A lying, deceptive cheat. But Moses doesn't even flinch. For he knows that Yahweh is greater than Pharaoh, and He is using all these circumstances to bring about His sovereign purposes for His glory, not Pharaoh's. Moses knew that He was and is Lord of the Flies ...

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 3

Today our story takes an exciting twist. For the past two plagues, we've watched anxiously as blood has rushed down the river banks and frogs have infested every speck of space in Egypt. But our Israelites have still remained firmly in bondage. I can just see Moses scratching his head. What's a guy to do? Well, to put it simply enough, wait. And wait Moses did. Until his Master's call, that is.

This is where things begin to get interesting. Unlike the last two times, Moses does not approach Pharaoh, make a plea for the Hebrews' freedom, and threaten a plague. Pharaoh had his chance; now it's the Lord's turn.
"Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt." Exodus 8:16-17
Okay then. We've seen blood. We've seen frogs. But were any of us really prepared for ... gnats?! Now, over the many times I've read this, I suppose I've never really thought about what gnats are. The Holman Christian Standard Study Bible sheds a bit more light on this. "Researchers have debated about exactly what kind of troublesome insects these were: gnats, fleas, mosquitoes, or ticks." So, in other words, we don't really know! But the bottom line is that they were troublesome. Whether they were mosquitoes or ticks, actual gnats or fleas, they were not harmless, painless, troubleless bugs. They were down-right annoying. 

Now while Moses and Aaron are stretching out staffs and bringing up gnats as thick as the dust on the ground (and remember, Egypt was a hot, dry land, so it had a lot of dust), Pharaoh storms around his palace, angrily swatting at bugs. "Stupid Moses. Stupid Israelites. Stupid bugs," I can just hear him muttering. Suddenly, he remembers his tradition. Moses and Aaron did their plague, so it was time for Pharaoh to summon his magicians to do the same thing. But Pharaoh's in for a bit of a surprise when he sees what will happen.
"The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast." Exodus 8:18
Whooee! Those counterfeiting magicians couldn't copy this plague! No, siree. Oh, they tried all right. But they failed. Boy, did they fail. The Bible doesn't record Pharaoh's response to his magicians' sudden lack of power, but, interestingly enough, it does record the magicians'. They realize they can't produce gnats, so something must be the matter. Then it hits them. Like a boulder catapulted from miles away, it suddenly smashes into their heads, and they understand.
"Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”" Exodus 8:19
You think? Gee whiz, it sure took them a while! But they finally realized it. Moses and Aaron weren't doing this by their secret arts, by their weak, human power; they were doing it only by the power of Yahweh, the Great I AM.

But the big question is: did Pharaoh get it? Could this be done the easy way, or would Pharaoh insist on continuing the hard way?
"But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said." Exodus 8:19
I should have known. The Lord had already said that Pharaoh's heart would be hardened, so I shouldn't be surprised that Pharaoh's heart was indeed hardened. I wonder what Moses and Aaron's reaction to Pharaoh's responses were. Were they surprised? Frustrated? Prepared? Doubtful? Completely understanding? But God's Word doesn't record their response, simply their actions. And all their actions in this scenario demonstrate complete obedience.

So, as the blood red sun dips below the horizon, we sigh. It's been another long day in Egypt. Gnats have infested the countryside. Pharaoh's magicians have tried and failed. They've confessed the true power behind the plagues. Pharaoh's heart has been hardened and his ears stopped to his magicians' confession. Gnats still buzz annoyingly, and we wonder if they're ever going to go away. Yep. Just another day Egypt ... until tomorrow, that is ...

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 2

A week has passed since Egypt's water was turned to blood. An eerie calm blankets the country. The Egyptians sit nervously, twiddling their thumbs. Was the blood just a quick and strange phenomenon sent by the gods? perhaps they wondered. What's going on? Meanwhile, Pharaoh calmly waits in his palace. Sure, the blood put him out a bit, but he doesn't have anything to worry about, right? Then it happens. A servant quietly enters Pharaoh's chambers.

"My lord, Pharaoh," he might have said, "you have visitors."

Enter Moses and Aaron. Oh yes, our guys haven't left the picture yet. They're back, and, as we'll soon see, with a vengeance. I can just see Pharaoh roll his eyes as they enter. What do they want now? probably slipped through his mind. If only he knew.

Moses comes in and makes his plea again. "The LORD says, 'Let My people go that they may serve me.' If you don't, another plague will be put upon Egypt." Pharaoh yawns. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard all this before. And the answer's still no." Moses shakes his head. "Alright. We warned you." Then Aaron stretches out his staff over the waters of Egypt, and suddenly a slimy green head pokes out of the water jug. Pharaoh starts a bit. A frog? In his palace? Oh, no Pharaoh. Not a frog. Millions of frogs. And not just in your palace. All over Egypt ...

Yes, frog infestation was indeed Plague #2. Picture this with me: frogs in your bed, frogs in your food, frogs on your furniture, frogs crawling on you, frogs in your clothes, frogs hopping all over your house. Bottom line - frogs everywhere! Not a pretty picture.

Pharaoh is troubled about this now. Is this still some secret art? he probably wondered. Let's get my magicians and see if they can do it. That way I'll know whether Moses and Aaron's power is real or not.
"But the magicians did the same by their secret arts and made frogs come up on the land of Egypt." Exodus 8:7
Here we go again. Those nasty magicians did the same thing! But not by the Lord's power, the power which enabled Moses and Aaron. The magicians used "their secret arts," the ESV tells us. The HCSB says they used, "their occult practices." Eugene Peterson translated it, "their incantations" (The Message). The magicians weren't demonstrating real, pure, true power. Satan was working through them to make a copy of God's miracle, not their own miracle. They were simply counterfeiting God's power.

So Pharaoh calls in our guys. He's sick of and a little worried about those frogs, so he tells Moses and Aaron, "Plead with the LORD to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the LORD." (Exodus 8:8) Finally! It only took three begs and two plagues! So Moses cries out to the Lord and suddenly every frog disappears! They wished. Actually, every frog died. Big difference. Exodus tells us, "The frogs died out in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields. And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank." (Exodus 8:13-14) Could you imagine? As if the live frogs weren't bad enough, now we have towering piles of stinky dead frogs! Well, at least the infestation is over.

Back to Pharaoh. So does he smile over his frogless land and say, "Send the Israelites out," just like he promised? Let's see.
"But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said." (Exodus 8:15)
Aw, gee! Just when we thought we were home-free, Pharaoh has to go hardening up his heart like that. Well, at least there's hope. I have to admit, I derive immense comfort from the last part of that verse - "as the LORD had said." Even when things in Egypt seemed to be spinning horribly out-of-control, the Lord already knew exactly what was going to happen. He wasn't sitting up in Heaven biting His fingernails anxiously, wondering nervously whether Pharaoh was going to let His people go or not and heaving a frustrated sigh when the Israelites remained in bondage. My God is totally omniscient; He knows everything. He knew exactly what was going to happen in Egypt 4,000 years ago, and He knows what's going to happen to each and every one of us, today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. When He decrees something is going to happen, it will happen. It may take a plague ... or two ... or ten, but it'll happen.

"God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mindDoes He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?" Numbers 23:19

Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh - Part 1

This morning in my devotions I was in Exodus 8. For the past few days, I've been reading the familiar story of how the Lord freed the Israelites when they were enslaved to the Egyptians. Today I got to the plagues. Even when I think about them, I shiver a little. Flowing blood, slimy frogs, gnats thick as the dust, endless darkness, and death. After I had read them, I thought what a great idea it would be to do a blog series on them and look at them a little more in depth. Today I want to cover a bit of the background and the first plague, blood.

Let's start at the beginning. Before the Lord told Moses to approach Pharaoh for the first time, He gave him a bit of a warning. He explained,
"You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them." Exodus 7:2-5
Okay. I just have to say - kudos to Moses and Aaron! I mean, how willing would I be to approach Pharaoh if I knew no matter what I said, no matter what signs the Lord performed through me, and what happened, Pharaoh wouldn't listen to me? I don't know, but I just hope I would be as faithful as Moses and Aaron were.

So what did our guys do next? (Side Note: In between their warning from the Lord and their command to turn the water into blood, Moses met Pharaoh and had a little confrontation with his magicians. You can read about it here). Well, simply enough, they waited to find out their next move. In this story, they're the tools, not the Designer. Sure enough, it isn't long before the Designer returns with some instructions:
"Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh's heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 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. And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold ... I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood ...”’” 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.’” Moses and Aaron did as the Lord had commanded." Exodus 7:14-20
Enter plague one - blood. I have one word when it comes to describing this plague - ewww! Imagine with me: the stench of blood hangs over everything, as the dark red liquid flows. It flows in the water pots, it flows in the baths, it flows in the jars, and it flows in the Nile River. Dripping blood is everywhere, in everything. Wherever there was a drop of water, there's now a drop of blood. My stomach flip-flops just thinking about this.

Do you remember what happened next? Pharaoh wanted to see whether this was a real trick or not. So he called the magicians. By his standards, if his magicians could do it, anybody could do it. So he tested them. Could they turn water into blood too?
"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." Exodus 7:22
 Aw, rats. The magicians passed. So Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go. When Moses and Aaron heard that "Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart," (Exodus 7:23) they knew that more action had to be taken. But before stepping up to the plate alone, they waited patiently for their Designer's next instructions. And when we pick up part two of Plagues, Power, and One Perturbed Pharaoh, we'll see that what the Lord had in mind next was just as crazy, just as powerful and just as glorious as turning water into blood!