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7. God’s Mighty Power to Save (Exodus 7:1-25)

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March 18, 2018

Life of Moses (7)

I think that sometimes we forget the mighty power of God that is required to deliver souls from Satan’s domain of darkness. We receive training in how to present the gospel effectively to the lost and for the most part, such training is helpful. Every Christian should be able to give a simple gospel presentation with appropriate Bible verses. Every Christian should be prepared to answer common questions and objections that unbelievers raise.

But even after good training, seeing lost people repent and believe the gospel does not depend on our methods or persuasive skills in presenting the gospel. Saving a soul from eternal judgment requires nothing less than God’s mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20). God must impart new life to one who is dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1-6). If God doesn’t do that, you may be able to get a person to pray the sinner’s prayer or to make a profession of faith. But if God does not impart new life to that walking spiritual corpse, there will be no genuine conversion. Salvation is not a matter of a person walking the aisle or making a decision to invite Jesus into his heart. It’s a matter of God raising the dead through His mighty power to save. We are simply the instruments through whom He works to deliver souls from bondage.

Exodus 7 reports the beginning of ten miraculous plagues that the Lord brought on Egypt through Moses, culminating in Pharaoh’s releasing Israel from centuries of slavery. It’s a literal story of God’s people being freed from an evil tyrant so that eventually they could conquer the land which the Lord had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants. But it’s also a picture of how God delivers sinners from slavery to Satan’s cruel domain. As such, the main lesson for us is:

Delivering people from bondage to sin is God’s work, dependent on His power over the forces of darkness.

Scholars point out that the first nine plagues fall into three sets of three in an ascending order of severity (Walter Kaiser, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], ed. by Frank Gaebelein, 2:348-349). The first plague in each set has a purpose clause where God states His rationale and aim for the plague (Exod. 7:17; 8:22; 9:14). The overall purpose for the plagues is (Exod. 7:5): “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” God’s purpose in these plagues was to show His supreme power and exalt His name over all the earth (Exod. 9:16; Rom. 9:17). And He wanted to show His people that He is the Lord (Exod. 6:1-2).

Some scholars argue that the ten plagues directly confronted Egypt’s many gods and showed the superiority of the God of Israel over them. For example, the Egyptians had a god of the Nile, who was confounded by God’s turning that mighty river into blood. They worshiped the sun god, whose power was defeated by the ninth plague of darkness. Different gods had multiple functions, such as gods of fertility, crops, storms, and health. Many of the gods were worshiped in different locations and assimilated by other gods over time (see John Hannah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books], ed. by John F. Walvoord & Roy Zuck, 1:120). But the overall point of the plagues was to show the superiority of the one true God over Egypt’s many gods and idols and to show His power over Pharaoh, who claimed to be a god.

Also, some scholars argue that the plagues can be explained as natural catastrophes. For example, each year the Nile is flooded from waters upstream that carry red sediments into it, making it look like blood. Also, a type of algae comes from the swamps in the upper Nile that produce a stench and cause many of the fish to die from a lack of oxygen (Kaiser, 2:350). But, this explanation doesn’t account for the sudden, miraculous change that came over the river when Aaron stretched his staff over the water and struck it (Exod. 7:19-20). And the text does not say that the river looked like blood, but rather that it became blood, along with the water in reservoirs and storage vessels. So I understand that God’s miraculous power was on display through the plagues. There are two main spiritual lessons for us:

1. Delivering people from bondage to sin is God’s work.

It’s obvious in the opening verses that God is in charge here. He appeared to Moses at the burning bush and commissioned him to return to Egypt to deliver His people. When Moses became discouraged because of initial setbacks, the Lord again told him to go to Pharaoh and speak the words that the Lord would give him (Exod. 6:28-30). The Lord announced beforehand what would happen and what He would do. Then He did “just as He said” (Exod. 7:3, 13b, 22b; 8:15, 19; 9:12).

Moses and Aaron were merely His instruments and spokesmen: Moses would be as God to Pharaoh and Aaron would be his prophet (Exod. 7:1). Moses wasn’t God, of course, but he was a type of the one who would come as both God and man to save His people from their sins. God has always chosen to use human instruments to accomplish His sovereign plans (Philip Ryken, Exodus [Crossway], p. 195). Since Pharaoh viewed himself as a god, through the plagues, the Lord was putting him in his place. There are three lessons here about how God delivers people from bondage to sin:

A. God uses His inadequate servants who know Him to be the instruments of delivering others.

These miraculous events follow immediately after Moses has again protested his own inability (Exod. 6:30). Perhaps Moses’ and Aaron’s ages are given (Exod. 7:7) to show that these two old men did not have the natural ability to deliver Israel. Only God could do that through them. Picture the scene: Two old men, one of them in simple shepherd’s clothing, with no weapons, no armor, and nothing impressive about their appearance, stand before this powerful monarch in his opulent palace, surrounded by powerful armed guards and well-dressed attendants. Pharaoh would not have been impressed with Moses and Aaron. They had to trust in God’s supernatural power. They let Pharaoh know that they were not acting on their own, but rather that “the Lord God of the Hebrews” had sent them (Exod. 7:16).

Before the first plague, the Lord directed Moses and Aaron to throw Aaron’s staff on the ground, where it became a snake. Pharaoh called his magicians, who were able to do the same trick (more on that in a moment). But God displayed His superiority over Pharaoh’s magicians when Aaron’s staff turned snake swallowed the magicians’ staffs. God used a common shepherd’s staff to swallow the staffs of Pharaoh’s powerful magicians.

Have you ever thought about the fact that God’s method for reaching the world with the gospel is incredibly inefficient? He could have sent His angels to every people group on the planet with the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection on behalf of sinners. The angels wouldn’t have had to learn the many languages in the world. They wouldn’t have needed to raise support before they went. If they had faced persecution, they could have struck their opponents dumb or dead. They wouldn’t have needed to learn how to communicate the gospel in a way that each culture could understand. The job would have been finished in a matter of days, instead of the two thousand years that it’s taken. And we still have many people groups that have not heard!

But just as God chose to use Abraham’s often-disobedient, faithless descendants to be His channel of blessing the nations, so He has chosen His church to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each of us is God’s spokesperson to the world. Like Moses, we may often feel tongue-tied and inadequate for the task. But the gospel is like Moses’ staff, powerful to deliver people from bondage (Rom. 1:16). And His promise to Moses, “I will be with you,” is also His promise to us (Exod. 3:12; 4:12; Matt. 28:20).

B. God’s servants must faithfully and obediently deliver His message, not their own.

In Moses’ case, because of his faithless protest that he could not speak well, God condescended to let Aaron be Moses’ mouthpiece to Pharaoh (Exod. 4:14-16; 7:1-2). But, they weren’t free to come up with a feel-good message that Pharaoh might like. God told Moses (Exod. 7:2), “You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land.” That wasn’t a message that Pharaoh wanted to hear, but it was the very word of God that he needed to hear. As difficult as it would have been for these two old men to tell Pharaoh God’s words, we read (Exod. 7:10), “So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and thus they did just as the Lord had commanded.” And again (Exod. 7:20), “So Moses and Aaron did even as the Lord had commanded.”

When God commanded Aaron to throw down his staff, which became a serpent, he was directly challenging and demeaning Pharaoh’s authority. The cobra was the symbol of Pharaoh’s power, depicted on his crown. The Egyptians had a temple for the snake god. So when Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh, Philip Ryken explains (p. 207), “He was taking the symbol of the king’s majesty and making it crawl in the dust. This was a direct assault on Pharaoh’s sovereignty; indeed, it was an attack on Egypt’s entire belief system.”

Ryken applies this (ibid.): “One of the best ways to convince people of their need for Christ is to find out what they are counting on, and then show them why it cannot be trusted.” If they think that their good works will get them into heaven, ask them, “How many good works will you need to qualify you to stand in the presence of the holy God? How can your good works atone for your many sins?” Show them that even Mother Teresa could not earn heaven by good works, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20).

If they’re trusting in money, show them how fleeting and insecure riches are, even for the super-rich. If they’re living for pleasure and the good life, show them how quickly it can be taken away through an accident or terminal illness. Tell them about Jesus’ parable about the rich man who planned to build bigger barns to contain all of his crops, only to have God say to him (Luke 12:20), “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”

There are many false prophets today who give people a feel-good “gospel,” which is not the saving gospel of God. They tell people that they’re wonderful and that God loves them just as they are, but they never confront sin. They’re like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time, who healed people’s brokenness superficially, saying, “Peace, peace,” but there was no peace (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). God’s only way of peace is to come to Him as a guilty sinner and lay hold of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. That’s not a popular message, but it’s the one we obediently and faithfully have to proclaim.

C. God’s purpose in delivering His people is primarily His glory and only secondarily their happiness.

God clearly states His purpose for hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Exod. 7:3): “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” He adds (Exod. 7:5), “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” And, when Moses and Aaron directly confront Pharaoh before the first plague, God tells them to say (Exod. 7:17), “Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord ….’”

It’s clear that with regard to Pharaoh, God’s purpose was not that Pharaoh would come to a saving knowledge of the Lord, but rather that God would be glorified through Pharaoh’s defeat. As Paul states (Rom. 9:17-18),

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

With regard to the Egyptians, Dr. Kaiser (ibid. 2:345) suggests that some of them may have become believers through the plagues and were the “mixed multitude” that left with Israel in the exodus (Exod. 12:38). But the point is (as Paul further elaborates in Rom. 9:20-23), as the divine potter God is free to make some vessels of wrath prepared for destruction and other vessels of mercy prepared for glory. The same gospel that God uses to save some hardens others (Matt. 13:14-16; Luke 10:21-22; 2 Cor. 2:15-16). God will be glorified both in judging the wicked and in saving His elect. So while the gospel brings both temporal and eternal joy to all who are saved, God’s primary purpose in saving us is His glory because He is central; our happiness is secondary, because we are not central.

Thus delivering people from bondage to sin is God’s work. Thus, it follows that …

2. Delivering people from bondage to sin is a spiritual battle dependent on God’s power over the forces of darkness.

Our text brings out four lessons here:

A. Satan’s power sometimes seems comparable to God’s power, although it never is.

Pharaoh asked for a miracle to show God’s power (Exod. 7:9), only to shrug it off when his magicians were able to do the same thing. This is typical of unbelievers, who ask for proof of the gospel, but then explain it away when you give it to them because they love their sin and don’t want to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 144).

When Moses and Aaron performed the miracle of the staff turned into a serpent, they probably did not expect Pharaoh’s wise men and sorcerers to be able to do the same. They were probably also surprised when Pharaoh’s magicians matched the miracle of turning the water into blood. I think that their power was demonic. With God’s permission, Satan can perform impressive miracles (Deut. 13:1-3). He sent lightning to destroy Job’s shepherds and flocks, he sent a tornado to destroy the home where Job’s children were to kill them, and he struck Job with painful boils (Job 1:16, 18-19; 2:7). Jesus warned about false prophets in the end times who will show great signs and wonders (Matt. 24:24). The antichrist will deceive many through signs and false wonders (2 Thess. 2:9-12; Rev. 13:12-15). So, don’t believe everyone who is able to perform impressive miracles!

But Satan’s power is always subject to and inferior to God’s power. Aaron’s staff that became a serpent swallowed up the staffs of Pharaoh’s magicians that had become serpents. Pharaoh’s magicians could turn water into blood, but they couldn’t turn the blood into water. Later, they could make frogs come up on the land of Egypt, but they couldn’t get rid of the frogs (Exod. 8:7). Satan is always a counterfeiter, disguising himself as an angel of light to look like God (2 Cor. 11:14). But, in God’s timing he will be eternally defeated (Rev. 20:10).

B. Miracles confirm the faith of believers but harden the hearts of proud skeptics.

These miracles confirmed the faith of Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites (Exod. 4:28-31), but Pharaoh saw the same miracles and hardened his heart. Skeptics often will sneer, “Show me a miracle and I’ll believe!” Jesus’ critics often asked Him for a sign, but He replied (Matt. 16:4), “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” He was referring to His resurrection from the dead (Matt. 12:40). The Lord doesn’t perform miracles to impress skeptics. He has given them eyewitness testimony of the greatest miracle in history, namely, His resurrection from the dead. If they don’t believe the abundant biblical evidence for His resurrection, they won’t believe a miracle done before their eyes (Luke 16:31). Impressive miracles are not the antidote for unbelief. Pharaoh saw a bunch of them! Miracles can confirm the faith of those whose hearts God has opened, but they only serve to increase judgment for proud skeptics who refuse to repent.

C. When evil leaders persist in their opposition to God, their people suffer under them.

Egypt’s gods had failed them, so for a week the Egyptians had to dig in the sand around the Nile to try to find potable water (Exod. 7:24). Pharaoh didn’t want to release the Hebrew slaves because he wanted to save the Egyptian economy. But by the time the plagues were over, Pharaoh’s stubborn opposition to God had ruined their economy! The crops were destroyed, livestock had died, and finally all in Egypt who did not put blood on their doorposts lost their firstborn sons.

God ordained government authority to protect and bless those under authority, but Satan perverts that authority to kill and destroy (John 10:10). For exhibit A in our day, look at North Korea or some of the other nations where corrupt leaders live in luxury while their people suffer in horrific conditions.

The same is true about spiritual authority. God ordains elders to oversee local churches and husbands to lead in their homes to protect and bless those under their care. But when elders or husbands promote false doctrines or use their authority for selfish purposes, those under their authority suffer. It’s especially tragic when abuse happens in supposedly Christian churches and homes. Leaders who themselves are in bondage to sin can’t deliver their people who are in bondage to sin. Satan robs people of the protection and blessing of godly authority by using abusive authority to discredit the concept of godly authority.

D. To deliver people from bondage to sin is a spiritual battle in which God must soften hard hearts.

Four times this chapter calls attention to Pharaoh’s hard heart (Exod. 7:3, 13, 14, 22). All people are born with spiritual hardness of heart because of Adam’s sin (Eph. 4:18). Unbelief is a matter of the heart and God must give a person a soft heart for him to repent and believe (Ezek. 36:26). He must open deaf ears and blind eyes (Matt. 13:14-16; Luke 10:21-22) and impart spiritual life to those who are dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1-7). Delivering people from bondage to sin is God’s work, dependent on His power over the forces of darkness. While we should be wise and persuasive in how we present the gospel, in the final outcome, delivering sinners from Satan’s domain of darkness depends on God’s mighty power (Col. 1:13; 2:13-15).


Two concluding applications:

(1) Get some training in how to present the gospel, but don’t trust in your training. Trust in the Lord! You need to know how to present the gospel clearly and succinctly. Memorize key verses. In a nutshell, the gospel is: All people have sinned and need a Savior: Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God sent His eternal Son Jesus to pay the penalty that sinners deserve: Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We receive God’s gift of eternal life by faith in Christ alone: Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

(2) Since delivering people from bondage to sin is God’s work, dependent on His power, put on God’s armor and pray for opportunities and boldness. After telling us to put on God’s armor so that we will be able to stand firm against the spiritual forces of darkness (Eph. 6:10-17), Paul concludes by asking for prayer (Eph. 6:19-20): “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” In Colossians 4:3, he asks for prayer “that God will open up to us a door for the word,” so that he could preach the gospel.

Let’s trust God to use us to deliver people from their bondage to the spiritual forces of darkness!

Application Questions

  1. A Christian friend asks: “If God desires all people to be saved, why does He harden the hearts of some?” Your reply?
  2. Since making a decision to accept Christ may not necessarily mean that God has saved a person, how can we know if he is truly saved?
  3. Should we give assurance of salvation to a person who has just prayed the sinner’s prayer to accept Jesus? Why/why not?
  4. Why is it important to remember that God’s glory is His primary purpose in salvation? What are the practical ramifications of this in presenting the gospel?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation)

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