One of my dad’s favorite movies was “The African Queen.” There is a scene in it where Charlie and Rose, heading down the river in his boat to get away from the Germans, drop anchor near the shore for the night. They aren’t there long when gnats start to swarm around them. Charlie immediately pulls up the anchor and heads toward mid-river to get away from the pesky insects. Rose bats her arms, then tries to cover her head, she pulls a tarp over her but the gnats are relentless. She shivers, and cries, and pleads for Charlie to do something. Eventually, they get far enough away from shore where there are no more gnats.
Rose is embarrassed. She apologizes for going “mad.” But Charlie assures her it’s a natural response to the swarming insects. He tells her whole herds of cattle have been known to drown in an attempt to escape the little buggers.
I can kind of relate. My nephews and their families are visiting me on the island this week. The sprawling live oak trees and hanging moss are charming, but they are also a haven for noseeums, tiny, biting gnats that can drive you mad. We’ve made a couple attempts at playing at the playground, but it doesn’t take long before the gnats drive us home.
So it’s no surprise I think about this as I read about the plagues in these chapters in Exodus. That plague alone would have been enough to get my attention, I think.
There are so many things God would have us know about Him in the account of the plagues that seem to culminate in the devasting deaths of thousands of men and boys. I’ve read these chapters several times over the past couple of days, I’ve pulled out my commentaries, and talked to some people whose insight I appreciate. I’ve prayed, and meditated. And I’d like to share my thoughts.
It’s hard to reconcile a loving God with the seeming murder of innocents. But we can’t look at the last plague without starting at the beginning. I’m going to address the first hard lesson, found in 7:3. God is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. That just doesn’t seem fair, if it means Pharaoh is a puppet in God’s hand.
But God is not a puppeteer. What he said about Pharaoh is a warning to us. The truth of the matter is, God will harden your heart, too, if you reject Him. That’s how we are created. God woos, and draws, and loves us to Himself. In the account of the plagues we see a God who stops at nothing to get our attention. But He takes rejection very seriously. And with each rejection, He wants us to know we are in danger of becoming used to rejecting Him.
Did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Yes. But He hardened Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh rejected Him. And He’d like us to learn from Pharaoh’s example.
Now let’s look at the attempts God made to get Pharaoh to listen to Him. First, He had Moses throw down the staff that turned into a snake. Harmless enough. But impressive. Pharaoh was not impressed. Rejection #1. A corner of a heart hardened.
Next, the Nile turned to a river of blood. Gross. Inconvenient. But again, Pharaoh didn’t budge. Rejection #2. A heart a bit more hardened.
A week goes by, then Moses tells Pharaoh if he doesn’t obey God, frogs will come out of the Nile and fill their houses. Yuck. Rejection #3. But there’s more. After Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to get rid of the frogs, Moses said “Ok, Pharaoh. You pick the time so that you know for certain this is from God.” Pharaoh picked the time. Moses prayed. The frogs left when Pharaoh said. This had to be from God. Rejection #4. It was getting easier to reject God. A harder heart still.
Then came the gnats. I’m sorry, but the story would have ended there if I’d been in Pharaoh’s shoes. I hate those gnats so much! But Pharaoh? Rejection #5, and a heart a bit more hard.
I hope you read these chapters. The plagues continue. Flies, then dead livestock, then boils, hail and fire, locusts. Each plague got a bit more difficult, a bit more severe. And with every plague, God is revealed as powerful, almighty, worthy of worship, and serious about obedience. Pharaoh’s response? Rejections # 6,7,8,9,10,11… And with each rejection a heart that is so hard, it has no trouble rejecting any attempt of God to bring Pharaoh to his knees.
But here is the other thing. It wasn’t just Pharaoh who was ignoring God’s attempts to get him to obey Him. The Egyptian citizens were experiencing the same plagues in their own homes. Why didn’t any of them step up and turn to God? They were not as innocent as some have painted them to be. They would have been saved, according to everything I know about the God of the Bible, had they acknowledged Him as the One True God to be worshiped, if they had obeyed Him instead of rejecting him.
The story of the plagues is actually a story about a patient and, yes, a loving God. God could have wiped out the Egyptians BEFORE Moses ever threw down that staff. He could have given them no warning at all. But God is not, and never has been, willing that anybody perish without Him. And this account tells me He is the God of second chances, and third, and fourth…
It’s easy to shake a fist at God if the only thing we consider is the death of those Egyptians. But why isn’t anyone mad at Pharaoh? Why don’t we shake a fist at him for his arrogance, his repeated denial of God’s supremacy, His rejection of God’s way?
Today, some will tell you a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell. But the same God who was that serious about obedience in the book of Exodus is still serious about obedience in 2017. Disobedience equals a death sentence. It’s been that way from the beginning. It’s that way today. And it will be that way tomorrow.
But just like God will provide a way of salvation for Moses and the Jewish believers, He provides a way of salvation for each of us. God HIMSELF, in human form paid the death sentence for each of us. He died so that any who accepts Him on His terms will be saved. Anyone.
Today, and every day, He will try to get your attention. He’ll give you repeated opportunities to accept Him. And He will be faithful to forgive when you ask Him to. If Pharaoh had accepted God, I believe we’d be reading a different account of how the Israelites gained the Promised Land.
Holy God, I pray that we will not allow Satan to stall us on that final plague. Help us to consider the whole picture and see You for Who You are, a patient and loving God who is not willing that any should perish. But also help us recognize that there will come a time when disobedience will be judged. You will be obeyed. Or else. Thank You for Jesus who took on Himself my death penalty for the sins I’ve committed. I pray that all who read this post will know the joy of sins forgiven through the blood of Your Precious Son. Thank you for working in our lives to bring us to the Savior. And thank you for second chances.