|7th March, 1999|
Stranded on a desert island without any modern comforts, I have decided what I would miss most is soap. I see many homeless people. Many have a variety of conditions that come without the regular use of soap. I see hair conditions, skin complaints, and smell odour. After an encounter with sea weed while surfing, the body can be covered with sea lice. At school some of you caught head-lice. Or in cleaning out the hens you discover on yourself, bird lice. Others may have suffered scabies after helping some street people. Plagues of other afflictions like influenza, as in 1918 when 20 million people died, or small pox or cholera or chicken pox or AIDS have killed millions of people. In 1347 the Black Plague decimated England and Europe as a result of rat infestation. In September 1994 a dreadful plague killed thousands in India. Some of our children's nursery rhymes such as "Ring a ring of Roses" and "Old King Cole" have their roots in plagues.
When Israel had been 400 years in Egypt, most of them in slavery, God called Moses to lead his people to freedom. Pharaoh refused to release his slaves from his great building programs. He hardened his heart. But God heard their cry, and delivered them from their bondage. He forced Pharaoh through a series of plagues, each one progressively worse, until Pharaoh could stand it no more and allowed the race of slaves to go free in what we call "The Exodus".
The people saw wickedness bringing its own result. That result was seen as God's direct judgement on the people for ungodly behaviour. People say the same thing today: sexual promiscuity and homosexuality have resulted in a plague called AIDS. Some people have described it as God's judgement on human behaviour. Most see it as a direct consequence of our own behaviour, and spread to innocent people. The Jews saw natural consequences as God's divine judgement.
The ten plagues and judgements brought on Pharaoh were all events with natural causes. The Hebrew mind accepted that God would specifically punish Pharaoh with plagues. Each plague was worse than the previous, and would continue until Pharaoh changed his stubborn mind, softened his hardened heart and released the Israelites. Nine plagues are grouped in threes, each one beginning with Moses going to Pharaoh in the morning. The last one in each group was unannounced. Each time Pharaoh is willing to let the slave go, but at the last moment changes his mind by imposing harsh conditions. The first three were a serious inconvenience. The next three caused loss and suffering but avoided the land of Goshen. The final three shows Pharaoh cracking. So the story builds with increasing tension. The plagues follow each other naturally between one July and the following April.
1. 7:17-19 The Nile became polluted. It turned red as blood and brought sickness and death. Micro-organisms bred red algae during the August summer. Cattle drinking the water died.
2. 8:1-4 Frogs bred in plague proportions. In September vast numbers of frogs left the polluted Nile for the land. Moses described how the frogs would "come up into your palace and your bedroom, into the houses of your officials and on your people and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frog will go up on you and your people, and all your officials".
3. 8:13-14 Gnats, mosquitoes, lice and ticks covered people. This was due to the rotting frogs: "the frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards, and in the fields. They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them." Lice was in everybody's hair, ticks burrowed into their skin, mosquitoes carried malaria.
4. 8:21 Flies bred from maggots in the rotting frogs. The Nile Delta after floods produces vast swarms of biting flies called Dog-flies. They suck the blood of animals spreading disease.
5. 9:2-4 Animals died. The Israelite animals did not die but those of Pharaoh did. The frogs in the areas where the Egyptian cattle grazed could have spread anthrax.
6. 9:8-9 Boils spread. Moses took ashes from a furnace, and threw them into the air. The fine ash produced painful boils. This furnace, was an altar for human sacrifice to the god Typhon. That's what God thought of human sacrifice!
7. 9:22-26 Hail storms thundered. Moses called to Egyptians who believed in the Lord God to remain indoors to avoid the next plague. Some did. Others did not. "The Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation."
After 20 years as a director of a large Insurance firm, I know that more damage is done by hail, than by flood, fire, or earthquake. In Cairo the average rainfall is one inch a year. Any hail is fearful. Pharaoh repented and said the people to let the people go. could go as soon as the plague was ended. But as the hail stopped, he changed his mind and refused
8. 10:13-15 Locusts swarmed. Locusts invented the scorched earth policy! They threaten countries around the Sahara. Australia has suffered locust plagues. Locust plagues have been measured 2000 square miles in extent, and seen 1000 miles out to sea carried by the Sirocco. During this plague Pharaoh agreed to let the slaves go. But as soon as the locusts were blown away by a wind, he changed his mind.
9. 10:21-23 Darkness descended over the land. A huge sandstorm called The Khamsin, turned day into night. The sand choked the light and blocked the breath. It came without warning, and for three days, the life of Egypt stopped. Darkness descended, "so thick it could be felt". v.21. The Egyptian Sun god Ra, was defeated by the God of the slaves. Pharaoh agreed in the darkness, but then said they could not take their animals.
So Moses announced one more plague, worse than the rest, and gave instructions for the Israelites to prepare a special sacrifice for the night of this plague, and to repeat this ritual every year. 10.11:4-7 The eldest sons died. The final punishment was so bad that Pharaoh was forced to drive the Israelites out.
This was the awful climax: children die. The woman grinding corn lost her son. So did the prisoner in jail, and even Pharaoh lost his heir apparent in his palace. In a night of horror, wailing was heard all over Egypt. Pharaoh understood. The first-born son was the next head of the family. This time he died but if there were to be a final time, then everybody! Pharaoh gave in.
Now he wanted the Israelite slaves to go quickly. They pressed gifts upon them if only they would leave at once. Moses had told them to ask for gold and silver to be used during their wilderness journey for bartering. Their slave labour was being repaid. The people begged them to go. Pharaoh shouted: "Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you requested. Take your flocks and herds and go!" 12:31. This caught the Israelite slaves by surprise but they quickly gathered food and flocks. The struggle between Pharaoh, with armies, power, wealth and magicians, and the slaves who possessed Moses and the Lord God, was over. God had won. The slaves were free. The plagues had served their purpose. Pharaoh's hard heart was broken.
2. THE PASSOVER.
God passed the sentence: "Every first born son will die." 11:5. That was the sentence for all of mankind: "for the wages of sin is death." Rom. 6:23. Only those protected by the blood of a lamb would be saved. This way God's justice on sin and his mercy for faith would be obvious to all at the same time. Moses told the people to select a lamb, and slaughter it before sundown.
These Plagues were seen as acts of God. 7.
They must then sprinkle the blood on the two doorposts and the lintel, roast the lamb with bitter herbs and bread cooked without yeast, and to eat it while ready to leave the land. The destroyer Death came through the land at midnight, saw those protected with blood, and passed over. The sacrifice of the lamb and the shedding of blood, was the sign of faith and a shield from God's just punishment. They had been saved.
We too stand in judgement of death, but Jesus was the Lamb of God sacrificed on our behalf. "The Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." 1John 1:7 Like the Israelites, we who are slaves to sin, live in a land not our home. We are ready for the journey to heaven. We shall be freed by the shed blood of the Lamb of God. At the Communion we hear the words: "for Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth." 1 Cor 5: 7-8. Jesus is the fulfilment of that Passover. The Lamb has been slain. Death is now defeated.
God brings judgement for sin, but God also shows mercy. God comes to us in our deepest need and brings us freedom and life. We now are satisfied. The Plagues and the Passover are central to Israel's history. It tells of the struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed, between Egypt's Pharaoh who made himself a god, and Israel's Lord, who claimed to be the only God. Pharaoh and his magicians were routed.
The Lord God shows He has power over the forces of nature, with the deaths of the Egyptian children, the release of the slaves, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the rout of the Egyptian pursuers. The frantic action that has been building up comes to a climax. Israel is free. They will now become a nation. The Lord God is the only powerful God and He has redeemed His people. From now on, that will be central to their theology and history, and every year Jews remember they were brought out of Egypt in the Passover.
The Israelites survived death because they sacrificed a lamb. At the Passover festival one year 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ, "the lamb of God, was slain to take away the sin of the world". He died for the sins, not of the nation, but of the whole world. All who were slaves to sin could be freed by His sacrifice from the penalty of death. He was "the first-born of all creation", the representative human who died in our place, taking the full brunt of the penalty of our sin to set us free. He committed no sin, yet, "in my place condemned He stood, sealed my pardon with His blood."
Unjust? No. "But because of our sins, he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the suffering He received. The Lord made the punishment fall on him, which all of us deserved...He willingly gave his life and shared the fate of evil men. He took the place of many sinners." Isa. 53 As we come to the communion, believers in what the Lord Jesus has done, celebrate with joy, for we have been freed, redeemed, saved. The Lamb of God takes away our sins!
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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