A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on February 4, 2018.
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go’ (Ex. 5:1–2).
We live in an era of unprecedented access of knowledge. Today, through a simple Google search, you can access knowledge once confined to bound library books. So vast is our access to this knowledge that discerning what is real and what is fake has become a politicized epidemic. Our access to knowledge has been a great blessing that cannot be denied. It can also lead to over-confidence. Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “ipsa scientia potestas est” (knowledge itself is power). But can such power lead to an illusion of sovereignty?
God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4–7). Answer? There are some things we do not know, cannot know, and may never know. To seek knowledge and understanding is good, but also let us remember, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
That God has chosen to reveal Himself is remarkable. God has chosen to reveal Himself in creation as a general revelation of His glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1–4a). And God has chosen to reveal Himself specifically and savingly in the special revelation of His Word: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7–9).
As it pertains to our Scripture passage, having received the special revelation of God, chosen, called, and commissioned, Moses knew God. He did not merely know about God, rather he had a personal and saving knowledge of Him. He had been charged to reveal God’s Word to God’s chosen people as well as a pagan king and nation. Knowledge of this world may indeed incite a form of earthly power, but knowledge of God leads to humility. So a humble Moses, as God’s prophet, appeared before Pharaoh to deliver God’s Word, indeed His command, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”
Know the Lord
Consider the absurdity of the request. First, Moses delivers the Word of Yahweh (translated “LORD” in English. This is not the word of a former prince of Egypt. It is not the word of a rural shepherd. It is the Word of God. Second, Moses reveals that Yahweh is the God of Israel. He is not the false gods of Egypt. He is the One true God of a specific, chosen people, a people who happen to be the slave labor and manual labor force of Egypt. Third, Yahweh commands Pharaoh to let Israel go into the wilderness for a singular purpose, the worship of their God. Moses quotes a God who Pharaoh does not know, who commands Pharaoh to release the Egyptian slave labor, to collectively leave the country for a worship festival.
How would you expect Pharaoh to answer? Perhaps something about like this: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” God had revealed Himself and spoken to Moses. Moses knew God. Pharaoh did not. Therefore, Pharaoh will not listen to the Lord’s prophet, the Lord’s Word, and he most certainly will not obey the Lord’s command. To further reject the authority of the Lord’s command, Pharaoh intensified the workload of Egypt’s slaves, the Lord’s people, as if to say to the Lord and His prophet, “I’ll show you who the king of Egypt is!”
Ignorance and arrogance are never a healthy response to God’s Word. Pharaoh did not know God, but in a series of ten plagues, God revealed Himself in judgment upon Egypt. Throughout God’s judgment upon Egypt there is one consistent and repeated message: “You will know that I am God” (Ex. 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14,16, 29; 10:2). So catastrophic were the plagues that only the spiritually blind could miss the message. After every plague, Pharaoh rejected God’s revelation and hardened his heart. He could see the evidence of God all around him, but he did not know, indeed refused to know, God.
The revelation of God in His judgment of plagues upon Egypt sent two different messages. First, to the Egyptians it was a message of terror and destruction, the wrath of an angry God upon a rebellious people of pagan idolatry. Second, to Israel it was a message of deliverance and hope: the covenant God of Israel revealing His sovereign power in the salvation of His people.
Just as there were two messages in God’s Egyptian judgment, so also in redemptive history. Because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) we justly deserve His displeasure. The ruthless plagues upon Egypt are a limited glimpse of the wrath due those who do not know the Lord. Apart from Christ, there is only eternal terror and destruction. But, there is a message of deliverance and hope: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Having revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ, through faith in Jesus, we know the Lord eternally. The wrath of God due us has been poured out upon God’s Son: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
The revelation of God in judgment is good news in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who truly know the Lord rejoice that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—“ (Eph. 2:4–5). And by His saving grace, we can say, “I know the Lord.”
Examine Your Heart
For a pagan king, we know much about Pharaoh’s heart. We know that, as a matter of fact, Pharaoh’s heart was hard (Ex. 7:13). We know that Pharaoh was personally responsible, because he hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15). And, we know that God is sovereign over all, even the human heart, because the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12). We see this collectively at the end of chapter nine: “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. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them’” (Exodus 9:34–35, 10:1). You may ask, “Well, which is it. Did God harden Pharaoh’s heart, or did Pharaoh harden his own heart? And, of course, the biblical testimony is, “Yes!”
While reconciling God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is indeed one of the “secret things” of God, it does not change the fact that God is sovereign and the unconverted human heart is wicked. For example, unless God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, gives you a heart to believe, you can live through ten plagues and still not know the Lord. I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:19–31). Perhaps Pharaoh experienced the same wish in hell. He had received a direct message from God through the prophet Moses, witnessed the evidence of God’s wrath ten times, and yet his heart grew harder times ten. Therefore, apart from grace, God leaves Pharaoh to the pleasure of his rebellious heart.
This is not merely a call to the lost but also a caution to the found. If you are a child of God by God’s grace through faith in Christ, have you allowed your heart to grow cold to the things of God? While a Christian can never sin to the point of falling from grace, we can allow sin to ensnare us and harden us against the things of God. Have you grown cold to the things of God? Do you not read God’s Word daily because your heart has been captivated by the fleeting pleasure of this world’s entertainment? Do you not pray because you are too busy or simply lack the desire? Do you not see that it is a subtle side to worldliness?
Rather, may our hearts be focused on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:18). Oh Christian, examine your heart, confessing your sin to our faithful and just Lord, for He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). In all this, let us trust in God.
Trust in God
Moses trusted God at His Word. Moses received God’s Word, believed God’s Word, and carried God’s Word. He could not have foreseen the magnitude of devastation upon Egypt. Had he gloried in the culture of his country of origin, surely he would have been dismayed. Had he sworn his allegiance to the country of his birth over God’s Word, surely he would have been disillusioned. Had he hoped in the integrity of his former government, surely he would have been disgusted. Had he confused his faith with national fidelity, surely he would have been despondent. But, dismayed, disillusioned, disgusted and despondent he was not the writer of Hebrews reveals, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them” (Heb. 11:24–28). Moses trusted in God as He had revealed Himself, serving as a temporary prophet and mediator but awaiting the reward of his eternal Prophet, Priest, and King.
Similarly, we trust in God as He has revealed Himself in the living Word, Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, we know Him as Lord. By God’s peace, our hearts and minds are guarded in Him (Phil. 4:7). By God’s love, we trust in Him in all things (Rom. 8:28). Amen.