Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bible Study: Exodus 10:21-29

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." 22So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23They 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. 24Then 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." 25But Moses said, "You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. 26Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must take of them to serve the LORD our God, and we do not know with what we must serve the LORD until we arrive there." 27But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go. 28Then 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." 29Moses said, "As you say! I will not see your face again." -Exodus 10:21-29

The main theological concept in Exodus 10:21-29 is that God is all-powerful and almighty showing the futility of the Egyptian gods, particularly the sun-god Ra. When the earth was formless, dark, and empty, God said, “Let there be light and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). He is the one who created the sun out of darkness, and He has the power to turn the sun back into darkness. He darkens the sun for three days in order to manifest His grace and presence among His people so that they would worship Him (10:26). In Egyptian polytheism, the sun-god Ra was one of the chief deities. Further, Pharaoh was often confused with the sun-god and was an object of worship for the Egyptians. The reign of Pharaoh was the reign of the sun. The official sun-god pervaded the worship of the palace. By darkening the sun for three days, God showed the Egyptians who is in control of nature and the cosmic realm. The Wisdom of Solomon saw the Egyptian plagues as a mockery of Egyptian polytheism.

For Pharaoh, this event signified chaos in the cosmic realm. According to a cosmogonic myth of the time, the monstrous serpent Apophis represented all that was dreadful. Sarna writes, “The sun’s journey across the sky was thought to involve a mighty struggle between it and Apophis that ceaselessly attempted to destroy it. Each morning’s rising sun represented the defeat of darkness. This plague indicated that Apophis triumphed and also demonic and chaotic powers triumphed” (Sarna, Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel, 79). For Pharaoh and the Egyptians, cosmic triumph over the sun normally signified demonic activity. This time Pharaoh realized that it was actually the triumph of the God of Moses over himself.

God’s purpose in acting in human history and showing His mighty power is so that He might be worshiped. He does this to redeem His people Israel, but He also does this so the Egyptians might come to know Him as well (Ex. 7:5). While Pharaoh finally does let the Israelites go, unfortunately there is nothing to suggest that He came to possess saving faith in the God of Moses.

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

While many want to make the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart the primary theological point of the plague narratives, it is not necessary to do so. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart relates to the primary theological point in that it manifests God’s mighty power and His active presence in human history as God brings about His redemptive plan. Central to the darkness plague, however, is simply that God caused darkness in the land and triumphed over Pharaoh. This was not the first time that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart in 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17. Pharaoh hardened his own heart in 8:15, 32; 9:34. And there are also neutral verses where we do not know who is the subject of the verb (7:13, 14; 8:19; 9:7, 35). In this passage Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by the Lord so that God might bring about His redemptive purpose according to His sovereign will. The Lord’s redemptive purpose was to release the Israelites from the bondage to the Egyptians and bring them the land He promised them. This was the Lord’s purpose and in accomplishing His purpose He acted in judgment over Pharaoh in bringing it about.

This act of God teaches the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace alone. It was not by any human effort or co-operation that the Israelites were redeemed from bondage to the Egyptians. It was only by God’s grace and His active presence in judging the Egyptians that he redeemed His people Israel. This also has New Testament parallels.
The Apostle Paul teaches the doctrine of salvation by grace alone in Romans chapter 9 when speaking of the election of spiritual Israel (Jew and Gentile Christians). Paul quotes God in Exodus 33:19 saying, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15). He continues by using Pharaoh as an example saying, “It does not therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scriptures says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth’ (Ex. 9:16). Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom. 9:16-18). God raised up Pharaoh to display His power. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart to bring about the redemption of His people Israel.

The rational reader will be inclined to ask how it is that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart and does not give him a chance. The answer is that God does not simply make an unconditional decision to harden Pharaoh’s heart. He does it as an act of judgment for his stubbornness, and to manifest His power. This also agrees with St. Augustine who wrote, “[God] has mercy when He gives good things. He hardens when He recompenses what is deserved” (On The Predestination of the Saints, XIV). Pharaoh deserved this punishment for his sin, as Psalm 105:8 declares, “He sent darkness and made the land dark-- for had they not rebelled against his words?”

In the New Testament, Paul says that the Jews deserved their punishment because of their unbelief (Rom. 11:20). Still one might ask how God elects some by grace alone and attributes damnation to man’s sin? Paul answers this question by reminding us not question God’s authority: “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God” (Rom. 9:20)? This is a question that attempts to understand what God has not revealed. Therefore, it is better not to attempt to understand the hidden thoughts of God, since God declares in Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:9).

God hardens Pharaoh’s heart in order to accomplish His redemptive activity of His people Israel. He released them from bondage to freedom so that they might worship Him. He also opens the door for all people whether Jewish or not to have faith in Him. While the Book of Exodus does not record whether the Egyptians came to possess saving faith in the God of Moses, it is possible that it could have happened. In the same way, God hardened the Jew’s hearts in the first century in order to crucify His Son and raise Him from the dead. Some first century Jews were brought to saving faith in Jesus, the promised Messiah.

Three Days of Darkness

Total darkness covered Egypt for three days as God frustrated Pharaoh and the Egyptians and redeemed His people Israel. In the same way, while Christ was atoning for the sins of the whole world, there was three hours of darkness (Mt. 27:45) as Christ hung on the cross. The darkness at the cross was to fulfill the words of Amos the prophet, “In that day, declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight…I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day’” (8:9, 10). The total darkness in the ninth plague has Christological aspects since it was present during the atonement of Jesus Christ. The darkness in both narratives indicates God’s active presence in redeeming His people from slavery to sin. In the Exodus account, it was redemption from the sins of the Egyptians. In the Gospel accounts, it was redemption from the sin of Adam.

Neither account, however, signifies the completion of God’s redemptive activity. It was not until after the tenth plague on the firstborn that the Israelites were released from slavery. In the same way it was not until the resurrection of Jesus Christ that sin, death, and the devil were ultimately conquered. Paul writes, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man…. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:21, 23). And at His second coming the sun will also be turned into darkness and “then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24).

Eschatological Implications

The darkening of the sun also has eschatological implications. Isaiah prophecies, “See, the day of the LORD is coming -- a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger -- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it….The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (Is. 13:9-10). When darkness came over the land of the Egyptians this pointed forward to Christ’s crucifixion as well as to Christ’s second coming. Cosmic disturbance in the Holy Scriptures is associated with the day of the Lord. The prophet Joel prophecies concerning the end times saying, “The sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine….The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Joel 2:10, 31). The darkness shall come before the awesome day of the Lord. Darkness signifies that the day of the Lord is at hand, and that God is about to complete His redemptive activity. It signified that God was about to complete His redemptive activity among the Egyptians. And in the end it will be a sign that Jesus will be coming on the clouds of the sky. Jesus declares, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened… They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:29, 30). Revelation confirms this imagery of Christ in chapter 6:12-13.

Darkness therefore represents judgment as well as redemption. In Exodus, it was judgment upon the Egyptians, and redemption of Israel. At the crucifixion, it was judgment upon the Jews who crucified Christ, and redemption upon those (both Jew and Gentile) who would come to possess faith in Christ. At the last day will come the fulfillment of all things. Judgment will come upon all who are not in Christ, and redemption will come to those who possess faith in Christ.

The plague of darkness eventually led to the Passover. The darkness at the crucifixion of Christ led to the Lord’s Supper. And the darkness at Christ’s second coming will lead to the marriage feast of the Lamb.

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