Plagues (of biblical proportions)
If you watch news footage of disasters in the third world you see people who know what to do. This is a sad time. The people are sad. They weep and wail and mourn. And this is entirely appropriate.
But watch news footage of disasters in the west and what do you see? Not weeping and mourning. There’s one dominant emotion on display: shock.
How could this happen? How could this happen here? How could this happen to us?
We feel entitled to good health, financial security, national security, job security – any and every kind of safety. And when these rights are threatened or removed we are completely de-stabilized.
The original plagues of biblical proportions were meant to humble a sinful people. To bring them to a godly grief – a repentant frame of mind. But they ended up hardening a proud people who careered towards further destruction.
The purpose of the plagues was two-fold – to reveal the LORD and to humble Pharaoh.
First – to reveal the LORD
The LORD’s repeated phrase as calamity rains down is:
and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God
Through the plagues, the LORD’s Name will be made known to the Israelites (Exodus 6:7), to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:17), to all the earth (Exodus 9:16), and to the generations to come (Exodus 10:2).
You might ask, “What kind of God is known through plagues?”
Answer: A God who’s trying to get through to a deaf people.
There’s a saying: Most people never look up until they’re flat on their backs. This being the case, disasters can be a severe mercy.
The original plagues of biblical proportions are just the kinds of “wake-up calls” to rouse a stubborn king and his evil regime.
From blood to frogs to gnats to wild beasts to pestilence to boils to hail to locusts to darkness to the death of the firstborn the plagues become more and more deadly. At each point there is an opportunity for Pharaoh to repent and let the Israelites go. Yet the madness of the human condition is seen in his hard-hearted rejection of the LORD, plunging himself and his land into ruin.
Second – to humble Pharaoh
For 400 years Egypt had ‘humbled’ Israel (Genesis 15:13). They had afflicted, enslaved and impoverished them. Moses, at the head of this afflicted people became the most humble man on earth (Number 12:3). He is therefore the polar opposite of Pharaoh – one raised up before all the earth (Exodus 9:16) and who “refuses to humble himself before the LORD.” (Exodus 10:3)
This is what the plagues are for – humbling.
In Amos 4 we see plagues falling on Israel and the constant refrain is – “yet have ye not returned unto me.”
“I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt… yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. (Amos 4:10)
The LORD expects that plagues should humble us, not harden us.
Again in Revelation 15 and 16 we see plagues that fall on the whole earth. And yet those suffering refuse to turn:
and they repented not to give him glory. (Revelation 16:9)
The plagues on Egypt are foretastes of the judgement that will befall the whole earth. One day there will be a cosmic shake-down, a mighty revelation of the LORD Jesus, a humbling of everything lifted up. That is the intention. And yet, when calamity strikes, there are many who fail to be humbled. Instead they are hardened.
And that is an immense tragedy:
“God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (Prov 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5)
“The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.” (Psalm 147:6)
“For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)
“Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3)
In Exodus, the humbling plagues increase until there’s only one place of shelter: the blood of the lamb. All the plagues lead to Passover. And all the judgements of God lead to the cross.
The cross is the ultimate plague. There the LORD’s name is revealed and the LORD’s people are humbled. Even the Judge of all is humbled in the darkness, perishing under judgement.
The question is this: Will we be humbled by the judgements of God or hardened? Will God’s judgements bring us low? Will they lead us to the LORD Jesus lifted up? Or will we lift ourselves up and so be cast down by God?
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