The Plagues of Egypt
December 14th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
THE PLAGUES OF EGYPT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-14-58 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the early morning message. Following in the life of the great, incomparable prophet and lawgiver Moses, we have come to the fifth through the eleventh chapters of the Book of Exodus. And you can easily follow the message if you will open your Bible to the fifth through the eleventh chapters of the Book of Exodus.
These chapters encompass the story of the plagues that were visited upon the Egyptians. And those plagues, as you have been taught all your life, constitute an execution of the judgment of God, the One and only and true God, against the false gods of the Egyptians. If I were to choose a text for this part of the Book of Exodus, I would choose the last half of Exodus 12:12, "And against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord." That would be my text for these passages: "Against all these false deities of Egypt I will execute judgment; for I alone am the Lord God." Now, here’s another way of saying it: if I were to try to say what these chapters are, I would say that they are an answer to the question of Pharaoh in Exodus 5:2, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice? I know not the Lord." Pharaoh himself claimed to be a deity; maybe the greatest one in his estimation. And when Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let My people go" [Exodus 5:1]. Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice? I never heard of your puny, Hebrew God, neither will I let Israel go." So, Pharaoh says he doesn’t know the Lord; so Pharaoh says, "Who is He that I should obey His voice?" [Exodus 5:2]. Pharaoh looks upon himself as the great one of Egypt, and for him all Egypt lives. The Nile flows, the fertile soil produces its harvest, the sun shines, the people bow down in obeisance and sycophantic subjection. "Who is this Lord, that I should obey His voice and let Israel go?" So he’s going to learn, and he’s going to learn in a way that he’ll never forget. And he’s going to learn in a way that the whole world has never forgotten for these three thousand five hundred years. "Who is the Lord?" [Exodus 5:2].
Now, we’re going to find out. These plagues, as you have been taught I say all your life, these plagues are not just adventitious judgments, they’re not just capriciously chosen illnesses and happenstances and tragedies and overwhelming providences; but they have a meaning. There in that land of Egypt, why, the Nile was a god in itself; and they worshiped the Nile. Some goddess may be with her secret urn somewhere pouring out the ever flowing contents of the waters that alluvially enrich the soil and bless the land, a ribbon of green fertility in that vast illimitable desert. And this God of the Hebrews will make that god of the Nile a curse and not a blessing. And these frogs that swarmed all up and down the banks of the Nile, they were taken as an emblem of fecundity and worshiped as a god of productivity and proliferation. And this God of the Hebrews is going to make that god an offense and a stench in the land. And these beasts that they worship and these priests that are so scrupulously clean and shaven, upon those beasts that they worship, cows sacred, bulls, goats, animals, and on the beasts themselves, they’re going to be crawling with lice; just as unclean and foul as they can be. And this very sun god that they worshiped, of whom the beetle is an emblem, first going to make his beetle a curse in the land and finally blot out the sun god altogether. And all of this is to be done at the commandment of the Lord God. So we’re going to see who is the real and only true God; and we’re going to answer Pharaoh’s question: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go" [Exodus 5:2].
All right, now let’s start out. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Exodus, you have the story of the terrible burden that was increasingly placed upon the people by the cruel and merciless king of Egypt at this demand that Israel be permitted to go three days’ journey and to worship the Lord and their burdens were so heavy that it seemed as though nothing awaited the nation but to die under the heavy whip of the taskmaster [Exodus 5:1-21]. And Moses, in his desperation – now we end this fifth chapter – Moses returned unto the Lord and cast himself at God’s feet [Exodus 5:22-23]. He had come to the end of the way, and it was terrible and grievous. Now we begin the sixth chapter: "Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh,Then,now,I," Then, when they had come to the lowest part of their fortunes, when all hope for deliverance had passed, "Then"; "now," when every effort of human strength and hand had failed, "I," "See what I will do unto Pharaoh" [Exodus 6:1].
Now you’re going to have here a little passage, and it is very interesting, very enlightening, you’re going to have a little passage here from Exodus 6:2-8, about God, and a cluster of "I wills." This Lord: now listen, "And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him," now watch these "I’s," "I am the Lord: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, by My name Jehovah," this new covenant relationship into which I am interested, "I was not known to them. I have also established My covenant with them . . . I have also heard the groanings of the children of Israel . . . I have remembered My covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord" [Exodus 6:2-6]. All right, now watch it, all of these "I wills":
I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rid you out of their bondage, I will redeem you with a stretched out hand . . . I will take you to Me for a people, I will be to you a God . . . I will bring you into the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for an heritage: I am the Lord.
Now that’s just the way God works. When human hands have failed, and when burdens are the most grievous, and we’re in the nadir of our despair and despond, then the Lord rises in strength and in glory for His people. It’s going to be that day some of these days, the Book says. In the evil and the iniquity that shall someday overwhelm this world, when atheism, and materialism, and secularism, and cynicism has swept away the educational systems, and the governmental systems, and the international systems, and it looks as if a little puny preacher faced a veritable overflowing ocean of iniquity and unbelief and secularism, then will the Lord rise with His own great strong right arm, and He will bring the victory to Himself [2 Timothy 3:1-4:5]. So it is here: Israel has come to the end of the way; Moses is prostrate before God, "O Lord God, since I came and sought to deliver the people, there has been nothing but evil, and no destiny faces them but to perish in the earth" [Exodus 5:22-23]. Then said the Lord, "Now shalt thou see what I will do" [Exodus 6:1]. And God speaks to His servant words of comfort and cheer and victory [Exodus 6:2-8]. We’ll never lose this battle. We’ll never be defeated in this conflict. We are on the right side, God’s side. However men may rage against heaven, however they may trample under foot the blood of the covenant and do despite unto the Spirit of grace, we are on the side that ultimately and finally shall forever prove victorious [Hebrews 10:29-30]. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and it shall stand forever.
So Moses, with this new ministry – and it takes quite courage to do it – Moses with this new ministry comes to the children of Israel in the ninth verse, "But they did not hearken unto Moses," and it gives the reason: "for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage" [Exodus 6:9]. However Moses said didn’t matter one way or another: they were suffering so much, they were so cruelly oppressed, they had lost their spirit and their heart.
All right, now we start. In the seventh chapter of the Book of Exodus and the [first] verse, you have it said, "Thus saith the Lord God to Moses, See" [Exodus 7:1], then He speaks to Moses and to Aaron, and in the third verse, He says, "And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will harden Pharaoh’s heart" [Exodus 7:3]. That sounds as if the evil in Pharaoh has its instigation, its beginning, its fountain and its source in God: "And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart." To begin with, that would be an impossible ascription unto God, that evil was in God or that the evil that a man did he did under the aegis of God, that God was its author and its source. Yet it says, "The Lord said to Moses, I will harden Pharaoh’s heart" [Exodus 7:3]. We’re going to look at that just for a minute. You turn to Exodus 8:15, and let’s read what it says; Exodus 8:15, "But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not." Now look at the end of that chapter, Exodus 8:32: "And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also." Now turn to one more, turn to Exodus 9:34, Exodus 9:34, "And when Pharaoh saw that there was surcease in this plague, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants." Now, what does that mean when it says, "God hardened Pharaoh’s heart"? [Exodus 7:3]. Here’s what it means: God left Pharaoh to his own self-chosen course; and that course went from evil to evil, to harder to harder, to degradation to degradation, to disintegration, to fouler, fouler sin. The Lord left him to his own choice. And in the permissive will of God, a man can say, "No," to God, "No," to God, "No," to God, until finally he becomes a negation himself; just to look at him is a "no," just to ask him is a "no," just to watch him is a "no." Evil is always progressive, always. It’s like a cancer: it is a rare thing that a cancer stays in just the little mole or just a little cell; its nature is to spread, to grow, to expand, to consume. Evil is a leprosy; it is a disease, it is a cancer. It has inherently in it the tendency to spread, to harden, to do worse and worse and worse. That’s in the permissive will of God. And when Pharaoh said, "No, no, no, no," he became that very negation itself, hardened in it. And that is what is meant when it says, "God hardened his heart" [Exodus 7:3]; that is, in the permissive will of God, he went from hardness to more hardness, from darkness to more darkness, from evil to more evil until finally he became the embodiment of that negation before God. "He sinned yet more, and hardened his heart" [Exodus 9:34].
Do you notice that, "and his servants"? [Exodus 9:34]. He chose around him boon companions who encouraged him in that negation. He liked astrologers who said he was greater than the Lord God Almighty. He liked magicians who with their false miracles, confirmed him in his own deity. He liked soothsayers and sorcerers who prophesied for him great triumphs over the Lord God Himself. Why, I see that everywhere. Do you see somebody out there in the world in the depths of worldliness who likes to have around him God’s sainted people? Do you? Why, that fellow that drinks out there, he doesn’t choose a man who doesn’t drink to be his companion; he likes the fellow who will drink with him. That fellow out there in the world who loves to be in the world likes worldly companions; and they encourage one another in it. That’s the same way here with Pharaoh: he gathered round him all of those people who were like he was and who confirmed him in the bent of his life and the taste of his soul. And he himself became confirmed in that negation, in that choice, in that direction of his life.
You have to watch it, too. All of these things that come of the evil one have a tendency to go from bad to worse and to worse. You ought to watch your home. You ought to watch your heart. You ought to watch your life. Those little old things that come have a tendency; first they’re little tricklets, first they’re little riverlets, pretty soon they’re wide rivers, and finally impassible gulfs; all evil, all iniquity has a tendency to spread, to grow. And that’s what happened to Pharaoh. So, he continues now in that negation to God.
Then the terrible judgments begin to fall. Exodus 7:19, "And the Lord spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod"; now the twentieth verse, "And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood" [Exodus 7:20], from bank to bank a gory stream. "And the fish died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians sought water to drink anywhere they could dig it in the earth" [Exodus 7:21, 24]. God’s judgment upon the goddess of the Nile, the very fountain of their life becomes a curse and a stench.
Then the second one: "And the Lord spake unto Moses," in the eighth chapter, "If thou refuse to let them go, I will smite all thy borders with frogs" [Exodus 8:1-2]: the sixth verse, "And the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt," everywhere [Exodus 8:6]. When you went to bed at night, you went to bed at night with the frogs; cold, slimy skins. When you were kneading the dough, you kneaded in it frogs. When you baked, you baked the frogs in the bread. When you cooked the soup, you cooked frogs; they fell in the soup. When you sat down to eat, when you started to cut a piece of meat, you cut the leg off, head off of a frog. They were everywhere; they covered the face of the earth. Now that was the god of fecundity. And I have been told that in that land of Egypt no one dared to kill one of these frogs; that was an emblem of the god of fertility, the frog. Nobody dared kill one of them. You know that’s the strangest thing. You think all of this is so long ago. Why, I have been in places in India, where there were so many monkeys, you had to push them out of the way to walk down the street, to get across a bridge, to go down the road; monkeys everywhere, monkeys, monkeys, monkeys. I have been in Calcutta, which is a city as big as Chicago, and because of the genius of the British, they have great high skyscraper buildings in it, and big department stores like ours, and big banks; I have seen herds of cattle in the very heart of that downtown district that clogged up traffic. And you’d think it never could be unclogged and unwound. In order to get to a store like Neiman Marcus or the Republic Bank, you’d have to wade through a herd of cows. Nobody dared touch one of them; you wouldn’t dare step on a black spider, you might be stepping on the reincarnation of your grandmother! All of that is today; you don’t have to go back here and look at it. Now, these gods were everywhere. They were cooking them, they were sleeping with them, they were rising with them in the morning, and they were going to bed with them at night. Wherever they were, there were these croaking gods. And the Lord God, the true God in heaven makes them a stench in the land.
Now the third plague, the third one, "The Lord said, Stretch forth thy rod, and this whole dust," and brother, that country’s dusty – if you’ve ever been over there, it is dusty; it never rains over there. That water in the Nile is the source of their very life; and when they mention dust here, that’s what that country is, dust. – "And the dust became lice." Now you look how it’s written here in Exodus 8:17: "It became lice in man, and in beast." Now the reason for that "and in beast" is on account of all those sacred bulls they were worshiping, and all those sacred goats, and all those sacred cats. When you’d go into one of those beautiful, beautiful temples in the land of Egypt with all that glorious Egyptian architecture, and those fluted columns, and that incomparable stately avenue of kings and temples, when you got on the inside of it, what would you find they were worshiping? They were worshiping some kind of a sacred animal. Now, because the land was so abundantly watered, that became to them a source of pride, that they were very scrupulously clean in their worship. And the bull was very clean, and the priest himself shaved and bathed and dressed in clean garments. And can you imagine when the priest, covered with lice, eaten up with it, all over him; they looked at one another, lice all over him, and when they went to worship before their god, all those little wee timorous beasties were all over him too.
Did you ever read Bobby Burns’ "To a Louse"? You ought to read that; that’s one of the best,he goes to church, and he happened to sit by one of the scrupulously, saintly, clean women in the church. And right up the back of her neck is crawling a little louse. And he writes that, and he says: "O would some power the gift he givest, to see ourselves as others see us," remember that? Well, that’s "To a Louse." Now that’s the way these, that’s the way these priests were: went in to worship, there their god is, all covered with those dirty little creatures. That’s the Lord God’s doings; even their gods they’re worshiping.
Now we’re going to pause for a second and look at a verse. Exodus 8:23, "And I will put a division between My people and thy people: tomorrow shall this sign be." That little verse, "I will put a division between My people and thy people"; you turn to Exodus 10:23, Exodus 10:23, "The Egyptians saw not one another, neither rose any man from his place for three days: but there was light in the dwellings of the children of Israel." Now one other like that, Exodus 11:7, "But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." Now I want to expatiate just for a minute on that. God puts a difference between His people and the world. He had done so in the ages past. In that antediluvian age, God put a difference between righteous Noah and righteous Noah’s family and all of the antediluvians [Genesis 6:5-8, 7:21-23]. God put a difference between Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all of the idolaters who lived round about them. And God was doing so in this instance here: God puts a difference, "I will put a difference between My people and thy people" [Exodus 11:7]. And, in all succeeding ages, God puts a difference between His people and the world. Sometimes He would say it’s like the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]; sometimes He would say it is like the wheat and the tares [Matthew 24-30, 36-43]; sometimes He would say it’s like the five maidens who entered in with the bridegroom and the five foolish ones who were shut outside [Matthew 25:1-13]; sometimes He would say it’s like the fish in a net, between the good and the bad [Matthew 13:47-50]. But however God says it, He never deviates from it. God puts a difference between His people and the world. And whether we are saved or not is in that difference; it’s an eternal difference [Daniel 12:1-2]. If I had time this morning – and I don’t – I’d tell you a story I heard an old time white-headed preacher tell in Indiana, when he said, "I want to tell you what God means by the word ‘goodbye’." And he described a judgment scene that I’ll never in this earth forget. God puts a difference between His people and the world; and it is an everlasting difference. There are not three kinds of people in this world, "great and white and black," there’s only two kinds, according to God, "My people," and the world.
Now we must continue. In the ninth chapter, we have the fifth plague, the murrain that destroyed the cattle [Exodus 9:3-4]. Even those sacred bulls died. Then in the sixth, you have the, I mean, the ninth verse you have the sixth plague, the boils and the blains that came upon the people [Exodus 9:9-11].
Then in the seventh, you have the terrible and grievous hail and lightning that came upon the people [Exodus 9:18-26]. Now I want to pause just once again. Now listen to this, Exodus 9:19], when God said, "I am going to flood this land with the falling of hailstones," now look, "Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die" [Exodus 9:18-19]. Now look, "He that feared the word of the Lord, he that believed that God would do it, among the servants of Pharaoh, made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses: And he that regarded not the word of the Lord left his servants and his cattle in the field" [Exodus 9:20-21].
Why, I can hear those cynics, those modern preachers – they’re all alike almost today. I hardly know an exception outside of some of our devout Baptist preachers and some of our Holiness brethren. I hardly know an exception to this – the modern pulpit rings and resounds with those platitudinous remarks: "God is love, and God would not send a man to hell. God would not rain fire upon this earth. God would not destroy a man. God is too good and too soft, too easygoing ever to do aught in the way of judgment, perdition."
Now, I might change the nomenclature there; I would not say, "God sends a man to hell, God damns a man, God sends fire of judgment because God is hateful and hating," I wouldn’t say it like that. But I do say this: "I see it in the world around me, and I see it in the Bible, and it’s one of the great truths of life: God will not always allow sin and iniquity and death to reign in this world [Revelation 21:4]. Some day, God shall wipe it away, wash it away, burn it away [2 Peter 3:10-12]. Some day, God shall lay hands upon Satan and chain him in a bottomless pit [Revelation 20:1-3]. And when God does that, Satan’s own who choose him shall be chained with him. And the man that chooses this world shall die in the judgment of the world; when the fire burns up the world, the fire shall burn him up [Revelation 20:8-10]. And these people who scoff and laugh at the judgment of God upon sin shall know the fury of that judgment; and there’s no escape" [Revelation 14:10, 16:19].
Why, I can illustrate that from this Bible from beginning to end! And God said, "A hundred twenty years and I shall destroy this world by flood!" [Genesis 6:3-7]. Now look at Noah, "And Noah moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house" [Hebrews 11:7]; and the rest of the world laughed at the idea: "Why, God is love, God is so easygoing and soft; He wouldn’t destroy this world by flood [Genesis 6:17, 7:4]. There’s no God anyway." But God said, "I will destroy this world by flood. And Noah believed God, and built an ark to the saving of his house" [Hebrews 11:7]. Moved with fear, he was afraid when God said, "I will destroy this world." Same thing with Lot and Lot’s sons-in-law, his own family laughed at him: "God won’t destroy this city by fire!" [Genesis 19:13-14]. And that’s the same thing here. God said to Moses, "You tell the people, I shall send a hail upon this land" [Exodus 9:18-19]; and they’d never seen a hail, they’d never seen it rain. "I shall send a hail upon this land." Then the Book says, "He that feared the word of the Lord took his servants and his cattle, and found shelter and refuge! And he that regarded not the word of the Lord left his servants and his cattle in the field" [Exodus 9:20-21].
Now I don’t know of a better illustration of what it is to believe God than right there. When God says someday He shall judge this world by fire" [2 Peter 3:7-12]; they that fear the Lord seek refuge and a Savior: "Lord, Lord, my sins, when the judgment of God falls upon sin, what of my sin? And when the judgment of God falls upon this world, what of me, Lord? What of me?"
O then to the Rock may we fly,
To the Rock that is higher than high,
["The Rock that Is Higher than I" Erastus Johnson]
May we find refuge in Jesus. That’s why He is called our Savior. Fearing the wrath of God upon our sin and upon this world that shall be judged by God, we find a way, a salvation, a refuge in Him [Hebrews 6:18]. They that feared the word of the Lord took their cattle and their servants to find shelter when God said, "I will send the hail" [Exodus 9:20]. I must close.
While we sing our song, somebody this morning to give his heart to the Lord, somebody to put his life in the church, somebody who feels in his heart God’s call and God’s invitation, would you come and stand by me? Give me your hand, "Preacher, today, or yesterday, I gave my heart to the Lord; and today I want to put my life in the church." As God shall say the word and show the way, would you make it now, while we stand and sing.
THE PLAGUES OF EGYPT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Harden heart of Pharoah
1. Water turned to
5. Murrain that
killed the cattle
10. Death of firstborn sons
Difference between plagues 1 through 9 and plague 10
1. Brief interlude
between 9 and 10
2. Tenth plague
worse than all