E100 – November 19, 2017

“A Plague of Doubt” – Exodus 6-11

Pentecost 24 – November 19, 2017




About twenty years ago, I remember having three weddings on the same July Saturday. This coming Saturday, I have two memorial services. But that’s nothing compared to Martin Rinckart.


Martin Rinckart was a Lutheran pastor who came to EilenburgSaxony at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War – 1618 – 1648. The walled city of Eilenburg became the refuge for political and military fugitives, but the result was overcrowding, and deadly pestilence and famine. Armies overran the city three times – once the Austrians, twice the Swedes. The Rinckart home was a refuge for the victims, even though Martin was often hard-pressed to provide for his own family. During the height of a severe plague in 1637, Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in Eilenburg, conducting as many as 50 funerals in a day. He performed more than 4000 funerals in that year, including that of his own wife. And in the midst of all that he could write the famous hymn, “Nun Danket Alle Gott” – “Now Thank We All Our God.”


Yet, that plague was nothing compared to the Bubonic Plague of the 1300’s. Bubonic plague is a plague caused by a certain bacterium. It is mainly spread by infected fleas from small animals. One to seven days after exposure to the bacteria, flu-like symptoms develop. These include fever, headaches, and vomiting. Swollen and painful lymph nodes occur in the area closest to where the bacteria entered the skin and may break into open sores. The bubonic plague is believed to be the cause of the Black Death that swept through Asia, Europe, and Africa in the 14th century [see map] and killed an estimated 50 million people. This was about 25% to 60% of the European population.


  1. Doubts… dispelled!

Last Sunday, we left Moses (and his brother Aaron) poised and ready to take on the Egyptian Pharaoh for the express purpose of leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and back to the land of Canaan which God had promised hundreds of years earlier to Abraham and his descendants. Today and next Sunday we’re going to look at the events that took place which actually led Pharaoh to not just allow the Israelites to leave Egypt but to actively send them from Egypt. The next 6 chapters of the book of Exodus follow on a fast and furious and repetitive pace, describing… plagues, ten plagues that God inflicted on Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.


Last Sunday, we heard about Moses’ doubts – doubts about his own credentials and abilities, doubts about God’s identity, doubts about the Israelites’ acceptance of, trust in, and following of him as a leader, and finally doubts about whether the Pharaoh would even pay attention to him. In fact, after Moses made God’s first demand of “Let my people go” to Pharaoh – unsuccessfully, he came back to God with doubts and complaints: “Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” That’s at the end of Exodus 5, but as chapter 6 begins, God kind of says, “OK, stand back and watch! Because of my mighty hand, Pharaoh will let my people go.”


Moses went back to the Israelites and told them about the mighty acts of judgement that God intended, but the Israelites didn’t listen to him. Because of their rejection of him, Moses doubted that Pharaoh would listen either, and again he referred to his faltering lips and faulty speech. But God’s time for action had come, and he sent Moses back to Pharaoh.


One after another the plagues hit Egypt: the water of the Nile River turning to blood, then in succession, plagues of frogs, gnats and flies. The fifth plague struck the livestock – but just the livestock of the Egyptians, not the Israelites. The sixth plague afflicted people, giving them boils – maybe bubonic plague like. Then followed the plague of hail, the plague of locusts and the plague of darkness. The tenth plague… we’ll leave that one a mystery that will be solved and resolved next Sunday.


As Moses witnessed and was involved in the sending of these various plagues, his doubts were dispelled. His doubts about his own credentials were dispelled as God seemed to be using him as promised. His doubts about the Israelites’ trust in him were dispelled as they rallied around him with optimism and hope for a new future. His doubts about God’s power were dispelled as wonder after wonder flowed from God through his words and his staff.


  1. Battle – good vs. evil

This is a classic battle between good and evil. Some other examples in the Bible include the prophet Elijah’s contest with the 450 false prophets of Baal, calling down fire from heaven from their god, and the battle between shepherd boy David and the giant Philistine soldier Goliath. And before we finish today, we’ll talk a bit about the ultimate battle between Jesus and Satan, a battle for people’s souls and their eternal destinies.


This battle pitted Moses / the Israelites / their God against Pharaoh / the Egyptians / their gods. Many of the plagues directly attacked the gods of the Egyptians. The first plague strikes at the very heart of Pharaoh’s idolatry by turning the Nile and its resources into blood. The Nile was directly associated with Egyptian gods. Other examples include: the goddess Heqt who was a deified frog that assisted women in childbirth; Uatchit, the fly god of Egypt; various Egyptian gods associated with bulls and cows; and the attack on Ra, the sun-god, who could not give the Egyptians light during the 3-day plague of darkness.


In all of Moses’ confrontations with Pharaoh there was a common routine or cycle of what happened, kind of like the refrains that accompanied each day of God’s creation, or like the cycle we see in the Book of Judges – disobedience, oppression, crying out for help and then being delivered by a judge that God raised up. The story line in the sending of the plagues went something like this:

Moses to Pharaoh: “God says, ‘Let my people go.’”             P to M: “In your wildest dreams.”

Moses to Pharaoh: “God’s going to send a plague of…”       Pharaoh to Moses: “Bring it on.”

God to Egypt: “Take that!”                                                     Plague comes and devastates Egypt.

P to Moses: “Take your people and get outta here!”              Plague stops.

Pharaoh to Moses: “You’re not going anywhere!”                And it started all over again.


One interesting repeated phrase is about Pharaoh’s heart. In the first encounter between Moses and Pharaoh we are simply told that Pharaoh’s heart grew hard. In response God sends the first set of five plagues. After each plague Pharaoh had an opportunity to let the people go, but we read either that Pharaoh hardened his heart or his heart grew hard. That was all on him. With the second set of five plagues we hear that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Whereas God knew that Pharaoh would harden his heart, God still offered him all those chances to do the right thing. Eventually Pharaoh’s evil reaches a point of no return and God lures him into his own destruction. But that’s the final plague, and that is next week’s topic.


  1. No doubt about God’s purpose

We might ask the question: “Why did God bother with the ten plagues?” After all, he could have saved the ecosystem from being ravaged – by hail, by locusts, by bloody water – if he had gone straight to number ten. I didn’t tell you what number ten is. You’ve got to come back next Sunday for that one, but let me just say that number ten would definitely have gotten Pharaoh’s attention even without all the other nine. Or God could have just given Pharaoh a heart attack or something, and raised up a more tolerant and compassionate leader. But the answer to why ten plagues has two parts.

The first part is very broad – God wanted to proclaim His name, to let people know that He is the Lord. That’s the name He revealed to Moses. We dealt with this last Sunday. But revealing Himself to Moses wasn’t enough. He wanted the Israelites to know Him. He wanted the Egyptians to know Him. He wanted everybody in the whole world for all time to know that He is God, that He is powerful, and that He is worthy of our worship. God reminded Moses, “I have raised you up for this purpose… that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Again, God said, “Tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt with the Egyptians… that [they] may know that I am the Lord.”

The second part is more narrow – God works in the lives of individuals, shaping and preparing them for the work He has called them to do. Moses spent the first 40 years of his life probably developing some leadership skills in the royal privilege of the home of Pharaoh’s daughter. He spent the next 40 years out in the boondocks tending some sheep. His next 40 years were to be spent – combining his roles learned in the first 80 years. God wanted him to lead, and God wanted him to shepherd. He wanted Moses to lead God’s sheep, the Israelites, from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. It wasn’t all said and done when Pharaoh said “Get outta here” for the last time. There was still 40 years of learning, growing, developing, trusting as Moses and the Israelites traipsed through the wilderness toward their final destination. It was those wilderness wanderings that gave them their identity as God’s chosen people.


  1. No doubt about…

Sometimes, like Moses, we have doubts. We may doubt our credentials and abilities, or we may have questions about the relationships we have with others. But let’s focus on our doubts about God’s power, or His love. That’s the real dilemma when it comes to considering seemingly senseless suffering – like a plague, like terrorist attacks, like catastrophic “acts of God,” like the untimely personal death of a loved one, or even loss of a job, or family break-up. Why didn’t God do anything? Doesn’t He love us? Or isn’t He powerful enough to battle and defeat evil?


a. God’s power

The Psalms often talk about God’s power. In Psalm 8, David considers the heavens, the moon and the stars which God set in place, and He offers praise to God’s majestic name for His creative power. It’s similar in Psalm 19, where David begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands… In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun… It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other.” Again, this is about God’s creative power.

But the Old Testament is filled with other accounts of God’s power:

Yes, the ten plagues inflicted on Egypt;

A unique story in the book of Joshua in which God prevents the sun from setting so the Israelites can complete a battle against an enemy army;

Yes, that story of God sending down fire from heaven in response to Elijah’s prayer during his “contest” with the prophets of Baal;

God protecting three Israelite young men who were thrown into a fiery furnace in Babylon because they refused to worship a statue; and

God protecting Daniel from a den of hungry lions after he refused to pray to Persian king Darius.

The Old Testament offers no doubts about God’s power!


b. God’s love – Jesus!

The New Testament offers no doubts about God’s love! In order to restore sinful human beings to a right and righteous relationship with Himself, in order to put to rest all our doubts and to forgive our doubts of the past, God came to earth in person, in the person of His Son, Jesus, and showed His love in Jesus’ words and actions, but especially in His sacrificial, saving and redeeming death on the cross and His glorious and victorious resurrection from the dead. I can’t say it any better than these Bible verses:

“God demonstrates His own LOVE for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

“This is how God showed His LOVE among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”

“This is LOVE: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

In the ultimate battle between good and evil, between heaven and hell, between Jesus and Satan, good wins, heaven wins, Jesus wins! And that’s LOVE!! No doubt about it!


c. Our purpose

God’s call to Moses, God’s purpose for Moses was pretty clear – declare God’s name, and rescue God’s people. Our call, our purpose is not about rescuing people – Jesus has already done that, rescuing us from the slavery to sin and death! But our purpose is not unlike Moses’ purpose. We are called to declare God’s works, God’s name, God’s power, God’s love, God’s glory to the world! Again, I can’t say it better than these Bible verses:

“You are a chosen people… that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

“Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise Your Father in heaven.”

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

When doubts plague you… our hope is in the perfectly matched power and love of God in Jesus! Amen.

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