The ten plagues that God inflicted on Egypt were many things—a display of His power, a judgment on false gods. But to Pharaoh, they were steps in the process of hardening his heart.
God’s commandment was very plain: “Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness” (Exo. 5:1). Pharaoh refused. But he refused in revealing ways. Perhaps we will see some of our own attempts to avoid God reflected here.
He Claimed Ignorance
Pharaoh’s initial response was, “who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go” (5:2).
Actually, this isn’t so bad, if it is an honest question one intends to pursue. When a Christian says, “you shouldn’t live with your girlfriend,” the listener may respond, “Why not? Says who?” This is a great opportunity to discuss God and His word.
But Pharaoh wasn’t interested in discovering God, and turned away from Moses. Ultimately, ignorance does not save. People should know the Lord. God has made His divine nature evident in creation, “so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
He Lashed Out in Anger
Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh once again and politely repeated the command. “Please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.” Pharaoh did not simply refuse this time. He struck back! He accused Moses of causing the Hebrew slaves to get lazy. He increased their labors as punishment (5:4-14).
Often, people who get mad at God will shake their fist at the heavens, or worse, take out their anger on God’s people. This is simply a defense mechanism, and it does not solve anything.
God does not deserve to be hated for trying to save. It’s true that salvation requires some difficult changes, but God will help the soft-hearted make those changes.
He Convinced Himself Not to Care
The time had come for God to display His wonders. God turned the Nile red as blood, as well as the streams, pools, reservoirs, and jars throughout the land, for seven long days.
Pharaoh took notice, but his magicians could mimic the effect, and so Pharaoh “did not listen … as the Lord had said. Then Pharaoh turned and went into this house with no concern even for this” (7:22-23). The Egyptians figured out how to dig holes for water.
God may use a surprising passage of Scripture or a startling event to get a person’s attention. But if he doesn’t respond and investigate salvation quickly, the moment will pass, he will push God away, and once again become satisfied with his everyday life.
He Started to Repent, But Only While the Pain Lasted
God sent the second plague; disgusting frogs overran the land. Pharaoh called Moses and begged, “entreat the Lord that He remove the frogs from me … and I will let the people go” (8:8). But, Pharaoh’s willingness to obey vanished as fast as the frogs (8:15).
Don’t be that guy who gets in trouble and prays, “God, if you just keep me out of prison, I’ll turn my life around,” or, “God, if you heal my daughter, I’ll become a Christian,” but who returns to the world soon after God answers the prayer. Better yet, don’t attempt in the first place to add conditions to your relationship with God.
He Tried To Bargain with God
God sent plagues three and four. Pharaoh called Moses and said, “go, sacrifice to your God within the land” (8:25). But that was not the command! Pharaoh gave in a little more: “you shall not go very far away” (8:28). Still, Moses refused to budge.
When God commands, man is not in a position to come to the table for negotiation. We must humbly submit to God’s majesty. We must obey sincerely, fully, and immediately.
He Offered to Obey, But with Reservations
God sent plagues five, six, and seven. Pharaoh agreed to let them go except the women and children (10:8-11). God sent plagues eight and nine, and Pharaoh agreed to let them go except the animals (10:24-26). Moses replied, “not a hoof shall be left behind!”
Occasionally a student on the verge of conversion will say, “I’m ready to become a Christian, but don’t expect me to quit drinking.” Or cussing. Or sleeping around. But, there is no possession, no activity, no relationship that is above God’s claim. Those who wish to serve God can hold nothing back (Mark 9:43, Matt. 10:32-39, Luke 14:33).
Finally, Pharaoh said “Get away from me … do not see my face again!” (10:28). The time for Pharaoh to soften his heart and obey had passed. The tenth and worst plague—the death of the firstborn sons—struck the land. God compelled Pharaoh to release the people. When Pharaoh again changed his mind and pursued, he and his army were destroyed (12:29), while the children of Israel escaped to freedom.
Avoid the hard-hearted pattern of Pharaoh, or risk spiritual ruin (4:21)! —John Guzzetta