Nine plagues there have been. Nine times God has very clearly shown Pharaoh that He is God. Nine times Pharaoh has had the chance to acknowledge that Yahweh is God and the Hebrews (Israel) are His people. Nine times the whole of Egypt has had to suffer the painful inconvenience caused by Pharaoh’s hardness of heart, and now it is about to get personal.
The first nine plagues have been mere inconveniences compared to what is coming, each plague has shown the impotence of one of Egypt’s many gods, but this last stroke is aimed directly at Pharaoh. In Egypt, Pharaoh was worshipped as a god, he was said to be the first born son of Ra (the sun god and the highest of all gods).
You might think: “That’s a bit harsh. Pharaoh could not really help it, God hardened his heart (v10), he did not stand a chance. Even as early as chapter 4 God says that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. How can God punish Pharaoh for something He caused Himself?” When we look at the plagues, we see that in the first five, and the seventh plague, it is not God but Pharaoh who hardens his heart. I think the key verse is Exodus 9:34 (after the seventh plague):
But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
If this chapter shows us anything it is that sin is very serious. When we sin, it starts to process of hardening our heart against the will of God (sometimes we refer to this as having our conscience blunted, which is essentially the same thing). We know something is wrong, but we ignore it, and slowly we ‘get used to it’. I suspect Pharaoh must have been a long way down this road to order the death of the newborn sons of Israel, and even when he can no longer deny the power of the God of Israel, he continues in sin, and ignores God’s will. Then there seems to come a point of no return, a point where God says “enough”. This seems a very different God than the one we read about in Psalm 103:
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
At this point it would be wise to remember one of the main differences between the old and the new testament: The old testament shows us the seriousness of sin, the new shows us God’s way out of it. And God is slow to anger, even here in Exodus. Even at this stage He gets Moses to warn Pharaoh of what is about to happen: verses 4-8 are obviously spoken to Pharaoh. Even at this point He still gives Pharaoh the change to repent. I think that even if God had not hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh would have done so himself. Consistent and conscious opposition to God’s will have brought him to a place where he will no longer listen, and the consequences are going to be severe.
That leads us to the question: “How soft is my heart towards God?” Have you got sin in your life? Big or small, open or hidden, socially acceptable or not. You might not even call it sin, maybe it a ‘problem, an ‘issue’, ‘just one of those things’. Maybe you can’t see anything wrong with it, or you think ‘I doesn’t harm anyone’. I don’t care what you call it, or how socially acceptable it is, the bible calls it sin! Sin lies to you about what is right and wrong, it kills everything you care for, and destroys everything that is good. It slowly eats away at you until you get to a point where you can no longer hear God voice and your heart has become hard toward the will of God. Flee from sin, be radical, cut it out of your life, resist it. Jesus himself put it like this in Matthew 5:
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
And in James 4 we read:
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
God hates sin. He hates it because of what it does to you: it takes you away from Him. It is his love for you that causes him to hate sin. He wants the very best for you, for you to be happy and live a fulfilled life. Listen to Him, let His gentle voice guide you. Take sin seriously and radically cut it out of your life. You have been made holy in Christ, and He provides the strength for you to live a holy life. Learn the lesson of Exodus 11 and don’t let your heart be hardened.