I want to pause for a second and look at where we have been concerning these plagues. This today being the fifth plague. We have seen some patterns that we must not miss.
First of all, as you look at the plagues, you need to remember that the plagues manifest God’s redemptive work of destruction. When He comes about redeeming His people, it means the tearing down of the strongholds of Satan. And the Lord’s work of redemption includes not only purchasing His people at a price, but also destroying the forces that are made against them. And when you reflect upon the drama of redemption itself, part of that drama of redemption is God’s conquest of the powers of darkness. In Exodus, 7 through 11, especially as we read about what God does in the plagues, we see Him bringing plagues against the enemies of His people. That in and of itself is part of His act of redemption. It’s a destruction work, but it is part of the act of redemption. The towers of God’s enemies must be torn down if His people are to be safe and free. And so alongside of His positive work of rescuing his own people, there is a negative work of shattering the resistance to His rule.
This is something that you see not only in the Old Testament, but also, and we might say especially, in the New Testament. Christ’s work on our behalf in the New Testament is often pictured in terms of the destroying of those forces which are arrayed against His people.
Matthew 12:28–29 (ESV)
28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
In fact, when John Calvin is making a comment on John, chapter 16, verse 33, where Jesus says “I have overcome the world,” Calvin says that Jesus means that He has overcome every spiritual force aligned against His people. He has disarmed the spiritual forces of wickedness, and led captivity captive, and so we are now more than conquerors because Christ has vanquished all that would oppose God’s elect: Death, life, angels and demons. And so we see this in the plague narratives themselves, God tearing down that which is opposed to His people. That’s one thing we see.
Secondly, however, and this may be the most important theme we have seen so far, the plagues serve to manifest the Lordship of God. At the very outset of the plagues, we are told what God’s purpose is in the great contest that is going to ensue between Him and Pharaoh. In Exodus 7, verse 5 the Lord says very emphatically to Moses, the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. Now, of course, it is repeated over and over that God wants people to know that He is the Lord. But in this great contest, God plans at the end for the Egyptians to know very well who the Lord, the God of the Hebrews is, and just how awesome in might He is. That perhaps is one of the greatest themes that you find in the stories of the plagues.
Third, let’s notice a few patterns that we’ve already seen in the plagues so far, a few trends perhaps. In the first three plagues, the magicians reproduced the sign. Or we might say it this way. In the first two plagues and in the snake incident, the magicians reproduced the sign. In the third plague, the magicians admit defeat, and they admit the divine origin of the sign which Moses has done. Aaron’s staff is used in the first three plagues and in the encounter with the magicians and the snake. It’s never used again as far as we know. Pharaoh’s heart is hardened after the snake encounter and also in each of the first three plagues. It won’t be the last time that that is said about Pharaoh. Over and over in this passage, we see it repeated that Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. All these things we have seen so far in the study of the plagues.
Every time Pharoah’s heart is hardened and he refuses to let God’s people go, Satan’s realm takes another hard hit of redemptive destruction. Satan is destroying his own kingdom by his refusal to concede to God.
9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, 3 behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. 4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.” ’ ” 5 And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” 6 And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. 7 And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
1. God Sends Moses to Pharoah
9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, 3 behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks.
As with the rest of the plagues, this one came with a clear warning to do what God tells him or else there will be consequences. All of the Egyptian livestock will be lost. This will cause loss of food and loss of finances. Personal property will be lost in this 5th plague.
Livestock was a very precious commodity to the Egyptians. Here, the word for plague is the Hebrew word for pestilence. No one really knows what disease it was or perhaps God created something entirely unique for that situation but it was very infectious and fatal to all the domestic animals in Egypt.
It was literally, from the Hebrew a hard pestilence. Many see this in line with Pharoah’s hard heart. A very hard disease for a very hard heart. It was a terrible pestilence that swept across Egypt. It goes from the finger of God with the gnats to now the hand of God in verse 3.
2. God Separates His People From the Plague
4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.” ’ ” 5 And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.”
Here we see this pestilence is divinely controlled. Only the Egyptians are loosing animals it is not affecting the Israelites’ herds. The point is this deadly plague is an act of God.
Does God control pestilence? Does God control calamity? Yes. He is sovereign over all things. Things don’t just happen God is working.
We see this not only from the fact that the deadly disease only infected the Egyptian’s cattle but also from the fact that God tells Moses exactly when it will happen.
Time and time again we see the Lord tell us something He’s going to do and then it happens just like He said it would. We are to see from this that God means what He says and has the authority and power to do what He says. God never fails to do what He promises He will do. This should give us great fear of God and great confidence in God.
He will judge the wicked and He will show grace to His own. Like last time we see that Israelites were sinners also but they belonged to God. There is a vast distinction between God’s people and Satan’s people, even God’s cows and Satan’s cows.
Egypt loved their sacred cows. The goddess Isis is depicted as having cow horns. Hathor another Egyptian goddess has a head of a cow. She is supposed to be the goddess of love, beauty, fertility and motherhood. She also is seen as the protector of Pharoah. God has dealt a deathblow to these false goddesses of Egypt. All the cows are dead. God is sovereign and all powerful and they are nothing.
As a side note, these false gods come into play in Exodus 32 where the rebellious Israelites make the golden calf and declare that this is the god who brought them out of Egypt.
One writer tells us the pagan priests watched as their sacred holy cows staggered around their sacred pens until they fell over dead.
3. God Did What He Said He Would Do
6 And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. 7 And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
I want us to realize something here. God is doing all this. Moses and Aaron are not doing anything, God is doing it.
We see here that He does exactly what He said He would do. What’s also amazing is that Pharoah also does what God said he would do.
Remember that God tells Moses to go to Pharoah but he will not listen. Pharoah’s hard heart is working in God’s divine plan. Every time Pharoah refuses God destroys that much more of Pharoah’s kingdom.
4. The Madness of Idolatry
We see in these plagues the complete madness of idolatry. Just what does it take to worship things that are no gods at all? Is idolatry madness? Idolatry is the mark of the fall and sin. That mankind would be so headstrong and hardened like Pharoah and so out to glorify himself that he or I should say we will worship a make believe god that we can control rather than the true God who is sovereign over all.
That is utter madness. Mankind does this knowing full well there will be punishment or eternal consequences in the end. God will have the final word.
I want to read a very well-known passage from Romans and look at how closely this fits Pharoah. As I read lets see together if there are any places where we think…that’s Pharoah
Romans 1:18–25 (ESV)
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
5. Examining a Hard Heart
Pharoah is the poster child for skepticism. A skeptic will not believe no matter what you do or say. No matter what kind of proof you have they will not believe. You can answer their questions and show them things from the Bible but unless God works first you are just talking to a brick wall.
So, God performed miracles right before his eyes and they had no effect. He would not listen to God.
Then we see the ministry of Jesus. What more could He have done to convince people? He healed them and did many miracles and signs right before their eyes and they did not listen or repent. So much so that Jesus called them an evil and adulterous generation because they only wanted more signs but never repented.
We realize, of course, Pharoah’s unbelief was all part of God’s plan to destroy Egypt. Yet I think it helps us to see a little bit how a hard heart works
The plague hit Egypt but not Goshen
God told Pharoah when it would happen
Something else that Moses reports to us…
7 And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
Pharoah sent out what we could call fact finders. They discovered that these things happened just as God said. His heart was still hard.
So, with the fact finders Pharoah learned that things were exactly as God said. So, could we say he knew the facts…he had a head knowledge but obviously not a heart knowledge. Can we know things about God without truly having saving faith?
Someone may know things about Jesus and the Bible and still not be a Christian.
Head knowledge is different than heart knowledge.
Ephesians 4:17–24 (ESV)
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
A hard heart stands between a person and salvation. What separates lost people from God is the same thing that kept Pharoah separate from God…a hard heart.
A hard heart is a heart that is unyielding to spiritual truth. It sees the work of God whether as Pharoah saw the plagues or as the people in Jesus’ day saw the miracles and signs or as the people in our day see each and every day God’s creation and still there is an unyielding hard heart.
So, what we must seek after is an understanding and yielding and believing heart. Paul wrote about this dynamic…
Romans 10:8–13 (ESV)
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
This is a miracle of God to take a sinner’s dead, stony, and hard heart and replace it with a heart that’s alive and one that can respond to God.
An understanding heart is one that is moved emotionally by the truth the mind comprehends this comes from an understanding heart.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Exodus: The Fifth Plague: Death of Livestock. by J. Ligon Duncan
Exodus Philip Ryken
Exodus by Alexander