On the journey through Exodus, it doesn’t take long to get to the epic contest of wills between Moses and Pharaoh (Ex. 7-12). We find Moses’ repeated appeals to Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go to the wilderness to worship their God, and Pharaoh’s stubborn refusals, culminating in ten horrific plagues of judgment against Egypt. Even at their most creative and macabre, Stephen King or Wes Craven couldn’t conjure up a story as shocking and terrifying as this. It is a tale of triumphant rescue of one people group and devastation of another at the hand of Almighty God. What are we to understand from this?
This is some really hard theological ground to tread. Passages like this support Richard Dawkins’ claims that the God of the Old Testament, if he really existed, was one evil dude. I don’t believe that of course, but I admit I have fumbled at times in my attempts to explain God’s role in the story. I’ll keep working on my apologetics. Regardless, I can seek an application, a way for this Scripture to come to life in the here and now. Every portion of Scripture is significant. What is Holy Spirit teaching me here, right now?
For your edification, I’ll list the plagues in order: All the water was turned to blood—sickening! Frogs everywhere, which then died and lay in huge stinking mounds. Gnats so thick the air was black with them. Flies so pervasive they “threw the whole nation into chaos.” A deadly plague instantly killing all livestock. Festering boils on the skin of all humans and animals. Relentless lightning and hailstones that obliterated every standing stalk of grain or living thing that had been left out in the open. Locusts that completely covered the ground, leaving no trace of plant life. Darkness so complete that it was palpable, stopping all movement. Finally, the death of the firstborn son of every Egyptian family, eliciting a wail of grief “like no one has heard before or will ever hear again.” Excruciating.
We see (if we are willing), that starting with the plague of flies, the Lord began to preach a message through the unfolding events. As flies overwhelmed the atmosphere of Egypt, he spared the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived, declaring, “I will make a clear distinction between my people and your people.” When the Egyptian livestock perished, “the Israelites didn’t lose a single animal.” When Egypt was obliterated by hailstones, “the only place without hail was the region of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived.” While the Egyptians were afraid to move about in utter darkness, “there was light as usual where the people of Israel lived.” As every Egyptian mother and father wailed inconsolably over the loss of their sons, among the Israelites there was such calm that not even the barking of a dog was heard. “Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites.”
God makes distinctions. In the case of Israel vs. Egypt, the line of distinction seems to have been drawn nationally, but it’s not as clear cut as that. There were many non-Hebrew souls who tagged along as the Israelites made their way across the Red Sea on dry ground (12:38). The invitation to be freed was not entirely based on membership in the Hebrew family.
In our current dispensation of grace, God’s distinction is not based on ethnicity, or race, or sex, or economic status, or social position. So what type of distinction does God make? Only one.
The Bible throughout supports the principle that God distinguishes between people who love, worship, and believe in him and those who do not. The only distinction amongst people that seems to matter to God is that some choose to enter his kingdom reality and others choose to remain in a purely earthly, carnal realm. Like Pharaoh, some people harden their hearts and refuse to bow down to a holy, righteous God. Egypt represents the world’s system. The Promised Land is just that—a land promised to those who will follow God out of Egypt, through the sea, and into the wilderness.
This is why salvation is such a big deal, and why every believer is commissioned to spread the gospel of the kingdom of God. It really is good news. There is deliverance, there is freedom, there is provision. A healthy fear of God comes with it, one that recognizes the fatal consequence of remaining in stubborn unbelief.
I’ve called this blog, “You Are Not Normal,” because when I go to visit my sisters in prison, I almost always tell them this. I say,
“You’re not normal, you know. And it’s not because you’re incarcerated in this strange, noisy, uncomfortable place, wearing white, under punishment by the state. I’m a free woman, and I’m not normal either. We’re not normal because God took our mortal bodies and made them immortal. He took natural human beings who were subject to degradation and death, and he filled us with his eternal, resurrection life. He has made us free, whether inside or outside prison walls. This kingdom life is happening right now, in this place, and however you may feel about it, you’re not normal.”
God makes a distinction because of our faith. Because of this, we’ve escaped the curse of Adam, the pestilence that torments, the cruelty of sin, the fear of darkness, and the stink of death. We’re not normal.