Kevin DeYoung / Dec 20, 2015 / Exodus 7:1-13
DownloadMP3 Audio File
Sermon Summary / Transcript
Turn to Exodus 7:1-13. This passage is not exactly a Christmas story, but you’ll see that
everything connects to Christmas when it’s properly understood.
1 And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh,
and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I
command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people
of Israel go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though
I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not
listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my
people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of
judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch
out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among
them.” 6 Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the LORD commanded
them. 7 Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years
old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.
8 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you,
‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron,
‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a
serpent.’” 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the
LORD commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his
servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise
men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the
same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they
became serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Still
Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the
LORD had said.
Wheaton College was in the news this past week. We have a number of Wheaton alumni and
students in our congregation. It’s a fine evangelical school outside of Chicago. You may have
followed the story. A tenured political science professor, in an effort to show solidarity with
Muslims, took to wearing a hijab (the Muslim scarf that women wear in public). She explained
further that she did so not only to show solidarity with them, but because Christians and
Muslims “worship the same God.”
That was controversial, and the controversy continued to boil over this week, as the school
placed the professor on administrative leave—making clear that it wasn’t for her act of solidarity
with Muslims, but for her theological statements about Christianity and Islam. Wheaton’s
president, Phil Ryken, has been handling the situation with integrity, gentleness, patience, and a
lot of sensitivity.
Even the Chicago Tribune, which hasn’t been a big fan of Wheaton, historically, gave a pretty
balanced and sympathetic editorial on the situation this week. Their headline was, “The
Wheaton College tiff: Christianity, Islam and — surprise — remarkable tolerance”. Although the
editorial was not necessarily in agreement with Wheaton’s own theology or beliefs, they argued
that the principle of religious tolerance should extend to both the professor and to the institution.
Here’s what I put on my blog this week:
Muslims and Christians share important religious commonalities.
Abraham is an important figure in both Christianity and in Islam. Both
religions are staunchly monotheistic. Both recognize that Jesus was (at
least) a miraculous prophet. Both believe in the abiding significance of
inspired holy books.
This does not mean that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
The differences between Christianity and Islam are wide and deep. We
disagree about the Bible, the Koran, the place of Mohammed, the person
and work of Jesus Christ, what happened on the cross, what happens
when you die, and how you get to heaven, to name only a few major
differences. Christians worship a Triune God, one God in three
persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19-20). In the Christian
understanding, God is only truly known and truly worshiped when he is
known and worshiped as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
(John 1:18; 14:6-7; 9-11). The Christian God is the invisible God we
behold as visible in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6; Col. 1:15). On this
side of the incarnation, all other conceptions of God are not merely
incomplete, but idolatrous (John 8:39-59).
Now, if you follow the theological ins and outs, you may recognize the name of Miroslav Volf.
He’s about 60 years old, and is a very well-respected modern professor at Yale. He argues that
even though Christians and Muslims may talk about God in different ways, we are really talking
about and worshipping the same Being. His argument is nuanced, because he doesn’t make the
argument a question of theology—that is: do we, as worshipping subjects, have the same
understanding of God? He recognizes that we don’t. He makes a question of ‘ontology’,
meaning ‘being’. He questions whether we are referring to the same Being. Is the same Being
receiving our worship and hearing our prayers? So it’s not a matter of the subject and our
understanding of Him, but of the object and of what He is receiving. Volf is a Christian, and
would argue that even though Muslims and Christians have some different ways of explaining
and understanding God, the object is still the one true God.
The problem (despite the Biblical passages which I just referred to in my paragraph earlier) is
that this, in fact, denigrates the Muslim faith it purports to embrace. No doubt people who are
interested in these kind of ecumenical dialogs would find it fascinating (and maybe
encouraging), but I imagine most Muslims would say (with some incredulity), “So you, as a
Christian, are saying to me that we’re worshipping the same God? Even though I don’t really
know it and I don’t agree with you, yet I’m nevertheless actually worshipping your God, whom
you believe to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? We’re worshipping that same God?” I would imagine that even Muslims would say, “Whoa! Don’t tell me that I’m suddenly worshipping your God without realizing it.”
When the Bible deals with the question of other religions, it moves among several different
categories. Sometimes it will talk about other religions or gods as ‘nothing’. They’re just statues
and stone. Sometimes it refers to them in idolatrous categories. That’s quite common. It’s
worshipping the wrong god, or it’s trying to worship the right God in the wrong way. Other times
they’re demonic, and we say that false spirits and demons are actually standing behind this
idolatrous worship. The one category you do not find in the Bible is that these other religions are
just worshipping the same Being in different ways.
I don’t intend to spend any more time in this sermon on that important topic, but merely to set
the stage for these verses and the next several chapters in the book of Exodus. What we have
is a great conflict between YHWH, the one true God, and these false gods of the Egyptians.
Remember, the central question in the book of Exodus is a question which both Moses and
Pharaoh have asked: who is the Lord? Who is He? The book is called Exodus because they
flee Egypt, but you could call the book ‘Exhibit’, because it exhibits God’s greatness. Or you
could call it ‘Explain’, or ‘Express’, because, while the whole book is about this great deliverance
from slavery, God’s desire to make Himself known overarches even that great act of salvation.
The whole story of the Exodus is about the God who makes Himself known—and the story of
Christmas is about the God who makes Himself known. But at Christmas, He makes Himself
known not with great plagues raining down upon His enemies, but in a humble, quiet birth in a
manger in the out-of-the-way, little town of Bethlehem. We will see again that God wants to
make Himself known as these plagues fall upon Egypt. Look here in verse 5:
5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD…
That’s another thesis statement for the book—and certainly for the chapters ahead. Why 10
plagues? Why 10 times? So the Egyptians will “know that I am the LORD…” Who is the true God,
deserving of our worship? The point of this passage is that YHWH is God, and Pharaoh is not.
Making Moses as God to Pharaoh
This is a strange verse:
1 And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to
If Moses is like God to Pharaoh, then Pharaoh himself must not be God. What’s strange is that
there’s no connecting word, such as ‘like’, or ‘as’. Most English translations put that in just so
you don’t misunderstand what it means, and that is the sense of it. But it literally says, “See, I
have made you God to Pharaoh.” It’s not in the sense that Moses has become a divine being,
but that Moses (in his relationship to Pharaoh) is a kind of deity.
Why? Well, he has a prophet. We see that: “…Aaron shall be your prophet.” All that Moses says
will come true, and he will exert complete authority over Pharaoh and over Egypt. The authority
that God grants to Moses is so total, so complete, and so mind-blowing, that whatever he
speaks comes to pass. We can rightly say that Moses is God to Pharaoh.
To understand why God would say something like this, we have to remember that Pharaoh was
considered a god, and he considered himself a god. That was the understanding of the
Pharaohs. Think about the most famous Pharaoh. He really wasn’t the most impressive
Pharaoh, and he didn’t reign for that long, but because of archeological discoveries he’s
probably the one Pharaoh that everyone’s heard of. Who is he? King Tut! Yes, King
Tutankhamen. He reigned in the 14 th century B.C., and this exodus is probably happening in the
15 th century.
I mentioned King Tut because his full name, ‘Tutankhamen,’ means ‘The living image of Amon.’
Amon was a major Egyptian deity. I mention that to you not because he was the Pharaoh during
this time, but because the common understanding of each Pharaoh was that he was a living
representation of the gods. Amon was a major Egyptian deity who was fused with the sun-god
Ra, so you may have heard of Amon-Ra. He became the chief national deity, and King
Tutankhamen was the embodiment, the living reality, the living image of this god.
Amazingly, here in our text, it’s not the king of Egypt who will be god to Moses. That’s what
Pharaoh thinks: “You come in here. You’re some ostracized half-breed, trained up in some far-
off, god-forsaken place in Midian. You’ve come back here after you fled in terror because you
killed a man, and you want to identify with the slaves. Now tell me, who is god to whom? I’m
Pharaoh. I am god. And I’m certainly god to you, you little, piddling prophet.” But the Lord says,
“No, it’s just the opposite. This elderly shepherd vagabond who has come to free a bunch of
slaves shall be God to you.”
We all need humility. Some of us will embrace it willingly, and others will have it forced upon us
by God Himself. Let me suggest to you that one way is the easy way, and one way is the hard
way. I said that promise from Proverbs and James in my prayer at the beginning: “the Lord
opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.” If you want God against you, be proud. If
you want God to be for you and help you, then be humble enough to admit that you cannot save
yourself, and only He can save you through His Son. He loves to give grace to the humble.
Maybe you’re here this morning, thinking, “I barely can even get out of bed. I can’t handle all the
things I have going on in my family. I don’t have any presents ready, and it’s Christmas already
this week. I don’t have anything done.” If you feel like a failure, feel weak, and have come to the
end of yourself, then congratulations! You are just the sort of person that the Lord Jesus loves to
bless. If you feel secure, strong, and on top of it, and you feel capable and proud, then beware
that you don’t wind up like Pharaoh. The humble, like Moses, are much more than they seem;
while the proud, like Pharaoh, are so much less than they imagine.
Did you notice that Moses is pretty old? He’s 80. He’s going to live to be 120, so even if you
scale that back in terms of how long our lives typically are, he’s in the last third of his life. There
are some of you who, barring any sort of miraculous age-extending pill, are probably in the last third of your life. God may just be getting started with you. This is what God had for Moses when he was 80.
Did you think Moses was a typical American teenager or something? Did you think that he was
like, “Oh, I’m 15. Watch out world! Here I come. I’ve got plans, God.” And God said, “I’ve got
plans for you—big plans!” “Great. Can’t wait ‘til I graduate.” “I can’t wait ‘til you grow up.” “You
need me.” “I do. I’m going to use you.” “You need me right now!” “No, I’ll take you when you’re
80. Your whole life is going to be preparation until you’re 80.”
When you get to the last third of your life, you may be in retirement. Maybe you’re in the last
part of your career. Maybe it’s with the prayers that you do. Maybe it’s with the resources that
you give away. Maybe it’s with encouragement. I don’t know what it is. But this is God’s plan for
Moses as he enters the last third of his life. The most important part of his life is here, still to
I love this quote from D.L. Moody;
Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; then he spent forty
years on the backside of the desert realizing he was nobody; finally, he
spent the last forty years of his life learning what God can do with a
That’s pretty good. So if it takes you 80 years to find out that you’re a nobody, then you’re finally
somebody that God can really use. Pharaoh is not God; YHWH is. We see it here as He makes
Moses as God to Pharaoh, not the other way around.
Making Pharaoh’s heart hard
We’ve seen this before, and we’ll see it again. There are a number of different ways this is
expressed in Exodus. Sometimes it says, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Sometimes Pharaoh
hardened his own heart. Sometimes it simply says, “His heart was hardened.” All of these are
ways of showing that Pharaoh is responsible for the sin that he commits and for the hardness of
his heart, and at the same time is under the authority and sovereignty of God, who purposes to
harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to show His own glory. The point is, Pharaoh is not calling the
It also means that Moses is not calling the shots. “Moses, I’ve got a great assignment for you.
You’re going to be a world-famous preacher.” “All right. Sign me up.” “You’re going to go and
preach to the most famous, most powerful man on the planet.” “All right. Sign me up.” “And he
will never listen to you.” “Hmm…” Moses’ job was to preach, no matter the results.
God had a glorious purpose, and it did not involve the salvation of Pharaoh. That’s humbling,
both for Moses and for us. God always has good and glorious purposes, even with those who
oppose Him. As much as we pray (and we should) and as much as we evangelize (and we
must!), there are times when God’s good and glorious purposes do not involve the salvation of
those who have hardened their hearts like Pharaoh and those whom He has hardened.
This was a good testing ground for Moses. If you know anything about the rest of his ministry
among the Israelites, it was going to be a lot of the same. He was embarking on a long and
profound ministry of people not listening to him, as we’ll see as we move throughout the book.
We may be preoccupied with the question of the freedom of man. “What does this say about
man’s freedom? What does this say about free will?” We’ll have a sermon when we try to tackle
some of those questions. But note this: the book of Exodus is much more concerned about the
freedom of God. Is God free to do as He sees fit? Is He free to have mercy on whom He will
have mercy? Clearly, the Lord is God over Pharaoh.
There’s another layer to this hardening imagery which you may not have noticed. We have to
understand some of the Egyptian culture and religion. Many temples and tombs in Ancient
Egypt picture a heart weighing in a balance. There’s a famous story in an Egyptian book called
The Book of the Dead. It tells of a man named Ani who enters the throne room of judgment and
finds the god of death, Anubis, there. The god of death calls for Ani’s heart to be weighed in the
balance against a feather of righteousness. Like all religions, save for the gospel, the Egyptian
religion is rife with the principle of works righteousness.
The idea was that Ani’s heart would be weighed against the feather of righteousness. If his
heart was weighed down with evil deeds and thoughts, then it would tip the scales, heavier than
this feather of righteousness, and the god of death would send him to his great destruction.
There are all sorts of sayings of great fear and terror, because eternal bliss or torment was at
stake. Would his heart be light as a feather or hard, heavy, and weighed down?
This was a familiar Egyptian way of describing a heart that would not pass the final judgment.
Do you see what God is doing? Not only is He asserting His sovereign authority over Pharaoh,
but He is making clear, in a way that both the Israelites and the Egyptians would have
understood, that this Pharaoh’s heart will be weighed in the balances and will be found wanting.
It will be much, much harder and heavier than the feather of righteousness. God will be the one
to judge Pharaoh. The Lord will be the one to sit in judgment upon the king of Egypt, not the
other way around.
You may have heard of the C. S. Lewis book God in the Dock. It’s actually a collection of
essays. The title isn’t referring to a boat dock, but a trial stand. C. S. Lewis says, “We modern
men have put God in the dock. We have put Him on trial. We have stood back. We have folded
our arms. We have said, ‘God, prove Yourself to me. God, why don’t You show Yourself to me?
What kind of God are you? Let us consider together if this God exists. Let us consider together
if this God is worthy of our worship, prayers, affection, and obedience. You owe me, God! You
must do things for me. If You are truly God, my life would not be like this.’ We have put Him in
Of course, everything in the Bible tells us just the opposite. That’s the lesson that Pharaoh was
going to learn the hard way. He was not the one who would stand in judgment over YHWH.
YHWH had weighed his heart, and had found it heavy, hard, and wanting. YHWH is God, and
Pharaoh is not. We have seen it as He made Moses like God to Pharaoh. We have seen it as
He hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
Making a meal of Pharaoh’s snakes
There are 10 plagues, but there are actually 11 miracles. This is the first one. It’s not a plague,
per se, because the only collateral damage is a few rods and snakes. But it is the first of these
11 miracles and the first sign before the 10 plagues.
Some people have been anxious to find a natural explanation. Even today, you can find people
who are snake-charmers. They know how to push just the right spot on the back of a snake’s
head, and it kind of goes into some sort of living rigor mortis and stiffens up. When you throw it
down, it might look like a rod. Then you could pick it back up and squeeze that spot on its neck,
and it would become a snake again. I suppose that’s possible, but there’s nothing in the text that
suggests we are just having some animal tricks.
In fact, it’s explicitly positioned as a miracle both for Moses and for the magicians. They could
do it by their secret arts: dark magic. Satan’s power is real. It is not absolute, but it is real.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your
name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in
your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart
from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 24 says that false prophets and false christs will arise in the last days to perform signs
and miracles, and to deceive even the elect if that were possible. We also see in Acts 8 that
Simon the sorcerer has some tricks up his sleeve.
In other words, throughout the Bible we see examples of people who perform miracles with no
natural explanation! We’re not just talking sleight of hand, like putting a big bouquet of flowers
up their sleeve, or arranging the cards just so. These are not just mere illusions, but real,
miraculous, demonic power. By their secret arts, they were able to do the same thing.
So what we have in this little incident is not little at all, because what we see here is what we will
see over the course of the 10 plagues: namely that YHWH triumphs over all the false gods of
the people of Egypt.
The Egyptians thought, “We have really good reasons to believe in these gods. Look at the
magicians. They can do spells, tricks, and magic, and they can make staff turn into snakes, and
they can… Okay, so you got tricks? We got tricks.”
That’s why it’s so important that it says at the end, “But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs.”
Let me give you some Egyptian background again. So you know where I’m getting this, it comes
mainly from a book by John Currid, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, called
Against the gods: the Polemical Theology of the Old Testament. It’s a little book that came out in
2013. He also has a bigger book called Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament. That’s where I’m
getting this information.
Let’s just talk about the snake and the staff. Think of King Tut, just as an example of an iconic
Pharaoh. That picture that you’ve seen online has got this sort of crown. If you can picture it,
you’ll see that there is a serpent (a cobra) on King Tut’s brow. It’s a female serpent, called a
uraeus. This was very common for the Pharaohs. They wore this upon their crown, because the
serpent had divine power and authority. It was a symbol of Pharaoh’s majesty and deity.
Here’s one Ancient Egyptian text. It says that Pharaoh, when he took his throne, would repeat
these words. Listen to this. See if it doesn’t sound demonic, and see if it doesn’t also make
some sense of this passage. He would say:
O Great One,
O Magician, O Fiery Snake!
Let there be terror of me like the terror of thee.
Let there be fear of me like the fear of thee.
Let there be awe of me like the awe of thee.
Let me rule, a leader of the living.
Let me be powerful, a leader of spirits.
That was their version of “Put your hand on the Bible, and say, ‘I agree to uphold the
Constitution of the United States of America.’” It was their national vow that the Pharaoh would
take. So you see the significance of the snake.
Now for the rod—they had a number of myths about magicians turning inanimate objects into
animals. There’s one story of a wax crocodile that a priest threw into the lake, and then it
became a real crocodile. Then he went in and pulled out the crocodile, and it became wax
There are engravings and sculptures throughout every dynasty in Ancient Egypt showing the
Pharaoh holding some sort of staff that was sometimes called, literally, “the rod of god”. The rod
was associated with Osiris, the god of the afterlife. The Pharaohs were identified with his power
and authority. That’s why they held the staff in their hand.
You see that all of these images, from the staff to the snake, were potent images in Ancient
Egypt. It’s not by accident that Aaron has a staff that he throws down and it becomes a snake.
What we see here, in living color, is God’s power over nature, Pharaoh, Egypt, and all of Egypt’s
gods. It must have been a striking display of YHWH’s power—not really a bridge-building,
diplomatic exercise, per se. It was like entering the Oval Office (in the White House) and tearing
up an American flag—or, better yet, throwing down a little bald eagle, and then someone else’s
bird eats up your bald eagle. That’s what it was. The imagery would not have been lost upon the
Egyptians, as the snake—the symbol of Pharaoh’s power—and the rod—the staff in his hand,
exerting his authority—were swallowed up.
We’ll run into the same word (‘swallowed’) again in Exodus 15:12, when it says that Pharaoh
and his army were swallowed up by the Red Sea. This is just a little thing. We’re getting ready
for much bigger things to come. The Lord is God, and Pharaoh is not.
So how does this connect to Christmas? Well, what do we celebrate at Christmas? We
celebrate the Incarnation. We’ve sung and prayed about it. We celebrate Immanuel, God with
us. We celebrate God coming to Earth—this beautiful, encouraging, inspiring story of Christmas.
Moses was to be as God to Pharaoh. Jesus literally is God to us, the visible image of the
invisible God. This is why, no matter how decent we may be, and no matter our sincerity of
heart, we are not all worshipping the same God. In the story of the gospel, we understand that
the God we worship is the God who came to be born as a helpless babe to a virgin, who took on
human flesh. If this is the very heart of the mystery of our religion, and it is considered
unspeakable blasphemy for others, how can those two be the same?
You may be tracking with that, and say, “I agree with that. That’s good. That’s right. Yes! I’m
really glad that God beat down Pharaoh.” That’s not hard to sell. Nobody here came in here
thinking “You know what, I don’t want to hear more about Christmas. I just want to hear about
what a good guy Pharaoh was. Man, he gets a bad rap. That Pharaoh guy was great!” No,
you’re tracking with that.
But have you ever thought of it this way? Immanuel means “God with us.” Jesus is God. Have
you thought about what the flip-side of that means? Jesus is God, and you are not. I am not. It’s
all well to say, “YHWH is God, and not Pharaoh! Yeah, preach it!” It means that YHWH is God,
and you’re not. I’m not. It means that you don’t get to call the shots in your life. It means that
you’re not the one in control. It means that you can’t say, “God, I have a few suggestions. I have
a few things that I think would help You be a better God.”
You’re not God. You’re not the Savior. The whole holiday does not revolve around you. The food
you’re going to make, the presents you want to get, and the people you’re going to talk to are
not about you. You can take that as a great challenge and as bad news. It is bad news to the
proud. But it’s also incredibly good news to the humble. You can say, “Jesus is God, and I’m
not!” “Okay, true.” Some of us need to hear that. But it also means that Jesus is God, and you’re
not! I’m not! We don’t have to be. Immanuel is God with us! You don’t have to be God. You don’t
have to figure out this plan of self-salvation, self-deliverance, and self-control. The great story of
Christmas is that Jesus is God, and we are not.