Exodus, chapters 9-11; Luke, chapter 24
Exodus 9:13-26 (NLT):
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. If you don’t, I will send more plagues on you and your officials and your people. Then you will know that there is no one like me in all the earth. By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose – to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth. But you still lord it over my people and refuse to let them go. So tomorrow at this time I will send a hailstorm more devastating than any in all the history of Egypt. Quick! Order your livestock and servants to come in from the fields to find shelter. Any person or animal left outside will die when the hail falls.’”
Some of Pharaoh’s officials were afraid because of what the Lord had said. They quickly brought their servants and livestock in from the fields. But those who paid no attention to the word of the Lord left theirs out in the open. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Lift your hand toward the sky so hail may fall on the people, the livestock, and all the plants throughout the land of Egypt.”
So Moses lifted his staff toward the sky, and the Lord sent thunder and fail, and lightning flashed toward the earth. The Lord sent a tremendous hailstorm against all the land of Egypt. Never in all the history of Egypt had there been a storm like that, with such devastating hail and continuous lightning. It left all Egypt in ruins. The hail struck down everything in the open field – people, animals, and plants alike. Even the trees were destroyed. The only place without hail was the region of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived.
It’s almost comical to think about it. God sends plague after plague, and Pharaoh keeps hardening his heart and refusing to do what God commands. By this point, at least some of the Egyptians were convinced. Some of Pharaoh’s officials were afraid because of what the Lord had said. They quickly brought their servants and livestock in from the fields. They couldn’t convince Pharaoh to listen to God, but they were convinced.
At some points in Scripture, we read that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” – as though Pharaoh had no say in the matter. However, I believe that God’s actions were designed to give even Pharaoh a chance to relent. Why do I believe that? By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose – to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.
The literal translation of this Hebrew phrase is not about “fame” as much as it is God’s name: “in order to declare my Name in all the land.” The word translated “fame” by the NLT and “name” in the more literal translation can refer to both: “It is what specifically identifies a person or anything.” So in this instance, God was acting so that Pharaoh – and everyone else – would know that He is God.
“Spared for a Purpose”
In this passage, we see that God shows mercy even to Pharaoh. God certainly could have wiped Pharaoh out; he could have done it at the very beginning of the story. At any point along the way, he could have said, “Enough!” But he continued to act as he did to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.
Why? Not because God is a raging egomaniac, demanding that everyone acknowledge Him. No, his desire is that people would see his power and know who he is and respond to him. That’s what we start to see with some of the Egyptians in this passage. They responded to God’s proclamation that the hail would come; they quickly brought their servants and livestock in from the fields. Now, I’m not saying that those people entered into a faith relationship with the God of Israel – but they were at least listening. When people start to listen to God, God will continue to reach out to them.
By now I could have lifted my hand…but I have spared you for a purpose.
There are obvious parallels between this passage and the world we live in today. God has spoken – through His Word – and told people what is going to happen. By now, he could have lifted his hand… But as Peter tells us, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He doesn’t want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9, NLT).
By now I could have lifted my hand…but I have spared you for a purpose. His purpose is what it has always been: to show us mercy, that we might be reconciled to him. Throughout history God has worked to draw us back to himself. He could have wiped the earth clean; he did it once with the flood. And he doesn’t want our praise because he “needs” it; he wants our praise so others will come to know him. He wants his Name to be known throughout the earth because he wants people to come to know him.
Father, thank you for the mercy which you have shown us. By rights, you could have lifted your hand and wiped the earth clean – but you have spared us for a purpose. Help us to recognize that purpose, and to join you in it, that others may come to know you. Amen.