Exodus 10:1—20


I think most children enjoy hearing stories about their parent’s childhood. I know I enjoyed hearing my dad talk about his adventures as a child and then a young man in the north woods of Wisconsin and my mom’s growing up among the farmers of southern Wisconsin. My dad fought in WWII and my siblings and I would often try to get him to tell us stories about his war experience though he would seldom do so. As a child, I think my interest in their lives was mainly due to my surprise that they actually had a life before I came along and my wonder that they were children like me at one time. However, once I became an adult, my interest in my parents’ past became more mature as I sought to understand their history and thus something of my own. I am eager to compare my life with their lives in order to evaluate how I am doing. My admiration for my parents has grown tremendously as I’ve understood what they endured in their lives before I came along.

All parents tell their children stories of their past and all children enjoy hearing most of those stories. However, for the Christian parent, our stories are not to merely recount our experience. Rather, as we see in today’s passage, God wants us to be telling our children the stories of his work in the world. When we tell our children the stories of our lives we are to fit our story into God’s story. God’s story is how he is working in the world to make his name great in the salvation of his people. If you look at vv. 1-2 you can see this clearly spelled out. Listen to the chain of purpose clauses. God tells Moses that he hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he can multiply his miraculous signs against Egypt so that each Israelite parent can tell their children and grandchildren about how Yahweh dealt harshly with the Egyptians and performed all these miraculous signs so that all Israel, as defined by these three generations, might know the Lord. If you will look down to v. 9 you will see that Moses defines the people that God is saving as including both young and old, men and women by implication and their sons and daughters. As the people of God they are gathered together across sexes and across the generations in order to worship the Lord.

God’s assumption in this passage is that there is a day coming when he will be done with Pharaoh and Israel will be free from their slavery. At that time they will be God’s people in order to worship him. At that time all those who have witnessed these great miracles will need to tell those who are born after these events about them. The work of creating and saving God’s people happens at a historical moment, through an historical process and then it is the task of that saved people to continue to recount the story of how God made us into a people to those who come after us. Right in vv. 1-2 God gives Moses the primary task that faces the church and every Christian parent. In the case of Israel God sent his signs and wonders against Pharaoh and destroyed Egypt in order to deliver them from their slavery. In the case of the church, God has worked at a point in time to save us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As it was the task of the people of Israel to tell each succeeding generation about how God dealt harshly with Pharaoh in order to make them his people so it is the task of the church and of each member of it to retell the story of how God saved us so that our children and all those whom God brings to us learn this story of how God delivered his people.

When we look at how Israel fulfilled this task through the centuries we discover that the point isn’t merely to retell the events that occurred. Rather, as Moses has done in these chapters we are studying, we are to explain the events and then what the events mean. The entire Bible is taken up with this task. It tells us what God has done but in the telling it tells us what these events mean. In telling us the meaning of these events we discover the meaning of our own stories. We find out how our story fits into this bigger story of God’s saving his people. God, in order to show off his grace and power and justice and holiness and love has acted in history to save a people for himself. The salvation that God has worked is independent of us and outside of us. In this story, Israel is barely mentioned. Their salvation is the work of God, not their work. It is the same for the salvation of the church. God acted independent of those he came to save. Our salvation is his work, not our work. He secured our salvation through the work of Christ some 2000 years ago.

In the OT, he worked to make Israel into his people. All that he did in the OT pointed ahead to the fulfillment of his promise, the coming of Jesus into the world to be the Savior of all his people. Therefore, as we look at the story of God’s dealing with Pharaoh and Israel we find out what kinds of things we are to tell the succeeding generations about God’s work in the world. We must tell the facts and we must tell what the facts mean. Frankly, this is my task each Sunday morning. We look at what the Bible tells us about God’s actions and what his actions tell us about him. Our goal is to see and delight in God’s greatness through seeing with Spirit enabled eyes. It is my prayer and my own ambition that this is what every parent and grandparent in here is seeking to do with their children and grandchildren. It is my prayer that this is what happens in our small groups and as we talk with one another during the week. We are to recount the stories of God’s working so that the succeeding generations know the Lord. This morning I am going to tell how God dealt harshly with the Egyptians so that we all might know him better.


God wants succeeding generations to know him. Therefore, he wants us to tell them about…

I. His sovereignty (vv. 1-3, 13-15 & 19-20)

I want you to imagine with me a conversation between a 30-year-old Jewish father and his ten-year-old son, ten years after the Exodus. They are sitting by the family campfire outside their tent on a clear, cool desert night. The son asks his father to tell him the story of his being a slave in Egypt and how he and the one million other Hebrew people escaped from the powerful Egyptians. “Well son, you know I don’t like to talk about my life as a slave. From the time I was about your age, I got up every morning at the break of dawn and went with my father and two older brothers to brick making yards. We did what our ancestors had done for hundreds of years. When I first started it was my job to throw the straw into the mixture of clay, sand and gravel that my brothers mixed and from which my father formed the bricks that were then baked in the kilns. As I got older and stronger, I joined my brothers in mixing the material and then putting the formed bricks in the kilns. We were miserable. We worked under the watchful eyes of the Egyptian slave drivers. They continually mocked us and insulted us. They treated us like we were animals rather than humans.

I’ll never forget the day Moses and Aaron first showed up. It was one of our rare days off. It was an Egyptian religious holiday and so all of our taskmasters were worshipping the sun god, Ra. My dad, your grandfather, was an elder in our tribe, the tribe of Judah and he joined the other elders to meet with Moses and Aaron. When he came home that evening he was very excited. He said that Yahweh, the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had appeared to Moses in the desert and that he had seen our misery and was going to deliver us from the hand of Pharaoh. He talked about the three miraculous signs that Moses and Aaron performed. The staff had turned into a snake and then back to a staff again when he grabbed its tail. Aaron placed his hand in his cloak and when he pulled it out it was leprous and when he placed it back into his cloak it came out clean. Then he poured out water from a pitcher and it turned to blood as he poured it out on the ground. That night mother made a special meal and we laughed and talked late into the night with our aunts and uncles and cousins.

When I got up the next morning, the sun was already in the middle of the morning sky. Mother told my brothers and I that father had gone with some of the elders along with Moses and Aaron to the royal capital. Moses and Aaron were going to tell Pharaoh that the Lord commanded him to let us go. All that day we nervously waited for the return of the delegation. On one hand, we were giddy with thoughts of freedom and of our return to the land of Canaan. On the other hand, we worried over what the Pharaoh would do when Moses and Aaron commanded him to let us go. Late that afternoon father and the other elders returned home to Goshen. Stories of Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh quickly spread through our homes. We discovered that Pharaoh’s anger had been kindled against us. We spent that night in dread and fear as we awaited the morning and our return to making bricks.

The sound of trumpets and the marching of Egyptian soldiers awakened us well before sunrise. Father and the other Hebrew foremen were called to a special meeting while the rest of us marched off the to the brick kilns. My father returned to our brick making operation with terror in his eyes. He informed us that the Egyptians were no longer going to give us straw for making bricks. We had to find our own straw. However, we still had to make the same number of bricks. We spent most of that morning going out into the surrounding fields to gather straw and so by the end of that day we had only made about ½ of our quota of bricks. Four Egyptian soldiers then took my father and beat him in front of us because we had not made our quota. My brothers and I half carried our bruised and bloodied father home that night. The next days were a living hell as we frantically worked to gather straw and make the same number of bricks. Every night dad was beaten. Each night the beatings grew more severe until on the sixth night, the Egyptians killed him. My oldest brother became the foreman at that time. He was part of the delegation that went to Pharaoh to ask why they were being required to make the same number of bricks but not being given the straw to make the bricks. He spit in Moses’ face after that meeting with Pharaoh. He blamed Moses for dad’s death and for making our lives worse, not better, like he promised. During the next 8 months, we lived in daily terror and misery until the day that the soldiers came not to take us to work but to tell us to leave the land of Egypt.

The father paused with a pained expression on his face as he remembered his father and the misery of those days. His son, seeing the pain on his face and the tears in his eyes, then asked him, “Why did the Lord permit Pharaoh to do this? Why did grandpa have to die and all those other men get beat up? Why didn’t God strike Pharaoh and all Egypt dead and set our people free right away, like he promised? Why did he permit our people to become slaves in the first place? Why did he leave us in slavery for all those years?”

How should this father answer this son? Up to this point, he has merely recited events. He has told the story of his life. However, now he is being asked what these events mean. He is being asked to explain how the particular details of his life fit into the bigger story. How will he answer? There are lots of options but only one that is true. Let me give you two of the most popular answers that this child might be given. The father’s face hardened at his son’s question. “Well son, the fact of the matter is, there is no “Lord.” What happened to us was so cruel that I have not been able to believe that there is any ‘God of the Hebrews.’ The suffering we endured for hundreds of years and the cruelty I witnessed in the slave camp of Goshen convinced me that we are alone in the universe. I don’t want you wasting your time praying to or thinking about some god, for none exists. A god of love and power would not permit such evil to exist in the world. The beatings that killed my father also killed my faith.” Another other popular explanation goes like this: “That’s a good question son. I’ve thought long and hard about it. The conclusion I’ve come to is this. God didn’t want us to suffer like that. However, he gave mankind a free will. He made us with the ability to either obey him or disobey him. He cannot interfere with our will because he wants us to love him freely, not because he has forced us to do so. He tells us that if we will obey him he will love us but that if we disobey he will destroy us. The choice is up to us. Every human has to decide for themselves whether they will obey God or not. Pharaoh was simply a stubborn and evil man and he did not want to obey God. God punished him for his disobedience and he finally forced him to let us go. However, God couldn’t make it happen any sooner because he couldn’t interfere with what Pharaoh wanted to do. God did all he could but he couldn’t stop Pharaoh from doing what he chose to do. Unfortunately, Pharaoh’s disobedience to God also led him to persecute us. Your grandfather’s death is a tragic result of God’s inability to interfere with human choice. God had nothing to do with your grandfather’s death. He didn’t want it to happen but he couldn’t stop Pharaoh and his men from doing what they chose to do.”

Before we look at the answer Moses would give to his son, I want you to ask yourself what effect each of these answers would have on this son. He and his father are part of a very large, nomadic community wandering around the Arabian Peninsula. It is a community ruled by laws and regulations supposedly given by the God of the Jews. These laws forbid participating in the immoral practices that characterize every other group of people with which they come in contact. If there is no God then what is the purpose of their existence? Why should this son live as a Jew? Why should he not do whatever he wants to do and pay no attention to any of the values and lifestyle choices that his father and his family embrace? If there is no God, what possible reason can be given for pursuing any particular course of action? OR—If the God they are worshipping has no control over people and this God has promised to bring them into the land of Canaan and drive out all the other nations: What confidence can this son have that they are not going to be wiped out or enslaved by another, more powerful nation? If God could not protect them from Egypt and the suffering of slavery there, why should he expect that God will be able to keep any of his promises? Again, why should he bother to worship or pay attention to this God?

How would this father answer his son if he knew and believed the story as Moses told it here in Exodus 10? “Son we are part of a much larger story than just our own. The God who created the heavens and the earth amazingly chose Abraham and us, his descendants, to be his people. His purpose has been to reveal himself, to make his glory known to us and to the whole universe through us. His purpose has been to bless all the nations of the world through his saving us. In his infinite wisdom and love, the accomplishment of this purpose included our being made into slaves by Pharaoh for over 250 years. In order that we might know the greatness of his power, love, justice and mercy, he hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he might be able to perform the ten miraculous signs in Egypt. He endured Pharaoh’s rebellion and then treated the Egyptians so harshly to reveal his hatred of sin and his power over sinners and his love for us. We, as his people, discovered that we are ruled over and saved by the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We know that as his people that everything that happens to us is happening for our eternal joy. He has made known to us the path of life and he will fill us with joy in his presence forever. Your grandfather’s death was, in a way that we don’t yet fully understand, a part of this great and merciful God’s plan to show off his glory in our salvation as his people. He rescued us from our slavery in the way that most clearly enables us to know him. He is the God of all the heavens and the earth who is able to do anything he pleases to do. We are his people by his choice and so we worship him alone as our Savior. Son, to know God and to belong to his people is the best thing that can ever happen to us or to any human being. You can rejoice that God has chosen to reveal himself to you in saving us in this way from Egypt. This joy can never be taken from you.”

Can you see the difference that such an answer makes in the life of this son? There is no need to fear. He cannot be harmed. He can take risks of faith. No matter what happens in the world, God is in control of it all. God rules over all things, including the evil choices of evil men, so that his glory is revealed in the salvation of his people. The God who has pledged himself to Israel, to the church, is the Lord of heaven and earth and is working out all things in conformity with the purposes of his will. All of his promises will be fulfilled in the manner that maximizes his glory and our joy.

God wants succeeding generations to know him. Therefore, he wants us to tell them about…

  • His sovereignty
  • And…

II. Our sinfulness (vv. 7-11, 16-20)

There are other things that this father would tell his son from this story of God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart in order that he might treat Egypt harshly. One of those things would be to emphasize the sinfulness and the guilt of human beings, just as Moses does here. The fact that Moses wrote vv. 1-2 and followed them immediately with v. 3 is a shock to human logic. In v. 1 the Lord says that he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart. He didn’t permit Pharaoh to have a hard heart. He hardened his heart. Yet, in v. 3 the Lord, who hardened his heart, asks Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” Here’s how my human head wants to answer that question. “Pharaoh will stop refusing to humble himself before you Lord when you stop hardening his heart.” In other words, from a human point of view it is impossible to reconcile v. 1 and v. 3. How can God condemn Pharaoh for not humbling himself when he just told Moses that the reason Pharaoh continues to have a hard heart and thus refuses to humble himself is because the Lord hardened his heart? The fact is that even though God is sovereign and it is his will to harden Pharaoh’s heart, yet Pharaoh is guilty. Regardless of how that sounds to human logic, it is the truth. He ought not to have a hard heart. His having a hard heart is sinful and blameworthy and God is just in punishing him for it.

So, this father would make sure that his son understands the depth of human sinfulness. Pharaoh is case study number one of how rebellious humans naturally feel about God and his commands. We find in Pharaoh the way every human naturally, apart from God’s grace, responds to God. He has suffered through the worst hailstorm that ever came upon Egypt and he knows the God of the Hebrews sent it. He asked to be forgiven by this God and to have the hail stop, God mercifully stopped the hail, and he knew Yahweh stopped it. Yet, he hardened his heart and refused to let Israel go. Now he again refuses to obey God and invites Moses to send upon his nation a plague of locusts. That is until his advisors ask him what in the world he is doing. Then he calls Moses and Aaron back and tells them that they can go worship the Lord their God. However, before he lets them go he asks a cunning question. He asks, “Just who will be going?” When Moses informs him that the entire nation, all ages and genders and all their flocks will be going, he explodes in mockery and fierce contempt. “Yeah right. You say that the Lord is with you, well he’s going to have to prove it this time if you think I’m going to let all of you and all your possessions go into the desert to worship. I know that you are plotting evil against us. You don’t really want to worship the Lord. You’re just using your religion as a cover, as an excuse in order to harm us. My guess is that you are going to make an alliance with our enemies and then attack us. You’re no different from us. You would love to dominate us and make us slaves to pay us back, so forget it. Either the men go by themselves and the women and children stay here under my control or nobody goes. Now get these sheepherders out of my sight.”

As soon as Moses and Aaron are driven out of Pharaoh’s presence God tells Moses to stretch out his hand over the land of Egypt. An east wind blows all day and night and brings from across the Arabian Sea a swarm of locusts like no swarm seen in Egypt from its founding until today. The locusts strip the land of every green plant. All the grain, fruit, and grass left from the hail are destroyed. The locusts fill their houses and destroy their food supplies. When Pharaoh witnesses the devastating force of these insects he quickly calls for Moses and Aaron and he humbles himself before the Lord. He declares that he has sinned against the Lord and against Moses and Aaron. He recognizes that the locusts are God’s just judgment against his sin and he pleads with Moses to ask the Lord to forgive his sins and remove the locusts. As he did with the hail, Moses prays for Pharaoh and the Lord sends a west wind that carries every single locust into the Red Sea, where they all die.

Just like after the hail, Pharaoh does not let the Israelites go. This time, however, we are told that rather than the cause being that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, that the Lord hardened his heart. Regardless of who does the hardening, the fact remains that Pharaoh ought to obey God and he does not and therefore he is guilty. He is guilty, once again of the grossest form of hypocrisy. He uses all the right words. He professes all the right truth. He looks and sounds like a truly repentant man but he is not. He does not fear or trust the Lord. He is only terrified of the locusts. Once that which he fears is removed, he has no interest in loving God or people. He shows the perverseness of human hearts. We are in love with our own comfort, not with the God who gives us everything we have. We only want to use God to get what we love. We have no interest in loving God. This is another of those things that we must tell succeeding generations. We are not telling the story correctly if we do not make plain the sinfulness of humanity and help everyone know that we are included in this human condition. You will not harm your child by doing all you can to enable them to see how deep and pervasive is their sinfulness. You will bring eternal harm and ruin to them if you do not do all you can to convince them that they are enemies of God, with no ability to love God or obey him.

God wants succeeding generations to know him. Therefore, he wants us to tell them about…

  • His sovereignty
  • Our sinfulness
  • And…

III. His justice (vv. 1, 3-6, 12-15, 20)

Another thing that this story of God’s dealing harshly with Egypt reveals about the glory of God is that he is perfectly just. God never does to Pharaoh or Egypt anything greater than what they deserve. Pharaoh has rebelled against God his whole life long. It is perfectly just for God to harden his heart. Pharaoh has done nothing that would obligate God to change his heart. He delights to love creation and to worship false gods. In spite of God’s revealing his power and his grace, he continues to have no interest in obeying God. He insults God at every turn and mocks his power. He acts as though he is in control of all things and refuses to humble himself before the God who has created and sustains all things. Is there any reason that can be given for why God should not destroy Pharaoh and Egypt who have so cruelly abused Israel and defied him?

This is another fact that we must make sure that every succeeding generation grasps. God is perfectly just. He does not play favorites. He takes note of every motive of every heart. He alone judges according to perfect standards of righteousness. Every human being is going to have to answer to him and he will judge every human being perfectly according to what we have done. When we see Moses leave Pharaoh’s presence and lift his hand to bring judgment upon Egypt we are to understand that is exactly what we deserve as well. What argument can any human being offer to God as to why God should not kill us and send us into eternal flames? How would it be unjust for me to suffer forever in hell? Your children must know this. There is no reason in them as to why God does not at this very moment kill them and send them to hell. You need not be afraid that you will harm them if you teach them this. They may have nightmares. They may be so bothered by this that they cannot watch TV or play games. It may consume their sleeping and waking moments. If it does, rejoice and be glad for they are only living in view of reality as it actually is. I would rather my children have nightmares about hell than actually experience the nightmare of hell’s reality.

God wants succeeding generations to know him. Therefore, he wants us to tell them about…

  • His sovereignty
  • Our sinfulness
  • His justice
  • And…

IV. His grace (vv. 1-2, 9, 18)

There is at least one other thing that we must make sure that succeeding generations see in this story of God’s dealing harshly with Egypt. What shines out of this tale of sin and judgment is the grace of God towards Israel. It is the underlying current of wonder in the entire story. Israel has been shown to be sinful along with the rest of humanity and yet in vv. 1-2 we are told that God’s ultimate purpose in doing what he is doing is so that these sinful people will know him. This entire story presumes that there is a day coming when Israel will be free from her slavery and will be living as God’s people in the land of Canaan. God is moving all of creation to serve the welfare of his people, the nation Israel. They do not deserve this kindness. They have done nothing to distinguish themselves from the Egyptians. In fact, later in the OT we are told that they were worshipping the gods of the Egyptians the entire time that the Lord was working these miracles to gain their release. So this father would want his son to know that God delights to save sinners for the glory of his own name. His son should live in the amazement and joy of being loved by God, not because he is a lovable boy but because the great God of the universe has chosen to love him.

We are again reminded by Pharaoh’s prayer in vv. 16-17 and then by Moses’ prayer on his behalf of the way that God has graciously saves his people. He has sent another prophet, just like Moses, who not only proclaims God’s word to us but who prays for us so that God will take away his curse against us not because of who we are but because of who he is. We see in Moses a portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by his death, resurrection and present intercession gains for us the love of the Father. God loves us for the sake of Jesus, because of what he has done, not because of what we have done. This is what we want our children to know and all those who do not yet know in this generation and in the generations to come.

Are we telling God’s story faithfully so that succeeding generations will be able to join the people of God who exist by the work that Jesus Christ did 2000 years ago? Our salvation was accomplished 2000 years ago in Christ. Are we faithfully recounting his story so that our children and others of our generation and those that follow can see how their stories fit into God’s great story of salvation? Here is the reason we are using the catechism. Here is the reason we stress the necessity of every family practicing family worship. Here is the reason we have discovery groups and we’re hosting the “Changing Hearts, Changing Lives” seminar. We want to increase in our ability to tell the story in such a way that we, our children and all those whom God brings to us, know the greatness of this God who has saved us as his people through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God wants succeeding generations to know him. Therefore, he wants us to tell them about…

  • His sovereignty
  • Our sinfulness
  • His justice
  • His grace

© Copyright 2004 John Swanson.
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