I stepped on the scales the other day. I've put on a couple of kilos.
I asked Google how many people think they're overweight.
Apparently 25% of blokes who are not overweight. Think they are. While nearly 25% of men in my age group who are overweight. Think they're not.
I'm not going to tell you which category I fit into. I guess the point is if I'm one of those overall 50% of guys, I wouldn't be the right person to ask anyway. Because when it boils down to it, that's got to mean half of us just haven't got a clue. You'll have to ask Louise, who always knows if I'm overweight or not.
But by and large, we live in a culture don't we where our weight is an issue. And it's usually viewed negatively.
And so Jenny Craig and light and easy and weight watchers are all doing very nicely out of our battle keep our weight down. And not get too heavy.
And so Clive Palmer is 60 kilos down and still going. Just by cutting down his intake of Tim Tams. With some help from Light and Easy.
We're fighting the battle of the bulge. And if you can't sing very well and you're not a good renovator, at least you can comfort yourself watching biggest loser for inspiration.
Too much weight, in our contemporary western culture, is not good.
Whereas in other cultures, and especially ancient ones, your weight was seen as a sign of your prosperity.
For something to be weighty was one of the best things it could possibly be. We still think that way when it comes to gold or diamonds.
But if you're a Sumo Wrestler or a Tongan King or you're the god Maui in Disney's movie Moana, your weight is a mark of your significance.
To the point where in the Ancient Near East, and particularly in the Hebrew language, the word for glory and the word for weight. Are exactly the same.
It's the word kabod. And generally, our English translations just plug in the word glory as the best possible fit for the concept. feeling the weight of God... it's feeling a sense of his glory. And that's that.
But when we come to today's passage in the book of Exodus, there's another contender for that glory. In what in a sense is a ten round heavyweight boxing match.
And the problem is as English readers there's a detail we're in danger of overlooking.
Let me first of all map out what we're looking at.
The people of Israel. The descendants of Abraham. Who we saw last week were in their earliest days slaves in the nation of Egypt. Under the oppressive rule of the Pharaoh. Who was making their lives harder and harder as they slaved in the brick pits of Egypt.
God's appeared to Moses, and commissioned him. And unwilling Moses with his brother Aaron for support, have fronted up in the name of the God of Israel. Before the power of Pharaoh himself. To ask for Israel's release.
And look, as heavyweight title fights go, Pharaoh starts out supremely confident.
But before we get started and walk through what's happening, and before you forget that the Hebrew word kabod literally means weight but it's usually translated glory, I want to flag for you that there's a quirky issue in today's passage with the curious philosophical idea that God is actually hardening Pharaoh's heart. At the same time as every second time it's mentioned, it seems Pharaoh is actually hardening his own heart as well.
And without getting into the puzzle of that, I just want to observe that in the original Hebrew there are two different words at work. That in our English translations both end up translated in the same way. Hardening. When in the original there's a subtle difference.
Because in the end what Pharaoh is doing is weightening his heart. Which isn't even a word in our language. He's piling on the kilos of self importance to his own heart. Which plays out in an interesting way.
And in response God is in another word altogether - hazak - is strengthening Pharaoh's resolve. And confirming him in it. Which doesn't at all resolve the problem we have that God's somehow messing with Pharaoh's head. But gives it a slightly different nuance.
So with a long passage in front of us, and nine of the ten plagues on Egypt to plough through, I just want to ask two questions this morning.
What's happening with Pharaoh's heart? And why?
Keeping in mind with this heavyweight battle going on, there's the ultimate question is, who's going to win in the end? And how that shapes our thinking and allegiance as followers of Jesus.
So question 1, what's happening with Pharaoh's heart.
It's a ten round heavyweight title fight. But let's pick up with the pre-match warm-up from chapter 7 verse 8. Where Aaron's staff becomes a snake. And gives a hint of where things are heading.
Now I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but the snake... is a favourite symbol of Egyptian Royalty.
Take a look at the famous image of King Tut and you can't miss it. Right between the eyes. The striking cobra. A reminder I guess of the life and death power of the king of Egypt. So here's a hint of what's coming. Moses and Aaron go to the Pharaoh, they throw down their wooden staff; and it springs to life as a snake.
Pharaoh's Egyptian magicians can match it. They make snakes somehow by their secret arts. Snakes everywhere.
But here's the point.
The end of verse 12. Aaron's snake. Aaron's staff. Swallows up their snakes.
And they're gone. I wonder what that's saying if the snake head's kind of like your corporate logo? At the very least, it's a strong visual aid isn't it. If you read the business pages, just imagine for a minute an animation of a Facebook logo gobbling up a Channel Ten logo and you kind of get the idea. This isn't looking good for snake-land.
And yet look what happens. Pharaoh's heart, we're told, becomes harder. Which in this case is the word stronger. More resolved. And he won't listen to them. Which is exact what God said would happen.
So. With that out of the way, the battle begins.
Which starts with the observation from the Lord to Moses in verse 14 that Pharaoh's heart is unyielding. Which is actually the kabod word. It's overweight. It's full of its own glory.
So go to him in the morning and say to him, let my people go so they can worship me in the wilderness. But until now you haven't listened. So the river Nile... is going to turn to blood. The fish will die, you won't be able to drink it, there's be a huge stink everywhere.
And it happens. But by verse 22, and remember, we're following the question What's happening with Pharaoh's heart... His own magicians can match it. And so the answer is, Pharaoh's heart, Pharaoh's resolve, it's getting even stronger.
Pharaoh's heart became (literally) stronger; he wouldn't listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.
23 Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart.
And so it's time for round 2.
It's seven days later.
And the Lord says to Moses in chapter 8 verse 1, go and say it again. let my people go so they can worship me. Or else I'll send a plague of frogs; they'll come up from the Nile and they'll be teeming over everything.
Cane toads in your toaster, cane toads in your toilet, cane toads in your washing, cane toads as far as your eye can see. Which is exactly what happens.
And yet, verse 7, just to reassure Pharaoh that there's nothing in it, he gets his magicians; and they somehow by their secret arts can conjure up cane toads as well. And make more frogs.
Mind you at this point if they were really smart they'd be figuring out how to make the frogs go away. Instead of making more of them. And in fact Pharaoh figures that out. And so verse 8 he 's desperate - and he calls for Moses and Aaron and he says pray to your God YAHWEH. To take them away.
And I'll... fingers crossed behind my back... and I'll let you go. Somewhere. To sacrifice to your God.
And the next day the frogs are dead. In stinking piles. Across the land of Egypt. Dead in their houses, dead in their courtyards, dead in their fields. The land reeks of them, verse 14.
But the question is, what's going on with Pharaoh's heart. After an incident like that.
And the answer's there in verse 15. And here's where you get that word that I mentioned before. Our English version says he hardened his heart. But the original Hebrew says he weightened it. He added glory to it. He glorified himself in his heart and said I'm the big guy in the room. So in spite of what's just happened, in spite of the smell, verse 15 says that when Pharaoh sees that there's relief he added glory to his heart; and wouldn't listen to Moses and Aaron. Which is exactly as the Lord had said.
Pharaoh. Is no pushover.
And so to round 3.
A plague of gnats. Same result.
And round 4.
A plague of flies. Chapter 8 from verse 20.
Exactly the same pattern. Let my people go.
He's softening up a little bit maybe, or it looks like it in verse 28. Flies buzzing everywhere, the air's thick with them. I've been on farms where you can't see the colour of your shirt for the wall to wall flies on your back. It's like that all over Egypt. And verse 28 Pharaoh says, "Okay, I'll let you go. Just a little way."
But when Moses prays and the flies are gone, it's the same again. Take a look. Verse 31 and 32. And in verse 32, it's the same word as before.
The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained.
32 But this time also Pharaoh made more weighty his own heart and would not let the people go.
In other words he's pumping himself and his own self importance up and up and up. The man with the heavyweight heart. The heavyweight sense of self importance. Prepared to go toe to toe with the God of Israel.
Round 5. In chapter 9.
Israelites to be spared. But all the livestock of the Egyptians. To die in the night. As they do. Stone dead. On the ground.
But by now in verse 7 his heart is so full of its own importance, his heart is so enlarged; he's so fat of heart; he's so full of self glory... that he just won't. Let the people go.
We're moving fast here. I hope you're still with it. We're up to round 6, the painful plague of boils.
Don't know that I've ever had a boil, but I know there are videos on YouTube that have had millions of hits that the medical people in my family love watching. Where they lance them and squeeze out the pus. And I don't know what else happens because I just can't stomach watching.
Boils. Everywhere. On everyone. In Egypt. When Moses takes a handful of soot from the brick furnace and scatters it in the air.
Everyone including the Egyptian magicians. Who can't even stand up any more. Whatever it was behind their previous tricks, however they did the snakes and the water to blood and the frogs; now they're laid low. These are festering boils.
But Pharaoh isn't laid low at all. In verse 12. In fact, he's all the stronger. For an interesting reason.
Have you ever watched Eddie on Millionaire Hot Seat? Lock it in Eddie. And it's locked in. And from that point you're committed.
God himself. In chapter 9 verse 12. Is hardening Pharaoh's heart.
Which is the different word this time. Strengthening. God himself. Pharaoh has puffed up his heart. And now God's strengthening his resolve.
Lock it in. The Lord strengthened Pharaoh's heart... and he wouldn't listen to Moses and Aaron. Once more. Just as the Lord had said to Moses.
Pharaoh might think he's a heavyweight. But God's got every bit of it under control. The God who can turn the heart of a man or the course of a river with the flick of his little finger. It's under control.
Get up early and ask him again. Tell him to let my people go.
Or there'll be a hail storm like never before. Everywhere except Goshen where the Israelites live.
It'll smash you. If you're outside it'll kill you. It'll flatten your crops.
And after it's happened, after Pharaoh says, yes I'll let you go... when the rain and the hail finally stop... Pharaoh changes his mind.
And it's that weighty word again. The glory word.
Because Pharaoh and his officials, they kabod their hearts. They glorify their own hearts. They make much of themselves. And so again he won't let the Israelite slaves go free. Just as the Lord had said through Moses. Because slaves are slaves. And who's going to make his bricks.
It's the same with Round 8.
The locusts. God firming up Pharaoh's resolve. Locking it in.
We're told that in chapter 10 verse 1, and it's the same at the end of the chapter in verse 20. An all consuming plague of locusts changes nothing. Because the Lord himself is hardening Pharaoh's resolve. Pharaoh's puffed up his heart, and God's going to keep it that way.
Look at the words. Chapter 10 verse 20. This time it's the strengthened word.
But the Lord strengthened; firmed up; Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.
Every time Pharaoh does it, it's adding in weight. Every time God does it, it's locking it in.
An ego that's getting bigger and bigger. That's Pharaoh's work. And more and more locked in. More and more stubborn. Because of God.
And so round 9.
Everything. Gets dark. Supernaturally dark.
Which is interesting, because one of the most famous gods of Egypt is Ra, the sun god.
Five of the other plagues have had a poke at Egypt's other gods as well.
Now darkness. So thick you could touch it. Where's Ra when you need him?
Except Goshen, where the Israelites live. Where God has said "let there be light."
And it's dark. For three. Long. Days.
Pharaoh says, okay, okay, you can go. But no animals.
And Moses says, no deal. It's everything. And one last time.
Chapter 10 verse 27. The Lord firms up Pharaoh's resolve. Strengthens his heart. For one final battle.
Which we're going to look at next week. One more plague. That's going to seal the deal once and for all.
But for now, that's the storyline of Pharaoh's heart. His inner personality. His personal centre. Growing more and more and more weighty. More and more and more glorious.
While God makes him more and more and more stubborn. And locks it in.
The question is, why.
And that's the second question in our outline. Which I'll guarantee is much briefer.
Why. Would God as he goes head to head with Pharaoh keep on pumping him up like that. Keep on amplifying Pharaoh's stubborn pride?
I'm glad you asked. Because we're told the answer. Over and over again. With increasing precision.
Back up to chapter 7 where we started.
We'll put it on the screen to save you flipping.
3 But I will strengthen Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it."
It's so that when Pharaoh's done his worst. When Pharaoh's glory is magnified to it's greatest extent. And when God saves Israel in the midst of that. It will be abundantly clear to everyone; who's who.
It's there again in verse 17. By this you will know that I am YAHWEH. There'll be no doubt about it.
The God of Israel is going to make himself known. It's the same idea in chapter 6. The plague of hail.
Don't you realise that the God of all existence gives and takes away just a sweep of his mighty hand?
Pharaoh doesn't know who he's dealing with.
Read these words. Chapter 9 from verse 14.
I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may knowthat there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up[d]for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
The God of Israel's not just a small time Israelite god. His power is King to be proclaimed to all the earth. Because there's no one like him. Anywhere.
And Pharaoh with all his steroid enhanced glory; he's a nothing. God says to him in the next verse,
17 You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go.
So I'm gong to keep going. And he does.
One more. It's in chapter 10. Why? Why strengthen Pharaoh's resolve? God says,
"I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord."
Not just to show Egypt who's boss. But so generations of Israelites will know as well. And give God the glory he deserves.
God's amping up the opposition. To throw everything at him. So his people for generations to come won't have a shadow of a doubt. It's God, who's the weighty one. It's God. who's the glorious one.
That's Israel's God. That our God. Is the God who raises nations up. And brings them down. With just a breath. He just has to lift a finger. And it's done.
The New Testament story picks up the theme of the Exodus all over the place, and makes the same point. God is still determined to be known in all the nations. That the great God who stared down Egypt's Pharaoh and Egypt's gods has taken on an even bigger enemy. That's been enslaving his people from the very beginning.
Because as Jesus stares down the Roman governor who's handing him the death penalty, he's in reality staring down Satan himself. The Proud Prince of sin and death.
And says to Satan then do your worst. God's going to show his best. We'll see it more detail next week. As Jesus reworks the Passover to speak of his bigger victory.
It's tempting to say that the moral of the story is don't be like Pharaoh and so puff up your own ego and glorify yourself that God lets you puff up until you explode. That you'll be the source of your own destruction. I mean, sure it's saying that in one way.
But the American Counsellor Ed Welch says this. Exodus was meant to give Israel a lesson about who to fear. Who or what controls you. Will it be the word of your God who's just demonstrated his supremacy over the strongest nation of that particular era. Or the words of people. Who will control you. Your Messiah. Or the words and opinions of the people around you?
See, the real thing God wants us to remember is that he's the God who deals with big enemies. As if they're nothing at all. Because in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has exalted him to the highest place.
And given him the name above every name. That at that name ultimately every knee will bow. Everywhere.
Every ruler. Every authority; spiritual or physical; that scares you and intimidates you and wants to crush and diminish your faith. No matter how weighty. Every enemy. Will bow before our Lord Jesus. For the ultimate glory, the ultimate weightiness... of God the father.
Which means for us who have bowed to him already, there's nothing else to fear. I'd be a lot less anxious if I remembered that. Wouldn't you?