God's Mercy with PharaohPharaoh of Egypt

And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice… I know not the Lord”

Regardless of how old you are or where you come from you are sure to know a summary of the story of Moses, Pharaoh, the 10 plagues of Egypt, and the Exodus of the children of Israel. In short God used Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land of Israel but only after a hardened Pharaoh withstood Moses and the will of God to which the LORD inflicted 10 horrific plagues upon Egypt to break the hardened Pharaoh into releasing control of the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt. There is a wonderful study put together by David Guzik at Enduring Word that I encourage you to look into and a resource I use daily in my Scriptural devotions; you could follow along in depth at (https://enduringword.com/commentary/exodus-3/). For the purpose of this article I will simply highlight a few points for a shorter analysis in the context of God’s mercy in the story of judgment. It is easy to look at many of God’s actions in the Old Testament at a 5 mile high view and only see cruel, uncalculated judgment, but if we take a closer look and throw forth a few questions it might change our perspective.

As a Christian (or non-Christian) it is never wrong to question the Scripture because it only further proves the accuracy of the Word of God. In fact God challenges us to “reason” together, so maintaining an open mind is a good thing. He wants us to come with questions when we doubt, but understand there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. I can have doubt about Scripture and yet maintain my belief that God is still true and faithful. If we seek answers in sincerity the LORD will prove himself to us. But if we come in doubt AND unbelief we will not find the answers we’re looking for. To resist questioning of Scripture (or anything for that matter, i.e. evolution) is to have doubt or even unbelief in that system of faith. It is because I hold the Bible to be perfect and reliable that I welcome the questioning of God’s Word; it can only bring faith and reassurance to those who seek the truth in sincerity. With that let us move on…

Moses and burning bushIn speaking to Moses from the burning bush the LORD says, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” [Ex. 3:7]. So the first thing we see is that God has taken action because of the torment of innocent people indicating a merciful component of God’s character. Secondly we see that He knows their (our) sorrows. Jesus is prophesied to be a “man of sorrows” or acquainted with sorrow. It is assuring to know that the Creator of the universe is not too distant to understand our suffering, rather He “knows” our sorrow. He can and has experienced our pain and suffering and acts on our behalf to rescue us. So His first move in this story is one of compassion and merciful intervention.

“And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” [Ex. 5:1-2] The first appeal God makes to Pharaoh is that Pharaoh let the Hebrews take a break from their work to worship their God; this request is rejected as Pharaoh mocks the LORD and declares that he does not know the LORD. Well, God introduces Himself to Pharaoh in a big way so this ignorance cannot henceforth be claimed by the king of Egypt. One has to wonder why God didn’t just kill Pharaoh on the spot and anyone else that stood in His way? Wouldn’t it have been easier to simply destroy the enemies of Israel and force His will at the start? But then the mercy of God would not have been extended to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt giving them a chance to repent, nor would it have developed Moses character and ability to lead the people in the wilderness, nor would God have been able to display Himself to the Hebrews to recognize Him as God. So both mercy and honor are magnified in God’s patience with the king of Egypt.

God declares in Exodus 7:3-5, “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” No doubt God chooses to harden Pharaoh’s heart but only after Pharaoh on multiple occasions hardens his own heart and God further hardens it in accordance with Pharaoh’s will. God does not take a king who was kind and willing to do the will of God and harden his heart against the king’s own will; no, God only speeds up the king’s own destruction that he willingly pursued at the start. So God cannot be said to be cruel in giving Pharaoh the desire of his own heart.

Further focus your attention to verse 5 when the LORD gives His ultimate desire in this judgment, “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD”. One of God’s primary desires was that the Egyptians might come to know Him as LORD so He could call them His people as well. In fact the Scripture states that in the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth that the Egyptians will be referred to as God’s people. There is an underlying love in the midst of God’s 10 plagues on Egypt as He desires for His power to draw these Egyptians into a relationship with Himself.

Water turned to blood“Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river's brink against [before] he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand. And thou shalt say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear. Thus saith the Lord, In this thou shalt know that I am the Lord: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood.” [Ex 7:15-17]

You will notice that in mercy God gives Pharaoh a warning before the majority of the 10 plagues of Egypt; this not only gives Pharaoh the opportunity to repent beforehand but also gives him the chance to acknowledge the LORD when he sees the Word of God come to pass. Once more we have mercy in judgment. Pharaoh asked, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” In response God shows Himself to Pharaoh through His power and signs.

God tells Moses at the burning bush, “I AM THAT I AM”. This phrase essentially compares God with Himself or is saying I am equal to Myself because there is nothing that can be compared on My level. There is nothing that has equal standing with God! So rather than giving a like parallel, God tells Pharaoh who He is not by separating Himself from the false gods of the Egyptians in each of the plagues of Egypt.

Moses rod turned to snake“And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.” [Ex. 7:10-12]

At the burning bush God turned Moses’ rod into a snake, but before Pharaoh a different Hebrew word “tannin” is used which means a “great serpent”, a “dragon”, or perhaps “crocodile”. Such a creature was worshipped in Egypt but here God controls the great serpent and eats up Pharaoh’s serpents. God wins. -in the same way He wins over each of the other ‘gods’ of Egypt:

  1. Water to Blood

    • The god Khnum was the guardian of the Nile
    • The god Hapi was the spirit of the Nile
    • The Nile was said to be the bloodstream of the god Osiris
  2. Frogs Over the Land

    • The fertility goddess Heqet had the head of a frog
    • Frogs were sacred so the Egyptians could not kill or rid themselves of them
  3. Lice on Man and Beast

    • Egyptians priests could not enter temples to worship their gods
    • Infested beasts would be an unsuitable sacrifice
  4. Flies (Swarms of biting insects; perhaps fleas or mosquitoes)

    • Again Egyptian worship was prevented
  5. Severe Pestilence on Livestock

    • The god Hathor was the mother goddess in likeness to a cow
    • Cattle were sacred and could not be killed
  6. Boils on Man and Beast

    • The god Imhotep was the god of medicine
  7. Hail and Fire

    • The god Nut was a goddess of the sky or heavens
  8. Locusts Consume every Green Thing

    • The god Set was the protector of the crops
  9. Darkness Over the Land

    • The god Ra was known as the sun god
  10. Death of the Firstborn Son

    • The god Osiris was the giver of life
    • Pharaoh was considered deity in Egypt

In the end God humbled every false god of Egypt including the Pharaoh himself. The LORD was magnified and for thousands of years would mark Himself as supreme over all people and nations because of this single event in history. He undoubtedly drew the submission of many Egyptians as was His original plan as well as to establish a nation that would yield the greatest Passover sacrifice of all, God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ for the redemption of all who call on His Name!

Jesus Lamb of GodPerhaps the most important accomplishment in the Exodus was not breaking a hard heart or even liberating a nation of slaves but rather to point us to Jesus Christ as our Savior who gave Himself willingly on our behalf so we wouldn’t face the wrath of God but be adopted in as sons of God to live with Him forever and ever! Just as God gave the Egyptians warning after warning calling their hearts to repentance and submission to the LORD so He calls every one of us to yield ourselves to Him, to be loved and cherished forever more! Won’t you listen to His call? He loves you dearly and wants nothing more in your life than to have a personal relationship with you!

It is said in Exodus 9:34, “And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.” How sad it is that under calamity we call upon the LORD but when He ceases our chastisement we so readily turn back to our sin and harden our hearts. Pharaoh “sinned yet more, and hardened his heart”. Don’t be like Pharaoh; if God is calling you and you feel the sensitivity of the call do not continue to harden your heart against Him lest in the future God hardens your heart for you and it is too late! There comes a time when the Spirit of God ceases to ‘strive’ with man; give yourself to God’s will while your heart is still soft. There is no regret to serving the LORD as He always has the best will for your life.

Exodus 34:6-7, “And the Lord passed by before him [Moses], and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” Our LORD is both merciful and just!

Back to top