This is Part 2 of the Series “The Effects of Knowing God” For the previous post, click here.
What effect does knowing God have on your life? What effect did it have on the Pharaoh of the Exodus account?
Picture in your mind Moses and Aaron in the court of Pharaoh…
A line of foreigners, servants and gifts winds between gleaming pillars of alabaster. Pharaoh reclines lazily on his throne, receiving tribute from conquered lands, Occasionally sparing a glance or a nod for these lesser mortals. As he waves two Ethiopians away, two plainly-clothed men approach the throne carrying no gift at all. One is clothed as a shepherd, the other a slave.
The man on the right squares his shoulders and speaks:
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'”
Pharaoh jerks his head back in shock, one eyebrow arched menacingly.
Both feet press into the stone floor as he leans forward. The one on the left looks a little familiar, but it’s unlikely. The man to the right, the speaker, bears all the marks of servitude—the slight hunch of the shoulders, the leathery skin, and the eyes that flicker of fear.
Who is this God they’re talking about? If the Hebrews have a god, he’s certainly weaker than Ra…
Weaker than me, he thinks to himself.
Pharaoh’s mouth curves into a sardonic smile. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Ex 5:2)
Pharaoh is about to get the introduction of a lifetime…
Refusing to see
Pharaoh probably considered God as a figment of Moses’ and Aaron’s imaginations. He refuses to acknowledge Him as God and therefore refuses to obey. (Sounds a bit like the modern atheist…)
Right before the very first plague (water to blood), God tells Moses to say these words to Pharaoh:
The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.”
But so far, you have not obeyed.
Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord:
behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.
~ Exodus 7.16-18, ESV
In this passage, God is about to reveal to everyone with eyes and ears in Egypt that He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, supreme and singular God. Resistance is not only futile, but sheer stupidity.
A wiser man than Pharaoh would blanch at the sight of a mighty river transformed into a rush of blood. Unfortunately, Pharaoh could not see past the end of his nose…. He refused to see.
I marvel in disbelief at scientists and medical doctors who refuse to believe in God. As a writer, I have a heightened awareness of the signature style of certain authors and artists as I endeavor to fashion my own, unique “voice” or “style.” God, the master designer, left His signature on everything He created. We humans possess many physiological similarities to other animals in that we all breathe, we all have blood, and we all have a nervous system. Even if these are constructed differently, the parallels are obvious. The laws of gravity and magnetism are in place not just on earth, but also within the universe.
Evident markers of design manifest themselves throughout creation—from the fathomless universe to the invisible atomic structure. In spite of the perfection and interconnectedness of the natural world, most people in these fields are are agnostics or atheists. Their god is scientific theory. Their god is evolution. Their god is humanism. They are a god unto themselves. They see God without really seeing Him. They see His signature without recognizing the signer.
Don’t make the same mistake as Pharaoh. Acknowledge God and seek Him while there is still time.
Refusing to yield
And now, back in Egypt…
Six more plagues came and went as the devastation mounted. Pharaoh’s servants pleaded desperately with Pharaoh, saying: “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” (Ex. 10.7)
Pharaoh refused to submit to God. He definitely knew God, but hoped to hold out against Him.
Even as Egypt endures locusts and darkness, Pharaoh bargains like Donald Trump; determined to get the upper hand in negotiations and come out on top.
The stillness of the night was shattered with piercing cries as the angel of death passed through all of Egypt. Mothers and fathers—from the house of Pharaoh to the house of the humblest servant—awoke to their worst nightmare. The firstborn in every home lay cold and lifeless, never to rise again. Meanwhile, the barren fields bore silent witness as the firstborn of the livestock collapsed into shapeless heaps. The stench of death permeated every inch of Egypt—except for Goshen, where God’s people waited for the angel of death to pass over.
Pharaoh cracked. His firstborn child was dead.
His firstborn represented his manhood, his legacy, and his future. God struck Pharaoh to his very heart. He couldn’t turn a blind eye as he had at the Nile. His magicians couldn’t conjure something similar, nor could they raise the dead. Pharaoh came face to face with the death of his own child—a life-altering tragedy—and could no longer ignore God.
Once upon a happier time, Pharaoh could sneer indifferently at these humble Hebrews; but much had changed since that first, fateful day.
Pharaoh gathered his remaining shreds of dignity, and through the haggardness of his grief-stricken heart, uttered one final order: “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”
This should be the end of Pharaoh’s story—a sad, sorry end for a haughty, arrogant man.
Would that he simply faded into history as a tragic figure, left weeping in alabaster halls over the body of his child. Would that he had turned to God in repentance and fear to change the course of an erring nation…
…but the embers pride still burned among the ashes of grief.
Hard as stone.
Pharaoh witnessed ten terrifying acts of God. He experienced a life-changing tragedy. He knew God’s power eclipsed that of every Egyptian deity.
He knew God.
Shouldn’t he be pleading with God for forgiveness? Shouldn’t he be offering up sacrifices of appeasement to the God of the Hebrews?
He knew God, but that knowledge did not turn him to repentance.
He made ready his chariot, his army, and 600 chariots to go and get their slaves back (or kill them). As we know from Exodus 14, God parted the waters of the Red Sea, allowing Israel to cross on dry land, while holding the Egyptians at bay until they were safely through. He allowed the Egyptians to pursue them into sea and then crushed them with the collapse of the waters.
God destroyed Pharaoh, transforming his pride into humiliation. Biblical scholars generally agree that Pharaoh did not die with his armies in the sea. Pharaoh would have been better off dead with his decimated army than to return to Egypt in disgrace. If the general consensus is correct, Pharaoh suffered the greatest dishonor possible.
While Pharaoh never showed signs of genuine repentance, he did recognize God and there is a lesson in that for us as Christians…
We can make the claim to being Christians, but does our knowledge of God transform us? Do we refuse to repent completely, wanting to barter with God, do things our own way, and keep one foot in the world? Do we try to sit on the fence hoping God won’t notice?
God notices everything. Every thought. Every choice. Every whim. Just because you can check off the externals doesn’t mean you’ve allowed God to change the internals. We must learn to die to self every minute of every day for the rest of our lives. There is no cruise control.
Learn from the humiliated Pharaoh. Know God in such a way as to be transformed. Know Him and obey Him.
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
James 4.10, NKJV