I'm getting a bit more blog- savvy - check out the new links at right. Bible Gateway is a *great* reference for looking up Scripture if you don't have a Bible handy...
Anyway, everyone's at camp this week, so here's an oldie but a goodie..
Some time ago, I came across a Christian speaker arguing that the first three plagues Moses and Aaron performed to convince Pharoah to let Israel go were merely natural phenomena / tricks of light. I suspect the reason he was arguing this point was that for the first three miracles, Pharoah's magicians kept pace. The argument itself states that the first plague, turning the Nile into blood, was caused by a volcanic eruption. The second plague, the frogs jumping onto the land, was the result of the Nile being uninhabitable from the first plague. After that, the magicians couldn't keep up, so the speaker stopped arguing his case. Granted, it does seem odd that a bunch of pagan magicians could do as a product of their art what Aaron and Moses could only do with special dispensation of the Almighty, but I feel that hardly justifies the view this speaker took.
When examining the text of Exodus, the author (Moses) was clear that the entire Nile was turned to blood, not colored red by clay or volcanic eruption. (The word used for "blood" in Hebrew means "blood", not "reddish hue"). In addition, the plague of the frogs was significant. John MacArthur points out that in Egyptian culture, frogs were sacred - their presence indicated the Nile had receded and the land was fertile for crops. Thus, there's a sense of irony in turning what's sacred into a plague. Most important is the fact that the magicians were not able to undo what God had done through Moses and Aaron - they could only duplicate it and even then, imperfectly. The events recorded in Exodus 7:12 & 8:8 symoblize this very point.
Simply put, the factuality of the ten plagues is foregone from the standpoint of Scripture. Thus, by focusing on what really are minor details, the real point of the passage is compltely missed.
So what is really the point of the ten plagues? God says it from the get-go:
"You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharoah that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharoah's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt."(Exodus 7:2,3; emphasis mine)
It's pretty simple. God intended to harden Pharoah's heart by using His signs and miracles to eventually free Israel. In fact, the harder Pharoah's heart grew, the more God had an opportunity to prove that He was God and Pharoah was not. Incidentally, just in case one thinks God was being unfair by intentionally hardening Pharoah's heart to make an example of him, look at the words that come from the man's own lips in Exodus 5:2
"Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go."
Pharoah wanted nothing to do with God. Whether or not God loved Pharoah and wanted him to share eternity with Him, Pharoah's will was not in agreement - and we all know you can't force someone to love someone else. But just in case it still seems unfair, examine the process by which Pharoah's heart was hardened. In no case did God forcibly deny Pharoah the chance to believe. In Exodus 7:11-13, 22 & 23, and 8:7-15 we see that Pharoah hardened his heart when he saw his magicians doing what Moses and Aaron were doing by God. In other words, Pharoah saw the miracles - the evidence that Moses' and Aaron's God was much bigger than his or his magicians' gods. Yet no miracle could convince him and make him an honest believer in God for the simple fact that he stated beforehand he didn't want to believe. Thus, all he needed was the least bit of proof to question the Sovereignty of Moses' and Aaron's God and he would continue comfortably in his disbelief, which God gave him in his mages' spellmaking. By the way, God *did* give Pharoah a clear chance to believe:
...Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt. The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharoah, "This is the finger of God." But Pharoah's heart was hardened and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.(Exodus 8:17-19; emphasis mine)
I find it interesting that God made believers out of Pharoah's magicians by the third miracle and yet Pharoah remained obstinate. I also find it interesting that Pharoah was soundly convinced of his position after only three miracles when the following eight went unanswered by his court of mages. The only way Pharoah could have maintained his position were if he simply didn't want to believe in the first place. After all, even when he did concede to Moses that God was God and he was not (see Exodus9:27,28), he always changed his mind (Exodus 9:35), showing that he was never truly convinced in the first place.
The point (if it isn't clear already) is that we can easily cement ourselves in our own wills. God can't make us love Him and if we choose not to, it may be that nothing will convince us otherwise. That's not always true, but the general precept is backed up by Jesus when He tells the story of the rich man and the beggar in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his living relatives of the impending doom. Abraham's response is quite clear:
"If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead."
I say all of this just to serve as a reminder of how it is a Christian comes to put their trust in Christ. An honest athiest / agnostic may say they do not believe for lack of evidence, claiming that they would take faith if only God would show Himself more tangibly. Yet in so doing, they would have removed the very need to have any faith at all - we have faith in what we cannot see, not what we see clearly before us. Besides, if you look at the history of Israel, you'll see that even when God was present among Israel and their fathers, He still required them to work with Him on faith. Nevermind the numerous times when the entire assembly of Isreal did see God visibly manifested among them, and yet rebelled against Him. You'll forgive me if I sound harsh in my perspective, but to disregard God on the grounds of insufficient evidence is simply not valid. The Bible is quite clear that even ample evidence will not make a believer out of someone who is not willing to adopt faith as the primary means of communion with God.
Until next week.