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Luke Ijaz is a minister at Holy Trinity, Wallington. He recently preached this cracker of a sermon -  "Do not worry" - at Farm Fellowship.


Read Exodus 12:1-30

The plagues had threatened the unravelling of creation (10:21), and in their wake a mighty empire had been brought to its knees.  There could not have been a person alive in Egypt who did not now know the power and the name of the true and living God (9:16).  And yet their Pharaoh would still not bow down and worship him as Lord.

One thing remained untouched by the enacting of these “wonders” through Moses: the human heart.   It is doubtful that the heart of any – Egyptian or Israelite – had been warmly affected and drawn to Christ.  More likely they were further embittered and made fearful – because all alike were still under judgement.

The LORD must now act in a very different way, if this nation and its inhabitants were not to be consumed completely.  He must perform the very greatest of his “wonders”: the one that will display most clearly his glory to the watching world…

You see, it would not do for Pharaoh to let the Israelites “go”.  Then the generations to come would be in praise of the king of Egypt as ‘the great liberator’; the reformed champion of human rights.    It is for the LORD to become their Liberator and save them when they are still utterly helpless.  Neither would it do for the LORD simply to take the Israelites by the hand and lead them out of Egypt.  Far be it from the LORD to show such unfair discrimination and favouritism!  For him to take for himself a people on the basis of arbitrary choice would have shown him to be a petty tribal deity – certainly not the Lord of the whole earth.  On what basis could the LORD make a distinction between Egyptian sinners and Israelite sinners (11:7)?

Indeed, a great distinction would be made!  The liberation that the LORD would bring about would mean far more than freedom from the darkness of Egyptian slavery.  The Israelites would be brought out into a dawn of a new day – a day so new that their calendar would need to be reset (12:3).  The hearts of everyone in the land would be cut at the deepest level – for good or ill – and in the process judgement would finally be pronounced on the gods of Egypt (12:12), and their stranglehold over the nation broken.  The people would be shaken to the core and truly new possibilities would open up for everyone.

Everything turns on the firstborn.  More specifically: everything turns on the death of the firstborn.  This death will be the fruit of wrath – the righteous anger levelled at a stubbornly rebellious humanity.  But the fruit of this death itself will be new life for a humanity that is perishing.  How glorious!  The Living God has made it possible for those whose lives are forfeit to be re-established.  Blood for blood, life for life.  Now the LORD can make that distinction between those who will turn to worship him and those who will not; between the Israelites and the Egyptians.

But even the Egyptians are not left without a witness to this gospel.  Christ – in his office of Judge (John 5:23) – passed through the land of Egypt that night and, among the Egyptians, “there was not a house without someone dead” (12:30).  Did any of them overhear the instructions that Moses conveyed to the Israelites, regarding the lambs and the blood on the doorposts?  They certainly failed to heed it.  So all the firstborn perished.

The next day the nation was mourning their loss.  And what a loss!  On the firstborn – the inheritors – hung the peoples hopes for the future.  Now, for a time at least, those hopes were cut short.  But why were any of them left alive?  “It should have been me that was taken!”  Yet these parents were acutely aware that the only reason they – and their families – were still alive was because the firstborn had been taken in their place.  For as long as living memory would endure, there was now in Egypt a witness to what is necessary to avert the LORD’s judgement.

In Israel the witness would need to last that bit longer.  Every year on the fourteenth day of the first month – Passover – they were to slaughter again a lamb at twilight, for all the generations to come.  They were never to forget that their security and life was assured only by the shedding of blood.  These evenings must have been emotionally charged as the family gathered around their table – the firstborn right there in their midst – ready to consume this meal.

“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over” (12:13).

This was more than mere commemoration.  The Israelites could never afford to get smug or become complacent.  They needed the ongoing shelter of the blood.  But one thing that this annual sacrifice taught them by the very necessity of its repetition was its insufficiency.  After all, this was only a lamb that they were sacrificing – leaving them with a longing for something more final.

When Jesus came to share a final meal with his apostles it was at Passover.  But this time there would be a break with tradition and the meal would be celebrated in a new way.  No attention would be drawn to the lamb.  Why?  The words that Jesus speaks over the bread and the wine – “This is my body… this is my blood” – make it clear that he himself sits in the place of the lamb.  And this becomes all the more striking when we realise just who this Jesus is: the Firstborn of the Father, the eternal Judge.   The firstborn is about to die; the Judge is about to be judged.  “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

“Then the people bowed down and worshipped” (12:27b).  This is the first time in the book of Exodus that the LORD has received any worship from the Israelites.  Worship is now the only fitting response of those whose hearts have been warmed by all they have seen and experienced.  For the LORD has displayed to the watching world the greatest of his “wonders” – the glorious way in which he can liberate anyone, even the Israelites.


Paul Huxley blogs here and his previous Exodus offering is here.

What a difference forty years makes.

When Moses struck the Egyptian down (Ex 2:12), supposing that his brothers would 'understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand' (Acts 7:25), the people 'did not understand' and Moses fled. Now, a generation had passed, and the LORD had promised to bring salvation by Moses' hand. This pattern was repeated by Joshua, who the people could have followed into the promised land (Numbers 14:6-9), but instead rejected God. Forty years of wilderness followed, and the next generation, led by the faithful Joshua entered the promised land.

And here, in Exodus 11, the people are now ready to listen to Moses, God's prophet, preacher and intercessor. So much so that they have the gall to ask their neighbours for silver and gold jewellery, at the LORD's command through Moses (v2-3).

The Egyptians cough up the booty; they looked favourably on the Hebrews (v3). In earthly terms, I can't imagine why they would have done so. Who are the slaves to make demands of the Egyptians, particularly in a time of gnats, locusts, hail, frogs and so on?

Yahweh's name was becoming great.

We've lately had 'natural' disasters in Haiti and Chile and in recent years devastating tsunamis and hurricanes across the world. They seem to be more frequent than ever. People are noticing.

Nine plagues in Egypt, one after another, and the Egyptians could see that there was something different about Yahweh, the Hebrew's God. But there was one further, definitive 'wonder' to be done, so that the Pharaoh would know the special calling of the Israelites (v7). The LORD has planned for Pharaoh to ignore Moses' warning, so that this final sign could be done (v9). Pharaoh intends evil, but God intends good.

Sign number 10 is the sign of signs, the grand finale that no one will soon forget. The firstborn son and cow of all the Egyptians will be killed at 'about midnight' by the LORD himself. We'll see more of the meaning of this in the chapters to come, but for now, we get to see what the outcome will be of this awesome act of God.

Moses and Pharaoh are sick of the sight of each other (ch10 v28-29). Moses, emboldened by Yahweh's signs now predicts that Pharaoh's servants will bow to Moses and plead the Israelites to leave the land (v8).

Pharaoh has diplomatic problems here. The Egyptian economy depends on Israelite slave labour. But he has seen the LORD's wonders, he's heard him speak through Moses (Moses' words themselves are described as wonders in verse 10). Intellectually, by now, he must already know, along with all Egypt, that he must let the Israelites go to worship Yahweh in the wilderness.

But God hardened Pharaoh's heart. It's not as if Pharaoh secretly wanted to let them go and mean old God stopped him. Pharaoh knew the consequences, and hated the LORD and his prophet so much he ignored them.

The Bible's clear that we, who live in these times have had much greater revelation than the Old Testament saints. The Israelites were saved out of Egypt by the eternal Son of God. But they never saw the Word become flesh, die once for sins, rise again, ascend to heaven and send his Spirit to all his believers.

We have seen more wonders than Pharaoh. He heard God's word through his prophet; we through his Son. The Son, Jesus, offers us everlasting life, peace with God, pleasures forevermore, all paid for in full by him. Shall we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:3)


For 400 years Egypt had ‘humbled’ Israel (Gen 15:13) – ie they had afflicted and impoverished them.  Moses, at the head of this afflicted people became the most humble man on earth (Num 12:3).  He is therefore the polar opposite of Pharaoh – one raised up before all the earth (Ex 9:16) and who “refuses to humble himself before the LORD.” (Ex 10:3)

This is what the plagues are for - humbling.

In Amos 4 we see plagues falling on Israel (in fulfilment of the warnings against covenant breaking in Deut 28:59) and the constant refrain is - "yet you have not returned to me."

"I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt… yet you have not returned to me," declares the LORD. (Amos 4:10)

Again when the plagues fall on the whole earth in Revelation 15&16 (which I take to be the time between ascension and second coming, i.e. now) the Holy Spirit laments "but they refused to repent and glorify God." (Rev 16:9)

You are either humbled or hardened by these plagues (see here for how Pharaoh's hardening develops).  First in the land of Egypt, next with the nation of Israel - summed up in the true Son who was humbled at Calvary, then (judgement beginning from the house of God, 1 Pet 4:17)  it flows out to the whole world.  The very same plagues fall and for some they humble, for others they harden.

And we definitely want to be on the humble side. (Ps 25:9; 37:11; 76:9; Isaiah 11:4; 61:1):

“He mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5)

“The LORD lifts up the humble, He casts the wicked to the ground” (Ps 147:6)

“For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)

“Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3)

In Exodus, the humbling plagues increase until the climax where it requires a literal sheltering under the blood of the lamb.

For Israel, the plagues that fell on Egypt will judge the people of God (Amos 4-5) and there can be no escape.  (That should really shock us - Israel becomes Egypt!).  There will be a top-down judgement that begins with the true Son, the true Priest, the true King and Most Humble of Men (Dan 4:17).  Christ will be eaten up by ravenous enemies (Ps 22:13) and 'perish' in the darkness (Luke 23:44f).  This is most shocking of all - Jesus, the Son of God becomes like the son of Pharaoh - slaughtered, devoured, perishing in the darkness.

For us, plagues are falling on Babylon which affect the whole world (Rev 15-16).  And the only place of shelter is under the altar (Rev 6).  In this way we become the humble, taking refuge in the Son (Ps 2:10-12).

In Exodus 10, the locusts are described simply as "this death" by Pharaoh.  They devour (v5,12) - like hostile armies (Deut 28:52f; Joel 2:25; Nahum 3:15f), like the sword (Deut 32:42) like Satan (1 Pet 5:8), and like the grave itself (e.g. Num 16:32).

Egypt perishes (v7) at the hand of the LORD.

Without warning the darkness follows hard on the heels of the locusts.  This is the first time this kind of darkness has been mentioned since Genesis 1.  There we encountered the primeval darkness associated with "the deep" and "the waters".  Only by the power of the Word is light separated from darkness.  Again in Exodus 14:20 we will see the Word - the Mighty Angel - separating light from darkness.

But without this great Light of the world, there is only darkness. "Felt darkness" (10:21) which might simply mean darkness that makes you grope.  And calamitous darkness (10:22) which is so much associated with the day of the LORD.

The hardness and madness of Pharaoh is seen in his driving Moses away (v28) - btw does anyone have any thoughts on the parallel between 10:28 and 33:20?

Pharaoh rejects the Priest who has been praying for him, forgiving him and standing between him and the judgements of God.  He wants to be left alone in the darkness.  This is such a powerful picture of humanity opposing Christ.  Even in calamitous darkness we drive Christ away to be left alone in our sin (John 3:19f).  And God always gives people what they most want.  Even in judgement, He only hands people over to what their hearts actually desire.  And so with his priest and intercessor rejected, Pharaoh and his people await their fearful and certain judgement.


Nick continues his commentary from yesterday.

Read Exodus 9:8-35 - Plagues of Boils and Hail

Following on from yesterday, in the fourth pair of signs that God presents to Egypt, Moses stands and sprinkles two handfuls of soot from a furnace towards heaven; it comes down as dust becoming crippling ‘boils breaking forth blains’ on all who are made from the dust of Egypt.

God calls Egypt the ‘iron furnace’ (Deuteronomy 4, 1 Kings 8).  Furnaces are where substances are ‘tested’ and ‘proved’ by intense heat in the process of purification (interesting side point: the English words ‘pyro-‘ and ‘pure’ are related to the Biblical Greek for ‘fire’).  Heat symbolises suffering; furnaces burn to destruction the impurities, leaving only that which withstands the heat of suffering … they are the places where suffering produces ‘endurance’, ‘character’, and ‘hope’ (Romans 5).

Soot results from incomplete burning (as opposed to ash, which results from complete burning) – incomplete burning implies an impure end result.

Suffering and blessing are given, hand-in-hand in this generation, to believer and non-believer alike, to different degrees in different seasons.  God does so because He  is ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).  Blessings are given so that we can ‘taste’ what God’s being ‘good’ and ‘love’ means.  Sufferings are given on the one hand so that we can ‘taste’ what the alternative is (so that with eyes opened by the Spirit, we can choose life instead of death, we can surrender to Christ rather than kicking against the word, and so that, having tasted, we may eat of him).  On the other hand sufferings come so that we can grow in the intimacy with God that comes with living and walking in the Spirit, leaning on the Spirit and sharing with him our joys and our pains.

Moses casts the impure product of the ‘iron furnace’ of Egypt towards the heavens, and they are rejected as unclean (Leviticus 13).  Moses (given to be ‘god to Pharaoh’) alone stands; the scribes are unable to stand before him.

Jesus is really cranking up the delineation between him and his people and the Pharaoh and his people.

The false god of Egypt exalts himself (v17)

But (v16) Pharaoh is raised up so that the God of the Hebrews might show His power and Name.

Aaron’s rod heralded most of the first signs.  Most of the second half are heralded by the rod, hand, or hands of Moses.  But, here, Jesus has identified his own hand as having been ‘put forth’ in all of the signs so far.

The second half of this pair of signs is unprecedented: ‘voices and … hail and fire catching itself in the midst of the hail, very grievous’ … lethal, in fact.

Psalm 78:49 (YLT) – “He sendeth on them the fury of His anger, Wrath, and indignation, and distress -- A discharge of evil messengers”

Voices, hail, and fire seem to herald God’s judgement on the nations (e.g. Revelation 8:7, 11:18-19, and 16:21-17:1)


Egypt has been tested and found to be impure (remember Daniel 5:27?) – the judgement begins.

And yet, throughout God’s signs, each Egyptian witness to Jesus’ signs has been offered another opportunity to repent (literally ‘re-weigh’ the evidence before them) and join the God of the Hebrews.  Here, in the plague of hail, we see two different responses from the Egyptians.  Some among the servants of the Pharaoh ‘fear the word of God’ (v20), whilst some have not ‘set their heart unto the word of God’ (v21). This is the choice set before all who would endure the signs/judgements of God.  The signs are joined to words and the great desire of the LORD is for everyone to heed the word.

God is patient and merciful and we see, from Exodus 12:38, that, despite all their previous unfaithfulness, every servant of the Pharaoh who feared the word of God and put their trust in him was saved ‘as a native’.



Nick Martin-Smith loves Jesus.  He's a teacher and if you talk to him for longer than 30 seconds he'll get you playing touch rugby. Ask him about starting sports outreach ministries in your church.  He the man.

We are in the midst of a dramatisation of Jesus’ Gospel of Salvation (the version ‘starring’ the Pharaoh, with God’s words being spoken by Moses and Aaron).  We’re at the bit in the story where God is showing his enemy and the watching world the wonders of his power, his righteous judgements, his grace, and his steadfast love.

Moses has already received three signs in chapter 4 to authenticate his ministry.  Then in chapter 7:8-13 Aaron seems to sum up these authenticating signs into the one sign of his serpentine staff.  Traditionally people then say that 10 signs follow.  Yet if we simply read the flow of the narrative from when they are enslaved without hope to when they are free (i.e. chapter 7-15) then actually we have twelve signs.  And the 12th - the Red Sea - is crucial to their deliverance and has massive significance in the bible.

Perhaps then it's useful to think of the 12 signs against Egypt and it might be helpful to think of them as six pairs of signs.  They develop from signs to Pharaoh, then to Egypt and then to the whole world (see Exodus 15:14; Joshua 2:10 etc, etc).

Each pair shows ‘faithless sin’ followed by ‘fatal judgement’.  And in each pair we have the death of innocents rather than the guilty (think of how God’s prophets die in pursuit of the lost) and we have the symbolic death of ‘sin’ rather than the sinner (think of the substitutionary sacrificial system).

In the LORD's grace, this pattern of innocents dying for the guilty is repeated again and again until we get a final judgement.  At the Red Sea we finally have the death of the guilty and life for those whose guilt has been taken by their Lamb, the LORD Jesus.

It's an interesting question to ask who was affected by these signs.  As far as I can tell the effects of at least five (if not nine … if not all) of God’s signs fell on Egypt alone.

Let's examine them individually.

The first pair:

First, Aaron’s rod becomes a serpent (symbolising ‘sin’). The scribes and magi do likewise but their rods (i.e. what they lean on - and therefore their labours and hopes) are entirely consumed … yet the scribes and magi themselves are not consumed in this spectacle of flying fangs and venom!

Next, Aaron’s serpentine rod smites the waters (symbolising the Holy Spirit’s work in creation) of Egypt to produce blood (symbolising ‘life’ and ‘soul’ in the body, or ‘death’ out of the body).  When sin blemishes the work of the Spirit, death results.   Again, the scribes can also replicate this act, but are unable to reverse it.


The witness of this initial sign ‘pair’ appears to be that the one upon whom Aaron depends to stand is made sin in order to destroy the wages of sin for his people, but sin in the face of God results in death.

Then Aaron’s stretched out rod brings frogs out from the river; when God's angels (‘messengers’) intercede, they die and their 'stink' is revealed. ‘Frogs’ symbolise the spirits of demons: 'false gods' who go to the kings of the earth to unite them against Jesus; a 'stink' is symbolic of the death that is the result of Man's works in unity with false gods, rather than with God's word (John 11:39, Isaiah 50:2, Joel 2:19-22, Ecclesiastes 10:1, Exodus 16:20).

So the work of the Holy Spirit in Egypt is to reveal the hordes of false gods 'watering' Egypt.  At God's hand there will be an ultimate death, both for them and for all who drink in their lies. Again, the scribes seem to be able to replicate this, bringing yet more 'unclean spirits' onto the land (crazy!), but they are not able to rid themselves of them.

The second pair:

Aaron's rod then strikes the land, the dust of which becomes gnats.  The scribes cannot replicate this sign, and confess God. 'Dust' is the frame of Man, to which our soul cleaves and the spirit is given (Psalm 103:14, 119:25, Ecclesiastes 12:7).  It symbolises mortality.

Having tried to devour the Man of the dust, the serpent is cursed to ‘go’ on his belly and devour the dust of the earth: dust is the tiny, insignificant, broken end-result of God’s destructive work of judgement (Deuteronomy 9:21). Gnats also symbolise mortality, as well as a perverse focus on the less 'weighty' things of God’s Law (Isaiah 51:6, Matthew 23:23-24). So the one on whom Aaron leans originally brought life up from the dust but, if that life’s subsequent means are false, its end is death.


The Holy Spirit's work among the wicked is to reveal the false teaching that the wicked live by, Jesus’ authorship of life, and the ultimate death of false spirits and false men alike.

The third pair:

Here God uses Aaron and Moses to speak but not to signal - there’s no casting, smiting, or stretching of any rods: God sends and God is.

And God separates: briefly, first there’s the ‘grievous’ beetles (Youngs Literal Translation) sent to consume and corrupt the land of Egypt, but not Goshen.  Goshen is ‘separated’ and ‘divided’ from Egypt.

Then God’s hand is ‘a pestilence very grievous’ that consumes the land-creatures of Egypt, whilst the ‘cattle’ of the sons of Israel are ‘separated’.


Up until now, God’s prophet has spoken and shown signs of death - this time God speaks and shows actual death.

Each pair of signs symbolically shows ‘faithless sin’ followed by ‘fatal judgement’.  ‘The wages of sin is death’ … but Romans 6 goes on: ‘the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus’.

Through judgements Jesus divides and separates ‘His People’ from ‘Not His People’, protecting us from true spiritual death. This is what these signs were pointing to.

Tomorrow, we’ll start to look at the second half of the six pairs of signs.


Paul Huxley should blog more (as I'm sure you'll agree when you read this).  You can read more of his stuff at his blog: Theologymnasium.

God's covenant people, from whom will eventually come the serpent crusher, who will bless all nations, are in Egypt. Like Abram, their father, they entered Egypt due to famine (Genesis 12:10), they are brought out through great plagues (Gen 12:17), and they will plunder the Egyptians (Gen 12:16, 20).

But right now, the situation's not looking good for the Israelites. They are slaves, being treated 'ruthlessly' (Ex 1:14). Although Pharaoh's initial attempt at Eugenics failed (Ex 1:17), the blood of Israelite boys was surely spilled in the Nile, after Pharoah commanded 'all his people' to murder the young Hebrew males (Ex 1:22). They have been crying out for 80 years (2 x 40, 2 periods of testing), and now God answers definitively.

So Moses and Aaron bring about the first plague; the water of the Nile, and then the rest of the land is turned into blood. As we've seen, there was no shortage of blood for the LORD to use, but the sheer quantity is remarkable. Whose blood is it? It seems to be the LORD Jesus creating blood cells ex nihilo (out of nothing). And as the Egyptians take this ex-water in their wooden and stone vessels (v19) they find that it stinks, and they cannot drink. This is a cup of judgement.

Contrast this with Jesus much later, at the Wedding in Cana (John 2). That time, he created grape cells out of nothing, and it tasted like fine wine. That was a cup of blessing. Later still, Jesus' blood would be poured out like wine, and to those who received it in faith would receive blessing, and those who profaned it drunk judgement on themselves (1 Cor 11:29).

Back with Moses, and despite seven days of foul stench across Egypt, Pharaoh's heart remains hard (Ex 1:22). A week passes, and the day of the LORD comes again (you can call it the LORD's day if you like). Pharaoh has failed to respond to the word he received last week, and it's time for another cup of judgement.

This time, the curse comes up from the water in the form of frogs. Frogs are 'creeping things' if you use Biblical categories. Like the serpent who was made to crawl on his belly (Gen 3:14) the frog is unclean. My wife has a minor obsession with frogs, thinking that they are green and cute, which is why we have a frog-shaped CD rack. But frogs in the Bible are always associated with judgement.

That's certainly how Egypt took them. Although Pharaoh was impressed when his magicians replicated the water into blood routine, when his magicians filled the land with even more frogs (Ex 8:7), Pharaoh starts to repent (v8). He sets a deal up with Moses. Make the frogs go, and I will let your people go. But when the LORD took the plague away, and everything settled down, Pharaoh once again, hardened his heart, changed his mind, and kept the Israelites as slaves, just 'as the LORD had said (v15).

All that the LORD has said through his prophet Moses, is coming true. His mighty hand is being stretched out across Egypt to rescue his people. Although Pharaoh seems to have outsmarted the LORD, and got away with breaking his promise, there is yet more judgement to come.

Pharaohs, MPs, vicars, husbands, parents make promises to us; very often that under their leadership, we will receive great blessing. But the LORD is the only one who can promise blessing, in the full knowledge that He will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5v24).


Paul Blackham writes here and you can find his All Souls sermons here and Farm Fellowship sermons here.

Exodus 7:14 - 10:29

Most people remember the story of the plagues from their childhood.  We are allowed to enjoy so many of these great Hebrew stories when we are young before we ‘learn’ not to spend so much time in the Scriptures.

Naturally we won’t waste any time on the bizarre attempts to tie the plagues together into a set of meteorological co-incidences!  [The flooding of the Nile plain stirring up red silt [which would have stunned the ignorant Egyptians who had never seen red silt before!], which encouraged the frogs to leave the river and invade the houses… the dead frogs decay and produce gnats… and… I forget how this is supposed to continue.  I can’t remember how the boils produced the hail and the locusts… but I’ll remember in a minute.  This proposal is supposed to make the Bible easier to believe for outsiders so I’m sure there is a really good explanation of the boils, hail and locust… and why the Egyptians didn’t understand about red silt… ? ..! …?  If only the BBC would produce one of those excellent TV series at Easter…. They always get ‘Bible experts’ to explain all these things.]

The general truth in these plagues is clear enough: The Angel of the LORD is more powerful than Pharaoh, his mighty magicians and the various gods of Egypt.  Yet, each of the plagues displays a different facet of the fact that Jesus is LORD.  The plagues have a progression as they circle in around the first born humans.  They begin at arms length and then get closer and closer.  Plenty of warning is thereby given… yet the terrible and suicidal nature of our selfish hearts is revealed by the fact that we insist on going on to the bitter end in our rebellion.

The plagues serve as an important demonstration of the great and terrible judgements the Lord must exercise in order to redeem us from slavery.  It would be so ‘pleasant’ to imagine that salvation and renewal could be achieved from the comfort of an armchair or in that lovely, gentle spirituality of self-improvement and meditation on how divinely glorious we all really are.  Yet, the shadow of the Cross falls across redemption, from start to finish.  Salvation comes after judgement; glory after suffering.

We are not the desperately grateful victims of a tragedy who cheer the arrival of the emergency services.  No, we are the hardened criminals holed up in the building, shooting at any emergency services that try to get near.  When we are saved, so many of us are kicking and screaming as we spit in the face of Jesus.  Until we see Him as He is and our old humanity is finally destroyed, this is always in us, always making our rescue messy and painful and full of judgement.

The empire of Egypt was comfortable and successful.  The Nile made them the breadbasket of the Mediterranean world.  Even hundreds of years later when the apostle Paul is sailing to Rome we read that he caught a lift on a boat full of Egyptian grain.  Egypt had fabulous wealth and stunning treasures which still capture popular imagination even today.  The gigantic tombs and embalming practices of that ancient past [given to Joseph at the end of Genesis] presumably made them imagine that even death was under their control.

Turning from the Divine Angel who Joseph and his family had worshipped, who had brought such wealth and power to Egypt, they plunged into the sewage of these ‘gods’ who had forsaken their proper habitation.  Far from ordering the nations to the worship of the LORD God through whom all had come to be, they had enthroned themselves as the masters of the universe.  Sin in the heavenlies always looks just the same as sin in the earthlies!

This comfortable and prosperous Egypt has no fear of the Living God!  They had no time for these ancient superstitions from the uncivilised slaves!  They could chart the stars and build the pyramids; they could feed the world and conquer the nations; they could deal with the gods and defy death itself.  Why would they need to listen to a Word that would turn all their security upside down, who would force them to choose between their luxuries and Him?

Into that self-assured arrogance, shown so graphically in Pharaoh as the embodiment of it all, the real world of the Most High God comes crashing down.  Onto the playground of the Egyptian gods, the meteorite of reality explodes – revealing their impotence, judging their rebellion, dethroning their power.

We are told that the Lord is making His Name known to the Israelites (6:7), to Pharaoh (7:17), to all the earth (9:16), and to the Israelite descendants to come (10:2).  This of course includes us.  We too come to know the Name of the LORD Jesus through these plagues, though these judgements.  We learn that Jesus does not issue empty threats.  When He tells us of a coming judgement, it will certainly come to pass.  When He tells us how to escape that coming judgement, His words must be followed to the letter.

How have we accepted certain limits on the power of Jesus?  In that day we assume that the Egyptians took it for granted that Jesus could not control the Nile – and yet He did!  Perhaps they assumed that the demonic frogs or flies were beyond His power – but they were not! The blood of judgement over the Nile; the demonic revelation of the frogs; the creation of new life from the very dust; the proof that Baalzebub is not the true LORD over the flies; the taking of the breath of life from animals; the diseases of the human body; the destruction of human society and production… until finally the light itself goes out.

Think of all the stories in the Bible where the power of Jesus is shown in impossible ways.  Do we really believe that He is capable of acting in that way right now?  Do we honestly believe that He could judge the empires of this day and age in that way?

I always fear that I have mentally so domesticated the LORD Jesus that I don’t really think of Him as the Angel of Death and Judgement who brought these plagues of judgement upon ancient Egypt.  It is not that I don’t know the right words to say [I have all too many of them].  Rather, when I look at the way that I live… is the fear of the LORD Jesus the beginning of my life?  Is the fear and trembling present, the terror of the LORD that drives me to prayer and action, to sacrifice and engagement?


How do you think of judgement and salvation?

If you ask me - you shouldn't think like this:


Instead think like this:


Or to be a bit more nuanced - like this.

Now I could take this observation in many directions.

Perhaps we could explore its significance for an infra versus supra-lapsarian debate.

Perhaps we could discuss the strong link that some make between penal substitutionary atonement and limited atonement.

We could think about how to preach warnings of judgement (for instance warnings of exile in the OT) given that judgement is a-coming.

But I'm going to take the observation in this direction...

I'm becoming convinced that when Jesus says 'Take up your cross and follow me' (Mark 8:34) He's saying the same thing as Paul when he says 'I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live'  (Gal 2:20).

Think of some of Jesus' words:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matt 10:34-39)

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:33)

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.  (John 12:24-26)

In the context of Jesus' own judgement and salvation He tells His followers what it means to come after Him.  It means being caught up in that same path - the only path of life.  Seeds must die to live - so it is with The Seed so it is with the many offspring His death produced.  Judgement then salvation.  To be saved is to die with Jesus - to join Him for an early judgement day and pass through to find true life.

Compare this with some words from Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Gal 2:20)

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his, etc, etc  (Rom 6:3-5 and following)

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  (Gal 6:14)

Here Paul describes his history as utterly determined by the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  Judgement and salvation have happened for Paul because he has died and risen with Jesus to new life on the other side of wrath, death, sin, law, old creation.  And (apart from his Adamic flesh that still clings to him) he is utterly dead to the world around him and utterly brought into 'newness of life'.

Now.  Think of a sermon you've heard on the Jesus verses.  And think of a sermon you've heard on the Paul verses.  I imagine the tone of those two sermons was quite different.  I imagine that the Jesus sermons spent a lot of time presenting His words as moralistic exhortations and 'if-then' conditions before (perhaps) the preacher retracted the force of them and told you not to forget that you're 'saved by grace' ('grace' understood along the lines of diagram 1 not diagram 2).   And I imagine the Paul sermon comforted you with the whole 'union with Christ', 'newness of life' stuff and encouraged you that 'hey, you really are saved by grace.' (again, probably 'grace' as understood according to diagram 1) 

I wonder if the Jesus sermons should sound more like the best of the Paul sermons.  And the Paul sermons should sound like the best of the Jesus sermons.  In other words, Jesus, the Seed, dies and rises on your behalf.  If you are His rejoice that you are created, shaped and defined by this death and resurrection in which you are crucified to the the whole world, and the whole world is crucified to you.  This is your salvation because there simply is no other way to resurrection than through the cross.  'Come and die' is not a fearful condition of life - maybe you're up to it, maybe not.  It's the description of how that life comes, wrapped up in the announcement that Jesus really has crucified the world to raise it up new - come on in.

If you are not dead to the world, this might well be a sign that you are not His.  Or that you have wandered far from Him.  So go to Him and take that easy yoke onto your shoulders (Matt 11:28-30).  Be constrained by the death and resurrection of Jesus, for this is salvation.  Or else be wearied and burdened by your own, much heavier yokes which cannot lead you through the judgement to come.

But for those who are yoked to Christ, know that you have begun, even now, to live that newness of life.  Even today as we walk together with Jesus, dying to sin and self and the praises and worries of this world, resurrection life is unleashed.  This mystical union with Christ (the best of the Paul sermons) is earthed in the daily discipleship of living for Jesus (the best of the Jesus sermons).  Let's have both. 

I wonder if that's why Peter finishes his first letter (which is all about this judgement then salvation dynamic) by saying 'This is the true grace of God.' 1 Peter 5:12.



Tim Challies has quoted a pithy saying of Ligon Duncan's:

Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator.

Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator.

What do we reckon?

Here's what's great about it.  It affirms that our experience of eternity hinges on our relationship to the Mediator.  It also affirms that God is not absent from hell.  Both those things are true and worth lifting up.

But I think there are better ways of saying such things.  Here's what's unhelpful about it:

  1. In terms of our doctrine of God - what sense can be made of 'God without a Mediator'?  Trinity means that mediation goes way back.  WAY back.  And WAY forwards.  1 Corinthians 8:6 - all things have always been from the Father and through the Lord Jesus.  All things.  And all things always will be.  Who is this God who is without His Mediator. I simply can't recognize 'God without a mediator' as the Christian God.
  2. In terms of our christology - does this sentiment give Christ His due?It could lead people to suppose that Christ is simply the wrath-averter.  Now of course He is the wrath-averter.  And if He was only the wrath-averter we would still praise Him into eternity for it.  But He is far more than this.  He is the Mediator of all the Father's business.  Christ does not exist for our benefit - we exist for His.  The saying above could be easily misconstrued to mean that the Mediator is extremely important for us - but not so important for God.  No.  He is essential to the divine life before we ever consider His importance for us. 
  3. In terms of Scripture - 2 Thes 1:9 "Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." (KJV)  There's a translation issue about the preposition ('apo').  Should it be translated 'from' or 'away from'?  I favour 'from' - ie implying that Christ is present in judgement.  This goes with Revelation 14:10 where the damned are tormented in the presence of the Lamb.  See also Rev 1:18 where Jesus is presented as the Jailor of death and hades, and Rev 6:16-17 where it's the wrath of the Father together with the Lamb.  Jesus expressly says in John 5:22 that the Father has entrusted all judgement to Him. 

What does this mean?  It means that hell is being in the presence of God who continues to mediate His judgement through the Son.  There is no such thing as 'God without a mediator'. 

I've got some more to say on this, but I'll wait for another post... 


I've been preparing sermons from Isaiah recently.  What's really striking me is the universal judgement pronounced by the LORD.

The book has rightly been called a tale of two cities and the remarkable thing is that both cities are Jerusalem.  Jerusalem stands at the head of both old and new creation.  The earthly Jerusalem has its earthly copy of the heavenly reality - the temple.  And contemporary threats to earthly Jerusalem (from Assyria and Babylon) are the sign of universal judgement on this present evil age.  But there is a heavenly Zion, eternal capital of the new heavens and new earth.

Hope is not found in avoiding the universal judgement.  Hope is not found in belonging to some other earthly city or people.  Humanity will be judged wholesale from the top down.  Judgement will begin with the house of God (1 Pet 4:17) - meaning temple, meaning household (people), meaning Christ!  The world will go down in flames.  This is root and branch demolition.

So it's not:


Instead it's:


And the only path to salvation is the path through judgement.


Salvation is not the absence of judgement, it's bowing your head to the Refuge found in the LORD alone.

Some of these thoughts are in a recent sermon on Isaiah 2:6-22 (listen here).


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