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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 5 - Livestock

Exodus 8:30-9:7
30 So Moses left Pharaoh’s palace and pleaded with the Lord to remove all the flies. 31 And the Lord did as Moses asked and caused the swarms of flies to disappear from Pharaoh, his officials, and his people. Not a single fly remained. 32 But Pharaoh again became stubborn and refused to let the people go.

9:1 “Go back to Pharaoh,” the Lord commanded Moses. “Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. 2 If you continue to hold them and refuse to let them go, 3 the hand of the Lord will strike all your livestock—your horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats—with a deadly plague. 4 But the Lord will again make a distinction between the livestock of the Israelites and that of the Egyptians. Not a single one of Israel’s animals will die! 5 The Lord has already set the time for the plague to begin. He has declared that he will strike the land tomorrow.’”

6 And the Lord did just as he had said. The next morning all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but the Israelites didn’t lose a single animal. 7 Pharaoh sent his officials to investigate, and they discovered that the Israelites had not lost a single animal! But even so, Pharaoh’s heart remained stubborn,[a] and he still refused to let the people go.

Introduction
Can you name the plagues so far? Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, and now the death of Egypt’s livestock.
Exodus tells us again and again that God sent the plagues to prove to Egypt and everyone that there is only one God, Yahweh, the Great I Am, Lord of all.  (Ex 17:17 - By this you will know that I am the Lord… Ex 6:6 - Then you will know that I am the Lord your God… Ex 10:2 - …that you may know that I am the Lord. Ex 12:12 - …I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.)

Sacred Cows of Ancient Egypt

As Modern people, we can’t underestimate the importance of livestock to ancient people.  They provided food, transportation, cultivation for farms, and they carried goods from place to place.  Livestock were a symbol of power, wealth, and status and Egypt owned tremendous amounts of livestock.  

The Egyptians made gods and goddesses of the things that were important to them.  And since livestock were very important, they have many gods fashioned in the image of cows.  There was Hesat, the goddess who was said to provide humanity with milk to sustain life.  In particular, Hesat was said to suckle the Pharaoh and several ancient Egyptian bull gods.

There was also a cow goddess named Hathor, who was the mother of the sky god Horus and the sun god Ra, both of whom were connected with kingship.  Thus, Hathor was the symbolic mother of the pharaohs. The Egyptians believed Hathor helped deceased souls in the transition to the afterlife.

They also believed in a bull god called Apis (pronounced Happy).  Apis served as an intermediary between humans and other powerful deities. In the Egyptian myth, Apis was sacrificed and then reborn. Apis was represented by a live animal mascot (sort of like UGA, the mascot of the University of Georgia). Religious leaders would identify a black calf by the markings that identified him as Apis. He was venerated throughout life and buried in an expensive funeral with a tomb and mourned until a new Apis was found.

God brought judgment on Egypt’s gods and goddesses.  Through the fifth plague, God intentionally poured out judgment on Egypt’s pride, wealth, and livelihood while exposing their perverted sense of what is sacred.  All the livestock of the Egyptians died. ("All" is a hyperbolic statement.  In plague 7, we will see God warning to Egyptians to protect their livestock from the hail.  So it wasn't that all the livestock of Egypt died in the fifth plague, but so many died it seemed like they all died.  However, some apparently survived to be threatened by the seventh plague.)

Pharaoh’s Hard Heart

Now you would think one plague would be enough to turn Pharaoh and Egypt around.  Yet, here we are on the fifth plague and Pharaoh still will not let God's people go.  (I pray COVID-19 is enough to convince America to turn back to God; I would hate to think there are still five or ten more plagues coming.)

A number of times throughout this story, we read about Pharaoh’s stubborn heart. Sometimes it says, “Pharaoh hardened his heart…” (Ex 8:32). In other places, it says, “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” (Ex 9:12)  The two sort of go together.  God always gives us a choice to obey.  However, when you disobey again and again, your heart becomes hard and it can grow so hard it is nearly impossible to change.  That was Pharaoh.  And God chose to use Pharaoh's hard heart to make an example for all the world for all time to see.  

We must also remember Pharaoh and Egypt were under demonic influences.  When a person or a people reject the truth of God for false gods as did Egypt, it opens them up to all kinds of evil influence.  Demons are real and they are always willing to come in and pretend be gods.  And if you let them (thinking they will serve you and give you what you want), it won't be long before those same demons will take over your life.  This is always the case with idol and false gods.  You start out thinking they will serve you, but you end up serving them as slaves.

We must never forget there is a spiritual battle raging all around us, though unseen.  Ephesians 6:12 says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Some people today think demons are an outdated idea. They think the demonic possessions of the Bible were merely mental or physical disorders ancient people could not diagnose; so many today believe people in the Bible were ignorant and we know better. However, we must remember that Jesus acknowledged demonic influence as a legitimate problem for people. Are we so intelligent as to disregard Jesus' worldview?  Isn’t it a bit arrogant for modern people to assume we always know better and that the ancients always misdiagnosed mental/physical disorders as demon possessions? We now live in a world that dismisses the idea that any malady at all could be caused by demons. Consider:  Are we not in as much danger now as the ancients were then of misdiagnosing a serious problem if we arrogantly dismiss their experience as absurd?

We live in a rational age. That means we believe in science and logic and critical thinking. If you want to know if something is true, then test it, study it, verify it scientifically. We have taught ourselves that science is the answer, that science is black and white. However, we are not as smart as we think we are. And the “experts” (the modern equivalents of ancient high priests) are not as infallible as we think they are either. One of the things we have all seen this year is how wrong the experts can be.  The very same experts (the CDC and Dr. Fauci) who confidently proclaimed in March, "You don't need to wear a mask."  In fact, they even had the attitude that you were being ridiculous and ignorant if you were wearing a mask.  A few months latter, they completely changed their message and now say the exact opposite of what they said in the beginning.  Added to all this mixed messaging is the politics.  The virus is real and a serious problem.  However, who you support politically has a lot to do with what you believe about the virus and how we should handle this pandemic.  And all sides use science and data to support their opinion.

I’m not here to take on side or the other.  I’m just making a point.  We are not as smart as we think we are.  How people use science is not black and white nor does it have all the answers. People will arrogantly scoff at you as irrational & ignorant one day and then completely change their story the next day.  Science and facts might be unbiased, but the way people use science and facts is a product of what they believe.

The Idol of the Intellect

My purpose today is not to debate the science and politics of COVID-19. My purpose is to expose an idol in our lives. According to Timothy Keller in his book, Counterfeit Gods, an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.” And if we’re honest, I think we’ll admit that a lot of people today—maybe even you—trust more in the intelligence of modern humanity than you do in the ancient God of which the Bible tells us.

Some will say, “Pastor, don’t you think it can be both? Can't we trust science and God?” Listen, I believe in the importance of education.  I have Bachelor of Science degree and Masters degree from Emory University.  Education is important and God gave us intelligence and wants us to use.  Furthermore, He gave us tools like science to better understand our world.  However, we have to be careful we don't start thinking we're so smart we don't need God.  

The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.  As modern people, we often raise intellect and rational thinking to a god-like state. It has come to the place that many people don’t think they even need God anymore. Religion is just an outdated myth (some think it even a handicap to society).  It's just stupid when your intelligence turns you away from God.

Proverbs 3:5 advises, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding."  Verse 7 warns, "Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil."  And Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall."  We have grown very proud in our modern, intellectual world.

Evil Influences

Are we too smart, too rational to think that demons could influence our world today?  Here are some signs that dark forces may be at work behind the scenes.

The first sign is hard to see because it's hidden.  People won’t see it coming.  The fact that the Enemy remains hidden is a sign to watch for in and of itself.  The Devil is real, but he doesn't want people to know it.  He will try to convince people he doesn't exists and that anyone who says he does is just ignorant and superstitious.

A second sign of demonic influence is that people will twist what God says.  In the Scripture, we see Satan twisting God's Word.  This is how he tempted Eve in the Garden in Genesis.  He didn't deny God's Word outright.  He changed it.  He said to Eve, "Did God say you can't eat any fruit in the garden?"  That's not what God said.  Then he told Eve God denied Eve something good by  withholding the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  "He knows if you eat it, you will be like God…"

Satan even quoted Scripture when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, quoting Psalm 91 out of context to tempt Jesus to leap off a high place so that “angels will protect you” and prove that Jesus is God's Son.  Of course, Jesus knew better and quoted Scripture (Deuteronomy) right back at Satan saying, "You must not put the Lord to the test."

Another sign of demonic influence in the world is that people will do evil things.  Of course, people will always do evil things, as long as we are lead bya sinful, fallen nature.  However, we look around and we see people doing particularly evil things--things previous generations could have never imagined.  Don't we see there is dark evil in the world today?  Isn't it obvious when a crazy person walks into a school and starts randomly shooting innocent children?

Demonic influence is getting especially bad when people call evil good and good evil.  It's gotten to where the average person today is really confused, because we can't hardly tell right from wrong anymore.  Society's rules change all the time.

Have you noticed the subtle way hero stories are being recast in our generation?  When I was a boy, I loved superhero movies and it was real clear who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.  Superman was the hero and Lex Luther was the archvillain.  However, the trend in movies over the last couple decades has been to recast all these stories.  They now want to tell the story from the villain's perspective and show he's not such a bad guy after all.  In fact, he (or she) may actually be the real hero and the apparent hero is really the villain.  Part of this is just an attempt at interesting story-telling to bring new life to an old story.  It was interesting the first time it was done, but now it's been done so much it's become the norm.  And I think it reflects a deeper issue in our culture.  So many today think have decided (or are questioning) if good is really good or if evil is really good.  There is a reversal of roles happening before our eyes.  Things that were considered undeniably repulsive and wrong a generation ago are glorified today.  And things we always accepted as good are now called evil. 

When demons are manipulating your culture, it isn't long until people deny or replace God.  Soon, you don’t even have to hide it anymore; the demons can come out in the open and people won't be repulsed at all.  People will welcome them, idolize them, worship them--just like they did in ancient Egypt.

Romans 1:24-27 – “So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.”

Closing

There is still time to turn to God.  We live in a free  society.  It may be hard to reject the norm of idolatry and paganism.  You may be ridiculed and have to sacrifice some things you've come to cherish and depend upon, but it won't get you killed.  Unfortunately, if our nation continues down the road we are headed, spurred on by our favorite demons, we may soon come to a place I don't want to imagine.  Now, more than ever, is the time to turn to God through Jesus Christ.  We must put God before all else, above all the other counterfeit gods in our nation: wealth, power, relationships, intellect, entertainment, etc.  Colossians 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ."

Turn from your false gods to the One True and Living God—the One who gave His life on the cross to redeem you from slavery to sin.   If you choose something else above God, know this: your days are numbered. Your world and everything in it, all your false gods will soon fall—just like the false gods of Egypt.

For there is only one Lord—Yahweh, the Great I Am.

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