Exodus: Journey to Freedom – The Heart of Darkness (10:21-29)
Heart of Darkness
A pressure cooker is a pot that has a seal around it that closes very tightly. As you turn up the heat on the pressure cooker, steam is created inside. The steam builds up, creating pressure (about 30 psi) and, because it cannot completely escape, it drives the boiling point of water past 212 degrees. The higher temperature and pressure shortens the cooking time. The valve is designed to let a certain amount of the pressure to escape so that the pressure cooker doesn’t blow up.
Pharaoh has God’s people in slavery and Pharaoh will not let them go. God knows Pharaoh’s heart and God knows that He’s got to get Pharaoh’s “psi” to the 30 psi point; He’s got to get the temperature of Pharaoh’s heart to 212 degrees before Pharaoh will let God’s people go. God could have jumped directly to the death of the firstborn, which we’ll study in two weeks, but then God would not have had the opportunity to show His power over all those gods of Egypt. It could also be true that God knew it would take the first nine plagues to increase the pressure on Pharaoh so that the last plague would make Pharaoh reach the proper point and let Israel go free.
On August 1, 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874–1922) and his crew set sail from London aboard the ship Endurance. They were bound for Antarctica, where the famous explorer hoped to traverse the continent on foot. But Shackleton never made the trek because before the Endurance could reach land, the ship became hopelessly lodged in the ice pack. It was January 1915, and from this point their goal became simple survival.
The crew faced many hardships in the months that followed, including freezing temperatures and near starvation. But of all the frozen terrors they faced, none was more disheartening than the long polar night. The sailors grew uneasy as winter set in and the light began to fade. In early May the sun vanished altogether, not to be seen again until late July. Shackleton’s biographer wrote, “In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It is a return to the Ice Age—no warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether, and it has driven some men mad.”
Sun Worshipers - 10:21-22:
The ninth plague engulfed Egypt into total darkness. For three whole days no one could see anything.
As we have pointed out in every lesson, these plagues were directed in part agains the gods of Egypt (Exo. 12:12; Num. 33:4). What if your god went totally dark on you? You see, the Egyptians worshiped the sun. Horus was the god of the sunrise. Aten was the god of the midday sun. Atum was the god of the sunset. But the supreme deity in all Egyptian theology was Amon-Re. According to some Egyptian texts, he said, “I am the great god who came into being of himself, He who created his names … he who has no opponent among the gods.”
When the sun rose in the east, it would tell the Egyptians that Amon-Re was alive and could give life. The sunset symbolized death and the afterlife, but the rise of Amon-Re gave hope for a resurrection. For the Egyptians, the sun would never be destroyed.
Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was considered the Son of Re. He was the embodiment of the god of the sun. In that position, Pharaoh contributed to the order and stability in the cosmos.
The Israelites will eventually carry the worship of the sun with them and start practicing such: First, God warned Israel not to worship the sun: Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3. But Israel did anyway: 2 Kings 23:5, 11. This led to God jerking them out of the Promised Land and sending them into exile in Babylon: Jeremiah 8:2; Ezekiel 8:16-17.
Who is our ultimate object of devotion and service? Who do we delight to serve above all else? If I really desire to make one person happy, who is that one person? That’s the person I worship. About 200 years after Jesus returned to heaven, a theological named Origen said, “What each one honors before all else, what before all things he admires and loves, this for him is God.”
I think there are a whole lot of Americans - even a whole lot of people across the country who claim to be Christians - whose god is self. Listen to the words of this poem by Walt Whitman, called “Song of Myself:”
I celebrate myself, and sing myself …
the song of me rising from the bed and meeting the sun.…
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch.…
If I worship one thing more than another it shall be … my own body.
One might say that Whitman is the most “American” of all poets; if so, then he expresses the most “American” of all churches: the Church of Self where men and women do everything they want; sometimes they even call it worship. Americans tend to idolize themselves.
The Eclipse of Ra
In the first eight plagues God has made a mockery of: Hapi, Osiris, Heqet, Kheprer, Apis, Isis, Sekhmet, and a whole lot of other lesser gods and goddesses. To this point, the score is: Jehovah God - 8; Egyptian theology - 0.
So, it was just a matter of time for Jehovah God to strike the supreme god: Amon-Re. And all God had to do was flip the light switch - 10:21-23. God created the sun (Gen. 1:14-19). You might recall that Moses uses the expression “greater light” for the sun and “lesser light” for the night, to keep from associating Jehovah God with the gods which were worshipped as the sun and the moon.
This plague is one of the many which God sent on Pharaoh without warning. This was a “thick” darkness. It was a darkness that could be felt! How terrified the Egyptians were! God did not tell them this would last only three days! The plants get their energy from the sun; animals eat the plants. Humanity is dependent on the sun for light, heat, and energy. God shut off the light, turned off the heat, and closed the refrigerator on the Egyptians!
This darkness - is it necessary to say? - was not natural. It was not a solar eclipse. The Egyptians would not have been afraid at something that they knew was natural and that would last for only a few minutes. That’s the longest a solar eclipse lasts - a few minutes. This darkness lasted three days! And this darkness could be felt.
We have already shared how these plagues of God on Egypt more-or-less undo the acts of creation week. The first thing God created, of course, was light and here, God darkens the light He made on Day #1. Yes, the plagues were, in a sense, God “undoing” creation, at least in the land of Egypt. Can you imagine how the Egyptians felt to know that their god could not save them from darkness? The God of Moses even controls the sun!
If and when we trust in ourselves, we will eventually find ourselves in darkness. God will destroy our self-confidence at some point.
The Shadow of Darkness - 10:24-26:
“Darkness,” of course, is often used in the Bible for ignorance, sin, rebellion, and death: Job 18:18; Proverbs 4:19; John 3:19; Ephesians 4:18; 1 John 1:6.
Verse 24 shows us that Pharaoh knew in his mind what God wanted from him. God wanted him to let Israel go. Pharaoh knew God’s name - Jehovah. He knew the purpose for their departure: worship God; even sacrifice to God. He knew all that in his mind, but not in his heart. There’s the problem.
Pharaoh had been offering some compromises here and there. In the fourth plague, Pharaoh wanted Israel to sacrifice within the borders of Egypt: 8:25. He wanted them to serve God and him at the same time. His second compromise was to let Israel go, but not very far: 8:28.
The third compromise was to let the men go, but not the women and children: 10:10-11. No man is going to leave his wife and kids in slavery while he goes free!
So his fourth compromise now is to let Israel go, but not take their animals! We all know that would not have lasted very long either. Not only did Israel need the animals for food and clothing and work, but they also needed them to sacrifice to Jehovah God. Once again, Pharaoh had the arrogance that a lot of people today have - he thought that he could dictate his terms to God. People today churches all across the land think that they can dictate to God what He should be accepting from them in worship. They think they can dictate to God the type of “plan of salvation” which sounds good to their ears. Just like Pharaoh, they want to stay in control of their theology. But “a heart that is not willing to go the whole way with God is a heart of darkness” (Ryken).
Salvation is available only for those who submit their lives, and heart, and mind to the light of God’s word.
Down to the Last Hoof - 10:25-26:
Once again, we see that God distinguishes between those who are His people and those who are not: 10:23. This “blackout” was only over Egypt, which is remarkable and miraculous. When we study Revelation 7 in a few weeks, the “rich reality” we’ll learn is that God knows those who are His. He knows. We are “marked” or “sealed.” And we’ll talk about that metaphor when we study Revelation 7.
“Light” is also used as a metaphor. It is a metaphor for truth, purity, and holiness: 1 John 1:5; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:19; Ephesians 5:8.
I wonder if any of the Hebrews ever thought Moses was making a mistake in refusing to compromise with Pharaoh…? I wonder if it was ever tempting to the Hebrews to question Moses and suggest they negotiate.
But Moses, for the fourth time, refused to compromise with Pharaoh, using one of my favorite expressions from Exodus: 10:25-26 - “not a hoof shall be left behind!”
Worship had to be done on God’s terms. People today simply do not believe that. But Moses understood. It was not enough to worship in Egypt. God said He wanted Israel to worship in the wilderness. It was not enough for just the men to worship. God wanted His people to worship. It was not enough for just the people to leave; God wanted them to take their possessions with them. That is how God is: He demands everything we are and everything we have: “our life, our soul, our all.” That’s discipleship. Pharaoh would not keep a single hoof from a single cattle!
When you give your heart to God, you don’t hold anything back. You don’t set your hand to the plow and then look back (Luke 9:62). When you give your heart to God and then learn that something else is required of you that you did not realize, then you do that too. That’s what it means to give your heart to God. It means that your highest ambition in life is to please God: 1 Thess. 2:4.
What we might find is that if we are going to give God our whole heart, as we must, then we have to leave Egypt behind. There is no compromise. It might be that we need to leave behind friends or family, fortune, or fame. Because God has to have our whole heart. “To come to Christ is to declare that there is no command we will not keep, no sin we will not forsake, no duty we will not perform, no talent we will not employ in our ambition to give all the glory to God” (Ryken).
Come into the Light - 10:27-29:
There comes an end to God’s grace and His mercy and verses 27-29 show that God has an end.
Moses simply would not agree to any of Pharaoh’s terms and God would not agree to any of Pharaoh’s terms. There is no fellowship between light and darkness. So Pharaoh threatened Moses with death if he ever set foot in front of Pharaoh again, and Moses said, “Fine! I’ll never see your face again.” Now, we do not know about the timing of chapter 11 versus chapter 10, because we see Moses speaking to Pharaoh again in 11:4. And Pharaoh speaks to Moses again in 12:31.
But this ninth plague was Pharaoh’s last chance to soften his heart and listen and obey God’s prophet. But notice verse 27: Pharaoh was not willing. The longer he hardened his heart, the more difficult it was for him to be willing. The longer you or I continue engaging in the sin we are committing, the harder it will be for us to be wiling in the face of God’s command to repent. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). I point out to you that based on John 3:36, that those who do not obey Jesus Christ, has the wrath of God remaining on them. If I walked around this morning and could see spiritually, could see with God’s eyes, would I see the wrath of God resting on your shoulders? Or would I see the blood of Christ washing over you?
Once again, John will use the plague of darkness as a metaphor for the destruction that God will bring on the Roman Empire, for doing the same thing to Christians that Pharaoh was doing to the Israelites: 16:10-11.
There was darkness over the land of Egypt for three days. When Jesus was crucified, it seems to me God did this to reflect the spiritual darkness of mankind at that particular point, God brought darkness over the land for three hours (Luke 23:44). When Jesus died, there was then darkness over the land until the morning of the resurrection, when God would bring His firstborn Son out of the chains of death.
Jesus has given us His message now, His New Testament, His gospel, which brings spiritual life and immortality to light (2 Tim. 1:10). Paul will also write that God made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Take home message: God is calling you to leave the land of darkness and follow Christ into the light. Walk in His light.