What’s your worst habit? What’s the worst habit your loved one has, the one that irritates you so much that you contemplate murder? How likely is it that either you or they will change your ways? If you answered not likely, then congratulations, you are like most people in the world – you just never change. Indeed, most of us can recognize that it’s a bit silly to expect someone to suddenly break a bad habit. The same goes for you. The same goes for me. The same goes, apparently, for Pharaoh, king of Egypt.
Plague one – water turned to blood – is over and done. It’s been a week since God levied that horrifying drought (chapter 7, verse 25). Now Moses, still intent on Pharaoh letting the Hebrew slaves go, approaches the king of Egypt for the second time. This time he threatens a numberless horde of frogs, which is even more gross than the last plague. Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go, and the frogs descend. The magicians copy the frog plague, inexplicably adding to the number of the horrifying creatures. Pharaoh demands Moses and Aaron pray to their God and ask Him to remove the frogs. They pray. The frogs disappear. Pharaoh changes his mind.
You can repeat those last few sentences two more times, changing “frogs” to “gnats” and then “flies”, and you have the rest of this chapter. The only difference is that the next two times the magicians were unable to replicate the plague (verse 18). That and during the plague of flies, Pharaoh attempted to bargain with Moses and Aaron (and thus God), telling them to worship their God right where they were (verse 25). Yet Moses and Aaron changed nary a word of their original request. They stood firm. Pharaoh stood firm. God stood firm. And now the next round is about to begin.
The Treasures Within:
The Games We Play
As the dust settles from the latest installment of really disgusting plagues, a pattern begins to emerge. God sends a plague on Pharaoh and his people. Pharaoh endures for a while. Pharaoh, driven to desperation, asks Moses and Aaron to pray to their God and give him his normalcy back in exchange for obedience. God obliges, giving Pharaoh and all of Egypt peace. Pharaoh immediately changes his mind and continues to enslave those he promised to release.
If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because we do the exact same thing. We live our lives the way we want to, sometimes dabbling in a sin here and there and sometimes blatantly disobeying the words we know God has spoken to us. So God does something to get our attention. Things go badly at work or we get sick or our relationships start to crumble or we fall into financial troubles. God disciplines us. He wants us to come out of Egypt and worship Him. Suffering under our punishment and the consequences of our sin, we pray and ask God for relief. We ask for forgiveness. We determine to obey our Lord. We decide to give our lives back to God. Things are good for a while. We’re happy. We thank God for rescuing us, for putting a lightness in our chests and a smile on our faces. Yet, inevitably, predictably, devastatingly, we go back to our old ways. We continue to commit the sins we promised to give up. And the cycle resets itself. When does it end?
Patience That Passes All Understanding
God is as constant and faithful as our hearts are fickle and changeful. And this chapter is just one huge example of that. God kept taking His plagues away from Pharaoh, giving him chance after chance to repent. Yet again and again, Pharaoh played God, throwing up a middle finger as soon as he got his way.
And that’s not all Pharaoh did. The gall of this man was astounding. He tried to bargain with God by giving the Israelites a couple hours of freedom (verse 25). He had the audacity to ask Moses and Aaron to pray for him, believing in God enough to ask for prayer, but apparently, not enough to obey Him. And even when God made it abundantly clear what He was doing by bringing the plague of the flies only to the Egyptians and sparing the Israelites, Pharaoh still played his same old game. And over and over and over again, God was right there with him. God didn’t strike Pharaoh down. He didn’t let the plague hang over Egypt indefinitely. God was merciful, even to what looks like a fault.
But what God did was not idiocy or naiveté. It was grace. It was love. It was patience. And if it was then, then it is now. Despite our maneuverings, our attempts to outsmart Him, our broken promises and our complete ignorance of how serious salvation is, God is right there with us. He doesn’t strike us down. He doesn’t kill us. He waits for us. He is patient with us. Again and again and again and…
God’s Message To Us:
“Break the cycle.” Reading this chapter and experiencing the ups and downs of Pharaoh’s vacillation and betrayal is exhausting and frustrating. We know how futile it is for him to play games with the Almighty God. We realize how petty Pharaoh looks. We realize how small he and his magicians and his negotiation strategies appear next to a big God and His wonders. But it’s a different story when it’s us in the cycles. Some of us are cycling with God right now. We too are bargaining with God, trying to halfway obey Him while keeping around the sins we really like. We too pray to God, promising to do better, believing Him enough to ask Him to relieve our suffering but not enough to obey Him. We too are petty, immature, disobedient, short-sighted, wicked children throwing middle fingers in our Father’s face. But we, just like Pharaoh, have another option. We, just like Pharaoh, have the opportunity to stop the betrayal, to break the cycle, and to decide, truly and fully, with all of our hearts, to obey God and God alone. We, just like Pharaoh, have a loving Father who is patient with us and who wants us to be free. The choice was Pharaoh’s. The choice is ours, too.
What do you think? Do you see yourself reflected in the circles Pharaoh was running in? What did God want you to learn from this chapter of the Bible?