The People of the LORD

The People of the LORD

I find there are few things more annoying than a fly that enters your home and continuously buzzes around landing upon and near you (ditto with mosquitoes, bees, and stink bugs!). Who would think that such a small annoyance could be so disruptive to reading—or talking with someone—or eating—or writing—or preparing a sermon? Thursday as I was working on this sermon I ended up stopping four times—three times to kill three different bees and once to kill a fly. Now imagine not one fly; nor two; nor half a dozen but thousands of them. And imagine that the flies are not only indoors but also outdoors. No matter where you go, they are there in every room of the house inside, in every inch of the land outside. Everywhere you turn, there’s a wall of flies. If you try to escape on a camel, the flies are there. Even if you manage to kill a hundred of them, a thousand more are there to take their place. As we’ll see this morning, a plague of flies was the fourth plague the LORD brought upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians for refusing to let God’s people go worship him.[1]

After Pharaoh’s heart was hardened during the plague of gnats,[2] as stated beginning with verse 20 of Exodus 8, the LORD told Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them.’” Yet again Pharaoh was warned and presented with a choice: he could either let God’s people go worship him or he and his people would be subject to another horrifying plague—this time “swarms of flies” that God would send upon Pharaoh, his officials, his people, and all of their houses.

But whereas in the past, God’s people had similarly been afflicted with the various plagues—the Nile River turning into blood,[3] the multiplication of frogs,[4] the multiplication of gnats[5]this time the LORD chose to spare his people, the Israelites. As stated in verses 22–23, “22 But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction”—or “will put a deliverance” or “set redemption”—“between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.” If you’ll recall, during the time when Joseph was alive, the Pharaoh living at that time had been well-disposed to Joseph. Therefore, he allowed him to bring over his father Jacob, or Israel, and his sons and gave them Goshen, the best land in Egypt, to dwell in.[6] Goshen is where the nation of Israel prospered, grew, and continued to dwell from the time of Joseph to the time of Moses. In stating that the swarms of flies would descend upon all of Egypt except Goshen, God was displaying his power and might to an even greater degree than he had previously done for, as we all know, there’s no controlling where the flies that find their way into our homes or outdoor picnics choose to fly. Not only would the descent of the swarm be miraculous but also the fact that this swarm of flies would descend everywhere but in Goshen. Thus would God “make a distinction” between his people and the Egyptians; thus would God “put a deliverance” or “set redemption” between his people and the Egyptians. As he had done in the past, the LORD would deliver his people,[7] this time from the plague of flies.

As stated in verse 24, what the LORD told Moses came to pass: “And the Lord did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.” This time no magicians attempting to reproduce the plague are mentioned. Wanting to be rid of the detestable flies, “Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said,” verse 25, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” However, this was one instance when compromise wasn’t possible. As Moses responded starting in verse 26, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.” Moses first replied from a practical standpoint, reminding Pharaoh—as he no doubt already knew—that the animals used in the sacrifices would be detestable to his people. In fact, as one commentator notes, “Egyptians deified the animals customarily sacrificed by the Israelites.”[8] Is it any wonder, therefore, that the Egyptians would stone the Israelites for sacrificing them? Though we don’t deify our pets, we would be horrified to see someone sacrificing a dog or cat or horse, for that matter. But second, and more importantly, Moses let Pharaoh know that in order for them to properly worship the LORD, the people of Israel needed to obey him. And this obedience required that they take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer said sacrifices.

Upon hearing this, Pharoah responded, verse 28, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.” This response doesn’t make clear whether or not Pharaoh had fully agreed to the stipulations set forth since it would seem that a three-day journey would be “very far.” Yet Moses did as he asked, telling him, as stated in verse 29, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.” As occurred with the plague of frogs, the removal of the plague of flies took place at a predetermined time, the next day. As stated in verses 30–31, “30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, 31 and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained.” Unfortunately, as stated in verse 32, “But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.” This time also Pharaoh acted deceitfully “by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord” (verse 29). You would think that Pharaoh would have come to the realization by now that though he was king over all of Egypt, he was no match for the LORD, Yahweh, the King of the universe. It would take six more plagues before Pharaoh came to this realization. It would take six more plagues before he finally let Yahweh’s people go and worship him.

Now the part of this account that I’d like to focus on is the people of Israel being spared this particular plague. What are we to make of this? As noted in the text, the reason God gave for dealing differently “with the land of Goshen,” that is, with the land where his people, the Israelites were living, was “so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land” (verse 22). We continue to see that a key component of miraculous occurrences is that people might come to a saving faith and knowledge of God—as stated here, that even Pharaoh might know that God, the LORD, was in this land. The added distinction between Goshen and the rest of Egypt further underscored God’s presence and power over even the land of Egypt. And as we’ve noted, the literal translation of the Hebrew phrase “make a distinction” is “will put a deliverance” or “set redemption.” Therefore, the way in which God made a distinction between his people and the Egyptians was by delivering—by redeeming—his people from this fourth plague.

This leaves us with the question: Is this always the case? Will God always deliver his people from evil? Some Christians would answer, “Yes.” This is the response of those who hold to what is known as the “prosperity gospel.” In short, this false teaching—for it’s no gospel—asserts that those who know and follow Jesus Christ will be spared suffering of all sorts during the earthly part of their sojourn and will instead prosper in all sorts of ways so long as they follow and obey God in Christ. Therefore, those who follow God will have physical health—and material wealth. They’ll have perfect lives, perfect families, perfect friends, perfect homes. Yet even in our study in Exodus thus far, we’ve seen that God’s people weren’t spared the first three plagues, but only the fourth. And, again, this occurred in order that Pharaoh might know, “that I, the Lord, am in this land.” In other words, there was a specific reason for being spared. Being spared was the exception, not the rule. No, the “prosperity gospel” is clearly a false “gospel.” It is anything but “good news” for who among us has ever been spared suffering? Who among us has never wanted for money? Who among us has a perfect family or perfect friends? Since God’s Scriptures teach that there is no one who is righteous, no, not even one,[9] I’m confident in concluding that there is no one who has experienced such suffering-free perfection, no, not even one. For even our Lord Jesus who was righteous and was also God experienced suffering. He didn’t have a place to lay his head.[10] His friends betrayed[11]  and denied[12] him in his hour of greatest need. He was unjustly accused, beaten and flogged.[13] He died on the cross in order that all who believe and receive him might live.[14]

It’s important to remind ourselves than when we who know, love, and follow Jesus Christ suffer, it isn’t because we aren’t following him perfectly. That isn’t the kind of compassionate and merciful heavenly Father who has disclosed himself to us. The presence of suffering isn’t due to the absence of God’s love or because of his disapproval of us. No, the presence of suffering is due to the reality of the Fall. It’s due to the presence of Satan and sin. And because of his love, our gracious Father sacrificed none other than his precious Son in order that all who believe and receive him might receive eternal life by the Holy Spirit he sends. This means that although followers of God in Christ won’t be spared suffering, won’t be spared the effects of the Fall, this side of heaven, because of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice, they will be spared suffering once we die. For when the righteous who are righteous in and through Christ alone, not of their own works, die they will be set free. For Jesus Christ the Righteous was sent by the Father to deliver this world from Satan and the evil that resulted from the Fall. This is precisely the message Paul speaks of in our New Testament passage from 2 Corinthians 4.

In verse 3 of 2 Corinthians 4 Paul speaks of the gospel being “veiled to those who are perishing.” Why is it veiled or hidden? Because, as stated in verse 4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” As we’ve seen in previous plagues,[15] magicians who imitated the plagues were used by the god of this age to veil the truth of who God is and thereby harden Pharaoh’s heart. “The god of this age” is, of course, Satan. As stated elsewhere in Scripture, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”[16] It’s interesting to note as we’ve been considering the plague of flies, that one of the names given to Satan in Scripture is Beelzebub which means “lord of the flies.”[17] But the “lord of the flies” is no match for the LORD who made heaven and earth. Satan’s doom is sure. He’ll have no part in the future eternal age when, as one scholar observes, “God’s creation will be forever purged of all that now mars and defiles it.”[18]

From the beginning Satan, the god of this age, that ancient serpent,[19] worked to blind Eve and Adam of the truth of God’s goodness and of the importance of receiving his Word and obeying it. For Satan, like a roaring lion, ever prowls around “looking for someone to devour.”[20] And the most efficient way of destroying God’s image-bearers is by leading them on the road to eternal destruction by keeping them from believing in the only one who is able to save us from him and from our sins, Jesus Christ. Notice what Paul points out about Jesus. Although all humans have been made in God’s image,[21] only Christ Jesus is the image of God, God in the flesh; only Christ Jesus is God. Therefore all human beings have been made in Christ’s image. And once someone comes to faith in Christ, they are then conformed to his image by the Holy Spirit he gives them.[22] Therefore, Christ who made us—is Christ who saves us—is Christ who displays God to us. As stated in verse 6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’[23] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” God’s glory, his presence, is displayed in Christ’s face because Jesus, too, is God. Therefore, only faith in Jesus is able to take us from darkness to light—from damnation to salvation—from blindness to sight.

Beginning with verse 7, Paul makes clear that this salvation, this final deliverance from earthly evil, this final redemption, lies in our future, not in our present. As stated in verses 7–9, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” These few verses make evident that as our Lord Jesus wasn’t spared suffering this side of heaven, neither will those who commit their lives to knowing, loving, and serving him. For even followers of God in Christ are hard pressed on every side, though not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned—indeed, he’ll never leave or forsake those who are his;[24] struck down, but not destroyed. And what a comfort and encouragement it is to know that our brokenness, our weakness, our “jars of clay” are no deterrent to our holding “this treasure,” to our holding the Gospel, the Good News that Christ’s Holy Spirit makes evident in and through us. For as the risen LORD Jesus disclosed to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus did Paul declare, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”[25] To acknowledge our weakness, to acknowledge our poverty apart from God,[26] is to confess our need for him, the great Physician who came to heal not the healthy, but the sick; who came to save not saints, but sinners.[27] And what his healing and salvation procure for us is nothing less than eternal life with him. As stated in verse 14, “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.”[28] This is the Gospel, the Good News from God in a nutshell. As death couldn’t hold down Jesus, neither will it be able to hold down those who are his. This is the distinction God now makes in his people, the people of the LORD. This is their deliverance. This is their redemption.

“Therefore,” verses 16–17, “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Heavy though our burdens may feel at times; great though our sorrow may be; painful though our suffering may be, these burdens are but temporary. Compared with the eternal glory of God in heaven, one day they will seem as insignificant as the pesky buzzing fly we swat down. This is why Paul exhorts us, verse 18, to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Dear sisters and brothers, this is the greatest benefit God provides for his people; not that we are spared earthly travails; not that we are spared the effects of the Fall during our earthly sojourn; not that we won’t face trials and temptations and troubles of all kinds. No, the greatest benefit our Lord Jesus provides his people is the knowledge that in and through all circumstances, in and through all things, he is working for the good of those who love him, of those who have been called according to his purpose.[29] Therefore, the people of the Lord, as we’ve been considering in Adult Ed, get to enjoy him now as we journey through the earthly portion of our lives. And once those who are the people of the Lord complete the earthly portion of their lives, we will get to enjoy him forever.[30] This is a miracle not of plagues but of deliverance, of redemption in and through our Lord Jesus Christ and him alone through whom God distinguishes his people from those who choose not to be his people.

Therefore, let us take to heart the admonition Jesus made to his people in declaring, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”[31] Dear ones, let us this morning and always, focus not on the travails but on the One who has overcome them; let us this morning and always receive “Grace and peace…from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”[32]

Let us pray.

[1] The first plague was the Nile River turning into blood (Exodus 7:14–24); the second plague was the multiplication of frogs (Exodus 8:1–15); the third plague was turning the multiplication of gnats (Exodus 8:16–19).

[2] Exodus 8:18–19: 18 But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said.

[3] Exodus 7:14–24.

[4] Exodus 8:1–15.

[5] Exodus 8:16–19.

[6] Genesis 47:1–6: 1 Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?” “Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” They also said to him, “We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.”

[7] As in the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. See sermons preached on February 23, 2020, Deliver Us from Evil, on Genesis 6 (Flood) and August 23, 2020, Deliver Us from Evil—Part II, on Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah).

[8] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Exodus 8:26. (Emphasis added.)

[9] Romans 3:10–12: 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Paul is referencing Psalm 14:1–3: 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Psalm 53:1–3: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.; Ecclesiastes 7:20: Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.

[10] Matthew 8:18–20: 18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”;  Luke 9:57–58: 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

[11] See, e.g., Luke 22:4–6, 47–48: And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present…. 47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”; 1 Corinthians 11:23: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed,

[12] See, e.g., Luke 22:31–34, 60–62: 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me….” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

[13] Matthew 27:22–24: 22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”; Mark 15:12–15: 12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted. 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.;

[14] This was the reason God in Christ, the eternal Son of God, came to earth. See Luke 18:31–33: 31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”; John 12:31–32: 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

[15] See sermon preached on September  26, 2021, On Healthy & Sick Hearts on Exodus 7:25–8:19.

[16] 1 John 5:19.

[17] First mentioned in 2 Kings 1:1–2: 1 After Ahab’s death, Moab rebelled against Israel. Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron,[17] to see if I will recover from this injury.” “Baal-Zebub” was the god of Ekron. See also, e.g., Matthew 12:22–28: 22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” 25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

[18] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on 2 Corinthians 4:4.

[19] Revelation 12:9: The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.; Revelation 20:2: He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.

[20] 1 Peter 5:8–9: 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

[21] Genesis 1:26–28: 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

[22] Romans 8:28–29: 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

[23] Genesis 1:3: And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

[24] Hebrews 13:5–6:Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”[Deuteronomy 31:6] 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”[Psalm 118:6,7] Deuteronomy 31:6, 8: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you…. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Psalm 118:6,7: The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.; Romans 8:38–39: 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[25] 2 Corinthians 12:9–10.

[26] Matthew 5:3: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.; Luke 6:20: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

[27] Mark 2:17: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

[28] See also Romans 8:10-11: 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

[29] Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.

[30] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

[31] John 16:33. Emphasis added.

[32] Galatians 1:3–5.