I’ve been reading through the Exodus story the past couple of days, and I’m struck by how God chooses to show his power to Israel and Egypt.
The first thing that got me thinking about this was the two signs God gives Moses to show how he will back up his word with miracles (Ex 4). The first sign is God turning Moses’ staff into a snake– a creative miracle, although a somewhat ominous one. The second is turning Moses’ hand leprous. So these signs show God’s power to create and destroy (and then he goes on to tell Moses that he will turn the water of the Nile to blood– not a nice-sounding sign either).
Then, before Moses even begins to meet with Pharaoh, God lays out the whole scenario that’s about to commence:
And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'” (Ex 4:21-23)
So already God’s planning to harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he knows how the story will end.
This pattern continues throughout the narrative: God announces his plan to show his power by bringing terrible plagues upon Egypt, but also tells Moses that he will continue to harden Pharaoh’s heart. The plagues come just as God promised, and Pharaoh remains unmoved, just as God promised.
But the most chilling sentence of all comes in 9:16, when God tells Pharaoh: “For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (emphasis added). God’s very purpose in creating Pharaoh was to demonstrate his power, and he chose to do this not by doing great things for Pharaoh (as he did for Israel), but by doing terrible things to Pharaoh and Egypt– all the while protecting his own people from the plagues.
I think this is what Paul is talking about when he says that God has created some people to be “vessels of wrath” (Rom 9:22). I don’t think the American church has much of a place for this in our minds, but it’s right there in our Bibles. God is a great God. His power is shown not just in the wonderful things he does, but in the terrible things he does as well. As Pharaoh and Egypt learned, he is to be feared above all others– which is what makes it so amazing that this same God allows us to call him our Father.
4 thoughts on “How God Shows His Power”
Big Jen the Punisher was definitely made to bring wrath. j/p
Hi there, I just posted some thoughts that I guess WordPress assumed related to yours, so now I find myself checking your post. A question: God’s power is certainly on display in these narratives, and power is awe-inspiring, so its demonstration I think has its place. What about Goodness though. A being who is Powerful, but evil, will never have my allegiance. Do you think the Israelittes misunderstand this in producing the deaths of all the first born in Egypt, then creditting God with it? Powerful, yes. Good, I’m not so sure.
Kelly– thanks for your comment.
I’d answer your question by first pointing out that you’re assuming the Bible is not reporting events accurately. The Bible says that God killed the first-born of the Egyptians. There’s no reason to think you know better than the narrator what happened, and if you’re rejecting the narrative because you simply don’t like it, there’s not a whole lot I can tell you.
As for God’s goodness, we’re always in danger of trying to evaluate God by our own standards, instead of ourselves by His. So yes, his power is immense, and at times terrifying. But he is God. He gets to define what is good. If a human rebels against him, then it’s God’s prerogative (and entirely consistent with his goodness) to mete out whatever punishment he deems fit. We don’t get to decide whether that’s good enough for us or not.
But in considering God’s terrible wrath on sin, I’d ask you to consider what he has done about it: God visited the full measure of his wrath on the Son he loved. So if sinful people trust in Christ, he becomes their ransom, the one who bears God’s wrath for them. No one has to bear God’s wrath; you can flee to Christ instead. That involves surrendering our own claim to goodness, admitting that we fall short of God’s, and having Jesus stand in our place instead.
Hi Jake, thanks for your reply.
I am not necessarily suggesting that the Bible is not recording events accurately. What I am suggesting is that what we read as historical, is not necessarily how the original audiences read such text. There is a certain arrogance, and I am not accusing you of this, in applying our own standards of history to past events and demanding that those past events conform. The ancients were a symbolic people: What the story communicated was far more important than whether the story occurred in time or space. Consider the popularity of fables, and the myths that abound. The Bible is produced in such a worldview, and it is unfair of us to demand of it the same standards we apply to our own historical works of our time.
Equally wrong as you say is to apply our own standards of good to God’s, but we must also remember that we have a law written on our hearts. A conception of goodness is not hidden from us, although circumstance may certainly close our heart to it. There are examples in the OT where the opposite of goodness is on display. Consider the conclusion of Psalm 137: “A blessing on him who takes and dashes your babies against the rock!”
This is an evil emotion or desire that is being expressed, and we have a right to identify it as such. Please don’t feel an identification in this way, conflicts with our understanding of inspiration which we cannot deny, and still be Christians.
And I agree: God is good. The Incarnation proves this convincingly to me. And yet could it not also be possible that our understanding of God evolves, just as the understanding of Jesus was not so clear originally to the Apostles but over time evolved more fully into the realization that the one who walked among them was the God who became man. This understanding is the difference between their cowardnice when he was arrested, and their willingness ot give their lives for him, after experiencing his resurrection. Just as their understanding of God evolved, it seems clear to me that the early OT understanding of God, is less formed. They credit God with evil acts.