Have you caught the story of Justin Bieber? Or Miley Cyrus? I think about these young stars before their scandals. Their bright fresh faces seemed so full of hope and promise.
But somewhere along the way—or perhaps always, behind the scenes—sin seems to have wrapped its taloned fingers around them. At least this is how it appears from what we see as outsiders. Despite their immersion in all the world has to offer, or maybe because of it, this evil force seems to have overpowered them. Finally, you can almost see sin’s control. These once joyous, beautiful children grow dark, their eyes hopeless, fearful, as they plunge downward. Sin is so powerful.
Sadly, sin is a relentless foe that entangles us all. Is there hope for Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and the rest of us? Well, of course there is! But before we get to our reason for hope, let’s look at another young man who had everything. By refusing to bow his knee to the word of the Lord, he caused the destruction of his entire empire.
We ended our last post with the Nile turned to blood. This catastrophe isn’t enough to convince Pharaoh to let the people go. Instead, he tightens his grip on his own pride and power, so God sends frogs. It’s as if the Lord says, “Okay, I’ll restore the river water, but maybe THIS will grab your attention.” Out of the same Nile come frogs. Frogs and more frogs, and they spread everywhere.
Still, Pharaoh won’t let the people go.
God moves from the river to the ground. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt’” (Ex. 8:16).
Nasty gnats invade everything. Imagine living in a desert and everywhere you would see dust, it’s tiny little bugs instead. Ick. Also, we’re only on the third plague and the Pharaoh’s magicians are done. They can’t duplicate this plague (even though they used tricks to copy the other two—on a smaller degree). They throw up their hands ands say, “This is the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19). But Pharaoh doesn’t listen even to his own magicians. His heart stays hardened, and he will not listen to them.
Pharaoh’s Hard Heart
Let’s take a moment to talk about this heart-hardening business. In the Egyptian view of the afterlife, the heart was a big deal. They have a book called, The Book of the Dead, and in it you find this picture.
After a person dies, his heart is weighed against a feather (see the scales?). If the person has not committed any sins (there’s a list of forty-two), then he’s deemed righteous and his heart will weigh less than the feather. Off to the happy afterlife with you. If not, he’ll be devoured by a lion-hippopotamus-crocodile creature and then thrown to judgment.
The term “hardened heart” turns the tables on Pharaoh. The LAST thing he wants is a hard heart, he needs a light, pure heart, but he won’t bend.
Looking Up (in a not-so-good way)
River, ground … next up? Sky. Flies swarm through the air. Everywhere you look, flies. No blue can be seen. These winged insects “ruin” this great empire. And finally, Pharaoh bends. He says, “Go offer your sacrifices to your God.” And then he adds something remarkable, “Plead for me.”
What a progression we’ve seen in this man.
- First, he’s an idolater without knowledge. Although he knows the truth in his heart, before Moses came along, he’d never heard of the one true God.
- Next, he’s an idolater with knowledge. Moses comes and brings God’s word. “Let my people go that they might serve me.” Pharaoh should’ve immediately surrendered to the kingship of the Almighty.
- And then he becomes a negotiator trying to belay punishment. When he asks Moses to plead for him, is he humbly crying out to God? “You are the true creator, and I am just a man.” Nah, it’s the human tendency to bargain. If you do what I want, I will serve you. Then, when God actually fulfills Pharaoh’s request, he bounces right back to his wicked rebellion.
I do this. When hard times come, I cry out to God, “When will you hear my cry? When will you deliver me?” God in his tender lovingkindness provides, and what do I do? Totally forget I even prayed. I go on like, “Hey, cool, that worked out.” Oh, how I need to give him the glory for all he does in my life.
So the tornado of sin in Pharaoh’s life grows and expands. With each plague, his kingdom rushes closer to complete tohu va vohu—utter darkness and death (literally—remember the last two plagues?). The crazy thing is that Pharaoh could end all this. Stop sinning, man! Throw yourself before God and beg for mercy.
But he doesn’t. Why? Because the Israelites weren’t the only slaves. Pharaoh himself was a slave … to sin. And sin always leads to destruction not only in ancient Egypt, but in families, marriages, friendships, organizations, churches, denominations.
Even in our own hearts.
It’s destructive forces start simply with serving ourselves, loving our own needs and desires more than the Lord, more than others. So subtle, so everywhere.
How could Pharaoh break lose from the chains of sin that shackled him?
Friends, the truth is he couldn’t. “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex. 9:12), and only God could soften it (Ezek. 11:19).
Sin was too powerful for even mighty Pharaoh, and it’s too powerful for us. Before we know Christ, we are slaves too, jailed in a cell, chained and shackled (Ro. 6:16, 20), our prideful, idolatrous hearts hard as stone.
But Christ enters our dark dungeon. He came to set the prisoners free, remember? (Luke 4:18) He alone can break sin’s tortuous might.
Like the beloved hymns says,
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off. My heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
He sets us free! He set me free.
And amazingly, he did this by becoming a slave for us.
But he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:7, ESV)
That word servant is slave in the original language. He became a slave, so we could become free. His humility—even to death on the cross—defeats our sinful pride. And then, he claims us to be slaves once again.
But as servants [slaves] of God we commend ourselves in every way… (2 Cor. 6:4)
This is a different kind of slavery. Only by becoming a slave to Christ are we really free. We serve a kind and powerful master, who, indeed, gives us the very power we need to serve him, and a promise of continued forgiveness when once again, our enemy sin creeps in.
What a radical hope we have as servants of Christ! A freedom sweeter than all Pharaoh’s treasures–or any riches this world could offer.
Even as Christians, sin’s grip reaches in, desperately striving to pull us down. What’s the answer? Run. Confess. Receive. Repeat.
Run to the cross. He always welcomes you. His supply of forgiveness never runs out.
Confess. Don’t hide anything in the darkness. Expose your sin to Jesus. Healing comes in the light.
Receive. Stop beating yourself up. Rest in his love, like a child after discipline. He holds you and gives you strength.
Repeat. When you sin, and you will.
Remember, he loves you like there’s no tomorrow.
Shine your light. How did God free you from the power of sin? I’d love to hear about when you first came to know him or a time he worked in your life. Share! I know it will bless others.