Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Exodus 5:1-2, 7:8-23
Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.” ’ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘When Pharaoh says to you, “Perform a wonder”, then you shall say to Aaron, “Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.” ’ So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded; Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts. Each one threw down his staff, and they became snakes; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up theirs. Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. Say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.’ But until now you have not listened. Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord.’ See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood. The fish in the river shall die, the river itself shall stink, and the Egyptians shall be unable to drink water from the Nile.” ’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over its rivers, its canals, and its ponds, and all its pools of water—so that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.” ’
Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart.
Pharaoh had a plan.
Pharaoh had a plan. It is reasonable for us to expect leaders to have a plan. We have confidence and trust that good leaders have their best interest at heart, and that those interests coincide with our best interests. Pharaoh was a powerful leader. Whether or not he was a good leader is another question. Someone was certainly benefiting from his choices. Now, this Pharaoh comes many years after Joseph and the Israelites had a plan that saved Egypt from a famine. The time has lapsed such that he does not really know these Jewish people; certainly not with the intimacy of his ancestors or the Pharaohs before him. He has long stopped viewing the Israelites as welcome refugees in his land. Instead he has grown frightened of them, not because they did anything wrong, just because Pharaoh was afraid. So, he oppressed them, enslaving them, in order to shore up his power. He was willing to do terrible things to stay in power. His plan was to keep the Israelites in bondage and hurt them in order to keep them in line.
Moses had a plan.
Moses had a plan. And, his plan was mostly to get the heck out of Dodge and stay out of Dodge. It was already a miracle that Moses was alive. Pharaoh’s plan included genocide and every Israelite boy was to die. But, there were two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who made a plan and saved the boys. And, then, a woman named Jochebed made a plan and saved her own son. That’s Moses. He survived in a time when he wasn’t supposed to and even ended up living in the household of the one who ordered his death. That story would be miracle enough on its own. But, the story didn’t end there. So many more signs and wonders will happen.
Even though he grew up with Egyptians, Moses was an Israelite and he knew it. When he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, a slave who might have been one of his relatives, and he snapped. He killed the abusive man. And, even though he had grown up as a grandson to the Pharaoh, he knew his place in the world was tenuous. A descendant of refugees and a survivor of one genocide, this son of a mother with plan, makes his own plan. He gets out of town, gets to Midian, and tries to make a life there. He marries Zipporah. They have a kid. His plan is to stay in Midian, have a family, and stay alive.
God had a plan.
God had a plan and the first part of that plan was to get Moses to go back to Egypt and help his people. Back in chapter 3, God appears to Moses and says, “I’ve heard the people. I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Moses was not at all sure that this was a good plan. “Who am I,” he says, “that I should go to Pharaoh?” Well, if God was a little snarkier, God might have said you’re the Pharaoh’s grandson. Why wouldn’t I send you? Instead, God is patient and insistent. Every time that Moses tries to work his way out of this whole liberation fight, God promises to give him what he’ll need to succeed.
Moses says what if I say that their God has sent me and they don’t believe me. God says, tell them my true name and that I sent you to help me save them. Also, I’m going to send signs and wonders, so they will see that I am with you. Moses says, but what if they don’t believe that you actually came to me? God says, I’m going to show you how to do something with that staff and your cloak that only God could help you do. Moses says, I’m not eloquent or quick with words. I will not be able to charm or convince them. God promises to be with Moses’ mouth, teaching him what to say. Moses even pleads with God to send someone else and God agrees to send Moses’ brother Aaron to help, but Moses still has to go. Moses is integral to this plan. Left without excuses, Moses agrees to go.
Part 2 of God’s plan comes when Moses goes to see his adopted grandfather, the Pharaoh. This is when we see God’s plan and Pharaoh’s plan collide. Like many things we do, Pharaoh has a formula for his plan. His method is to agree with whatever is asked of him, but then to go back on his promise once he gets what he wants. We might think that is awful, and it is, but this Pharaoh’s Modus operandi worked well. It got him out of nine plagues. It worked like this: God sent Moses and Aaron to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go so they could worship God or God was sending a plague. Here’s how it goes down: Pharaoh says “No.” Plague comes. Pharaoh gets Moses and Aaron and tells them to ask their God to forgive him and he will let them go. God removes plague. Pharaoh doesn’t let them go. So, the snakes come and Moses’ snake eats all of the snakes of Pharaoh’s magicians. Then here we go. Our reading only goes through one plague. There are so many more: frogs, gnats, flies, dead animals, boils, hail, locusts and darkness. Even a terrible reproduction of the sin of Pharaoh’s original plan: the death of innocents. In all of this, here’s what Pharaoh didn’t have: A Plan B. Sound familiar? How many of us have a plan and we keep working it with the confidence and arrogance that it will continue to work. Who needs a Plan B? Well, those whose arrogance will not allow them to remember whose plan is really in charge... those people need a plan B.
God knew the Pharaoh’s plan. God used the arrogance and deceitfulness of Pharaoh to assure that the Egyptians and the Israelites know that God is “in this Land.” Remember, Pharaoh was considered a God. This story is a story of God making sure people knew that the Pharaoh was a human, not a God. God utilizes the predictability of Pharaoh’s character and his one-plan-negotiating-strategy to punish the Egyptians for enslaving the Jews and to distinguish the Egyptians from the Jewish people, further identifying the Israelites as His people. I don’t know about you, but I would never have made it to boils. I would have changed plans. But Pharaoh was unwilling to choose a different path, setting God’s plan in place. God knew that this Pharaoh was a leopard who would not change his spots. He also knew that Pharaoh had used this very same tactic against the Jews to kill all of their male children, yet it backfired. Pharaoh’s own undoing, Moses, was raised in his very own home.
I know that we’re missing organized sports, so let’s go with a football metaphor here: God’s game plan is for us is to be identified as God’s people. God’s game plan was to demonstrate that God was the only God and the most powerful god, and that God was in their homeland, calling the plays. When you enslave God’s people, you must be prepared for the consequences. The Israelites, slaves of the Egyptians, would be set free from their captors, clearly identifying them as His people. Many of those Egyptians would suffer and die because of Pharaoh and his stubborn attachment to his very bad plan.
Do you have a Plan B? Or, are you still banging your head against the wall, keeping to your plan like Pharaoh? When you stop trying to run your play without God being your quarterback, how do you know what to do? Just like football, you need to get in the huddle. You need to spend time with God. Reading the Word, talking about the Word, living the Word in community, and praying that God will clearly reveal your position in the play.
We are accustomed to thinking about ourselves first. There is truth in the statement that you must take care of yourself before you can care for others. There is also truth in the fact that God provides us with what we need to play our position on the team. Our goal is cultivate and nurture the community of God’s kin-dom. Our individual rights and privileges are only worthwhile if they enrich the entire team (if we’re sticking with the football metaphor). God’s plan includes all of God’s people, working together in love for the glory of God. Get on the Team! Get in the huddle! God's got a plan!
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.