Paul’s letter to the Ephesians pointed out that all unsaved people live according to the covenant that God made with Noah after he destroyed every living thing on the earth (Genesis 9:8-13). Paul said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The phrase Paul used, “the course of this world” and the person he referred to, “the prince of the power of the air” have to do with Satan’s attempt to undermine God’s plan of salvation by imitating the work of Jesus Christ. The Greek words that are translated “sons of disobedience” uihos (hwee-os’) which means “the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207) and apeitheia (ap-i’-thi-ah) which denotes “obstinacy, obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). suggest that anyone that does not do the will of God is a follower of Satan.
One of the important aspects of God’s covenant with Noah was that one of Noah’s sons was cursed because he disgraced his father. Genesis 9:20-25 states:
Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
Genesis 10:6 indicates that Ham had four sons; Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. There’s no explanation as to why Canaan was the only one of Ham’s sons to be cursed, but it can be assumed that Canaan followed in the footsteps of his father Ham and was committed to being a son of disobedience rather than a worshipper of God.
The nation of Egypt is associated with the descendants of Ham in Psalm 105 where it says, “Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham” (Psalm 105:23) and “He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham’ (Psalm 105:26-27). Psalm 105 focuses on the purpose of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Psalm 105:1-6 states:
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones!
The psalmist’s instruction to “tell of all his wondrous works!” was meant to encourage believers to remind ourselves that God is able to do things that are beyond human capability. The Hebrew word that is translated tell, siyach (see’-akh) means “to ponder, i.e. (by implication) converse (with oneself, and hence, aloud)” (H7878). The Hebrew word pala’ (paw-law’) which is translated “all his wondrous works” means to separate, i.e. distinguish and “is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations” (H6381). In other words, believers need to talk to themselves about God’s ability to do things that we don’t expect him to, things that we can’t do for ourselves.
Moses was instructed to deliver a series of messages to Pharaoh that were designed to make him think about what God was capable of compared to his own strength and ability. Exodus 9:13-15 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants, and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.'”‘” God wanted Pharaoh to understand that he could annihilate him and his people if he chose to, but he had a different objective in mind. God said, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go” (Exodus 9:16-17).
God described Pharaoh’s behavior as exalting himself against his people. What that meant was that Pharaoh was putting himself in the place of God with the people of Israel. The Israelites were doing what Pharaoh told them to rather than listening to and obeying God’s instructions (Exodus 6:9). One of the problems that the LORD had to deal with when he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt was that they were willing to submit themselves to Pharaoh, but they weren’t willing to submit themselves to God. The foremen that were responsible for making the Israelites deliver a daily quota of bricks accused Moses of bringing evil on God’s people. They said, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21). Essentially, what Moses and Aaron had to do was to get Pharaoh to drive the Israelites away, to expel them from Egypt (Exodus 11:1). Otherwise, the people of Israel wouldn’t have been willing to leave.
God said that he had raised Pharaoh up in order to show him his power so that his name would be “proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). One of the ways that the Hebrew verb ‘amad (aw-mad’) can be used is to signify something that is immovable or unchanging (H5975). ‘Amad was most likely being used in reference to Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go. God exercised force against Pharaoh by destroying everything that was connected to his creation. Exodus 9:23-25 states, “And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.” God’s dominion over the land of Egypt was clearly demonstrated by his ability to kill everything that lived there including man and beast. The hail’s violent crushing of plants and trees was likely symbolic of the devastation that occurred during the flood of Noah’s day when the fountains of the deep burst forth and the windows of heaven were opened and God blotted out all life that was on the ground (Genesis 7:11, 23).
Pharaoh’s attitude toward God began to change when he saw that there was no hail in the land of Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Exodus 9:27-29 states, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned, the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.’ Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD, the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.'” The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata’ (khaw-taw’) is sin conceived as missing the road or mark. “From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs” (H2398). Pharaoh’s admission of guilt indicated he understood that he had done something wrong, but it didn’t go so far as to affect a change in his behavior. Exodus 9:34-35 indicates that Pharaoh had not actually repented of his sin. It states, “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.”
The battle of the wills between God and Pharaoh was similar to the battle that all unbelievers go through when they are forced to admit that they don’t have the power to control their own circumstances. The essential element that was missing in Pharaoh’s situation was the gift of God’s grace. After describing the spiritual condition of unsaved men (Ephesians 2:1-3), Paul went on to tell the Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9). Paul emphasized the hopelessness of those that are opposed to God’s will when he said, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).
The Greek word that is translated hope in Ephesians 2:12, elpis (el-pece’) has to do with the unseen and the future. As a noun in the New Testament, it means a “favorable and confident expectation, a forward look with assurance” (G1680). To be without God in the world means that one is an atheist. “In Ephesians 2:12 the phrase indicates, not only that the Gentiles were void of any true recognition of God, and hence became morally godless (Romans 1:19-32); but, being given up by God they were excluded from communion with God and from the privileges granted to Israel (cf. Galatians 4:8)” (G112). Paul explained that the reason why Pharaoh was unable to have faith was because he had no knowledge of God and was alienated from him because of the hardness of his heart (Ephesians 4:17-18). Paul used the words futility and ignorance to describe the mental barriers that can inhibit faith. One of the benefits of the miracles that Moses performed was that they revealed God’s existence and displayed his magnificent power to Pharaoh and his people. Each time the plagues were removed, Pharaoh was given the opportunity to repent and do God’s will.
One of the reasons the LORD eventually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, meaning God dulled his spiritual senses and made it impossible for him to believe, was because the LORD was strengthening the Israelites faith at the expense of the Egyptians unbelief. Exodus 10:1-2 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.'” The Hebrew word that is translated know, yada’ (yaw-dah’) means to have an intimate experiential knowledge and primarily has to do with relational knowledge, “it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God was in the process of developing a relationship with his people when he delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. An important aspect of yada’ is the involvement of the senses, especially eyesight. In other words, you are only able to ascertain who someone really is by seeing them in action.
Pharaoh’s servants seemed to be able to grasp the situation better than he did because they knew there was no hope for them apart from God. Exodus 10:7 states, “Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?'” Pharaoh’s servants expected Egypt to cease to exist as a result of the plagues that they were experiencing. Rather than completely destroying Egypt, God’s intention was to bring Pharaoh to his knees (Exodus 10:3). God’s discipline of Pharaoh was likely a result of his attempt to make things right in spite of the hardened state of his heart. After a plague of locusts wiped out all the vegetation that survived the hail, Exodus 10:16-17 states, “Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me.'” The natural disasters that God used to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt were perceived to be instruments of death and each of the ten plagues became more intense as they progressed. The actual result of the plagues was not so much meant to be the death of the Egyptians as it was an awareness of their lost or unregenerate spiritual state (Exodus 10:7).
The ninth plague that the Egyptians experienced may have been designed to make them feel like they were living in hell. Exodus 10:21 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.'” The pitch darkness that lasted for three days made it impossible for anyone to move about or even to recognize each another (Exodus 10:22-23). The Hebrew word that is translated darkness, choshek (kho-shek’) is derived from the word chashak (khaw-shak’) which means “to be dark (as withholding light)” (H2821). In other words, there was a concealment or blocking out of all the light in the land of Egypt for three whole days. God said that the darkness was to be felt. What he may have meant by that was that the Egyptians would experience the effects of not having the sun, moon or stars as resources. After the light was restored, some of the Egyptians no doubt realized the extreme depths of their depravity and may have felt like they had been resurrected from the dead. Paul used the analogy of things that were once hidden being exposed by the light to describe the experience of being born again and encouraged unbelievers to let the light of Christ shine on them. Referring to a hymn that was used by early Christians, Paul stated:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)
Paul went on to warn believers that they should be careful about how they use the freedom that Christ has purchased for them. Paul said, “Look carefully then how you walk not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). The Greek word that is translated “making the best use of,” is exagorazo (ex-ag-or-ad’-zo). “Exagorazo, as a verb, is a strengthened form of agorazo (59 – “to buy”), and denotes “to buy out,” especially of purchasing a slave with a view of his freedom” (G1805). Christ paid the ransom to God for the life of every believer in order to satisfy the demands of His holy character. Paul’s admonition to walk not as unwise but as wise was meant to point out that like God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, there is a purpose for each believer’s salvation; to do God’s will and we must be pay attention to that because the devil is actively engaged in a war against us (Ephesians 6:10-11).