Click to hear the Issues, Etc. discussion of this week’s Sunday School lesson with Deaconess Pam Nielsen.
This week we enter into the story of God’s redemption of Israel from out of the bondage of slavery into which it had fallen in the land of Egypt. God planted Joseph in Egypt to preserve his family. In the great famine that plagued the world for seven (7) years, all people were drawn to the land of Egypt, and to Joseph who was placed in charge of the land by Pharaoh working as God’s chosen instrument. God used Pharaoh in this way to make Himself known to Joseph’s family, especially his brothers. God once again uses Pharaoh to make Himself known. This time, however, it is to reveal Himself by His name, יהוה (yhwh) to all the world. For He is the God who kills to and makes alive, He wounds and heals. He is the one and only God, beside Him there is no other in all the world. Deuteronomy 32:39. And in using Pharaoh, God hardens his heart, that is God gives him courage and strength in opposition to Moses’ request. Exodus 9 tells of the plague of boils, oozing, horrible sores that afflicted man and beast throughout the land of Egypt. Until now, it was Pharaoh who had changed his mind, becoming more and more resolved not to let Israel go. Yet this time, the plague of boils affects even Pharaoh. The text does not tell us if he actually received the sores. It does tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not that Pharaoh hardened his own. The plague must have touched Pharaoh in some way to at least cause him to waver a bit. Yet God would have none of it. He would make his NAME known in all the world, that there is one God and one God only, and He would make it know through these slaves in the land of Egypt.
This is a strange work, foreign to the nature of God. To think that He would actually turn someone against His divine Will in order to reveal His name and who He is to the world. And yet, to make us alive, God must first kill us. Death and sin and killing were caused by man’s rejection of the Word of God, by our disobedience to His command. So God hardening the heart of Pharaoh should not seem so difficult to grasp. For He uses man as He is, sinful, opposed to God, and gives him over to his own sinfulness to wallow in it. See Romans 1. Sometimes God acts with us as He does with Pharaoh, hardening his heart even more than Pharaoh had done for himself. In our stubbornness, we refuse to heed His Word, rejecting it and steeling our hearts and minds in opposition to it. For we want to be in control of our own destiny, our own lives. God uses this stubbornness and opposition against us, gives us over to it. Sin is heaped upon sin until man is broken despairs of his own ability. And yet, all the while, God is at work using His Word to turn us to Him, to bring us to our knees in solemn repentance, begging for mercy, for forgiveness.
Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get our attention as in the case of Pharaoh. It shocks our consciences and senses to think that a good and gracious God would give us over to evil and to our own sin. It does not comport with our darkened sense of goodness and justice. And yet, because of our sin that has turned us completely away from Him, God works on us in ways that are strange and alien to His nature and to who He is. To we who are dead in trespasses and sin, God’s work seems wrong. For His nature is mercy and love. He is the God of creation, who creates and gives life. And yet when He kills, he does not take our lives away — He uses it to create new life within us. So what seems bad to us is God working on us for our good. And the suffering of the plagues of sin that we must endure is something good, for it disciplines us, corrects and rebukes us, and turns us back to God and, as we will see next week, the Cross of Christ.
The proper work of God is the work of the Gospel, that is, to create mercy and forgiveness. God makes peace, righteousness, mercy, joy, love, truth, patience, kindness, and health. God is the Creator. He creates. God creates that which pleases Him and calls it good. The Gospel.
The alien work of God is condemnation and judgment upon sin. It is the crucifixion and destruction of the old Adam; the suffering and death of Christ; the satisfaction of His justice and holiness; the punishment of sin; chastisement and discipline of His children. Justice. God’s Law.
“It is as if he were saying: “Because you scoff at the Word, the Lord is forced to do a strange work, namely, to judge and to destroy.” For the proper work and nature of God is to save. But when our flesh is so evil that it cannot be saved by God’s proper work, it is necessary for it to be saved by His alien work. Because in good times we stroll and stray from the Word, our covers have to be made narrow, and we must be disciplined by various afflictions so that we may be saved by God’s alien work; the ungodly are altogether driven by God’s proper and foreign work because they V 16, p 234 do not want to get under these narrow covers but want to stretch out in their own. Meanwhile God keeps His own by means of the cross and narrow covers and thus separates them from the ungodly. This is God’s alien work, by which He condemns the ungodly, so that we may be saved. So you see that our flesh is outwardly indulgent when it is without the cross, and therefore various afflictions are necessary to control that flesh.”
Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 16: Luther’s works, vol. 16 : Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Is 28:21). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.