God's Strange Act
10 Oct 2009, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
GOD'S STRANGE ACT
I would like to take you back in time approximately three and a half thousand years ago to a period in Egyptian history when the Nation had reached the height of its military power. New Pharaohs were ruling from the cities of Memphis and Thebes replacing the old Hyksos dynasty and uniting once again the separated Upper and Lower kingdoms. After the accession of Seti I and his successor Ramses II, attention once again focuses on the fertile delta region and the great building program that has just begun. A new store city named after Ramses was commenced using a ready made labour force from a group known as the Israelites. They were found to be the main residents of an area known at that time as the Land of Goshen (Alexander, 1999: 159).
Nearly 300 years had elapsed since the death of Joseph and his father's people had been in Egypt some 370 years. Their old privileged status was now gone and they are a slave nation under a new pharaoh who no longer remembered Egypt's debt to Joseph. This once powerful man named Joseph had been a Hebrew slave who was later to be given the honour of being governor of the nation at that time (Ibid).
However, God does not forget His people and so He rose up a deliverer by the name of Moses. As a Hebrew baby, he had been adopted and raised in the house of Pharaoh to become a prince of Egypt. After re-educating him in the deserts of Midian, God now uses him to be his mouthpiece to Pharaoh in order to petition the release of the Israelites from bondage (Ibid: 163).
Pharaoh hears but rejects Moses' request. His response in Ex 5: 2 shows what sort of man he is when he says 'Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice? I don't know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.'
God now begins a series of judgments to teach Pharaoh and his people who He is and to show the extent of the power that He has over all of His creation.
These judgments were to come in the form of plagues that were believed to occur over a period of six months to a year (Ibid: 164). In each case God chooses to use natural disorders to upset and confound Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt (Ex 12: 12).
He caused the 'Nile-god' to bring ruin, not prosperity by turning the water to something like blood. The frogs who were associated with Egypt's gods of fertility were now to bring disease instead of fruitfulness. This was followed by plagues of gnats and flies. Disease then strikes their livestock and skin infections in the form of boils break out on both the Egyptians and their animals throughout the land. Hail and locusts destroy their crops while for three days the power of Re, the sun god, was blotted out by a 'thick darkness' that spread throughout the land. Then there was the death of the firstborn son (Ibid).
These were no mere chance happenings as God was demonstrating to the Egyptians His power and his absolute control. He controlled both the extent and the areas affected by each plague. He also announced the timing of each one and could have halted them at any time in answer to prayer. Most importantly He distinguished between His people and the Egyptians in their effect.
It is important for us to note that the Israelites were about to be delivered from Egyptian bondage to go to the Promised Land. These plagues were to differentiate between those who belonged to Him and those who didn't. God makes this clear in Ex 8: 23 when He says to Pharaoh: 'I will make a distinction between my people and your people' (Bainbridge, 2007: 131).
The plagues were also the means by which God was able to break the power of the Egyptians over His people enabling their deliverance (Ibid).
The falling of the plagues on the nation of Egypt may help us in some small way to understand God's strange act outlined for us in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapter of the book of Revelation.
Here, the apostle John is transported off in vision and in Revelation 15: 1 he says, 'I saw in heaven another great and marvellous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues - last, because with them God's wrath is completed.' Or as the New English Bible says'…God's wrath is consummated.'
Prior to this vision in the first half of his book, John had provided a survey of events from the days in which he lived until the time of the end (Maxwell, 1985: 421). Two thousand years of history have shown that the Christian church, at its worst, has tampered with the Ten Commandments, obscured Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary and harassed God's true believers in every continent on earth. The seven churches, the seven seals and the seven trumpets all provide an understanding of the issues leading up to the time of the end, but now in the second half of his book John focuses entirely on last-day events (Ibid). The fact that the Scriptures make clear that we are living in this end-time period is why we need to be concerned with what is written here.
Sadly, even in the Christian church today there are many who are unaware of the events that are about to take place in this period of our earth's history.
The events described in Revelation 15 and 16 occur just before the harvest of the earth spoken about in Rev 14: 13- 21. Jesus, when He was on earth, spoke of this harvest in His parable of the wheat and the tares in Matt 13: 36-43. In that parable he taught that the 'harvest' would take place at the end of the World and now in Revelation 14: 13-20 the harvest time had come when the wheat and the tares were to be separated. When those who believe will receive eternal salvation and those who reject Him will have eternal loss. We need to remember that while Jesus desires that all be saved, we need to be willing to follow Him (2 Pet 3: 9).
John in Revelation 15 & 16 now paints a picture of terrible trouble, grief and misery that will take place between the close of probation when Jesus ceases to intercede on our behalf in the heavenly sanctuary and when He comes again. At this time, God's remnant people on earth will not only have been sealed (Rev 7: 1-4), but will have received the final message (Rev 18: 1-4) and are now ready for the Lord to come.
The seven last plagues are the most fearful judgments ever poured out on the human race. These plagues are the 'last' as there will be no more. They are similar to those God sent on Egypt just before He delivered the Israelite people from the slavery and bondage of their overlords. In this sense the plagues on Egypt were a type of the final plagues God now sends on the world before He finally delivers His people to take them to the heavenly Canaan. It is during this time of upheaval that He discriminates between His people and those who stand against Him.
In order to reconcile what happens here, we, along with John and his readers, need to be constantly reassured that God is acting in a way entirely consistent with His righteousness and judgement (Bainbridge, 2007: 129). To do this, John is shown in his vision a picture of all those who will eventually be victorious and, like the Israelites of old, they too are singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. The words in this song of deliverance again reinforce God's love for us and exonerate Him from any questionable motives or methods in dealing with the fearful reality of evil (Ibid). Rev 15: 3 says, '…Great and marvellous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages'.
Dear friends, we need to trust Him even when His wrath seems so incomprehensible.
The prophet Isaiah confirms this imponderable fact when he describes this ultimate act of judgment in Isaiah 28: 21. He says that 'The Lord will rise up…to do His work, His strange work, and perform His task, His alien task.' We are also told in Ez 33: 11 that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
As we read John's words in Rev 15 & 16 we discover that the seven last plagues will fall upon those who have declared their final loyalty to those religious and secular powers that have continued to defy God in the last days of this earth's history. They will fall on all those who have turned their backs on God's Bible truths and have refused His many calls to repent and follow Him. God has done all He can for them and as such, they will begin to suffer divine retribution as a result of the judgments that will ultimately be poured out.
Through this most difficult time God's faithful people will not only be sustained both spiritually and physically, but also the trials they experience will help them eliminate all earthly dependencies. Those who live through the seven last plagues will find in Psalm 91 all the encouragement that they need.
The Psalmist with these words of support makes reference to some of the plagues as well as the death threats from their enemies. Listen to his message in Ps 91: 5, 6.
'You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.'
We are assured in Ps 91: 7, 8 that '…a thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.'
A line of distinction is now being drawn between the righteous and the wicked and while the plagues are seen as punishment for those who stand against Him, His people, while still suffering privation and persecution, will enjoy His protection (Ibid: 131).
Ps 91: 3, 4, 10, 11 continues by saying, 'Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart…No harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.'
While the plagues have far reaching effects they are not seen by many commentators to be universal or it is believed the whole world would be wholly cut off. However, it seems that all the world will suffer from some of them and the ruin will be more terrible than that which came upon Jerusalem of old (White, 1950: 614, 628). We also need to recognise that before the plagues fall, the Spirit of God will have been withdrawn from the earth. This means that there will be no further opportunity for decisions to be made as those who have remained faithful are sealed for eternity while those who have rejected God have sealed their fate forever.
John now commences his description of the plagues in Rev 16 and while much of Revelation is written in symbolic terms, it is understood that the plagues and their effects will be very real (Bainbridge, 2007: 129). It would seem that each of these tragic events is designed to demonstrate how deceptive were the claims of false religion and how futile it was for anyone to rely on them. This was just like the situation that took place in Egypt of old. (Nichol, 1957: 839).
Let us commence by reading Rev 16: 2, 3, 4 (NIV).
V2 'The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.'
Just as the plague of boils was literal in Egypt so too will this plague of evil and painful sores be to those who have opposed God and thrown in their lot with the confederacies of evil. However, this disaster is not seen to be universal or fatal but it would seem to persist while the other plagues are falling. This is noted in Rev 16: 11 (Nichol, 1957: 842).
V3 'The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.'
It is understood that the seas that have provided a highway for international travel and commerce will be disrupted. This, in turn, demonstrates God's displeasure of Satan's plans to bind the earth together into one global village and under his control. Like the first plague this is not seen to be universal (Ibid: 840).
V4 then tells us that: 'The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became as blood.'
The effects of this third plague, while still not universal, is now seen to be immediate and serious as the everyday use of water is thrown into disarray. The terrible nature of this third plague now calls forth a statement in defence of God for authorising it and shows how the punishment fits the crime.
V 5, 6 says: '…You are just in these judgements, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.'
In V8, 9 'The fourth angel now pours out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify Him.'
This intense heat, while still not universal, will doubtless see the most severe drought and famine the world has ever known. While many seek for a means of alleviating their suffering, they refuse to repent and also blaspheme God as they realize at last that they are fighting against Him. Instead of acknowledging their own guilt they now seek to lay blame on those who have remained loyal and true to the God of heaven. This refusal makes clear the resolute opposition to His will and shows them in their real light as devoted servants of Satan. The first four plagues of a preliminary nature thus serve to reveal the spirit of rebellion that fully controls their hearts just as it did back in ancient Egypt (Ibid: 839, 841).
This now sees the falling of the fifth plague which V10, 11 says was poured out '…on the throne of the beast and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. This was a cold miserable darkness in contrast with the intense heat experienced under the fourth plague. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.'
While all the plagues are specifically designed for this huge conglomerate made up of the beast and his cohorts that Revelation calls Babylon, this plague now envelops the whole world. This prolonged darkness becomes symbolic of the deeper spiritual night that is yet to come and enshroud the entire earth (Ibid: 842).
The sixth angel in Rev 16: 12-14 now pours out his bowl on the river Euphrates, '…and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the Kings from the East.'
He then sees three unclean spirits coming out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet. These three agencies, made up of paganism and all false religions, work hand in hand to bring about a universal counterfeit to oppose authentic Christianity. By deception and compulsion they gain worldwide backing for their campaign against all '…who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.' (Rev 14: 12)
Performing miraculous signs, they then go out to unite the kings of the world under one banner and to gather them together for the battle on the great day of God almighty…the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.'
In order to understand the initial reference to the drying up of the River Euphrates and the Kings of the East we need to go back to the time of the Prophet Isaiah.
In Isa 44: 24-28; 45: 1-3 we read where God's prophet was predicting a time when the drying up of the Euphrates would bring about the downfall of Babylon by the hand of a man called Cyrus who was a king from the east. This event would then see the eventual deliverance of the people of Israel and their return to the newly restored city of Jerusalem (Bainbridge, 2007: 133).
Two hundred years later in recorded history we discover that a Persian general by the name of Cyrus directed his soldiers to divert the waters of the Euphrates that flowed through the great city of Babylon and when the water was shallow enough they marched under the river gate and took the city. Cyrus later was to issue a decree that saw the exiled Jews return to rebuild Jerusalem (Ibid).
We need to understand that the apostle John in Rev 16: 12-14 sees in the drying up of the River Euphrates the eventual demise of spiritual Babylon.
The waters on which Babylon sits represent the nations who cooperate with her and when that support dries up, this great spiritual edifice will fall. Her once loyal subjects turn on her in anger to destroy the system they had once been part of. This withdrawal of support is seen to remove the last barrier to her ultimate defeat and punishment (Nichol, 1957: 842).
The collapse of spiritual Babylon will prepare the way for the coming of the 'Kings from the East' represented by Jesus and His followers. This event would then be followed by the deliverance of His persecuted people as they are taken home to the heavenly Canaan. In Rev 19 John sees this rescue party from heaven coming down from the skies led by Jesus and the battle that ensues becomes a spiritual conflict between the forces of Satan and Himself. This is described by John as the battle of '…the great day of God Almighty.' This will be the battle of all battles because, as God's armies take the field, the powers of evil will not yield up the conflict without a struggle (Ibid: 983).
However, while being threatened with extermination by the combined forces of evil, God's people do not need to raise a hand to defend themselves because the battle is the Lord's. They only participate in the final victory that has been assured by God Himself. Our only preparation for this battle is for us to be found robed in the power and grace of God and in the perfection of Jesus. We have no need to fear in what is coming as our victory is assured in our risen Lord (Bainbridge, 2007: 134).
Eph 6: 10-13 makes this situation clear when we are told that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the powers of this dark world…Therefore, put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…'
Between the sixth and the seventh plague we find Jesus calling on his loyal followers to remain vigilant and steadfast in their faith as He says: 'Behold I come like a thief…[a thief to the ungodly]…Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.' This tells us that even though their destiny has been fixed they are not to relax their vigilance (Nichol, 1957: 845).
It is then in Rev 16: 17-21 when the seventh angel pours out his bowl into the air that we hear the loud voice from the temple saying 'It is done'. It is done. With this announcement, not only is the real nature of the powers of darkness unmasked, but God's loyal followers are delivered from the hands of the enemy and also the destructive power of this last plague (Rudy, 1981: 373).
The seventh and last plague is different from all the others in that it is poured out into the air and it is in this universal medium that the words from the temple encircle the globe (Ibid).
At the same time Rev 16: 18-21 says: 'Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nation collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones of about 100 Ibs each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.'
While these physical forces are set in motion, we find that the political forces on earth lose their state of unity and purpose and they begin to fight with each other. Filled with fury they turn their weapons on their leaders and each other while cursing God and showing their utter contempt for Him (Nichol, 1957: 847, 848). The world will be deluged with blood.
The apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3: 10 describes the total devastation of the planet where he says: 'The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.'
Just as God sent the plagues on ancient Egypt to demonstrate to the Egyptians His power and his absolute control the seven last plagues were to demonstrate to the world that He is still the master of all creation. He also showed that He could control both the extent and the areas affected by each event while announcing the timing of each one. Most importantly, the plagues were used to distinguish between His people and those who were opposed Him.
Just as the Israelites were about to be delivered from Egyptian bondage to go to the Promised Land we see God sending the seven last plagues on the world to break Satan's power over His end time people before He finally delivers them into the heavenly Canaan.
We also learn that there is only one place of safety from the plagues and that is 'under His wings' (Ps 91: 4). Ps 91: 1, 2 tells us that 'He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty'.
It has been said that if we have learned to trust God in the light will be able to trust Him in the dark and while we acknowledge Him in the sunshine we will do so in earth's darkest hour. If we have always lived under His direction, we will always live under his protection (Bainbridge, 2007: 135).
For those remaining loyal to Him God's strange act of sending these last plagues upon the earth will be a time for us to praise him for His mercies as we set our sights on that heavenly city and an earth made new.
Alexander, P. & D. (eds) (1999) The New Lion Handbook to the Bible. Oxford, England: Lion Publishing plc
Bainbridge, G. H. (2007) From Patmos to Paradise. Breakout Design & Print, Broadway, Australia: Garth Bainbridge
Nichol, F. D. (1957) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. 7. Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association
Rudy, H. L. (1981) The Message of Revelation Vol. 2. College Place, Washington: Colour Press
White. E G. (1950) The Great Controversy. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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