A Word of Hope for Youth Pastors and Parents: God’s Greatness Seen through the Plagues and in COVID
Until the spread of COVID-19 across our land, I had never felt what it must have been like living in Egypt during the plagues. But as I sat in my house for weeks on end, quarantined with my people, I pictured the Israelites and Egyptians cramped inside their mud huts, full of fear over the surrounding chaos. Unlike me, they couldn’t even step outside for fresh air without the lingering stench of death overpowering them from the fish, frogs, livestock, and even rotting flesh from boils on their own skin.
Just as our hearts have been anxious due to the coronavirus, the Israelites must have been consumed by fear. They didn’t know what else was coming, how much longer the plagues would last, or if they would survive. They may have wondered with Moses, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?” (Ex. 5:22).
But Moses’ blaming question goes beyond the plagues. He is questioning God over his allowance of Pharaoh’s rule. If Pharaoh had never been in power, Moses would have reasoned, the Israelites would not have even been enslaved and there would be no plagues. Maybe our students or we ourselves are second-guessing God’s will with similar questions over the spread of the coronavirus, the loss of daily living as we knew it, and the things we had looked forward to this spring.
We wonder where God is right now as people are sick and dying and as the economy crashes with thousands of people out of work. Although social distancing restrictions are loosening for some of us, we are bitter about altered and cancelled plans. O Lord, why have you done evil to us? Why are you not stopping it?
As we walk with teenagers through this difficult time, we need to remind them that they will likely wrestle with these questions for the rest of their earthly lives. But surprisingly, what we learn about God’s character through the plagues in Exodus 5-12 can actually bring comfort to us and to our kids in these present circumstances.
God is All-Powerful
During the time of the Exodus, Pharaoh was the most powerful king of the most powerful nation in the world. Just imagine how Moses and Aaron must have felt telling him about each plague that was coming as a consequence of his refusal to let the Israelites go! You can also see why Pharaoh would be so obstinate. He was in charge, and no one was going to tell him what to do – especially not the God of Israel. But what we see through Pharaoh is that anyone who thinks he is greater than God and has control over his own life is wrong.
Through the destruction God brought upon Egypt through the plagues, which Pharaoh could do nothing to stop, God showed Pharaoh who was really worthy of worship. And not just Pharaoh—God’s display of power was also for the Israelites, Egyptians, and all people in all times including us to see who the one true God really is. God is the giver of every blessing found in this world, and also the one who removes these blessings or restores them as he wishes, for his own glory.
God is Merciful
God’s glory is also seen through his judgment. Contrary to what we presume about judgment, his ultimate purposes are not to destroy, but to save. After God warned Egypt about the plague of hail, “whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slave and livestock in the field” (Exodus 9:20-21). God could have acted without giving a heads-up, but he chose to grant mercy to anyone (Israelite or Egyptian) who believed his word. So here in the plagues we see how God’s plan for a chosen people has always included the world. His mercy in salvation is that all people who trust the Word—who is Jesus Christ—will live eternally with him.
God is Full of Compassion
The Bible at times says Pharaoh hardened his own heart and, in other places, says it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh’s power and attitude against God was all part of God’s sovereign will for his name to be proclaimed throughout all the earth. However, even Pharaoh received mercy and delayed judgment. God told him, “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people…” (Exodus 9:15).
We will never understand why God has mercy on some and not others. But when we understand that we all deserve his wrath, the fact any of us receives grace becomes the bigger surprise. Like the Egyptians, we all turn to worthless, powerless, false gods; many of which are being exposed through COVID. For like Pharaoh, we have made a false god even out of ourselves, thinking we are in control of our lives. And yet God moves toward us with compassion, as he did when he heard the Israelites’ cries.
God Took Care of our Biggest Problem
Through the plagues, we see God’s sovereign will, his power, and authority over all, and his justice and mercy. We have a picture in the plagues of what our sin deserves, and the grace God gives through his Son. For Jesus took our deserved judgment and experienced God’s wrath. God turned his back and poured out the ninth and tenth plagues—darkness and the death of the firstborn—on Jesus.
As Jesus hung on the cross, darkness fell over the earth until the ninth hour when he cried out before taking his last breath (Luke 23:44-45). It was finished; the firstborn Son, the Lamb of God, became the perfect sacrifice so that God would pass over us. Jesus is God’s mercy to us, even though we deserve what the Egyptians experienced in the plagues.
I am not saying the coronavirus is deserved judgment cast onto us by God. Remember, we don’t know the mind of God. Consequently, we must not surmise that this disease is a worldwide punishment for sin, or a sign that the end is near. What it does point to, that we can discuss with our teens, is the brokenness of this world in desperate need of redemption.
In both our current experience with COVID and in the plagues, God alone is the true King worthy of worship and obedience. Therefore, in what likely seems cruel and senseless right now to our teenagers, we can look back at Exodus and throughout all of scripture to see that God is faithfully at work to bring all who are his to himself. And one day, the trials and darkness of this world will be no more. All things will be made new and we will forevermore “behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Excerpts in this article have been taken from Kristen’s book The Gospel-Centered Life Exodus for Students (New Growth Press, 2018).