Most of us are familiar with the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. She had just finished high school and was looking forward to college, when she and her sister went to the Chesapeake Bay for a swim. When Joni dove into the water she hit her head on the sandy bottom, snapping her head back and crunching her fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae.
On November 12, 2023 Alisa Childers had Joni on her podcast to discuss the nearest of Christ in 50 years of suffering.
In answering one of Alisa’s questions, Joni made this statement, “God permits what He hates. He’s not excited about suffering. He hates evil, obviously, but He permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” She then used the example of Christ’s suffering to illustrate that God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves. She continued her answer by saying, “my friend said, Joni, it’s very much like you, um, God permitted what He hated, your spinal cord injury, just like He permitted those awful events leading up to the cross of Christ, but He permitted it in order to accomplish something good. He’s turning you from a headstrong, stubborn, rebellious teenager into a young woman who’s going to understand something of perseverance, something of endurance, who is going to allow her character to be refined, who is going to gain a deeper love for prayer and His Word, who is going to set her heart and hopes on Heaven. I mean He went on and on just envisioning for me things that at that point I could not envision for myself, but at least those ten words had hooked me, ‘God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves.’ And now I understand what it is that He loves in my life, Christ in me the hope of glory and my suffering.”
Alisa asked another question about the chronic pain that Joni experiences all the time. In response she said, “I realized that God shares His joy on His own terms and those terms call to us, for in some measure, to suffer as His own son suffered and, in a strange way I welcome the dark difficult guest of pain in my life. I welcome it because I know it is the gash through which more grace will pour into my life and I have counted that grace and that nearness and sweetness to Jesus Christ as worth the pain and that’s hard to say when I feel like screaming. But I believe it to this day and sometimes I lay on bed at night and I am so happy in Christ despite the pain that I am crying, but I’m so happy because He’s really worth it and I don’t know that I can convince people of it except that they just have to take me as saying the truth. That it’s a matter of faith. It’s a matter of stepping out.”
Can we even imagine having that kind of hope and joy after being knocked down? Joni, through the help of family and friends, was able to eventually look up to Jesus. It took time. She continues to look up to Jesus after 56 years of being a quadriplegic. She uses Scripture, prayer, and music to sustain her.
Our family has experienced times when we have been knocked down and had to look up to the Lord for help (health, jobs, relationships, etc.)
How many of us have spent some time flat on our backs because of some illness, surgery, or injury to our bodies?
The Egyptians were going to find themselves in a world of hurt with this sixth plague. They were going to suffer from painful boils all over their bodies that kept them from being able to stand in Moses’ presence. All of the plagues the Lord brought upon the Egyptians was so they would know that He is God. This plague was not an exception. When they were knocked down, would they look up to the Lord? We will see. The same is true for us – when we are knocked down, will we look up to the Lord? Our big idea reflects that thought today. It is . . .
BIG IDEA – God may knock us down, so we will look up.
GOD (Exodus 9:8-12)
Instruction (vv. 8-9)
Moses and Aaron were just given the instructions without having to meet Pharaoh at a certain time or place (just like the third plague of gnats)
This is the third plague in the second cycle of plagues
Next week we will begin the third cycle of three plagues, before the final plague
The Lord spoke to both Moses and Aaron
They were to take handfuls of soot from a furnace
It is likely that the furnace where they got the soot, was one that was used by the Israelites for making bricks
Perhaps the Lord was using what was afflicting the Israelites to afflict the Egyptians
Moses was instructed to toss the soot up into the air in the presence of Pharaoh
God would miraculously transform it into fine dust that would cover the whole land of Egypt
“As the God of the Hebrews was Lord over the water, air, earth, and life itself, so he was Lord over all elements, including fire.” [Martin, Holman Old Testament Commentary, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, 44]
“What started as a small amount of soot was changed and vastly multiplied by divine fiat into a huge amount of fine dust, covering Egypt and causing festering boils on both humans and animals.” [Stuart, The New American Commentary, Volume 2, Exodus, 228]
Attributes of God
God is sovereign, which means He is Lord over everything (all elements, animals, and humans)
God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
God is Creator, so He is able to transform His creation according to His plan and purpose
The transformed soot would cover humans and animals throughout Egypt
Festering boils would break out on humans and animals
While it is not explicitly stated, most scholars agree that the Israelites and their animals were exempt from this plague – they did not break out with festering boils
This was the first plague that actually attacked the bodies of the Egyptians
The boils would have been visible and very uncomfortable [Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, 145]
If you remember, the Egyptians were obsessed with cleanliness, especially concerning their bodies, so this would have prevented them from bathing as often as they would have liked and it definitely affected the cleanliness of their bodies
They would have been dealing with oozing sores all over their bodies
Attacking the gods of Egypt
The Egyptians looked to their gods for healing (Amon Re, Thoth, Imhotep, and Sekhmet) [Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus In Exodus, 60]
“Perhaps this plague is connected with Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of plagues, who was viewed as responsible for epidemics, and also capable of healing those who were afflicted by them.” [Mackay, Exodus: A Mentor Commentary, 173]
They were going to find out that Sekhmet was powerless and impotent
Comedian, Christian McCartney, was on Huckabee the other night and he closed his set by saying, “Laughter is great medicine, but Jesus Christ is the only healer.”
The Lord was trying to get the Egyptians attention, so they would know that He is God
The instructions have been given, now it is time for action
Infection (vv. 10-11)
Moses and Aaron did exactly what the Lord had instructed them to do
They got handfuls of soot from a furnace
They stood before Pharaoh
Moses tossed the soot into the air
God kept His promise
The author does not state here that the soot turned into fine dust and covered the land of Egypt, but we know it happened because festering boils broke out on humans and animals
This was part of the Lord’s instructions to Moses and Aaron
The soot would turn into fine dust and settle on humans and animals
The fine dust would cause festering boils to break out on humans and animals
Role of the magicians
Stuart outlines two reasons why the magicians were mentioned during the sixth plague when they haven’t been mentioned since the third plague [Stuart, 229]
It would help the reader understand that Pharaoh used the magicians as advisors during these plagues
If the physicians (magicians) could not heal themselves, it proved once again that God was more powerful than the gods or magicians of Egypt
“In ancient Egypt healing was frequently linked to magical rituals undertaken by priests in temples. The very priests to whom the Egyptians might have looked for help are themselves afflicted and their powerlessness to ward off this bodily ailment underlines yet again the superior strength of YHWH.” [Alexander, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, Volume 2, Exodus, 187]
The plague of boils was so bad that the magicians could not stand before Moses
PRINCIPLE #1 – God may use physical ailments to get our attention.
Notice that I use the word “may” in describing this principle
Not all physical ailments are a result of God trying to get our attention
Some of our ailments are simply the result of repetitive stress over time (knee cartilage gone; carpal tunnel in our wrists; bulging disks in our back; rotator cuff injuries; etc.)
Those physical ailments may afford us down time that we would not otherwise have or take
God may knock us down, so we will look up.
It is valuable to do some self-evaluation when we have time on our hands
Whether we are recovering from surgery due to repetitive stress on a part of our body
Or if we are sick from some virus that requires us to be quarantined
Perhaps we have time because we have lost our job
Whatever the case may be, it is important to spend time with the Lord
He may have been trying to get our attention for some time
Will we look up or will we continue to harden our hearts to His voice, to His prompting?
What are some ways that we can look up to the Lord when we are knocked down, when we cannot stand?
Pray and ask the Lord to speak to you through His Word
Pray and ask the Lord to speak to you through His Holy Spirit
Pray and ask the Lord to speak to you through fellow believers
Pray and ask the Lord to speak to you through worship
The Lord’s desire is for us to recognize that He is God (sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, healer, Creator, and so much more)
He wants us to look up to Him in repentance and dependence
#1 – My Next Step Today Is To: Look up to the Lord in __________ (repentance/dependence) since I am currently knocked down by ________.
The magicians were knocked down by the plague of boils
Their gods were useless, because they were false gods
The Lord was showing them that He is the only true God – He only could heal them and restore them
Perhaps this plague started to get Pharaoh’s attention
Indifference (v. 12)
“While it had been predicted in 4:21 that the Lord would harden Pharaoh’s heart, this is the first time that it is recorded as happening.” [Mackay, 175]
Maybe having boils all over his body, caused Pharaoh to start contemplating letting the Israelites go
God needed Pharaoh to stay the course of His redemptive plan
He needed Pharaoh to be willing to let the Israelites go without any strings attached or compromises
The plagues were not exclusively for Pharaoh and the Egyptians
They were also for Moses and the Israelites
God wanted the Israelites to recognize that He is in complete control [Enns, The NIV Application Commentary, Exodus, 219]
This is a great reminder for us also – God is in complete control of every aspect of our lives
Do you need to look up to the Lord in repentance or dependence as you struggle with being knocked down right now?
We need to look up to the Lord in dependence as we struggle with being knocked down.
“Author and pastor Jim Van Yperen tells this story:
Margaret attended a church I served many years ago. Confined to a wheelchair for most of her adult life, Margaret lived with a body both contorted and misshapen, ravaged by multiple sclerosis. She spoke softly, often slurring her words in barely audible grunts. She drooled constantly and was in pain nearly all her waking hours. Margaret had grounds for complaint; but she did not complain. She loved Jesus, and she never missed church. Sunday morning and evening, midweek prayer meeting, and special gatherings, Margaret was always there, always in a neatly pressed dress.
One night, after I first arrived at the church, I was conducting a forum asking questions and facilitating dialogue with a group of about 20 people. I asked people to tell me their favorite Bible verse or a passage from Scripture that was personally meaningful. Several people offered verses that I noted on a flip chart up front. After many people spoke, Margaret let me know she wanted to say something. Most of the people had recited their verses from memory or read them aloud from Scripture. Since Margaret could not speak, I looked up the verse for the group and read it for her: ‘It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes’ (Psalm 119:71 NASB).
Margaret smiled broadly and nodded her head. Her wheelchair was a testimony to grace.”
Source: Jim Van Yperen, "Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict" (Jim Van Yperen, 2002), pp. 106-107.