Paint It Black
On August 1, 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew set sail from London aboard the ship Endurance. They were bound for Antarctica, where the famous explorer hoped to traverse the continent on foot. But Shackleton never made the trek because before the Endurance could reach land, the ship became hopelessly lodged in an ice pack. It was January 1915, and from this point on their goal was simply survival. The crew faced many hardships in the months that followed, including freezing temperatures and near starvation. But of all the frozen terrors they faced, none was more disheartening than the long polar night. The sailors grew uneasy as winter set in, and the light began to fade. In early May the sun vanished altogether, not to be seen again until late July. Shackleton’s biographer wrote, “In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It is a return to the Ice Age—no warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether, and it has driven some men mad.” The bottom line is that humans need light and interaction to stay sane. Without light, we lose our sense of time, and without interaction, we become consumed with loneliness and boredom. With this sensory deprivation comes the strangest, most unimaginable psychological effects.
The Rolling Stones wrote a song in the mid-sixties called Paint it Black. At the end of the song it says – I wanna see it painted, painted black, Black as night, black as coal, I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky, I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black. In the song, the author has suffered a sudden loss, and can’t bear that life must go on without that person – his mourning has veiled his appreciation for the vibrant colors around him and he can’t even consider anyone else in his present state. There is little respite in the author’s grief, and as the song ends, he seems to sink deeper and deeper into his suffering saying “It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black.”
These words can also reflect a spiritual truth in our world today. When we are living in darkness our lives are black and we want everyone around us and even all of creation to be black as well. But if we only knew what true blackness was like, we would probably do a closer self-examination and long for the Light. Eternal “outer darkness” is how Jesus describes hell. He says it is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, and He teaches us that it is a real place where real people will be sent. But being sent there is a voluntary choice. Jesus has offered us light, life, and peace in place of that; taking all of the darkness of the world upon Himself so that we could see the true Light of God once again. This morning in our scripture found in Exodus 10:21-29, the Egyptians are going to be plunged into darkness for three days. It will be a total darkness that can be felt, and they will not be able to see anyone else or even have the ability to leave their homes. The three days of physical darkness with certainly effect the Egyptians emotionally, but the darkness is really symbolic of their spiritual state. God doesn’t want them to stay in darkness which is why he keeps imploring Pharaoh to repent and let his people go. He wants Pharaoh and the Egyptians to “know” that he is Lord and in knowing and accepting that fact they can be brought into the light which brings us to the big idea that God wants us to understand from this passage this morning that God desires his people to live in the light.
Let’s pray: Lord God, we pause to thank you for the study of your Word. It is a light unto our path and food for our souls. May we be attentive to your Holy Spirit this morning as we dive into your Holy scriptures. Let us be convicted, corrected and instructed in righteousness by it. Please do what only you can do in our hearts and minds and wills. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This morning there are two points. The first is No Warning found in Exodus 10:21-23. This is what God’s Word says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.”
This morning, we are studying the ninth plague of darkness. It is the third plague in the third cycle of plagues and most resembles the plague of gnats and the plague of boils in that there was no warning to Pharaoh that it was coming. Having no warning would have brought Egypt to a standstill making its impact all the more dire and frightening. God instructs Moses to act and from that action God will bring the plague upon Egypt. In this instance, Moses is to stretch out his hand toward the sky and God will bring a darkness that “can be felt” over all of Egypt. Once God gave Moses the instructions, he immediately obeyed. He stretched out his hand and his staff, which is implied, toward the sky and instantaneously total darkness covered Egypt. Mackay says, “three days emphasized the completeness of God’s control over the situation in Egypt.” Total darkness is literally translated as ‘the darkest of darkness’ or “pitch-black darkness.” Alter describes it as “the claustrophobic palpability of absolute darkness.” Pharoah and the Egyptians would have seen the darkness as judgment and an ominous sign of what was to come. Total or “thick” darkness is used in the OT for the devastating effects of God’s judgment. Isaiah 8:22 says, “Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” And Zephaniah 1:15 says, “That day will be a day of wrath—a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.”
The darkness over Egypt was so intense that the Egyptians couldn’t see anyone else or even leave their house for three whole days. Can you imagine this? Imagine living in the same house with your family but it is so dark that you can’t even see them. Imagine not being able to even leave your house because it is so dark. This eerie darkness would have caused panic and foreboding throughout the land of Egypt. Some commentators say this plague was caused by an eclipse or a sandstorm that made light and visibility nonexistent. But think about this: they couldn’t even seem to light a candle and there were no outside lights such as the moon or the stars. God had made it so flint couldn’t be ignited, fires couldn’t be started, and the moon and the stars were no longer in the Egyptian sky. It was a true and total blackout sent by God, and the Egyptians could do nothing but “grope” around in the darkness. It would have been dangerous to move around because you could fall or run into things. It would have been easier just to be still. Again, for the third plague in a row it was unlike anything the Egyptians had experienced before.
But, surprise, the Israelites had light in the places where they lived. This was truly a supernatural darkness brought on by God and not some natural occurrence. Now we don’t know if the cycle of day and night continued in Goshen as normal, but certainly they were able to have light in their houses. The Israelites continuing to have light signified that the presence of the Lord was with his people. Guzik says, “Light is not only a physical property; it is an aspect of God’s character. What we see with the ninth plague is God, in judgment, withdraw His presence so significantly that the void remaining is darkness which may even be felt.” And concurrently, God is light for the Israelites as he is for us as well. Isaiah 60:3 says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” And Revelation 21:23-24 talking about the New Jerusalem says, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” Physically, God made it so his people had light in order that the Egyptians and the Israelites would both know that he is the Lord. Isn’t that the way it should be? God’s people should be literal “lighthouses” in a dark world. (Big Idea).
The Egyptians were not only struggling physically in the darkness but emotionally as well. There would have been widespread panic and belief that the natural order of things had been stopped. It would have caused sensory deprivation, disorientation, depression and psychological distress. Since they believed that darkness brought death, they would have been terrified and had a sense of doom. They also worshipped the sun and the sun-god Ra. Every sunset represented death to them, but each sunrise offered them a hope of resurrection and the life-giving power of Ra. They had faith that the eternally rising sun could never be destroyed and each morning, they celebrated Ra’s victory over the forces of darkness and chaos. Darkness for three days straight was an attack by Yahweh on Ra and showed that Yahweh was more powerful than the most powerful god in Egypt. For Pharaoh it was even worse though. He was Egypt’s god, known as the son of Ra, the incarnation of Amon-Ra, who maintained the cosmic order. Quirke writes: “Within the reign of each king, he (Pharaoh) alone appears as the living representative of the sun god on earth and enjoys a unique sovereignty in the practical exercise of power.” Children in school were instructed to, according to Ryken, “Worship [Pharaoh], living forever, within your bodies and associate with his majesty in your hearts.… He is Re, by whose beams one sees, he is one who illuminates the Two Lands more than the sun disc.” They were to ascribe majesty and eternity to Pharaoh and even pray to him. Egyptian worship was deeply offensive to Yahweh as the Egyptians were worshipping a mortal man as the eternal god. Pharaoh was claiming attributes that belonged to Yahweh alone which was idolatry.
Idolatry is alive and well in our culture today as well. Origen wrote, “What each one honors before all else, what before all things he admires and loves, this for him is God.” Whatever we honor, admire, and love instead of God is our idol. The question is, what do we love most of all? Who is our supreme deity? Is it money, another person, a certain lifestyle, or ourselves. Walt Whitman’s famous poem, “Song of Myself”, says this: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself …the song of me rising from the bed and meeting the sun.… Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch.…If I worship one thing more than another it shall be … my own body.” We depend on our own abilities and admire our own accomplishments. We devote nearly all our attention to making our own plans, meeting our own needs, serving our own interests, and satisfying our own pleasures. We even complain about our own problems. It’s all about us. We idolize ourselves. Let us be a people who only worship the Lord and no one or nothing else. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card: My next step is to stop making myself the object of my worship and turn my eyes upon Jesus and worship him alone.
That brings us to our second point this morning which is No Compromise found in Exodus 10:24-29. This is what God’s Word says, “Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.” But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.” But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.” “Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”
Again, Pharaoh summons Moses and seems willing to let the Israelites go to worship the Lord, even though the plague is likely already over. Moses was probably summoned after the three days of darkness had finished. First, this is evidenced in that during the three days of darkness Pharaoh would not have been able to send anyone to get Moses. Second, Pharaoh didn’t have to ask Moses to ask God to stop the plague. It had already come to an end according to God’s timing rather than a prayer from Moses. Pharaoh now gives permission for Moses to take the women and children with him but makes the stipulation that he can’t take their flocks and herds with them. Pharaoh again tries to bargain with God and Moses. He still can’t let go of whatever authority he thinks he has and wants to control and dictate what happens to the Israelites. But Moses was not willing to compromise. He didn’t compromise during the previous plagues, and he wasn’t about to compromise now. He tells Pharaoh that they will not leave without their flocks and herds because that is where their sacrifices and burnt offerings will come from in their worship of the Lord. The proof that Moses and the Israelites were living in the light was their unwillingness to make even the smallest compromise in their commitment to worship God and him alone. (Big Idea) Moses uses the phrase “not a hoof is to be left behind” meaning every animal had to go with them. They would need some of the animals in order to worship the Lord, but he didn’t know exactly which ones and he wouldn’t know until they got to the desert. We may think that Moses was just making excuses here but actually it was while the Israelites were in the desert that God started to unwrap how the sacrificial system would work. We see this in Leviticus chapters 1-10.
This was Pharaoh’s third attempt to get Moses and the Israelites to compromise their worship to the Lord. First, it was “go, but don’t go too far” which for us today translates to give God your Sundays but do what you want the rest of the week. Second, it was “go but leave your children behind” which translates to you don’t have to influence your children, let them make their own decisions about worship, the church and Jesus instead of leading them in the way of Christ. Third, it was “go, take your children but leave your flocks and herds behind” which translates to you don’t need to surrender everything you have to Lord. As long as you give him a little bit, he will be happy. The human will hates absolute surrender. “Not a hoof is to be left behind” reflects the response of God to every attempt we make to surrender less than everything to Him. Do you believe that everything we have belongs to the Lord? Do you believe that God has the title to all we possess. Everything we have is given to us by God to be good stewards of for him. Our time, our talents and our treasures must be placed in his hands. “Not a hoof” means, that all that I have and all that I am is held at the disposal of the Lord. Those who are living in the light are the ones who refuse to hold anything back from the Lord. (Big Idea) Let us faithfully recognize that God wants all of us, our heart, soul, mind and strength, and that he wants everything we own to be used for his glory and for his work in the world. Let us refuse to hold anything back from him. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to “Not leave a hoof behind” surrendering my whole self and all my possessions to the Lord for his glory and his use.
Pharaoh does not have an opportunity to respond as God hardens his heart and he was not willing to let the Israelites go. In this context, as in 10:20, this is again a self-hardening of the heart by Pharaoh, the Lord’s action is passive. Despite the pressure from his own people he would not voluntarily allow them to leave Egypt. Normally, the reference to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart would signify the end of the plague narrative but here we see further interaction between Pharaoh and Moses. This change in the narrative alerts us to pay attention to what’s coming next. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart causes him to respond in “violent fury” reacting angrily and irrationally expelling Moses from his sight, threatening him with death should he ever see him again. Ironically, after not being able to see anyone for three days, Pharoah tells Moses to get out of his sight. He is frantic, knows he is outmatched and not willing to admit defeat. We also see how much he has come to hate Moses as he threatens him with death. Moses agrees with and responds in the positive to Pharaoh’s ultimatum. He would never appear before Pharaoh again. Pharaoh has cut off his only means to salvation. Only Moses could help Pharaoh escape the spiritual darkness he was in, but he refused to listen and expelled Moses from his sight for good. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart should be a clear warning to all of us to examine our hearts regularly to make sure we are not hardening our hearts toward the Lord.
Pharaoh’s actions were outrageous in a number of ways. First, it violated the immunity Moses should have had as a prophet of God. Moses spoke for God and so Pharaoh’s anger should have been directed toward God and not Moses. This violation would have been a serious breach in the ancient world. Second, it was mean-spirited and vindictive. Pharaoh had been given many warnings to let God’s people go and even after agreeing to do so he continuously went back on his word. Now instead of admitting he was wrong he threatens Moses with death. Third, it was cowardly. He tried to get rid of Yahweh’s demands by preventing his messenger from bringing those demands to him. An impasse has now been reached and the stage is set for the final interaction. If Pharaoh wasn’t going to deal with Moses it meant he was going to have to deal with Almighty God, himself, which should have been a daunting prospect. This points to the plagues narrative soon coming to a conclusion.
My conclusion is from Christian author Kate Hannon. Johanna had lived her entire life in the dark cave, deep underneath the earth’s surface. She’d never seen light—not pure light, anyway. There were little glimmers of light that reached her here and there—a fish that glowed, a glimpse of the outside world if she wandered too close to the edge, and an occasional traveler with a headlamp. Johanna, and the thousands of others who lived in the gigantic cave, passed their existence in darkness. They stumbled along, making their way as best as they could in the blackness, often falling to their deaths in huge drop-offs, getting bitten by poisonous creatures, or twisting an ankle on a rock—all because they couldn’t see. They daily walked right over incredible crystal formations and jewels, only they didn’t know it, because they couldn’t see them in the darkness. They remained oblivious to the breathtaking colors and dazzling designs. As odd as it may sound, these people lived in the darkness by choice. I know that sounds crazy—who would choose to stumble in the fearful darkness? Who would choose not to see? And why would they choose that?
Well, although very few admitted this was the reason, the people chose the darkness because they didn’t want to see themselves as they really were. In the darkness, they’d convinced themselves they were clean and healthy, and they didn’t want to admit that wasn’t true. Light showed them things as they really were. It showed them the dirt all over them. It showed them the dried-up blood and the uncared for wounds covering their bodies. It revealed the sores and disease that ravaged their bodies. It showed them their mangled hair and weak eyes. In short, it showed them that they were a mess. Had they only realized the healing and life that could be theirs if they were only willing to step into that light, they wouldn’t have hesitated for one moment. Had they only really understood that their present life in the dark cave ended only in death, they would have raced into the life the light offered to them. But instead they refused, living in darkness—loving it actually—rather than in the light of life. John 3:19-21 says, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
Light is an amazing thing. Without it, we don’t know how to walk safely…nor can we see the beauty surrounding us. Light shows things as they really are—it reveals the truth about ourselves and the world around us. God is light and truth—and He reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible. Are we willing to let God show us the truth—even if it’s not initially pleasant? Are we connected to God through His Word and through prayer? Or are we trying to live this life on our own without God, “groping” around in the darkness? As I mentioned earlier, if we only knew what true blackness was like, we would probably do a closer self-examination and long for the Light. Jesus has offered us light, life, and peace in place of that; taking all of the darkness of the world upon Himself so that we could see the true Light of God once again.
1 John 1:5-7 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” And Ephesians 5:8 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” God doesn’t want any of his creation to stay in darkness. He wants everyone to “know” that he is the Lord, accept him as their Savior and be brought into the light that only he can give. God desires his people to live in the light. That brings us to our final next step this morning which is to “Forsake the darkness, accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and begin to live in the light.”
As the ushers prepare to collect the tithes and offerings and Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final hymn, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, thank you that we can study your Word and in that we can show ourselves approved unto you, workmen that do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth. Help us to stop worshiping ourselves and turn our eyes toward you and worship you and you alone. Help us to “not leave a hoof behind” and to surrender our heart, mind, soul and strength to you along with all of our possessions. Let it all be for your glory and use. And Lord, help us to forsake the darkness and to live in the light. And if there are some today that do not know you as their personal Lord and Savior I pray that today would be the day of salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.