A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com

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Exodus 8:20-9:12

Deceitful Dealing 8:20 Now the Lord said to Moses, "Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh as he comes out to the water, and say to him, thus says the Lord, 'Let my people go that they may serve me. 21 For if you will not let my people go, behold I will send swarms of insects on you and on your servants and on your people and into your houses . . . 22 but on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people are living . . . in order that you may know that I, the Lord, am in the midst of the land. 23 And I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall occur.'" 24 Then the Lord did so. and there came great swarms of insects into the house of Pharaoh and the houses of his servants, and the land was laid waste . . . 25 And Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, "Go sacrifice to your God within the land." 26 But Moses said, "It is not right to do so, for we shall sacrifice to the Lord our God what is an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice what is an abomination to the Egyptians, will they not stone us? 27 We must go a three days journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as He commands us." 28 And Pharaoh said, "I will let you go that you may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away. Make supplication for me." 29 then Moses said, "Behold, I am going out from you, and I will make supplication to the Lord that the swarms of insects may depart . . . only do not let Pharaoh deal deceitfully again in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord." 30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and made supplication to the Lord. 31 And the Lord did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of insects from Pharaoh . . . not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go. 9:1 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and speak to him, 'Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go that they may serve me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them, 3 behold, the hand of the Lord will come with a very severe pestilence on your livestock . . . 4 but the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing will die of all that belongs to Israel.'" 5 And the Lord set a definite time, saying, "Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land." 6 So the Lord did this thing on the morrow, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of Israel, not one died. 7 And Pharaoh sent, and behold, there was not even one of the livestock of Israel dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Take for yourselves handfuls of soot from a kiln, and let Moses throw it toward the sky in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 And it will become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and will become boils breaking out with sores on man and beast through all the land of Egypt." 10 So they took soot from a kiln and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses threw it toward the sky, and it became boils breaking out with sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as the Egyptians. 12 And the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses. INTRODUCTION

We saw last time that Pharaoh hardened his heart when he saw that there was relief (8:15), and in that the principle that the crucial question is not so much what you do when you are under pressure as it is what you do when the pressure comes off. Today we see that one of the main things that will determine the answer to that question is how honest you are with yourself and with God. "Let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully again," Moses warns in 8:29. And the "again" is significant. For Pharaoh is a prime example of how not to be honest with either yourself or with God.


Pharaoh illustrates the fact that self deception is almost always involved in rebellion against God. At every stage of the hardening of his heart, he had to convince himself that he could get away with it. In 8:25 he had convinced himself that he could trick God into leaving the people in the land. Who was he trying to kid? And where is he getting such ideas? Not from Moses; certainly not from the physical evidence, from logic, or from experience, all of which were pointing in unison toward the unavoidable fact that God was God. He wasn't even getting it from his own advisers, who were convinced that they were up against omniscient omnipotence by simple common sense. So the idea that he could get away with cheating on God's demands was coming entirely from himself. He was choosing to deceive himself out of sheer stubbornness.

Think of all the trouble you've ever gotten yourself into. How many times were you genuinely surprised when you got caught and suffered negative consequences, either at the hands of your parents or of Providence? How many of these times would you honestly have to admit that you knew better? But even though you knew better (and you knew that you knew better), you still managed to convince yourself you could get away with it just this once. You chose to believe the lies that you were telling yourself because you wanted them to be true.

Certain elements are always present in true self deception. First, the knowledge of the truth is available and sufficient, if only you would choose to attend to it. But the second element is a temptation or desire that is in conflict with that truth. The third element of self deception is a decision, at least semi-conscious at some point, though it may become automatic later, to suppress the truth in order to pursue the desire. You decide to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to it, to ignore it deliberately. You see, the intent to deceive is an essential part of the definition of a lie. Without that intent, we call it an honest error, not a lie. It is truly an amazing thing that we can and do often intend to deceive ourselves. The decision to believe what we know is a lie can become so habitual as to become almost unconscious, but there was a moment when we made a conscious choice for which we become forever after responsible. Finally, the last element of self deception is the continual and intermittently conscious presence of guilt or anxiety, which is the emotional heat given off by the psychic energy required to keep the fact of our own self deception out of our own consciousness. It would be hard to believe that we actually do this if we did not all recognize so clearly the analysis of the process in our own history.

The motive for self deception is self justification. We want to have our cake and eat it too; we want to sin with a clear conscience. Therefore, self deception is a futile attempt to forge a compromise between Conscience and Temptation. And it can seem to be working--for a while.


Pharaoh also illustrates the fact that self deception never ends with the self. As soon as you begin to act on the basis of the lie you have adopted, others become involved. Since self deception is never completely successful, one becomes involved in the attempt to deceive others too--they must also be convinced that the lie that justifies your actions is true if you are going to have their cooperation or approval. Ultimately, the one you are trying to fool is God himself. Pharaoh certainly was. First he tries to trick God into accepting a halfway submission--I'll let the people go, but not too far. Then he tries to cheat God by letting the people go only to take them back with the army. He is promising to let the people go, but with his fingers crossed behind his back.

God is involved in all our actions; all the sins we try to justify are against his Law, against Him. The very voice of Conscience that we try to argue down or browbeat into silence is from Him. So whenever we deceive ourselves, we are trying to deceive the Omniscient One as well. What an act of supreme and utter foolishness! It is the sin that led Annanias and Sapphira to their deaths. If we cannot even completely fool ourselves, how do we expect to fool God?


Let me close by making some suggestions that will help us be more honest with ourselves and with God. First is to recognize that we have a problem with this. As Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (17:9). Lying to yourself is what psychologists call a defense mechanism. It is a way the flesh tries to cope with the Fall, with its own sin. And it is a way that does not work.

Second, consider the consequences of self deception. You are sabotaging your own potential for blessing by driving a wedge between yourself and the Truth. If the one who meditates day and night on God's word is blessed in all he does and everything he does prospers, the one who lies to himself set himself in line for the opposite results--he is going the wrong way on the road to blessing! And worse than that, as with Pharaoh, he is courting the judgment of God.

Third, recognize the source of self deception: It is two-fold. First, from within our own psychological makeup comes the desire to appease Conscience. But choosing to believe lies cannot work; it only increases our guilt, which comes out in anxiety and depression. Only one thing can deal with a bad conscience: the grace of God in Jesus Christ, accessed by confession (i.e., by finally being honest with ourselves and with God) and repentance (i.e., acting on that honesty) so that we can receive forgiveness and justification by faith. And the second source is the Father of Lies. We can lie to ourselves quite efficiently without his aid, but the Enemy of our souls is always there to encourage us in our own propensity to self deception.

Fourth, remember that a choice to suppress the truth is always involved in self deception. So we can instead choose consciously and deliberately not to suppress the truth. If the choice to listen to the lie, as is not unlikely, has become so habitual as to be almost unconscious, then much more do we need to make the opposite choice deliberate and conscious. If listening to the lie has become habitual, we can oppose it with counter-habits: Bible study, worship, Christian fellowship, prayer for God's help in discernment--these things make the presence of truth stronger in our lives, harder to ignore or shut down.

Fifth, learn who your true friends are, those whom you can trust to tell you the unvarnished truth even when it is not pleasant, those you can trust not to aid and abet you in deceiving yourself. Seek people like that out; spend time with them.

Sixth, learn what your temptations are--those lies or those sources of untruth, or of "spun" or twisted truth, to which you are most susceptible, and beware of them. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Do not trust anything they say once they have been unmasked as untrustworthy.

Finally, walk with God. Learn the true love, joy, and peace which is the fruit of the Spirit. Pursue these things with all your heart. For from them flows a set of desires that does not conflict with the truth, that needs no rationalization--"against such there is no law."


Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The ultimate reason not to deceive ourselves is that self deception hinders our relationship with Him; the ultimate reason we want to know and do the truth is that He is truth incarnate. Rather than being like Pharaoh, let us follow Him with all our hearts. for then we shall know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams

Updated 08/20/2003