THE PLAGUES DEMONSTRATE GOD’S SOVEREIGN POWER IN MAKING MAN ACCOUNTABLE TO HIM FOR OBEDIENCE TO HIS DEMANDS
Man likes to imagine that he is in control of his own life. He can do what he pleases without any outside accountability or repercussions. The more powerful the man, the stronger this sense of independence. This account of the series of plagues that led to God delivering his people from the oppressive rule of Pharaoh destroys that mindset. In fact that is one of the main reasons why God goes through this tedious series of judgments instead of jumping ahead to the final and decisive Passover event. As the sovereign ruler of the universe, the all-powerful God controls all things and rules over the life of every man. He demands obedience to His commands. He wants all mankind to acknowledge His rule. He will enforce ultimate accountability. Stubbornness and rebellion will only exist for a season. In the contest for ultimate power and control, God wins every time.
Motyer: The plagues run from the passing discomfort of water turned to blood to the revoltingly disruptive invasion of frogs, to the potentially disease-bearing lice and flies, the commercially damaging animal sickness, the personally debilitating boils, the environmentally disastrous hail and locusts, the terrifying darkness, and end at last with the heart-stopping sadness of the death of the sons. It is a terrifying tale of the woes which still mark and mar earthly life and which, then as now, prompt an intuitive, often rightly indignant and sometimes understandably hostile ‘Why?’ rising up from earth to heaven.
This questioning is exacerbated by the fact that from the start the Lord knew that it would have to come to the contest of the firstborn (4:22–23) and, therefore, that the earlier acts would prove ineffective.
Why, then, did he not ‘cut to the chase’? Why the prolonged agonies of nine ineffectual acts?
The immediate and basic answer is that in the eyes of the Lord disobedience is as greatly abhorred as obedience is prized. . . The plagues reveal his love of obedience and his revulsion from disobedience.
David Thompson: GOD HARDENED PHARAOH’S HEART AND PERFORMED THESE SIGN/MIRACLE/PLAGUES SO THAT ISRAEL WOULD COMMUNICATE TO THEIR FUTURE GENERATIONS HOW GOD MADE A MOCKERY OF THE EGYPTIAN WORLD, AND SHOWED THE ENTIRE WORLD THAT HE IS THE SOVEREIGN LORD.
Tim Chester: What is clear is that God planned ten plagues so he could display his power and glory. That’s why he hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The workings of this are mysterious. But its purposes is clear: (7:5, 17; 8:10; 9:14, 16; 10:1-2). The plagues are an act of revelation. God sends them so that people might know that he is the Lord, that there is no one else like him, and that his name might be revealed in all the earth. . .
The nine plagues systematically undermine Egypt’s pluralist claims. They are a lecture against religious pluralism – the belief that all religions are valid – and personal autonomy – the belief that I have the right to live how I like it. It is a curriculum with ten unforgettable lessons. And the message is clear: there is only one God.
I. (7:14-25) PLAGUE #1 – TURNING WATER INTO WINE
II. (8:1-15) PLAGUE #2 — FROGS
A. (:1-4) Warning
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh and say to him Thus says the Lord, Let My people go, that they may serve Me. But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite your whole territory with frogs. The Nile will swarm with frogs, which will come up and go into your house and into your bedroom and on your bed, and into the houses of your servants and on your people, and into your ovens and into your kneading bowls. So the frogs will come up on you and your people and all your servants.’”
Ryken: God had a serious theological purpose for sending what seems to be such a silly plague. Once again he was demonstrating his power over the gods of Egypt. James Boice wrote:
“If we are to understand the full significance of this plague, we must recognize that a goddess of Egypt was involved in the judgment—the goddess Hekt [also Heqet], who was always pictured with the head and often the head and body of a frog. Since Hekt was embodied in the frog, the frog was sacred in Egypt. It could not be killed, and consequently there was nothing the Egyptians could do about this horrible and ironic proliferation of the goddess. They were forced to loathe the symbols of their depraved worship. But they could not kill them. And when the frogs died, their decaying bodies must have turned the towns and countryside into a stinking horror.”
Writing in a similar vein, Charles Spurgeon pointed out how appropriate it was for God to plague the Egyptians in this way:
“There was a suitableness in God’s choosing the frogs to humble Egypt’s kings, because frogs were worshipped by that nation as emblems of the Deity. Images of a certain frog-headed goddess were placed in the catacombs, and frogs themselves were preserved with sacred honors. These be thy gods, O Egypt! Thou shalt have enough of them! Pharaoh himself shall pay a new reverence to these reptiles. As the true God is everywhere present around us, in our bed-chambers and in our streets, so shall Pharaoh find every place filled with what he chooses to call divine. Is it not a just way of dealing with him?”
Heqet’s other responsibility was to assist women in childbirth. Since she was the spirit who breathed life into the body, women turned to her for help when they were in the pains of labor. This suggests that there may be a connection between the second plague and Pharaoh’s sin against the Hebrew midwives. Remember that the book of Exodus began with attempted infanticide. In his effort to exterminate the Israelites, Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill Israel’s baby boys (Exod. 1:15, 16). When his evil plan failed, he ordered the infants to be thrown into the Nile (Exod. 1:22). Given that background, it seems significant that God’s first two plagues struck blows against the gods of Egypt’s river and the goddess of Egypt’s midwives. It was a matter of strict justice: God was punishing the Egyptians for their sins. The very river that Pharaoh used as an instrument of genocide was turned to blood, and the first goddess to be humiliated was the one who governed labor and delivery. There was a connection between Pharaoh’s crime and God’s punishment.
David Thompson: Now the specific target here is Pharaoh’s house. His house was the best. It was the most secure. It was luxurious compared to other people’s homes. But with all of his wealth and all of his security and guards, he would not be able to stop the frogs from coming right into his house.
B. (:5) Instructions
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the streams and over the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’”
C. (:6) Implementation and Devastation
“So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt,
and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.”
D. (:7) Imitation by the Magicians
“And the magicians did the same with their secret arts,
making frogs come up on the land of Egypt.”
E. (:8) Initial Yielding Response of Pharaoh
“Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Entreat the LORD that He remove the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD.’”
F. (:9-14) Intercession by Moses and Aaron for Relief from the Plague
“And Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘The honor is yours to tell me: when shall I entreat for you and your servants and your people, that the frogs be destroyed from you and your houses, that they may be left only in the Nile?’ Then he said, ‘Tomorrow.’ So he said, ‘May it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. And the frogs will depart from you and your houses and your servants and your people; they will be left only in the Nile.’ Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the LORD concerning the frogs which He had inflicted upon Pharaoh. And the LORD did according to the word of Moses, and the frogs died out of the houses, the courts, and the fields. So they piled them in heaps, and the land became foul.”
Douglas Stuart: Giving the Egyptian king this power of timing is from a human point of view apologetically brilliant on God’s part: if the king could say when the frogs would go away, he would personally know that the timing was not due to the simple consequences of natural processes or a fiat of the gods of the Egyptians but the sovereignty of the God of Israel. Theologically, therefore, this plague was the point by which Pharaoh should have been able to admit that there was a true, powerful God behind the demands voiced by Moses. His refusal to believe even then is a paradigm for all people who, though confronted with the reasonableness of biblical truth, nevertheless refuse to believe by reason of factors other than the believability of the evidence.
John Mackay: ‘Cry out’ indicates the intensity of Moses’ approach to the Lord. The word is usually used in situations where relief is sought from injustice or suffering (5:8). What is remarkable here is the response given. Literally it is, “And the Lord did according to the word of Moses.” This is a measure of the closeness of the relationship between the Lord and his representative. It is not a matter of Moses doing according to the word of the Lord. Rather Moses is permitted to determine the pace of events, and the Lord acts on the basis of his request.
F. (:15) Stubborn Response of Pharaoh
“But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart
and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.”
Ryken: The only thing that really mattered to Pharaoh was his own personal comfort. When he “saw that there was relief,” he once again hardened his heart against God. More literally, the Hebrew says, “when Pharaoh saw that there was room.” He just wanted a little space, and as soon as he had enough space to get his life back on his own terms, he had no use for God. It was out sight, out of mind, because once the frogs were out of Pharaoh’s sight, God was off his mind.
Motyer: Exodus tells us three things about Pharaoh’s heart: that the Lord hardened it; that Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:15); and that his heart became hard (7:13). In other words, it is possible to tell two stories about Pharaoh’s heart, just as about the hail. One is the story of Pharaoh’s moral choices, whereby his heart became increasingly ‘set in its ways’, committed more and more irretrievably to a course of genocide regarding Israel. The other is a mere statement that from the perspective of the Lord as moral ruler of his world, the point of no return had been reached and the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart must now be judgmentally imposed on him as the justly due consequence of what his own choices had made him. All three components of our moral universe are brought together in 9:34–10:1: [Pharaoh] made his heart unresponsive—he himself and his servant [√kābēd] (9:34); Pharaoh’s heart was strongly resistant’ [√ḥāzaq]’ (9:35); and I, for my part, will make his heart unresponsive along with his servants’ hearts [√kābēd] (10:1).15 With these words we are forcefully reminded that choices are the privilege and price of being human. Our privilege is that of being responsible beings, recognizing moral values, called to make responsible choices, and given the opportunity and obligation to live in the light of the foreseeable consequences of our actions. The price we pay is that every choice, for good or ill, goes to fashioning our characters, and whether in the long or short term—or both—makes us answerable to the Judge of all the earth.
Thompson: We get a glimpse here as to what a hardened heart actually does. It sees clear direct evidence of God and His power, Word and will and then refuses to accept it or submit to it. A hardened heart actually knows the Word of God and work of God, but refuses to yield to it.
III. (8:16-19) PLAGUE #3 — GNATS
A. (:16) Instructions
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become gnats through all the land of Egypt.’”
B. (:17) Implementation and Devastation
“And they did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt.”
C. (:18-19a) Imitation Attempted
1. (:18) Failed Attempt
“And the magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats,
but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast.”
2. (:19a) Finger of God Testimony
“Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’”
Motyer: The cause was the Lord’s hand, the hand regularly being symbolic of personal intervention and action, or the Lord’s finger (8:19), the finger suggesting a more detailed involvement (e.g. Isa. 2:8). It is the Lord who puts a protective covering over his people (8:23), who banishes the flies (8:31), acts at appointed times (9:5), brings in the locusts (10:4), guides the wind (10:13) and changes its direction (10:19). It is he who delivers blow after blow upon the disobedient. Regularly, the Old Testament indicates the presence of the Lord by the motif of disruption or violence in the elements and forces within the created order. For this reason one of its most frequent titles of God is ‘Lord of hosts’, pointing to the fact that he contains, within himself, and therefore has at his disposal, every potentiality and power. Yahweh is Lord indeed.
Douglas Stuart: What happened, then, was that the magicians confessed publicly that this plague (and by implication the others so far) was not a trick but a miracle. The expression “this is the finger of God,” in light of its usage in Exod 31:18 and Deut 9:10, would seem to mean something like “a supernatural act of God” rather than literally referring to God’s hand or figuratively conveying a sense such as “something easy enough for him to do with just a finger.” The magicians were not confessing to their own conversion to true faith; they were simply saying that the plague was divine in origin, not human.
D. (:19b) Stubborn Response of Pharaoh
“But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them,
as the LORD had said.”
IV. (8:20-32) PLAGUE #4 — FLIES
A. (:20-23) Warning
“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; and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of insects, and also the ground on which they dwell. 22 But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of insects will be there, 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.’”
John Oswalt: In this second series of plagues we also see Aaron beginning to fade from the picture as the active agent of Yahweh’s word. Sarna (1991:37) suggests this is because the magicians were no longer a factor. Aaron was still with Moses and assisted him in gathering the “soot” (9:10), but Moses was the speaker (8:26, 29) as well as the actor (9:10). It is interesting that in this series, no staff appears. Yahweh simply announced that something was going to happen, and it did. Only in the case of the “boils” did the Hebrew spokesman carry out any activity, but that did not involve the staff.
Douglas Stuart: Especially significant in this fourth plague account, and indeed an inherent part of the threat, is the stress on the fact that God would not do to his own people what he would do to the Egyptians, their oppressors. To one extent or another, all the plagues anticipated and progressively led up to the final, ultimate judgment of God in the form of the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn. In that climactic event, much emphasis is placed on the distinction made between the Egyptians and the Israelites, a distinction that follows from the willingness of God’s people to act in faith by marking their homes with the sign of the blood of the lamb. Here God’s distinction between his own and those who do not belong to him is shown by his control of nature: although flies and other swarming insects cannot naturally discriminate by nationality or political boundaries in deciding on whom they will land and whose skin they will bite, nationality/political boundary was exactly the basis for the plaguing or nonplaguing by the swarming insects. Here, then, is brought overtly to the reader’s attention the fact that the plagues, far from being natural phenomena naturally produced, were nature turned on its head: nature ordered by its Creator to act in abnormal ways that were ominously frightening for the Egyptians, wonderfully reassuring for the Israelites, and clearly evidential (in this plague, even to Pharaoh) of a divine mighty act in service of a divine demand.
Constable: God demonstrated His sovereignty over space as well as nature and time by keeping the flies out of Goshen and off the Israelites (Exodus 8:22). The exact location of Goshen is still unknown, but its general location seems to have been in the eastern half of the delta region of Egypt (cf. Genesis 46:28-29; Genesis 46:33-34; Genesis 47:1-6; Genesis 47:11). [Note: Durham, p114.] Some of the commentators assumed that the first three plagues did not afflict the Israelites either, though the text does not say so explicitly (cf. Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:2; Exodus 8:16-17). God distinguished between the two groups of people primarily to emphasize to Pharaoh that Israel’s God was the author of the plagues and that He was sovereign over the whole land of Egypt (Exodus 8:23).
Ryken: If we ask why God made this distinction, the answer is that this is one of the eternal mysteries of his sovereign plan. Later, when Moses tried to explain to the Israelites why God delivered them from Egypt, he said, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love” (Deut. 7:7–9a; cf. 10:14, 15). In order to demonstrate his mercy and covenant love, God chose a people for himself. Out of all the nations he set them apart—a people who had nothing to commend them and thus no claim upon his grace. He chose them because he chose them, and he loved them simply in order to love them. Theologians call this “the doctrine of election.” It means that God’s grace is God’s choice. The people of God are not saved through any merit of their own, but by the sovereign purpose of God’s electing will. On the basis of his own choice, God makes an absolute distinction between his people and everyone else.
B. (:24) Implementation and Devastation
“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 because of the swarms of insects in all the land of Egypt.”
C. (:25-27) Initial Yielding Response of Pharaoh
“And Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.’ 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 before their eyes, will they not then stone us? We must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He commands us.’”
Ryken: Pharaoh was a shrewd negotiator, and this was one of his cleverest ploys. It seemed like a reasonable compromise: He would permit the Israelites to offer their sacrifices, provided that they stayed in Egypt. They would not be allowed to go out into the wilderness (as God had demanded), but at least they would be able to make atonement for their sins.
Alan Cole: Moses refuses on the grounds that to sacrifice in Egypt would be like killing a pig in a Muslim mosque, or slaughtering a cow in a Hindu temple. Racial rioting would break out at once.
Douglas Stuart: Another important feature of this fourth plague account is Pharaoh’s partial capitulation to Moses’ demands: in v. 25 Pharaoh expressed willingness to let the Israelites have a special religious holiday as long as they held it within the land of Egypt; and in v. 28 he went so far as to authorize a brief departure from the land into the wilderness—on which he subsequently reneged (v. 32). These concessions, however brief and partial, represent the first cracks in the stone of the official Egyptian government resistance, demonstrating that the plagues were beginning to affect the king’s resolve. Moses’ account does not differentiate between the two most likely causes for Pharaoh’s wavering, the growing intensity of the plagues and their overall cumulative effect. Presumably, both causes worked to influence Pharaoh’s decision toward compromise. As plagues kept coming, as their severity kept increasing, and as it became ever more obvious that they were not mere tricks but real, divinely instigated acts of judgment against Egypt, the king began searching for ways to end them without ending Egyptian domination over Israel. This plague account thus represents a way station on the road from imperious disdain for anything the God of Israel was asking for to the eventual complete capitulation that will follow the tenth and final plague, the death of the Egyptian firstborn. . .
Of course, the real issue was that staying in Egypt would violate God’s command, which is why Moses went on to say, “We must take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us” (Exod. 8:27). On occasion it is appropriate to use a practical argument to persuade someone to do what is right, but the ultimate standard for right and wrong is the will of God. The reason Moses refused to compromise was because he had made a commitment to do exactly what God commanded. The prophet knew that one of the differences between God’s people and Pharaoh’s people was that God’s people did what God said. Therefore, if God told them to make sacrifices out in the wilderness, then out into the wilderness they would go.
The example of Moses shows that when it comes to obeying God’s commands, there can be no compromise. This is true at the beginning of the Christian life, when a sinner first comes to Christ. Just as God brought Israel out of the house of bondage, so he brings the church out of the prison-house of sin—not halfway out but all the way! Some people are interested in getting religious without ever becoming Christians. They come to church on Sunday, but they are not willing to leave their sins behind the rest of the week. To put it in terms of Exodus 8, they are willing to make a few sacrifices, as long as they don’t actually have to leave Egypt! But becoming a Christian means leaving sin behind to follow Christ. Spurgeon explained it like this:
“God’s demand is not that his people should have some little liberty, some little rest in their sin, no, but that they should go right out of Egypt.… Christ did not come into the world merely to make our sin more tolerable, but to deliver us right away from it. He did not come to make hell less hot, or sin less damnable, or our lusts less mighty; but to put all these things far away from his people, and work out a full and complete deliverance.… Christ does not come to make people less sinful, but to make them leave off sin altogether—not to make them less miserable, but to put their miseries right away, and give them joy and peace in believing in him. The deliverance must be complete, or else there shall be no deliverance at all.”
Even after coming to Christ, Christians continue to struggle with the temptation to stay in Egypt. Every day we are confronted with opportunities to compromise our faith. Often there is a way to offer God partial obedience without disturbing the rest of our commitments. We are willing to call ourselves Christians as long as we do not have to take a moral stand in the workplace or give up part of our financial prosperity or speak with our neighbors about spiritual things or allow ourselves to be inconvenienced by the needs of others. Secretly we wish that we could offer sacrifices to God while remaining within the friendly confines of Egypt, but Moses teaches us not to settle for a partial compromise that falls short of full obedience. Everyone who claims to follow Jesus Christ must follow him without compromise. To quote again from Spurgeon,
“If Moses had thought that going a little way into the wilderness would have saved Israel, he would have let them go a little way into the wilderness, and there would have been an end of it. But Moses knew that nothing would do for God’s Israel but to go clean away as far as ever they could, and put a deep Red Sea between them and Egypt. He knew that they were never to turn back again, come what might, and so Moses pushed for a going forth to a distance; as I would in God’s name push for full committal to Christ with everybody who is tempted to a compromise.
D. (:28-31) Intercession by Moses for Relief from the Plague
“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.’ Then Moses said, ‘Behold, I am going out from you, and I shall make supplication to the LORD that the swarms of insects may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people tomorrow; only do not let Pharaoh deal deceitfully again in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.’ So Moses went out from Pharaoh and made supplication to the LORD. And the LORD did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of insects from Pharaoh, from his servants and from his people; not one remained.”
E. (:32) Stubborn Response of Pharaoh
“But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go.”
V . (9:1-7) PLAGUE #5 – EGYPTIAN LIVESTOCK
A. (:1-5) Warning / Instructions / Timetable
“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. For if you refuse to let them go, and continue to hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will come with a very severe pestilence on your livestock which are in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the herds, and on the flocks. 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 the sons of Israel.’ And the LORD set a definite time, saying, ‘Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land.’”
Douglas Stuart: Domesticated animals were treasured as enormously valuable assets in Bible times (as in any time prior to the industrial revolution, or any place even today where farming predominates). Moreover, they were seen as closely interrelated to the welfare of humans, a fact reflected even in the Bible’s creation accounts. The pantheistic Egyptians revered all animals but birds and livestock more than fish and amphibians. For them to have lost livestock would constitute a serious blow indeed. For them to have lost livestock while the Israelites retained all theirs represented a nationwide humiliation.
B. (:6) Implementation and Devastation
“So the LORD did this thing on the morrow, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the sons of Israel, not one died.”
John Oswalt: The statement that “all the livestock of the Egyptians died” (9:6) has provoked a good deal of discussion among commentators, especially since there were still animals alive to suffer the boils of the next plague (9:10), and the hail of the succeeding one (9:19). Basically, the suggestions that have been offered fall into three categories:
(1) “All” is not intended literally, but hyperbolically, to make the point that the deaths were not simply here and there (Cassuto 1967:111).
(2) “All” applies only to those animals which were not undercover (9:3; lit., “your animal property in the field”).
(3) “All” is intended literally; this is a folktale, and the author or redactor was not concerned with consistency (Houtman 1993:2.70).
I believe the first is the most likely.
C. (:7) Stubborn Response of Pharaoh
“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.”
John Oswalt: Despite the accumulated evidence of the first five plagues, Pharaoh still refused to believe there could be some limit to his authority. And it is important to remember that this is what his “hard-heartedness” is all about. It is not a matter of being insensitive to the plight of his slaves. It is a resolute refusal to admit that he was not in sole charge of his own life. This is why the evidence continued to be insufficient. It was a matter of the will, and a matter that would involve an entire change of Pharaoh’s perspective on the meaning of his life.
Thompson: Now again we learn something about how to recognize a heart God has hardened. A hardened heart does not think or react in rational, logical ways. A hardened heart is a heart that thinks and acts in ways that are illogical. The logical thing to do when you have just seen this plague would be to say – we need to let these people go. But a hardened heart does not think rationally or logically.
Ryken: In keeping with our practical method for studying Exodus, there are at least five lessons to learn from the plague on livestock. Most of these lessons were introduced in the earlier plagues; yet they are important enough to bear repeating.
First, we learn the meaning of salvation. In its most basic sense, salvation means deliverance. The fifth plague—in which God again commanded Pharaoh to let his people go—is a further reminder that God had come to set his people free. What was true for Israel under Moses is true for the believer in Jesus Christ. Jonathan Edwards taught that “Christ and his redemption are the subject of the whole Word of God.”9 This is especially true of the book of Exodus, in which salvation is displayed as deliverance from bondage. The exodus from Egypt prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the true exodus. By his sufferings and death on the cross, Jesus broke the power of sin and released sinners from its captivity. Now everyone who trusts in Christ and in his cross is delivered immediately from the guilt of sin, and ultimately from sin itself, for believers will be made perfect in Heaven. The gospel is the greater exodus, in which God says to Satan, “Let my people go! Release them from their slavery to sin. Allow them to come all the way out and find freedom in Christ.”
Second, we learn the purpose of life, which is to glorify God. When God said, “Let my people go,” he went on to say, “so that they may worship me.” The Israelites were saved for God’s glory. Since the Hebrew word for “worship” is also the word for “service,” God was claiming his right to both their work and their worship. This is our purpose as well—to give God the glory. Jesus Christ has set us free from sin and death so that we can serve the living God. He is both our Savior and our Lord. We turn to him not only to deliver us from our slavery to sin, but also for everything that follows—a whole life of fruitful work and worship for God. Like the Israelites, we are saved for God’s glory.
Third, we learn the folly of idolatry. Pharaoh was such a proud man that in order to humble him, God had to humiliate his gods one by one. With the plague on livestock, God humiliated Apis, Hathor, and the rest of Egypt’s sacred cows. Apis was a masculine god: He represented sexual prowess. Hathor was a feminine god: She represented glamor. Although we do not bow down before golden cows, we sometimes worship the very same gods and goddesses. We are tempted to gratify sexual desire outside the marriage covenant or to glamorize our outward appearance for the sake of our inward esteem. But this is utter folly. The idols of sex and beauty cannot save. They do not free us; they only bind us. The attractions they offer are temporary, and in the end those who lust after them will gain nothing but lonely, empty disappointment.
Fourth, we learn the superiority of faith. In the plague on livestock God differentiated between the Israelites and the Egyptians. This is the distinction he always makes—the distinction between the people of his choice, who receive all the blessings of his salvation, and the rest of fallen humanity, who remain under his curse. Just as protection from pestilence was only for those who trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so now the free gift of eternal life is only for those who trust in his Son, Jesus Christ. Believers have the unique privilege of knowing that God will keep them safe in his arms for all eternity. On the day of judgment, when rebellious sinners will face the fury of God’s wrath, repentant sinners will be kept safe from the fires of Hell.
The superiority of faith is proved by a fifth lesson, which is the consequence of rebellion. It is true that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. This is one of the mysteries of sovereign predestination: God wills the choice of some for salvation, while he hardens others in their sins. But it is also true that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. The account of the plague on livestock is explicit about this. God said to Pharaoh, “If you refuse to let them go …” (Exod. 9:2, emphasis added). Pharaoh was given every opportunity to meet God’s demand. Yet he deliberately refused to let God’s people go, choosing instead to keep Israel in bondage, thus rebelling against God’s revealed will. Such defiance always brings divine judgment. As God’s patience wore thin (to put it in human terms), he struck Pharaoh with the wrath of his hand.
VI. (9:8-12) PLAGUE #6 – BOILS
A. (:8-9) Instructions
“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. 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.’”
Ryken: To understand how completely God humiliated Pharaoh’s magicians, it helps to know that by throwing ashes into the air, Moses was doing something that Egyptian priests often did. It was customary for Pharaoh’s priests to take sacrificial ashes and cast them into the air as a sign of blessing. But God took that ritual act and turned it into a curse. This was a matter of justice, because the soot may well have come from a furnace for making bricks, like the bricks the Israelites baked for Pharaoh. If so, God was exacting strict justice, repaying the Egyptians for their sins. John Currid writes, “The type of furnace spoken of here was probably a kiln for burning bricks. The furnace, then, was a symbol of the oppression of the Hebrews, the sweat and tears they were shedding to make bricks for the Egyptians. Thus the very soot made by the enslaved people was now to inflict punishment on their oppressors.” God was making Israel’s curse a blessing and was turning Egypt’s blessing into a curse.
B. (:10) Implementation and Devastation
“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.”
C. (:11) Imitation Not Possible
“And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians.”
D. (:12) Stubborn Response of Pharaoh
“And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.”
Ryken: Pharaoh’s hard heart confronts us with the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Both of the following statements are true: Pharaoh hardened his heart; God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But how can these two statements be reconciled? What is the relationship between them?
Some scholars argue that God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart until after Pharaoh hardened it himself. When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he was simply confirming the decision that Pharaoh had already made. Thus the moral of the story is that “God hardens those who harden themselves.” This is often true. As a matter of justice, God sometimes hardens the hearts of those who have hardened themselves against him.
However, in this case that explanation is less than fully adequate because even before Pharaoh hardened his heart, God promised to harden it for him. The Lord had told Moses, “I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Exod. 4:21b).
While it is true that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, the deeper truth is that even this was part of God’s sovereign plan. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was not God’s response to Pharaoh, but his purpose for Pharaoh. God did this to demonstrate his justice. He also did it to demonstrate his power, as we will discover when we get to the seventh plague (Exod. 9:16). And he did it to display his mercy. As God said to Moses, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites” (Exod. 7:3, 4). God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to multiply the plagues, which magnified the power of both his justice and his mercy.
VII. (9:13-35) PLAGUE #7 – HAIL
A. (:13-21) Warning
1. (:13-14a) Warning Initiated
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people,’”
John Oswalt: The third series of three plagues follows the literary pattern of the first and second series (see above on 7:8–8:19), but the discourse surrounding the first and second plagues in this series, the hail and the locusts, is much longer than in any of the other plagues. This probably reflects two factors: the increasing seriousness of the plagues, and Pharaoh’s increasingly complicated negotiations as he attempted to avoid the inevitable—surrender to the authority of Yahweh.
2. (:14b-17) Reason for the First Nine Plagues
“so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this cause I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go.”
Tim Chester: It’s worth asking the question: Why the first nine plagues? The tenth plague was the one that made the difference and say God’s people finally allowed to go. Why not skip straight to the tenth? . . . The answer comes in 9:15-16 . . . God could have liberated his people with just one plague. But the ten plagues are a demonstration of his power. In this sense, they are missional. Their aim is that God’ name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
John Mackay: The reason for these divine blows is then stated: so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. The purpose of the plagues was to bring Pharaoh (and with him the Egyptians as a whole) to recognize the Lord as the Supreme Creator, whose unlimited domain took in Egypt and everywhere else as well. This spells out in greater detail the reason given earlier for the plagues, “so that the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (7:5), by emphasizing the universal implications ‘in all the earth’ (9:16, 29) of the Lord’s sovereignty. By displaying his control over phenomena the Egyptians attributed to other gods, the Lord clearly indicated his realm was without limits of any sort. Especially it included Pharaoh, who thought of himself as the ultimate power in Egypt. By his defiance Pharaoh showed that he had adopted the same rebellious mindset as was evident in the Fall. Satan had proposed to Adam and Eve that they act so as to show they were autonomous, free from God’s control. “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Pharaoh had to be brought to see the enormity of his mistake in making the same claim for himself.
Douglas Stuart: Most of the concepts in 9:14–16 are quite new, however, and it is likely that 9:14–16 plays a special role in the entire narrative of the plague account in two ways. First, it appears as an apologia for the plagues as a group. In other words, this is the point in the narrative about the plagues at which God had certainly gotten Pharaoh’s attention and that of the Egyptians in general. Now he issued his explanation for all the plagues that he had sent and would send against them. At the same time, it represents a point of intensification so that the reader is aware that the prior plagues, troublesome as they were, were essentially preliminary and that now a series of developments that would really do damage to Egypt—including actually taking of human life—was underway in the form of the final four plagues. If Pharaoh retained any doubts about the purpose of the plagues to this point, he had no reason to be uncertain any longer. The explanation given him in these verses is clear and simple: Pharaoh must learn that Yahweh alone is supreme, the implication being that the gods in whom Pharaoh had trusted and whom he represented were essentially nothing (9:14); the earlier plagues, hard as they were on the Egyptians, were actually examples of restraint since God already could have sent at any time a fully destructive plague to eliminate the Egyptian population entirely (9:15). Pharaoh himself had come to power and was acting as he was under God’s control, the result being not only that he, the king of the world’s greatest superpower at that time, would see true divine power but that all who learned of the exodus story in all generations thereafter would give the true God credit for that power (9:16).
Alan Cole: The secondary goal is again given, as being that pharaoh should realize the uniqueness of YHWH. Now, however, a new theological point is stated. Pharaoh has been treated mercifully so far: his life has been prolonged so that YHWH’s name and power should be exalted (verse 16; cf. Rom. 9:17). This brings, as corollary, the further thought that all the plagues came in mercy, rather than judgment; for each one was an opportunity for pharaoh to repent. Instead, he hardened his heart, making his final judgment both certain and inexcusable.
3. (:18-19) Warning Finished
“Behold, about this time tomorrow, I will send a very heavy hail, such as has not been seen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Now therefore send, bring your livestock and whatever you have in the field to safety. Every man and beast that is found in the field and is not brought home, when the hail comes down on them, will die.”
4. (:20-21) Response by the Servants of Pharaoh
a. (:20) Heeding the Warning
“The one among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses;”
b. (:21) Disregarding the Warning
“but he who paid no regard to the word of the LORD left his servants and his livestock in the field.”
John Mackay: The action of some of his officials shows how unreasonable Pharaoh’s continuing resistance was. But Pharaoh was not alone in his stubborn refusal to heed the Lord’s message. While this warning of impending doom and news of how to escape from it brought a positive response from some officials, there were others who did not listen. But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field (9:21). ‘Ignored’ is ‘did not set their hearts on’ (7:23; Deut. 32:46; Job 1:8). They did not give it the inner response that they ought to have. Like their leader whom they were copying, they had hardened their hearts, and because of their stubbornness the information they had been given did not lead to appropriate action.
B. (:22) Instructions
“Now the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that hail may fall on all the land of Egypt, on man and on beast and on every plant of the field, throughout the land of Egypt.’”
C. (:23-26) Implementation and Devastation
1. (:23-25) Poured Out on the Land of Egypt
“And Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very severe, such as had not been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail struck all that was in the field through all the land of Egypt, both man and beast; the hail also struck every plant of the field and shattered every tree of the field.”
2. (:26) Withheld from the Land of Goshen
“Only in the land of Goshen, where the sons of Israel were, there was no hail.”
D. (:27-28) Initial Yielding Response of Pharaoh
“Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones. Make supplication to the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail; and I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.’”
John Oswalt: For the first time, Pharaoh was moved to admit that the Lord had been right in what he had done (9:27) and that he, Pharaoh, had been wrong, and he called his action a sin. This is a stunning turnaround. It is an admission that Yahweh has the right to determine what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior, and that it is a sin to oppose him. Yet, Pharaoh’s admission did not change his behavior. When the immediate pain was removed, both he and “his officials” reverted immediately (9:34–35). What does this say about the nature of repentance? It says that mere cognitive awareness of sin accomplishes very little. Sin is not primarily a matter of knowledge; rather, it is a matter of the will. We think of King Saul’s eventual admission of sin to Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:24–25 and compare it to the repentance attributed to King David in Psalm 51, and we see the difference. In Saul’s and Pharaoh’s cases, the admission was primarily motivated by a desire to escape punishment. In David’s case, the admission was motivated by a passionate desire for reconciliation and restoration. Only the latter results in long-term behavioral change, and only such change is what is meant by the fear of the Lord (9:30).
E. (:29-33) Intercession by Moses for Relief of the Plague
“And Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I go out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the LORD; the thunder will cease, and there will be hail no longer, that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the LORD God.’ (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they ripen late.) So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread out his hands to the LORD; and the thunder and the hail ceased, and rain no longer poured on the earth.”
Douglas Stuart: Exodus 9:30 contains the first usage in the Bible of the term “fear the Lord” (yārēʾ ʾet-yahweh), a wording that designates an enormously important theological concept. The fear of the Lord is enjoined throughout Scripture, demanding that God’s people stand always in awe of him, appreciate his supremacy and greatness, fear the consequences of disobeying his will, and not treat lightly any aspect of their covenant relationship with him, lest the consequences be severe or even fatal. Attempts on the part of some in modern times to define fearing the Lord as merely respecting him distort the biblical evidence. Pharaoh and the Egyptians may have moved much closer to capitulation to the Israelites’ God in the bargaining process, and may have been much more disposed to granting some sort of serious concessions, but they (the verb at the end of v. 30 is plural) had not actually come to the point of religious faith in Yahweh.
Ryken: Taken together, these three purpose statements (9:14, 16, 29) explain why God plagued Pharaoh’s Egypt. He did it to show his unique omnipotence, his universal praise, and his unlimited authority over all the earth. God accomplished the same purposes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By raising Jesus on the third day, God displayed his mighty power over sin and death. Now the good news of salvation in Christ is proclaimed around the world, so that God’s name is praised in all the earth.
John Mackay: The next two verses are in effect a footnote giving background details about Egyptian agriculture to explain the impact of the storms. The flax and barley were destroyed, since the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bloom. The wheat and spelt, however, were not destroyed, because they ripen later (9:31–2). Flax was grown to make linen for clothing. Barley was used to make an inferior type of bread, and also in brewing and feeding animals. Both flax and barley would be sown in November and harvested in March. The fact that the barley was nearly ripe and the flax was blossoming points to January as the time at which the hailstorms occurred. These two crops were consequently destroyed (literally, ‘struck’). Spelt was a type of coarse wheat which could thrive in poorer conditions and was used in bread making. Wheat was the main export crop from Egypt right through to Roman times. They both ripen a month or two later in early April. Because they were not so far advanced at the time of the January storms, they were largely undamaged.
F. (:34-35) Stubborn Response of Pharaoh
“But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not let the sons of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.”
Ryken: This is one of the differences between remorse and true repentance. Remorse is the sadness that comes from suffering God’s judgment. Remorse is useful when it helps persuade sinners to repent. However, many people are filled with remorse for what is happening to them without ever truly repenting of their sins. The best way to tell is to see what happens after they confess their sins. True repentance is a complete change of heart that produces a total change of life. By that standard, Pharaoh’s confession was false. It was only temporary. Once the storm stopped and the plague was over, his heart was as hard as ever. It turned out that he did not want a change of heart after all; he just wanted God to leave him alone. But a confession that does not lead to new obedience is a false confession that falls short of true repentance.
John Mackay: The economy of Egypt was predominantly agricultural. Even though it had sustained a major blow with the loss of these important crops, Pharaoh was far more concerned with maintaining his own position than with the welfare of his people. The regime and its ideology had to be upheld no matter what it cost the citizens of the land in deprivation and disaster. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why there is no Egyptian record of the Exodus. Disasters did not happen there. With an efficiency matched by many modern totalitarian regimes only the official version of events was allowed into the records.
VIII. (10:1-20) PLAGUE #8 – LOCUSTS
A. (:1-2) Purpose of the Lord
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and how I performed My signs among them; that you may know that I am the LORD.’”
Motyer: The Lord is master over every force, political or religious, earthly or supernatural that might either oppose or challenge him. His purposes are not hindered by Pharaoh’s opposition, Moses’ inadequacies or Israel’s unworthiness. So we see even as huge and overmastering a thing as the locust plague is totally in his hand: he decrees its onset, sets it bounds and determines its duration. The narrative is presented with [chiastic] style:
A1 The Lord, Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s heart (1–2)
B1 Moses comes to Pharaoh: the plague threatened (3–6)
C1 Pharaoh negotiates, arrogantly, autocratically (7–11)
D The locusts, exactly as threatened (12–15)
C2 Pharaoh pleads (16–17)
B2 Moses leaves Pharaoh: prays against the plague (18–19)
A2 The Lord, Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s heart (20)
B. (:3-7) Warning
1. (:3) Futility of Resisting the Warning – Pride and Stubbornness
“And Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me.’”
2. (:4-6) Details of the Warning
“For if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your territory. And they shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one shall be able to see the land. They shall also eat the rest of what has escaped– what is left to you from the hail– and they shall eat every tree which sprouts for you out of the field. Then your houses shall be filled, and the houses of all your servants and the houses of all the Egyptians, something which neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day that they came upon the earth until this day. And he turned and went out from Pharaoh.”
Wiersbe: If vocabulary is any indication of significance, then the locust was a significant creature in the Old Testament world, for there are at least eleven different Hebrew words in Scripture referring to it. . . The Jews hated the creatures because of their ability to strip the vegetation from an area with incredible speed. The Israelites used the locust swarm to describe anything that quickly invaded and devastate their land (Jud. 6:5; 7:12; Isa. 33:4; Jer. 46:23; 51:14, 27), and the Prophet Joel comparted the locusts to an invading army (Joel 1-2; see Amos 7:1-3).
3. (:7) Reinforcement of the Warning by Pharaoh’s Servants – Give it Up
“And Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?’”
C. (:8-11) Initial Yielding Response of Pharaoh Does Not Extend Far Enough
“So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, and he said to them, ‘Go, serve the LORD your God! Who are the ones that are going?’ And Moses said, ‘We shall go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the LORD.’ Then he said to them, ‘Thus may the LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Take heed, for evil is in your mind. Not so! Go now, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you desire.’ So they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.”
John Mackay: What Pharaoh says may be understood as heavily sarcastic: “The Lord will indeed be with you if I do what you suggest. It will need divine intervention for someone to get the upper hand in negotiating with me.” This is followed by what seems to be a threat, “Be careful, trouble is in store for you” (NIV margin). Though his land is devastated, Pharaoh still had at his disposal his military might which could make life very difficult indeed for the Israelites. The rendering of the NIV text, Clearly you are bent on evil, recalls the earlier tactic of false allegations against the people (5:8–9). In this case, however, what Pharaoh has in mind is that if the Israelites all leave, they will never come back, and that he is not prepared to allow.
Douglas Stuart: Israelite worship was to be a full family affair. The men played a key role in the actual offering of the sacrifice by the priests, but the women and children also participated, both by observation and by eating the meal after it was prepared through the sacrifice process. Accordingly, Moses could only regard Pharaoh’s offer as too little too late, and he reacted accordingly.
Ryken: Another Round of Negotiations —
Pharaoh’s other false assumption was that he could bargain with God. He assumed that he and God were on more or less equal terms, and therefore he could negotiate from a position of strength. But there would be no compromise. God does not discuss terms; he dictates them. What he demanded in this case was nothing less than Pharaoh’s unconditional surrender. It was all or nothing, which is why God was not impressed with Pharaoh’s offer to let the men of Israel go.
D. (:12) Instructions
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come up on the land of Egypt, and eat every plant of the land, even all that the hail has left.’”
E. (:13-15) Implementation and Devastation
“So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the LORD directed an east wind on the land all that day and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts. And the locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled in all the territory of Egypt; they were very numerous. There had never been so many locusts, nor would there be so many again. For they covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every plant of the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Thus nothing green was left on tree or plant of the field through all the land of Egypt.”
Thompson: This is very important. God always fulfills prophecy literally. It is not symbolic, it is not metaphorical, it is literal. If God promises He is going to send a judgment, it will literally come just as He said. Future fulfillment of things is literal.
F. (:16-17) Further Yielding Response from Pharaoh
“Then Pharaoh hurriedly called for Moses and Aaron, and he said, ‘I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Now therefore, please forgive my sin only this once, and make supplication to the LORD your God, that He would only remove this death from me.’”
G. (:18-19) Intercession by Moses for Relief of the Plague
“And he went out from Pharaoh and made supplication to the LORD. So the LORD shifted the wind to a very strong west wind which took up the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea; not one locust was left in all the territory of Egypt.”
H. (:20) Stubborn Response of Pharaoh
“But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go.”
IX. (10:21-27) PLAGUE #9 – DARKNESS
A. (:21) Instructions
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky,
that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt,
even a darkness which may be felt.’”
John Mackay: Every morning the Egyptians worshipped the sun-god Kephri-Re-Atum in celebration of his renewed victory over the forces of darkness and chaos. But in the ninth plague an ominous darkness suddenly grips Egypt with paralysing intensity. Though the darkness does not itself directly bring death, the source of life and light for Egypt has been overpowered, and the threat that hangs over the land is made very evident. There is a note of finality in this plague. Darkness had been characteristic of the world before it was ordered by the divine decree (Gen. 1:2); so now the order that had prevailed in Egypt is being reversed by the divine decree of judgment back into primal chaos.
B. (:22-23) Implementation and Devastation
1. Poured Out on the Land of Egypt
“So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days,”
Thompson: This was a three day plague. You could not do business. You could not travel. You could just sit in the dark and hope to survive or hope the plague would end. To actually go three days without any light would be a serious sensory deprivation and would lead to serious consequences. One of the things we have learned is that lack of light causes depression. During dark winter months, some doctors prescribe that depressed patients go to tanning salons because it can actually be used as a preventative against depression.
2. Withheld from the Land of Goshen
“but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings.”
C. (:24) Initial Yielding Response of Pharaoh
“Then Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, ‘Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you.’”
D. (:25-25) Intensified Demands by Moses
“But Moses said, ‘You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice them to the LORD our God. Therefore, our livestock, too, will go with us; not a hoof will be left behind, for we shall take some of them to serve the LORD our God. And until we arrive there, we ourselves do not know with what we shall serve the LORD.’ “
E. (:27) Stubborn Response of Pharaoh
“But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.”
Ryken: The only way to escape the coming darkness is to trust in Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. When Jesus was born, it was true that “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matt. 4:16, quoting Isa. 9:2). In order to bring us into his light, Jesus had to enter our darkness. The Bible explains that when Jesus was crucified, “darkness came over the whole land” (Luke 23:44). This darkness was spiritually significant. It showed that Jesus had taken upon himself the guilt of all our sin, and therefore that he was under the dark curse God reserved for his enemies. Then Jesus went into the grave, where he remained in the deepest darkness for three days. But on the third day he was raised again, in a body dazzling with the light of God’s glory. Now everyone who comes to Christ comes into the light of his salvation. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6; cf. 1 John 2:8).
(10:28-29) EPILOGUE – FINAL CONFRONTATION
A. (:28) Pharaoh Threatens Moses
“Then Pharaoh said to him, ‘Get away from me! Beware, do not see my face again, for in the day you see my face you shall die!’”
John Mackay: For both Pharaoh and Moses matters have reached a complete impasse. The sequence of interviews and plagues has come to an end. The ordered world of Egypt with its abundant resources is in disarray and complete confusion, but still Pharaoh will not acknowledge the power of God and his right to rule in all human affairs.
John Oswalt: The issue had been made perfectly clear. Only Yahweh is God. There is no other in heaven or on earth. He alone holds life and death in his hand, and the only rational response to these facts is complete surrender and total trust. There was no rationalizing left to do. Pharaoh knew the truth; that could not be denied. The only issue was how he would act on the truth. Either he would surrender or not. Of course he would not, and that meant that he was in denial of the truth. The only recourse to that was rage, and that is what he succumbed to, driving Moses, the truth-teller, out of his presence, and determining never to confront the truth again. Of course that is never a real possibility, as Pharaoh’s future was to make abundantly clear.
B. (:29) Moses Threatens Pharaoh
“And Moses said, ‘You are right; I shall never see your face again!’”