To review from last week, the Lord is preparing Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites for what he is about to bring upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh will let the Israelites go out of Egypt. It will not be a quick nor easy process, but will consist of ten plagues that will show everyone that the Lord alone is God. Pharaoh’s heart will be hardened by resisting the Lord and the Lord will stretch out his hand against Egypt to bring his people out as he promised hundreds of years before (Exodus 7:1–7; cf. Genesis 15:13–16).
Even before the plagues officially begin, the Lord sends Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to urge him to release the Israelites before judgment comes. They even show him a sign of the Lord’s power by casting a staff on the ground that then turns into a snake. However, Pharaoh’s magicians somehow replicate this (although Aaron’s staff-serpent swallowed up all the rest), and Pharaoh seizes this as an opportunity to resist Moses and the Lord, hardening his heart (Ex 7:8–13).
The Lord then tells Moses to go down to the Nile River while Pharaoh is there in the morning, and strike it with his staff, turning the water into blood, the first of the ten plagues. The purpose the Lord gives is that Pharaoh will know that he is the Lord, and then obey by letting the Israelites go (vv. 14–18). Once again, though, Pharaoh’s magicians replicate this by their secret arts, giving Pharaoh the incentive to harden his heart even farther, resisting the Lord’s power and commands. In fact, Pharaoh’s hard is so hard already that he is even callous to the plight of his own people—they are struggling to find water for a whole week, but Pharaoh simply “turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart” (vv. 22–25).
So the Lord brings more plagues to show his great power to Pharaoh. The second plague is a multitude of frogs throughout the whole land. Again, though, the magicians reproduce this. Pharaoh finally acknowledges the Lord’s hand in the plague and pleads with Moses to ask the Lord to take them away, but when this happens the following day, Pharaoh hardens his heart again and refuses to let them go (Ex 8:1–15).
The third plague—gnats—is the first sign that the magicians are not able to reproduce. They even tell Pharaoh that this is “the finger of God,” yet Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to obey. The plagues go on—the gnats are followed by flies throughout the land, then by much of the Egyptians’ livestock dying, and then by painful sores and boils covering the Egyptian people. The seventh plague was a terrible hail such had never been seen before. Before this plague, the Lord tells Pharaoh that this plague will begin to affect Pharaoh himself, not just his people, and by it, he would “know that there is no one like me [God] in all the earth” (Ex 9:14). The Lord could have wiped Pharaoh out time and time again, but has persevered to show his character and power, so that his “name may be proclaimed all the earth” (v. 16). Again, the purpose of the plagues is to judge Pharaoh’s disobedience, but ultimately to show that the Lord alone is God, and he alone is powerful. To resist him with a hard heart is futile.
This plague in particular is interesting to me for a couple reasons. First, we see here that the Egyptian people also have the chance to trust in the Lord and escape the plague. Verse 21 shows us that there were servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord and protected their animals and slaves from the hail. Even in the Lord’s judgment of the nation of Egypt, he still offers grace and opportunity for salvation. What a truly great God! Second, we see in the description of this plague that Pharaoh himself hardened his heart (active) but also that his heart was hardened (passive). This is interesting to me because many of the plagues alternate between these two phrases, but to see them joined in this passage shows that even in the passive descriptions, Pharaoh seems to be hardening his heart himself. This tells us that he had already done a great deal of hardening his own heart before the Lord ever steps in to harden his heart further toward the coming judgment.
Throughout these plagues (including the locusts and darkness that follow the hail), we see so clearly that the Lord is God alone, that he is far more powerful than Pharaoh, and that he offers grace, mercy, and salvation to those who will trust him and follow him. Pharaoh, however, is confronted with this power over and over again, and continually chooses to resist the Lord and disobey him. Will we today trust and obey the Lord, submitting to his power in faith and obedience, or will we resist him like Pharaoh? Next week we will look at the final plague which gives birth to the Passover feast, finally brings Pharaoh to the end of his evil, and drives him to expel the Israelites from Egypt.