Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Exodus 7:25–8:32

Exodus 7:25–8:32: the plague of frogs; the plague of gnats; the plague of flies

Synopsis

In the last passage, we saw the first of the plagues that the LORD brought against Egypt, the plague of blood. We see a few more in this passage.

Seven days after the plague of blood, God sends Moses back before the Pharaoh:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will go up on you and your people and all your officials.’” (verses 8:1–4)

Of course the Pharaoh refuses, so God has Aaron perform the miracle, and Egypt is overtaken by frogs. Again, the Pharaoh’s magicians do the same things “by their secret arts” (verse 8:7), but they must not be able to get rid of the frogs, because Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron, and asks them to pray to the LORD to take the frogs away. Not only does Moses agree to do this, but he even allows Pharaoh to set the time when the frogs will leave. That will hopefully prove to the Pharaoh that God is really in control, and it’s not just a coincidence that the frogs happen to leave. Right? RIGHT?!?

So Pharaoh sets a time, and at the time that he set, the LORD causes all of the frogs that had been plaguing the Egyptians to die. (Verse 8:14 says that the Egyptians piled the dead frogs in heaps, and the land reeked of them, because there had been so many.) But as soon as Pharaoh sees that there is relief, he hardens his heart again, and won’t listen to Moses anymore.

So God sends another plague. This time, Aaron stretches out his staff and all of the dust in Egypt turns into gnats. And it’s even worse, this time: When the Egyptian magicians try to reproduce the miracle, they’re not able to! “This is the finger of God”, they tell Pharaoh (in verse 8:19), but his heart remains hard and he won’t listen.

So, once again, the LORD sends Moses to see the Pharaoh. This time, the plague Pharaoh is threatened with is flies: If the Pharaoh doesn’t let God’s people go, God will send swarms of flies which will overrun Egypt. But this time, the plague will have a twist: The LORD will only send the flies to the Egyptians; in the part of the land where the Hebrews live, there will be no flies.

And the LORD did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials, and throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies. (verse 8:24)


This time, Pharaoh tries a bit of a compromise: He won’t let the Hebrews go to the desert, but he will allow them to sacrifice within Egypt. But Moses says that this isn’t good enough; the sacrifices they want to offer to the LORD would be detestable to the Egyptians, and they would be stoned. So the Pharaoh tells Moses that they can go, as long as they don’t go too far.

So Moses prays to the LORD, and the flies leave, but just as before, as soon as there is relief from the plague, Pharaoh hardens his heart.

Thoughts

I have been told that each of the plagues God sent to the Egyptians was aimed at a specific Egyptian god. The Egyptians have a “fly god”, so God sends a plague of flies; they have a “gnat god”, so God sends a plague of gnats. This may or may not be the case; I’m not able to go into the matter—I’m no Egyptologist (if such a thing exists)—but there is an article here that I found interesting.

In any event, regardless of whether the plagues were directly aimed at specific Egyptian gods or not, the purpose was always clear, from the time that the LORD started talking to Moses: He is performing these miracles so that the Egyptians will know that it was the LORD who did it; it wasn’t a series of coincidences, and natural disasters. There is a God, who is in control of the universe, and He is sending these plagues. As verse 7:5 says:

And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.

Was the plague of blood directly aimed at an Egyptian god? Probably, but maybe not, depending on who you talk to. But was it intended so that the Egyptians—and the Hebrews, for that matter—would know that it was done by God? Yes. This is part of the reason that the plagues are getting more and more specific. At first, the Egyptian magicians are able to reproduce the miracles, but eventually they are no longer able to do so. At first, the plagues affect everyone in Egypt, but then the LORD starts specifically targeting the Egyptians, and leaving the Hebrews alone.

One final note, about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart: In some places, the Bible says that it’s the LORD who is hardening Pharaoh’s heart, such as verse 4:21, and in other places it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, such as in verse 8:15. Why the inconsistency? It’s a difficult question, which is made even more difficult by the fact that God cannot cause anyone to sin. While this is over-simplified, I believe the answer lies in the fact that God is in control of everything; if He allowed Pharaoh to harden his heart, then it’s as if He caused it. So that, although Pharaoh hardened his own heart—and is responsible for his own sin!—God is also, in a sense, responsible, because He allowed it to happen.

However, the language the Bible uses indicates to me that this explanation is not sufficient, because God doesn’t say “I will allow Pharaoh to harden his heart”, He says “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”. It’s a difficult question, and coincidentally, one that the pastor of my church raised on Sunday, in his sermon. (In case you’re curious, he didn’t have a full answer for it either.)

As an aside, I no longer get excited when the pastor raises something in his sermon that I’ve been looking at in my own devotions, because it happens so regularly. I can’t count the number of times that I raise some point in the devotion for Youth Group, and he raises the same point two days later in his sermon. For some reason, God sometimes wants various people in His church thinking about the same things at the same time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One illustration I really appreciate is the one of butter and clay. If both are placed out in the sun, one gets hard and the other gets soft. The same sun hardened one and softened the other. The sun was "responsible" for hardening the clay, but it was the nature of the clay to get hard. No "final answer", but a helpful thought to me.
God Bless