Exodus 9: the plague on livestock; the plague of boils; the plague of hail
Finally, we’re back to a passage that’s contained within one chapter, instead of having a couple of verses in the previous or next chapter.
This chapter continues outlining the plagues which were brought against the Egyptians. First, God sends a plague against the livestock of the Egyptians; all of the Egyptians’ livestock dies, while the livestock of the Hebrews is untouched. (Verse 6 says that “all” of the Egyptians’ livestock dies, but in verse 20, when the LORD is about to send hail, the Egyptians bring their livestock indoors. I’m not sure if the Bible is using figurative language in verse 6, when it says “all”, or if the Egyptians simply went and got more livestock. Unfortunately, no indication is given as to how much time passes between most of the plagues.)
As usual, Pharaoh’s heart remains hard, so the next plague is a plague of boils. Moses takes a handful of soot from a furnace and throws it into the air, where it becomes “a fine dust over the whole land of Egypt” (verse 11). It causes festering boils to break out on men and animals, to the point that Pharaoh’s magicians can’t even stand before him, because of their boils. (It is not indicated, for this plague, if it affected the Hebrews as well, or just the Egyptians. I’m assuming it’s just the Egyptians, since that seems to have been the trend, but it might have affected the Hebrews as well.) But Pharaoh’s heart remains hard.
So God is going to make things even harder for the Egyptians:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’” (verses 13–19)
So it happens. Moses stretches out his hand toward the sky, and the LORD sends thunder and hail. And this time, it’s made explicit: The hail only affects the Egyptians, not the Hebrews in the land of Goshen.
This time, Pharaoh seems to have a change of heart:
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to the LORD, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.” (verses 27–28)
Moses, however, is not convinced:
Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the LORD God.” (verses 29–30)
And Moses is right to be cynical. As soon as the Pharaoh sees that the hail has stopped, he—and his officials—harden their hearts.
Probably—or maybe I should say “arguably”—the most important verse in this passage is verse 16:
But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
In the last entry, I briefly discussed who was really responsible for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, but the issue goes even deeper than that: Who put Pharaoh in control of Egypt in the first place? The LORD did. God put him in charge of the country, and part of the reason that He did that was so that He could show his power, through these plagues (and other miracles), and so that His name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
Verse 16, and other verses like it, should always be in the back of our minds, as we read the book of Exodus, because it’s the reason that God orchestrated all of these events the way that He did.