SynopsisIn Exodus 9, we read about a few more plagues—the plague on the Egyptians’ livestock, the plague of boils, and the plague of hail. In this chapter, we see a couple more plagues, but not before God explains Himself once again:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.” (verses 1–2)
I’ve been harping on this point for quite a while now, maybe even since the beginning of the book of Exodus: God is doing all of this to tell His people—and the other nations, but mostly His people—something about who He is. There is also another aspect to it, though:
So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians—something neither your fathers nor your forefathers have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.’” Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh. (verses 3–6)
First of all, of course, this mentioned the next plague that God will send against the Egyptians, which is a swarm of locusts the likes of which they’ve never seen. But it also gets into the trickiest part of this whole thing: Who’s in control, here, God or the Pharaoh? We’ve mentioned this point before; sometimes the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and sometimes it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. And here, God is saying to Pharaoh “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?”
But God’s not the only one asking Pharaoh that question; his officials are asking the same thing:
Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the LORD their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?” (verse 7)
So Pharaoh relents. Sort of. He has Moses and Aaron brought back before him, and tells them that they can go to worship the LORD, as they’ve been asking. But he also wants to know who, exactly, will be going? Moses tells him that everyone will be going—men, women, children, flocks and herds, everyone. Pharaoh doesn’t like this at all; he’s afraid that if they leave, they’ll never come back. (See? He’s not stupid, just stubborn…) He tells them that just the men can go, not anyone else, and has them “driven out of [his] presence” (verse 11).
Unfortunately for Pharaoh, God isn’t into making deals. He commands, and we carry out; anything else is insubordination to the Almighty Creator of the Universe. So Moses stretches his hand out over Egypt, and the swarm of locusts comes.
So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the LORD made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.
Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”
Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. And the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.
So God sends the next plague: Darkness. Personally, I find this plague the most interesting of them all; instead of sending some scourge to torture the Egyptians with, or inflicting their bodies with sores, or ruining their crops, He simply takes away their light. (And, for those who see the plagues against the Egyptians as direct attacks on their gods, the plague of darkness is seen as a direct attack on Amon-Ra, the sun god, who was the most important of the Egyptians’ gods.)
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived. (verses 21–23)
I love the phrase “darkness that can be felt”. And I also love the fact that it’s dark everywhere in Egypt, except in Goshen where the Hebrews are. It’s miraculous that the locusts attacked the Egyptians and not the Hebrews, or the other plagues, but darkness? The fact that they have sun, and the rest of Egypt is so dark it can be felt? To me, that just screams “hand of God”.
So Pharaoh partially relents. He tells Moses that all of the Hebrews can go, men, women, and children. They just have to leave behind the livestock. Once again, this isn’t good enough; how are the Hebrews to worship the LORD without livestock to sacrifice? This is the last straw for Pharaoh:
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.” (verses 27–28)
Which Moses agrees with, in verse 29: “‘Just as you say’, Moses replied, ‘I will never appear before you again.’”
ThoughtsLooking at this objectively—with 20/20 hind-sight—I think the Pharaoh truly thought he was relenting, each time that he gave way a little more to the Hebrews. “Okay, you can go, but just the men”; “Okay, you can go, but not the livestock” etc.
It’s always tempting to judge Pharaoh very harshly, when we read Exodus—couldn’t he see how stubborn he was being? Who in his right mind would refuse to let the Hebrews go, when the LORD is sending all of these plagues?!? But we have to remember that his heart was hard; whether it was the LORD who caused it, or Pharaoh himself, or both, it was hard—he couldn’t see. He couldn’t understand. Any more than a non-Christian can understand the mysteries of God; unless God opens your eyes, you can’t understand His ways. Unless God opens your eyes, you won’t even believe He exists!