Exodus 9

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to 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.’ 2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, 3 the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field – on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. 4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.”’

5 The Lord set a time and said, ‘Tomorrow the Lord will do this in the land.’

It seems from the narrative (v2,v5) that no-one expected Pharaoh to change his mind, and true to form, he didn’t.

6 And the next day the Lord did it: all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. 7 Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.

It’s obvious that not all of the Egyptians’ animals were killed immediately, some remained alive, only to be affected by the following plagues. What was obvious was that no Israelite animal had been affected.

In our previous study we read ‘Pharaoh hardened his heart’, now we notice that he had reached the point where it could simply be recorded as fact that ‘his heart was unyielding.

8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and let Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. 9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.’

10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.

There are various suggestions as to what plague this was. Suffice it to say that it seems to be the same that afflicted Job: (2:7) ‘So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.’ And one of the curses in Deuteronomy 28:35 ‘The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head

Note that this was a painful, humbling experience for the magicians – v11: ‘The magicians could not stand before Moses

For pharaoh though, this was a turning point (v12). From now on his hard heart would be confirmed by the Lord – there was no going back.

13 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, 14 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. 15 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. 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. 

Up till now, the magicians, and probably Pharaoh himself recognised that they were actually dealing with a god. What they still had not appreciated was that they were dealing with the Supreme, Almighty, Creator God.

So God steps up his explanations.

What four things should Pharaoh have picked up from verses 14-16?

1. The plagues so far had been a minor demonstration of God’s power. Now he would begin to unleash the full force of his fury.

2. There is no one like God.

3. God could have simply wiped the Egyptians off the map.

4. God alone had raised Pharaoh to his position.

The Egyptians would have expected any one of their gods to have ‘wiped them off the earth’. That’s what gods did. But the Lord was not a vengeful God like that. Every act was intended to turn people to himself, acknowledging that the Creator God did have the power to require everyone to recognise his authority and give him the honour due to his holy name.  

How do you explain the first six words of verse 16?

God knew the heart of Pharaoh even before he was raised to that position and it was for his purposes that he had caused him to be chosen.

This could raise all sorts of questions on freewill and predestination! You may find some answers in the studies on God’s plan (See Topic index) or Predestination (See Study index – John – John 15d)

17 You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18 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. 19 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 person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.”’

20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. 21 But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field.

I wonder if politics got in their way. Who do you align yourself with? The one who has demonstrated that he is God? Or the one who has power in this world to favour those who follow him?

By now there were some who were prepared to obey the ‘Word of the Lord’ and from personal experience would now find that it could be trusted completely.

Those who ignored it would also find from personal experience that it could be trusted completely!

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt – on people and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.’ 23 When Moses stretched out his staff towards the sky, the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24 hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. 25 Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields – both people and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26 The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.

27 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. 28 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.’

Pharaoh’s heart may have been hard, but he wasn’t stupid. Obviously God was prepared to attack the nation’s economy and if Pharaoh continued to refuse his requests he would end up with no nation to run. More than that, what do you make of verse 27? ‘This time I have sinned. The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.’

Pharaoh looked out at the devastation and I think he personally began to be afraid. The storm showed no sign of stopping. In desperation he sent for Moses and pleaded with him to pray to God that the storm might stop.

I wonder if Moses half expected that Pharaoh might now detain him in some way? Wisely,

29 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. 30 But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God.’

Moses had seen enough of Pharaoh to realise that he was going to need more persuading.

31 (The flax and barley were destroyed, since the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bloom. 32 The wheat and spelt, however, were not destroyed, because they ripen later.)

33 Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands towards the Lord; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land. 

That should have been enough to persuade even the most hard-hearted, but

34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: he and his officials hardened their hearts. 35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.

Exodus 10

1a Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials

We need to read these passages together. From Pharaoh’s point of view, he had hardened his heart. From God’s point of view, he had done it. Are both right? Yes! ‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform’ (William Cowper). We believe we have complete free will – but so has God! When we pray to God, often our prayer is that someone’s free will could be overridden, and that they might change in some way. Yet, when they have changed in response to God’s prompting, they would believe they made their own mind up to pursue this different course.

1 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 signs of mine among them 2 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.’

Verse 2 is important. The story of the plagues and the Exodus featured strongly in the history of the Israelites. It was vital that everyone learned that the God who loved them, chose them, and rescued them, was also a God who would not allow rebellion.

Man was created by God and so God has the authority to lay down his rules. But man’s response is still to say to God ‘I don’t want to do what you want me to do’. That was Adam’s sin, it was Pharaoh’s sin, often it was the sin of the Israelites, and it is the sin of many people today.  But be careful, when you reply to God like that, that you are not also saying ‘and I don’t need you to rescue me from the ultimate results of my sin’.

3 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. 4 If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. 5 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. 6 They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians – something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.”’ Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh.

7 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 realise that Egypt is ruined?’

It seems that by now all Pharaoh’s officials knew what God was capable of and verse 6 mentioned them specifically. They didn’t doubt the power of God and realised that they could be left destitute. Pharaoh relented.

8 Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. ‘Go, worship the Lord your God,’ he said. ‘But tell me who will be going.’

9 Moses answered, ‘We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.’

10 Pharaoh said, ‘The Lord be with you STOP HERE!

It sounds as if Pharaoh is going to let the people go – yet in mid-sentence he again changes his mind.

 – if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. 11 No! Let only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.’ Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.

Pharaoh could let the men go, as obviously their women and children would remain as surety, guaranteeing their return. If Moses thought they could all leave, he had better think again.

12 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.’

13 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; 14 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. 

Plagues of locusts are terrifying. In 2013 Madagascar suffered (search internet: Madagascar locusts) a terrible plague which devastated large areas of their island. Nowadays there are insecticides that can be sprayed by helicopter, but In Bible times the locusts were unstoppable and they would simply consume all green plant material as they spread across the land. Everyone knew about locusts. But this was different: ‘Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again.’

This was a truly phenomenal swarm, and recognisably the hand of God.

15 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.

16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.’

18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 19 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.

It seems that at last Pharaoh was beginning to see sense, recognising his sin, and asking for forgiveness (v16 & 17).

20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

21 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt – darkness that can be felt.’ 22 So Moses stretched out his hand towards the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 23 No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, ‘Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.’

25 But Moses said, ‘You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshipping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.’

27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. 28 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.’

29 ‘Just as you say,’ Moses replied. ‘I will never appear before you again.’

This plague was inexplicable. It wasn’t an eclipse, it wasn’t a simple sandstorm; this again was the hand of God: the way to supply darkness is to withdraw the light. Pharaoh should have understood the message. What was that? John 1:3-5, 2:35-56

Moses now had to leave Pharaoh. But before he goes he had something else to say.

But for that we will have to wait for our next study!

Exodus 7Exodus 11

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Exodus 9:1-35, 10:1-29 Plagues: Animal death, Boils, Hail, Loucsts, Darkness. Pharaoh’s heart.
(For Exodus 8 see Exodus 7)