Exodus 7:13–10:29 Moses and Aaron Wrestle With Pharaoh.
A Case of Fox-hole Religion.

Key Notes: Nine plagues of mounting intensity. Pollution everywhere ; cattle, trees, crops gone. Pharaoh and God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Moses won a war of nerves.

In this study we will read of nine plagues in Egypt, saving the tenth and final blow for the next lesson.
Of the nine plagues, the first four would be considered irritations and nuisances, the final ones threatening the lives of animals and people. There is a certain rhythm to the plagues, occurring in groups of three, as shown in the chart (see below),  indicating a deliberate plan. The escalation is accompanied by three declarations from the Lord at the beginning of each of the groups of three.

“By this you shall know that I am the Lord….” (7:17), said  just before the first plague when Moses struck the Nile.
“…that you may know that I am Lord in the midst of the earth.” (8:22),  before the fourth plague, of flies.
“…that my Name may be declared in all the earth.” (9:14),  before the seventh plague of hail and fire.

There was progressive destruction of Egypt’s economy over a period of weeks or months.  The message was inescapable.  Egypt will have to let these Hebrews go. If they ever were thought to be the key to Egypt’s prosperity as a human mega-machine, that idea was shaken.  Now they were a liability. If the Egyptians were horrified by their numbers. forcing them out would make sense. Still Pharaoh hesitated. Nobody could tell him what to do. Egypt had had natural disasters in the past. Perhaps this was a run of bad luck, a series of meteorological coincidences.  Moses’ action would make that hard to believe. The miracles were unique because of Moses’ announcement of the beginning of the plague, and in some cases, the prompt termination of it, as well as the exclusion of the Israelites.  Pharaoh observed both the termination of plagues on command, and the protection of the Hebrews.

7:14–24 Aaron raised his rod in the sight of Pharaoh and the waters turned to blood. The Nile turned bloody; but not only the Nile, all other sources of drinking water were polluted. Then the magicians duplicated the miracle with their tricks. Pharaoh turned away unpersuaded, perhaps amused, with a hard heart. Whether Moses and Aaron still felt unsure is not stated, but their course was clear and they did not hesitate again. Evidently, the Egyptians were now off-balance so that they did not put further pressure on the Israelite slaves.

8:1–15 A week later the waters had apparently cleared. Moses warned Pharaoh of an invasion of frogs.  Frogs were quickly hopping everywhere but the magicians also produced frogs. Pharaoh begged for relief. “Entreat the Lord for me and I will let the people go and sacrifice to the Lord.” Moses said “when?” Pharaoh said “Tomorrow” and God destroyed the frogs. The clean-up was messy. When Pharaoh felt relief from the pressure, he hardened his heart and would not listen.

8:16–19 A plague of gnats was induced by Aaron striking the ground with his rod.  Gnats are a nuisance as we all know, but can be endured. The magicians were in over their depth and advised Pharaoh that God’s hand was in this plague. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.

Comment: Moses’ first efforts to show God’s power were thwarted. The magicians could apparently turn a  rod into a snake, make water bloody, and produce frogs on command. Although disconcerting, Satan’s power can mimic God’ s work up to a point, and often enough to confuse and deceive the unwary. “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”  (IICor. 11:14).

8:20–32 Moses was instructed to intercept Pharaoh at his morning bath and warn him of a plague of flies. Israel would be spared, implying that the Israelites had endured the first three plagues.  Later, Pharaoh offered a compromise: do your sacrifice here in Egypt. Then he offered them the option to leave, only not very far away. Moses prayed and the flies were gone. Pharaoh hardened his heart.

9:1–7 A plague was ordered on Egyptian cattle and they died.  Israelite cattle did not suffer; Pharaoh checked and confirmed that they were protected. His heart was hardened.

9:8–12 They took soot from the brick-kiln and standing before Pharaoh, they threw it into the air and boils broke out on man and beast.  The magicians were too ill to appear before Pharaoh. The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen.

9:13–35 Moses approached Pharaoh in the morning with the threat of hail and lightning and a warning to get everything and everyone under cover. Some of Pharaoh’s servants listened and their cattle and slaves were saved. This time Moses explained God’s plan of judgment on Pharaoh: God could have destroyed him but let him live as a demonstration of His power so that His Name might be proclaimed in the whole world. This pronouncement is quoted in Romans 9:17 where Paul uses it as an example of God’s sovereign power over human affairs. 

The hail broke trees, and ruined the flax and barley crops. Pharaoh said,
“I have sinned this time. The Lord is in the right and I and my people are in the wrong. Entreat the Lord; for there has been enough of this thunder and hail; I will let you go and you shall stay no longer.” 
Moses went out of the city, stretched his hands up to God and the storm stopped.  Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. The answer was still “no.”

10:1–20 Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh warning of a plague of locusts.  Pharaoh’s servants begged him to yield, so he brought Moses and Aaron back. He would let the men go alone (knowing that they would have to come back to their wives and children). The locusts stripped off what was left of the greenery of Egypt.  Pharaoh again expressed heart-felt contrition.
“…I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, I pray you, only this once, and entreat the Lord your God only to remove this death from me.”
God sent a strong wind and blew the locusts into the sea. But God also hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The answer was still “no.”

10:21–29 Thick darkness may have been a dust-storm.  Pharaoh tried to compromise once more: go, but leave your live-stock behind. The Israelites could not survive in the desert without them. Moses refused on other good grounds: some of the animals would be used in sacrifice.  Pharaoh was furious and told Moses to get out and never return. Moses left, but he would be called back one more time (12:31), to get the final release.

A CHART OF NINE PLAGUES ON EGYPT. (reading across)

Blood in waters

Frogs

Gnats

Flies

Cattle plague

Boils on man, beast

Hail and lightning

Locusts

Darkness

Pharaoh in morning.

Pharaoh in palace

No warning

Pharaoh in morning

Pharaoh in palace

No warning

Pharaoh in morning

Pharaoh in palace

No warning

Aaron’s rod

Aaron’s rod

Aaron’s rod

Moses’ hand / rod

Moses’ hand / rod

Moses’ hand / rod

Magicians duplicated

Magicians duplicated

“Finger of God”

Magicians sickened

Servants heeded warning

Servants plead for Egypt

His heart was hardened

He hardened his heart

His heart was hardened

He hardened his heart

His heart was hardened

God hardened his heart

He hardened his heart

God hardened his heart

God hardened his heart

Nile god Hepi

Frog goddess Heknett

Earth-god Geb

Baalzebub
Lord of flies

Cow-god Apis
Hathor

Heka prevents injury

Storm god Seth

Senehem
protects
against locusts

Sun-god Ra

Entreat the Lord
I will let you go

Entreat  the Lord. I will let you go

I have sinned. I will let you go

Forgive my sin. Entreat the Lord.
Compromise

Compromise.
Get away from me

Comments:
This Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was quite accessible, even to his slave-drivers, and surprisingly human, considering the austere figures we see in museums. He kept negotiating with a man more powerful than he, hoping to hang onto his slaves as a resource. He was not alone; he represented a court and a nation that he was bound to. One can easily surmise that no human power short of an invading army could force his hand.  He resisted for very good economic and political reasons. If he hardened his heart, we should not be surprised.

That God hardened his heart is also not a surprise, but a realistic emotional reaction. When we are pushed, we just push back harder. If someone resists over and over, the resistance takes on a life of its own, and becomes irreversible. One tabulation has Pharaoh hardening his heart nine times and God hardening his heart ten times, so closely is the human responsibility and the divine sovereignty matched.  But Pharaoh is responsible, and very human. Eventually he will be forced to surrender.

Pharaoh is an illustration of “fox-hole” religion. When a soldier is pinned down in a hole or trench by artillery fire, out of food, dirty,  and unable to move out for a day or more, he will very likely plead and bargain with God: “Oh, God, if you only get me out of this mess I will serve you for the rest of my days.” This promise is usually good just until the pressure is off and the soldier is safe, although we know of exceptions. Pharaoh did not make good on any of his promises. Most people also do not make good on theirs.  Pharaoh is much like us. May we keep our vows to the Lord.

Note that four times God answered Moses’ prayers to stop the plagues. Some plagues were self-limited and did not require a stop.

“The Lord did according to the word of Moses; the frogs died out….” (8:13)
“And the Lord did as Moses asked and removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh….”(8:31)
“So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the Lord and the thunder and the hail ceased and the rain no longer poured upon the earth.” (9:33)
“So he went out from Pharaoh and entreated the Lord. And the Lord turned a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea….” (10:18)

Did Pharaoh ever understand who God is?

Pharaoh said “Who is the Lord, that I should heed His voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover I will not let Israel go.” (5:2)
The Lord said “By this you shall know that I am the Lord; behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile ….” (7:17)
After the plague of gnats, the magicians told Pharaoh “This is the finger of God.”
After the hail and thunder and “fire” (lightning), Pharaoh said “ I have sinned this time; the Lord is in the right and I and my people are in the wrong. Entreat the Lord….” (9:27)  
And later when the locusts had ravaged the land,  he said “I have sinned against the lord your God and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, I pray you, only this once, and entreat the Lord you God only to remove this death from me.,” (10:17)

He began in defiance and ended in helpless contrition, acknowledging sin, pleading for God’s help, but without a change in his stony heart.

God also declared that the plagues would lead to His Name being known throughout the earth. One evidence is that the Philistines would bring it up 500 years later.

“Woe to us. Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods. These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.” (ISam.4:8)

“…give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps He will lighten His hand from off you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After He had made sport of them, did they not let the people go, and they departed.” (I Sam. 6:5–6)

Moses began his work feeling like a fool.  He was laughed out of court for miracles that magicians could duplicate. (7:8–13). But he and Aaron gained strength and confidence in doing the will of God, and at the end “the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.” (10:3). God said “I will be with you.” (3:12) and He made Moses great.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (I Cor.15:58)