Meditations in Exodus: 33. Sixth Plague – Boils
Ex 9:8,9 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land.”
As we have been working our way through these plagues we have been attempting to note the things that were common to each plague and then things that were different with each plague. We need to update our table:
|a) Prefixed by call to let people go||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|b) Specific warning of nature of plague||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|c) Magicians copy||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No!|
|d) Pharaoh appears to relent||No||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|e) Affects Israel||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||?No|
Put like this we can see that the plague of boils is similar to the plague of gnats in that there is no call to let Israel go and no specific warning to Pharaoh (although the Lord explains to Moses what will happen) and there is no relenting from Pharaoh (indeed for the first time it is put that the Lord hardened his heart). Did it affect Israel? We are not told but the fact that Moses tossed the dust over Egypt suggests not over Israel. Let’s note what happened verse by verse.
“Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh.” (v.8) The furnace in question would have been the brick kilns that that Hebrews had to use as slaves in the brickfields of Egypt. That which had been used to oppress the Hebrews was now being used to oppress the Egyptians. Moses is simply told to throw the soot in the air in Pharaoh’s presence. Why? “It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land.” (v.9)
Note two amazing things here. First this small amount of dust will multiply and spread right across that mighty land. Second, it would cause boils or some other form of skin irritation to break out on man and beast throughout the land. This happens (v.10) but, somewhat humorously, “The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians.” (v.11) They appear to have given up trying to copy the plagues after the frogs but now they get a mention (as still being there with Pharaoh) because they too are covered with boils.
As we noted above, the hardening this time is attributed for the first time to the Lord: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses” (v.12) Note the progress: “Pharaoh’s heart became hard,” (7:13,22). “he hardened his heart,” (8:15), “he hardened his heart,” (8:19), “Pharaoh hardened his heart”, (8:32), “Yet his heart was unyielding,” (9:7) “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12) We noted earlier in these studies that the Lord hardens an already hard heart. The fact that there were five previous references to Pharaoh hardening his heart before we now find the Lord hardening his heart, seems to suggest that on this last occasion it is as if the Lord is pushing particularly hard against Pharaoh’s will to harden him even more. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that this latest plague is so personal that it even comes on Pharaoh’s body and this angers him even more.
This plague, we noted, came without the customary call to let Israel go and without the explanation of what would happen, thus when Moses throws dust in the air and boils break out, it comes, as with the gnats, as a sharp shock, as if the Lord says, ‘Very well, you wouldn’t even temporarily relent in the face of the loss of all your livestock, it seems I am wasting my words on you, so let’s make it really personal and in your face’ (literally!!!). This is a conflict that is getting harsher and harsher but all it seems to do is make Pharaoh more and more resolute against God – and we’ll see why in the next meditation.
However, there is a clue to a secondary issue in our verses today. Remember we read, “The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians.” (v.11) The magicians were part of the ‘religious’ or cultic setup of the day and so it appears that when Pharaoh called for them they could not come and stand before Moses and do their arts because they too were so afflicted by these boils that it incapacitated them. If it did that for them, it would do that for all the priests of Egypt as well. The whole religious establishment was brought to a grinding halt!
Don’t lose perspective in what is going on. Again and again the Lord has made His wishes clear – let my people go – and time and time again He spelt out what was about to happen. Every single plague brought a new dimension to the conflict, getting gradually harder and harder. It is almost as if the Lord is reluctant to put the pressure on, but He has made known to Moses from the start that He knew this is how Pharaoh would react. Ultimately this is not for Pharaoh’s benefit, it is for ours.
As we have progressed through these plagues I have become more and more certain that here is an area of teaching that the modern church backs away from, that the God of love who we so often proclaim, also shows His love for us by disciplining us (His church as well as the world around us) and His objective is to pull us up and get us to look honestly at who we are, what we are doing and what is happening to us. I am convinced that in so many ways, we the Church fall short of God’s god intentions for us and therefore there are mishaps, upsets etc., etc., that occur in our lives and they are designed by the Lord’s love, to halt us in our tracks. We can either repent now or when He comes in revival power or on the Last Day. Again, ask Him to open your eyes to see how we fall short of His plans for us, and what is happening to help us face up to these things.