Meditations in Exodus: 35. Eighth Plague – Locusts
Ex 10:4,5 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.
As we move on to the eighth plague there is a distinct change of approach. As the Lord comes to Moses before this one, He puts it in the context of the big picture of history: “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.” (v.1,2) Now that is surely not all the Lord said because when Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh they proceed as before as we’ll see in a moment.
But what the Lord IS doing here is saying to Moses, ‘Understand that all that is happening is because of me and (implied) I told you all this before we started out on it.’ It is easy to focus on the detail of what was happening but forget exactly why it was happening. The Lord reiterates that HE has hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that HE can perform these miracles in the land, miracles of judgment, and the result will be that the Hebrews will have a story to tell their children and their grandchildren in the years, decades and centuries to come, as to how HE did all these things. They will remember that HE is the Lord. This story of the Exodus is without doubt THE major story of the Old Testament (seconded by the Exile perhaps) and was at the heart of their national identity.
They were who they were because the Lord had delivered them from Egypt. The prologue to the Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai declares, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” (Ex 20:2) but note it not only gives Israel identity, it also identifies the Lord as their deliverer. This formula is repeated by Moses in Deut 5:6, 6:12, 7:8, 8:14, 13:5,19, and then by Joshua in Josh 24:17, and then through a prophet in Judg 6:8 and then in a variety of forms through other prophets. There is this constant reminder that Israel owe their very existence to the Lord bringing about the Exodus.
So we find Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh with the same demand to let the people go, although it is not so much a demand here as an accusation of guilt: “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.” (v.3) Then comes the clear warning of just what will happen: “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.’ “ (v.4-6) This is horrendous; the Lord is basically saying, ‘the locusts I will bring will clear away every living plant left in the land after the hail, you will have nothing left!’ “Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh.” (v.6b) Note there is no arguing and no cajoling Pharaoh, the message is clear: you refuse again, as we know you will do and this IS going to happen. Goodbye!
What follows is fascinating: “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?” (v.7) Pharaoh’s officials have come to a place of belief and so strong is it that they are no longer afraid to challenge this all-powerful despot. Their fear of what will happen overrides their fear of Pharaoh so, “Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the LORD your God,” he said. “But just who will be going?” Moses answered, “We will go with our young and old, with our sons and daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the LORD.” (v.8,9) Pharaoh then haggles over just who can be allowed to go and eventually in exasperation, “Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.” (v.11) There may be a crumbling of resistance in the palace, but not in Pharaoh himself. But we are only part way through the story.
The Lord tells Moses to stretch out his hand (and staff) over the land (v.12) which he does and in the morning an east wind blew in the locusts (v.13) who “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.” (v.14,15)
Pharaoh’s response is more specific than ever before: “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.” (v.16,17) Moses prays, the Lord brings a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea, but still Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go. Nothing has changed, but time is running out. The land has been denuded of livestock, crops, trees, bushes and every living wildlife. The country is bankrupt, the people are in total disarray when it comes to their superstitious beliefs. What else can happen?
Next time you ‘dig your heels in’ and act stubbornly and say – whether to God or to people – “No, I won’t!” pause up and think on Pharaoh. When the Lord disciplines, He may not be as drastic with you as He was with Pharaoh who had world-wide fame, but He does not give up. If we continue to sin, if we appear to be getting away with it, understand it is God’s grace giving you time to come to your senses. Don’t presume on Him.