Meditations in Exodus: 36. Ninth Plague – Darkness
Ex 10:21 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.”.
As we suggested at the end of the previous meditation there was really not a lot left to do against Egypt. The land had been utterly ravaged by hail and by locusts, the livestock had been wiped out by hail and plague and there was really nothing left. The people had been irritated by frogs, ticks and flies and then boils and those who remained outside had died from the hail. What is left to do? It is an amazing situation where virtually everything that can be done to Egypt has been done – and still the pride and folly of this king refuses to budge, even though many of his people (who responded before the hail) and many of his councilors (who responded before locusts) had already given in, in their hearts at least.
So then we come to what is called the ninth ‘plague’ but catastrophe would be a better word to apply to it. Note that there is no call to Pharaoh to let God’s people go and he is given no warning whatsoever as to what is about to happen. Very simply the Lord tells Moses what to do and what will follow: “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.” (v.21-23)
Many commentators suggest that this was brought about by a strong wind bringing an intense dust storm so that nothing could be seen for the three days that it lasted. This doesn’t feel right to me, particularly as the Israelites had light wherever they were. There is no suggestion in the text of such a storm. I would suggest that it was more likely (IF we are suggesting some form of ‘natural’ phenomena brought by the Lord) that it was simply a massive cloud bank that was so think, so dense and so comprehensive that no light from the sun could penetrate it in that time. Only breaks in the cloud or the edge of the cloud would provide light for the Israelites where they were.
Now there was no mention of doing this before Pharaoh but one has to assume that some of his councilors at least were around when Moses stretched out his hand to the sky, and then went and reported it to Pharaoh. A day passes, and then two and now it must be playing on Pharaoh’s mind that this is not a temporary storm but is going to go on and on. This spurs him to take action by the third day: “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.” (v.24) Pharaoh is reaching the end of his tether but will still not completely relinquish his hold on Israel, so he insists on the flocks and herds remaining behind. Without them Israel would not be able to last long.
Moses will not have this: “But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the LORD our God. Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the LORD our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.” (v.25,26) Hasn’t Moses grown in stature and confidence since he first encountered Pharaoh! Yet still Pharaoh will not be moved. In fact this action and these words seem to anger and provoke him even more: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.” (v.27) But he has come to a point of no return and so, “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.” “Just as you say,” Moses replied, “I will never appear before you again.” (v.28,29) The die is cast, the ‘negotiations’ have come to an end. Whether Pharaoh thinks there is nothing more God can do, we don’t know. In banning Moses from ever approaching him again, Pharaoh, without realizing it, has shut the door on God’s grace.
Now let’s repeat what we said at the beginning of this Part 4. Although this has been a portion of Scripture that has been very difficult to apply to our personal lives, it has revealed the folly of man and the grace of God that nowhere else in the Bible appears so clearly. The warning that must come through must be against pride and against spiritual blindness. The revelation of God that comes through is of one who hesitates in bringing judgment on this foolish occult-driven, superstitious people and gives them opportunity after opportunity of coming to their senses and repenting. Hold on to this picture of God for it is quite amazing. Power, yes, grace even more so.
It sounds trite and so obvious and yet it needs saying: never think you can outsmart God, never think you can outlast Him. If there is known and obvious sin in your life, repent of it. If He is being merciful to you in holding back His hand of discipline, realise that that is what it is. Realise with the apostle Peter, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)