41. Tenth Plague – Firstborn

Meditations in Exodus: 41. Tenth Plague – Firstborn

Ex 12:29.30   At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

Imagine the street where you live (assuming you know the people who live there). Imagine the families; some have young children, some have teenagers, and others have those who can no longer be called ‘children’ for they have been to Uni, come home again, maybe even got a job and were in the process of setting up a home of their own. One morning you hear the sound of an ambulance, and then another and another. All up and down the street there has been a terrible inexplicable ‘plague’ and every single eldest boy in the family is dead. There is absolute mayhem.

Now I put this plague into a modern setting like this because if we have read Exodus before we may become blasé about the nature of what was happening. Perhaps we have almost become conditioned by the previous plagues – it’s just another plague. No, it isn’t ‘just’ another’ plague, it is something that hits every single family that has male children. If a family only had daughters they might be thankful they had no sons for their neighbours were in absolute crisis. Only yesterday, given in the notices in church, the death of a child – we believe by suicide probably – of a family no longer with us but who we know. The announcement was given in sombre tones and a silence fell on the room as we felt for the parents. Multiply that a thousand fold or tens of thousands perhaps, and you have what is happening in Egypt at this moment.

Now, as we started out looking at the actual plagues, I reminded us of God’s words through Ezekiel: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and then, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) and then there is also, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die?” (Ex 33:11)  Three times Ezekiel heard that same message which is born out elsewhere in the Bible.

Now I am in the process of writing a book (not yet complete) called, “The Judgments of a Loving God”, in which I investigate every judgment of God in the whole Bible. The vast majority of judgments I call ‘disciplinary judgments’ because they do not end in death and are designed to bring about change of behaviour. The other judgments that end in death I call ‘terminal judgments’ but as I explored this subject more and more, I came to see that perhaps a better description of such judgments as this one  is a ‘judgment of the last resort’, i.e. God only take life if there is no other action that will remedy or correct a situation to save the earth, save a people from other destruction; God steps in to surgically limit the damage to the world.

Now this particular judgment is unusual in that it discriminates between people. The only ones whose lives are taken are eldest sons. No one else is touched, the vast majority of the nation are spared – but shattered! In writing the book I have also sought to consider what would have happened had this judgment NOT occurred. It is difficult to know because our knowledge of their times is limited, but let me suggest the following possibilities, and that is all they are:

  1. The superstitious religion of the day founded on fear would have continued to grow in power and even more ‘gods’ would have been dreamt up and even more terrible rituals promoted. As it was so often, it meant the sacrifice of a child.
  2. This same religion was occult based and the occult would have grown and grown in power accompanied by all the characteristics that go with the occult – denial of God, rejection of God for self-serving purposes, including the worship of Satan, fear and oppression

Now those would almost certainly be ongoing outworkings and somewhere along the line there would come almost certainly THE greatest negative of all that was going on in Egypt when Moses arrived:

3. Pharaoh would eventually turn on Moses and Israel and destroy them in large numbers if not completely. The Bible shows us that Satan is out to destroy God’s people and this would almost certainly have come about if left.

So, I would suggest, as terrible as this judgment is, it is restrained in as far as the majority of the population are untouched, and yet it is sufficiently horrific to have the desired effect, of bringing down the power of false religion and eventually the power of Pharaoh while bringing release for Israel.

The effect of this plague is instant: “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” (v.31-33)  Pharaoh acts straight away and even the Egyptian people understand and urge them on their way. The haste of the Israelites is seen by what was later institutionalized in the feast: “So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing.” (v.34) Moreover, “The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.” (v.35,36)

And so it comes to an end – but not quite, there is a further act yet to be played out as we’ll see in the next meditations. Remember the ‘theology’ behind this plague and never let people say foolish or unwise things born out of ignorance about God: i) God does not like taking life. ii) Where He does take life (fairly rare in reality in the Bible in comparison to what could be) it is always an act of last resort to save His people or save the world from something worse. Our questions arise from the fact that we never have the full facts of the situation. God does, so trust His love and mercy – and seek to learn the full picture of what the Bible teaches.

36. Ninth Plague – Darkness

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)

35. Eighth Plague – Locusts

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) whoinvaded 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.

34. Seventh Plague – Hail

Meditations in Exodus: 34. Seventh Plague – Hail

Ex 9:18   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.

Let’s update our table:

Blood Frogs Gnats Flies Livestock Boils Hail
a) Prefixed by call to let people go No  Yes No Yes Yes No Yes v.13
b) Specific warning of nature of plague Yes Yes No Yes Yes No Yes v.18
c) Magicians copy Yes Yes No No No No! No
d) Pharaoh appears to relent No Yes No Yes No No Yes v.27
e) Affects Israel Yes Yes Yes No No ?No No v.26

There are a number of similarities but also some major differences in the coming of this particular plague. First there IS a call to let Israel go (v.14) and there IS a warning of what will happen (v.18,19). But then note the differences.

First there is a major emphasis after the call to let Israel go, that puts everything in perspective: 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.” (v.14) This plague is going to be utterly devastating. But then the Lord makes it even more obvious what is going on: “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.” (v.15) Pharaoh, don’t you realise you silly little man that God could have just swatted you away as you might swat a fly. The Lord could have sent a plague that would wipe out every man, woman and child in Egypt, and it is only His mercy and grace that has prevented that happening. But there is more to it than that: “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.” (v.16) You think you are all powerful but actually the truth is that I am using you to display to the rest of my world my power, as well as the folly of the sin of pride.

Now look at the extent of what is coming: “You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 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.” (v.17,18) But then comes a word of wisdom that is meant to help Egypt come to its senses: “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 man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’ ” (v.19) What is amazing about this is that the Lord could have sent this hail without any warning and so every living creature not under cover would have died, but He gives them a chance to avoid that.

This adds support to the idea that there was a reasonable period between plagues because the Lord talks about livestock here but their livestock had completely perished two plagues back! One must assume that they had bought fresh animals from neighbouring countries. What then follows shows that some people at least were starting to take notice of the Lord: “Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field.” (v.20,21)

And then the plague comes. The Lord tells Moses to stretch out his staff (v.22) and the hail fell, and a full blown storm ensues: “When Moses stretched out his staff toward 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; 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.” (v.23,24) It was utterly devastating: “Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields–both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree,” (v.25) except, “The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.” (v.26)

Then we go through the same old ritual: Pharaoh relents (v.27,28), Moses prays (v.33) but not before challenging Pharaoh that he knows he will back track (v.29,30), and then Pharaoh changed his mind (v.34,35). At this point Pharaoh’ pride is the equivalent of lunacy. After all these plagues, after the loss of livestock from plague and now by hail, the accuracy of description, prayer and plague, and the fact that the plagues now miss Goshen, the only person who cannot see the truth has to be mad!  However we have spoken of spiritual blindness before and the truth is that wherever there is heavy occult involvement, there is major spiritual blindness. Perhaps this is part of the problem in the occult-heavy, overly superstitious and deceived land.

The battle that is going on is one of discipline which is all about seeking to bring about change of behaviour. We have seen again and again how these plagues undermine the very superstitious beliefs in their gods by these Egyptians and what is so incredible is the grace of God that holds back again and again, giving full warning of the consequences of not heeding His call to let His people go. Even more in this last plague, He says what He will do but gives the people opportunity to get all their livestock under cover.  Never ever say that God was harsh in bringing these plagues. Everything about the way they came denies that!

Perhaps one of the dangers in the Lord’s discipline, if we put it like that, is His mercy and grace that gives second chances. In so doing the foolish might think the discipline is easy off and therefore they may think they can hold out that bit longer and can actually resist the Lord. Merely because we cannot see Him, pride thinks we can resist Him. That is folly and is wrong. The Lord IS blessing us on one hand while seeking to correct us on the other hand. Don’t just focus on His blessings, but see the bigger picture and realise there are things He wants to change in His modern church, and if we fail to heed these things, be prepared to see men and ministries fall.

33. Six Plague – Boils

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:

  Blood Frogs Gnats Flies Livestock Boils
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.

32. Fifth Plague – Livestock

Meditations in Exodus: 32. Fifth Plague – Livestock

Ex 9:2   If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, 3the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field–on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats

Previously we have noted that each of these plagues have an economic effect upon the country as well as a spiritual effect.  The Lord is about the turn the temperature up, so to speak,  and if we thought the previous plagues harmed the economy, this one is going to utterly devastate it. It starts out with, yet again, a direct call to let Israel go: “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.” (v.1) This is the fourth call to let Israel go (see 5:1, 8:1, 8:20, 9:1). Twice He had brought judgment without a call (blood & gnats) and now three times warned before a plague (frogs, flies and now livestock). It is the one and only thing the Lord asks of Pharaoh but to Pharaoh it is a sign of loosing control over this slave people.

The penalty that is coming is specifically linked to this demand: “If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back…..” (v.2)  You will be punished for your refusal to let them go; it is that simple. Then, as previously, comes a very specific description of what will happen. Each time, with the exception of the gnats, there is given this very clear description of what is about to happen: “the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field–on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats.” (v.3)  Pharaoh could never say he didn’t know.

Then, for the second time, the Lord makes it clear that this plague will only strike the Egyptians and not His own people: “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.’” (v.4) There is now a double strength, we might call it, to these plagues; first the plague itself, but then, second, the fact that the plague will halt at the boundary of the land where the Hebrews lived.  But to that there is added a third thing: “The LORD set a time and said, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this in the land.” And the next day the LORD did it.” (v.5,6a)  The specific timing of when the plague will strike must make this even more scary as they waited for the time to run out.

And then it comes: “All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. Pharaoh sent men to investigate 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.” (v.6b,7) The timing of it, the nature of it, and the limitation of it to exclude the Hebrews, all these things screamed out, “this is not a coincidence, this is an act of God!”

If you hadn’t seen it before, surely it must be coming through loud and clear – this man’s pride is just crass stupidity.  The fact that Pharaoh can keep on resisting God shows the shear folly of Sin. Blood, frogs, gnats, flies and now the death of all their livestock, this is putting the country into bankruptcy, and all because a king will not give way to God.

Our problem, sometimes, is that we cannot grasp the stupidity of sin. We see it here and we wonder, but in the book of Revelation it is even worse:They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” (Rev 16:9)  And it keeps on: “Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” (Rev 16:10,11) As terrible as the conditions were, the people will still refuse to repent and turn back to God. Pride, arrogance, sin, call it what you will, it is crazy that people, in the face of the most terrible plagues, will refuse to turn back to God and cry out to Him for help.

The apostle John wrote, “whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” (1 Jn 2:11) Spiritual ‘darkness’ is sin and that sin blinds the human being from seeing what is going on and the foolishness and futility of it. The apostle Paul wrote, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:4) Satan has conned the unbelieving world to believe lies and one of them is, “I can stand out against these things, no one is going to tell me what to do,” or, “I can get away with this, it will be all right.” Deception, lies, folly. Expressions or outworkings of sin.   Perhaps one of the most worrying verses in the Bible is, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer 17:9) If it were not for the love, grace and mercy of God, you and I who are Christians would still be blind. For some reason, beyond the realm of boasting, we surrendered and He took away our blindness, but Pharaoh dug in and refused and refused. How terrible. How crazy!

But what about the gods and superstitions being attacked by this plague? Well, a large number of bulls and cows were considered sacred, and many areas in Egypt chose them as their emblems. Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and joy, was represented by a cow, and was often depicted as a cow suckling the Pharaoh, giving him divine nourishment. There was also Khnum, the ram-god, and Mnevis, a sacred bull, who was also worshiped and was associated with the god Ra. Remember we read, ““All the livestock of the Egyptians died.”   Such deaths encompassing all the livestock were a direct challenge to beliefs about deities within the category of livestock. As we said at the beginning, these plagues had economic effects, now devastating economic effects, and perhaps the attack on their spirituality-superstitions was as equally devastating.

Have we ever given thought, I wonder, to the ways that God brings discipline into our lives. It is perhaps a subject we prefer to shy away from but the New Testament says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves.” (Heb 12:6)  Different forms of discipline put pressure on different aspects of our lives. We have noted physical discomfort, economic loss, spiritual upset as at least three of the ways these plagues so far will have impacted Egypt. Do we realise the Lord still disciplines in ways that have these same effects today. Ask Him to open your eyes to be aware of what is going on around you – in your own life, in the lives of others around you, and in the nation at large. Become a believer!

31. Fourth Plague – Flies

Meditations in Exodus: 31. Fourth Plague – Flies

Ex 8:20,21   Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the water and say to him, `This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground where they are.

In the previous meditation we said that each plague brings something different (apart from the nature of the plague itself). This one brings something else new (which actually raises a question about the previous ones).  Now first of all, one of the things we aren’t told mostly is how much time passes between each plague, although at the end of chapter 7 we were told a week passed between the Nile turning to blood and the Lord starting on bringing the plague of frogs. Some have suggested months occur between them, but I am not sure if that is so, because Moses and Aaron want to avoid the possibility of ongoing plagues being seen as ‘natural’ things rather than supernatural things.

I believe the Lord often does use the natural, or does do things in a natural order, so I have no problem thinking that with the death of the frogs their natural tendency to keep down the fly population was removed. Even more, piles of rotting frogs would also attract more and more flies. All of that may be true but there are two things that mitigate against this being a ‘natural phenomena’. First, the Lord specifically spoke what He was going to do and the swarms of flies only appear after He has spoken. Second, and this is the big difference for this plague, the flies were limited to the area of the Egyptians and NOT in Goshen, the area of the Israelites.

Again this takes place as Pharaoh goes down to the Nile: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the water and say to him, `This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” (v.20) There he brings the challenge yet again to let His people go.  Pharaoh obviously seeks to maintain his composure and his routines in the face of these catastrophes. Then comes the specific warning: “If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground where they are.” (v.21) There is no guesswork or chance about these plagues. They are clearly laid out by the Lord BEFORE they actually happen.

If that wasn’t powerful enough, then comes the distinction between Egypt and God’s people: “But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur tomorrow.” (v.22,23) This will be truly miraculous, even more than the very acts of the plagues generally.

God’s word is fulfilled and we are told there were, “Dense swarms of flies” so that “the land was ruined by the flies.” (v.24)   Pharaoh appears to capitulate but limits it: “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” (v.25) Moses rejects this (v.26) and insists, “We must take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.” (v.27) Pharaoh half relents: “Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the LORD your God in the desert, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.” (v.28)

Moses is learning to be a negotiator: “Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the LORD, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only be sure that Pharaoh does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.” (v.29) Pharaoh appears not to answer but Moses leaves and prays (v.30) and we read, “The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.” (v.31,32) Well we knew Pharaoh would do it but he heaps guilt upon himself. He is a liar as well as a despot. There really is no mistaking that this is a work of God.

A question: how had Israel coped with the previous plagues because this was the first one that had avoided them?  The water into blood had been unpleasant and the arrival of frogs even more so. The arrival of gnats yet even more so, and it is only now that Israel are spared the present one. Perhaps it was that the Lord wanted the Israelites, as they would become, to be fully aware of all that He is doing on their behalf. Now the next plague arrives but without touching them, there may be a rising of hope and a clarifying that there is no mistaking that this is a miracle which is being worked for their benefit.

How about the superstitious element of this plague? Well Egyptian mythology suggests that the fly gave protection against disease or misfortune and stone amulets in the form of flies have been found from before this time. Flies were also depicted on various artefacts in religious rituals used, it is thought, to protect the owner from harm. The fact that flies now appear in such horrible swarms must turn any superstitious belief to revulsion. Having a few flies buzzing around a house is bad enough, having swarm is terrible but having hundreds of thousands of them is both revolting and horrifying and such number almost certainly would have brought any outside work to a halt.

This again reminds us that these plagues are not only revolting and not only undermining the superstitious beliefs of the nation, but they also undermined the economy of the nation. Thus emotionally, spiritually and economically these plagues undermined the nation. Don’t just think of them as merely unpleasant; they have much greater and more long lasting effects than that. This is God at work bringing major changes to this people. By the end of all of this their thinking about their gods will have been revolutionized and their pride will have been brought down and they will be a humbled people.

When God’s wisdom is applied to bring discipline to a people or a person, it will have long lasting effect and is always designed to halt a person’s or a people’s downward moral spiral and cultural downward spiral and bring them back to a recognition that this world belongs to its Creator who knows how everything – including humans – works best. A final question: I wonder how often the Lord seeks to correct us in His love for us and we stubbornly fail to realize what is happening? Do we need the Lord to come again and again to help straighten us out?

28. First Plague – Blood

Meditations in Exodus: 28. First Plague – Blood

Ex 7:14,15   Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the water. Wait on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake.

So now the battle really commences. The matter of the staff was merely a warm-up. For some reason Pharaoh (and no doubt his retinue) were going down to the Nile. Now earlier in the book the Princess had regularly gone down to bathe. Possibly Pharaoh did the same thing. Others have suggested that he went down to perform rites to welcome the Nile when, each year, it flooded and brought silt with it that then made the surrounding areas some of them most fertile in the land.

The Egyptians worshiped the Nile because when it flooded it extended agricultural life eight miles to either side of its banks. It not only brought irrigation for crops, but it also supplied its marshes for pasture and hunting wild game. It also contained a wealth of fish that was basic to the diet of the Egyptian and so in a variety of ways it truly brought life to the otherwise desert-covered land.

Now we need to bear in mind that many of Egypt’s gods were also associated either directly or indirectly with the Nile and its productivity. For instance, the great Khnum, (the water god and potter god of creation), was considered the guardian of the Nile sources, a life bringer. Another of the gods, possibly one of the greatest, was Osiris, who was the god of the underworld. Now listen – the Egyptians believed that the river Nile was his bloodstream. Now take note of what follows.

The Lord in our present verses instructs Moses and Aaron to go and meet Pharaoh in the morning and meet him on the banks of the Nile (note, the Lord knows exactly what Pharaoh will be doing). They are not to demand release of Israel – they have already done that – but reiterate that that is what they have done and then tell him exactly what they are about to do, strike the Nile with Moses’ staff and turn it to blood (v.16-18) and it will be so bad that “the fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’ “ (v.18) It is important that Pharaoh hears it before it happens so that there is no question as to why it happens – it is God!!!!

But actually this ‘plague’ or disaster is to stretch much further than just the Nile: “The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, `Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt–over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs’–and they will turn to blood. Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in the wooden buckets and stone jars.” (v.19) This they do and exactly that happens (v.20,21)

Then the story takes on an element of farce: “But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.” (v.22) Now presumably they took buckets of water already around the palace and by occult means turned the water into blood – pretty stupid really because they were removing the last of the clean water for drinking!

Pharaoh is unmoved, just as the Lord said he would, but consider the intellectual and emotional turmoil that must be going on in the minds of the superstitious Egyptians. Remember what we said: they believed the great Khnum was considered the guardian of the Nile sources, a life bringer, and that that the river Nile was the bloodstream of the greatest of their gods, Osiris, who was the god of the underworld. Suddenly it IS blood and it is flowing down to the sea. Is the literal lifeblood of this all-important ‘god’ being drained away, and is it the cause of Khnum? Is there a war among the gods, are they angry with Egypt, is Osiris about the die? And that is apart from the practical catastrophe of there being no clean drinking or washing water – ANYWHERE in the land. And how has this come about? Moses and Aaron! Or at least ‘their god’.

At which point the superstitious Egyptian, hearing what has happened may be weeping in anguish, not only at the loss of water but at the loss of their very gods who they have relied upon. It is as if this crusader has come with his magic staff and stabbed the very heart of Osiris by his magic powers. Or perhaps there is indeed another god who is all-powerful and has come to slay their gods and challenge the very heart of their beliefs about their gods who have up until now provided water for them and thus irrigation and life in a variety of forms. The very heart of their basic economy has just been threatened – and Pharaoh is too stubborn to do anything about it.

In many ways this first plague is one of the worst, threatening everything about the life of Egypt. As we’ll go on to see, other plagues follow on or flow from this one but don’t be deceived, they are not merely natural outworkings, they are the disciplinary judgment of God. This judgment has struck not only at Pharaoh’s pride, and not only at the very economy of the land, but at the very belief system grounded in superstitious fear that held these Egyptians slaves. That’s funny, it was the Israelites who were supposed to be the slaves wasn’t it? Well now the fear has been multiplied but it is very mixed and confused. Ours gods, their God, what is happening, what is going to happen, how will all this end?

It might be useful to conclude by reminding ourselves that the intent of these first ‘plagues’ is not to kill but to discipline – to bring change of behaviour. The Lord later says through one of His prophets, Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) Be careful when you hear people attributing God as the cause of a death. He certainly does on occasion but mostly not. His desire is to bring life not final judgment, deliverance rather than death wherever it is possible. Thank Him for that.