The Story so Far:The people of Israel settled in Egypt during the time of their ancestor Joseph, who saved both them and the people of Egypt from famine. Generations later the people grew into a large group and a new king came to the thrown who “did not know Joseph” and forced the people into hard labor. God took notice on the suffering of the people and was moved to act, choosing Moses, a Hebrew raised by Pharaoh’s daughter who ran away from Egypt and began a new life in Midian, as the agent through which the people would be set free. Moses initially tried to get out of answering God’s call but God rejected Moses’ objections and Exodus 4:18 sees Moses prepared to go and do what he’s been commanded to by God. Moses’ initial meeting with Pharaoh does not go well. The work load for the slaves increases. The slaves complain to Pharaoh who refuses to listen and then to Moses who complains to God who responds “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my might hand he will let them go; because of my might hand he will drive them out of his country. For more details about what’s happened already in Exodus check out previous Bible Study Reviews
Exodus 6: 2-12 – God’s response to Moses
God responds to Moses by giving an account of who God is and what God has already done while also making a promise about the people’s future – possession of the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
- The people don’t care – Pharaoh’s plan has worked. They’re so tired from their labor that they aren’t interested in what God has to say.
- God keeps working anyway – Human interest is not necessary for God to work
- God is going to keep God’s promise even if the people aren’t enthusiastic about it
Exodus 6: 13-27 – Family record of Moses and Aaron
The narrative awkwardly pauses to give an account of who Moses and Aaron are. While this hurts the flow of the story, it grounds these two in Israel’s history. Later people of Israel (and by extension modern readers) can trust in the account of what happened because the characters are grounded in history
Exodus 6: 28-7:13 – Return to Pharaoh
Moses returns to his previous point, he cannot speak well and it shouldn’t be him who goes before Pharaoh. God again dismisses this concern by sending Aaron. They return to Pharaoh and when commanded to show a miracle to prove they are worth listening to Aaron’s staff becomes a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians can do this as well (see “Playing with the Big Boys Now” from Prince of Egypt) so Pharaoh isn’t impressed. As something of an aside we see that Aaron’s snake eats the snakes made by the Egyptians – from the very beginning we as readers know that this isn’t going to be a fair fight.
Exodus 7: 14-10:26 – The Plagues
- Plague of Blood – the Nile is Egypt, it represents the life and hope of the nation. Whoever controls the Nile controls Egypt. By turning their source of life into a source of death God demonstrates who is really in control
- Pharaoh’s magicians can do it to – Pharaoh isn’t impressed, dismisses Moses and Aaron
- Frogs – the magicians can make frogs come (or explain why they are there – if the river is blood the frogs would flee) but they can’t get rid of them. Pharaoh is forced to ask Moses to pray that they leave and makes a deal, but once the threat is gone he refuses to live up to his side of the bargain – this starts a pattern of Pharaoh making promises during the plagues but reneging once the threat has passed
- Gnats – the magicians can’t do it at all
- The empire will always reach its limits. This can be applied practically or spiritually, there are always limits to what the people or things of this world can provide
- The magicians warn Pharaoh that he may be in over his head but he doesn’t listen
- Flies – Pharaoh again tries to negotiate but again backs out once the threat goes away
- Livestock – the plague specifically only impacts the Egyptians (not the slaves) but still Pharaoh refuses to budge
- Boils – even the magicians back down before Moses, but Pharaoh still refuses
- This is the first time during the plagues where God is said to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart, every other time Pharaoh has done it himself
- Hail – Pharaoh gets a warning this time, this is his last chance. He refuses, and at that point the rest of the story is inevitable
- and 9. Locusts and Darkness – same pattern continues, during the plague Pharaoh promises to let the people go but then he attempts to negotiate. All of his attempts to save face fail, nothing short of completely letting the people go will count
Take Away: The plagues continue to draw attention to a potential issue: does Pharaoh have free will? There are times when he is said to harden his own heart and times when God is said to do it. If God is hardening Pharaoh’s heart then more questions are raised: can Pharaoh be held responsible for what happens? All of Egypt is punished for Pharaoh’s actions, does God will the punishment of the innocents? These are good questions that we need to take seriously, but here’s my two cents. Pharaoh’s heart will be hardened. We read it over and over, this is something God knows to be true. Just because God knows it doesn’t mean God is doing it. God gives Pharaoh ample opportunities and Pharaoh rejects them. God gives Pharaoh a final warning and Pharaoh ignores it. To me it is similar to Adam and Eve eating the apple in Eden: God created them with the capacity to eat the apple, but God didn’t make them act out on that. God saw what they did and acted accordingly. The same thing happens in Exodus. Pharaoh considers himself a god. He’s not going to go quietly and accept a new God on the scene. The showdown is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean God makes it happen, the reality of who Pharaoh is requires that these forces collide. What Pharaoh refuses to understand is that it is never a fair fight.