GOD’S POWER AGAINST PHARAOH
Exodus 7:8-10:29, Key Verse: 7:17
“This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood.”
Thank God for the great Exodus study so far. Somehow, we feel as if we are watching undercard matches before the main event that God has prepared. God set the stage for today’s nine-round bout by remembering His suffering people, preparing Moses as his fighter, and finally picking up his opponent, Pharaoh. As expected, Pharaoh was the most daunting opponent ever and it seemed as if Moses was losing the game. Nevertheless, from here on, we can see how God would turn the tide of battle and achieve His purposes: showing His power against Pharaoh and establishing Moses as His firm leader. May God help us to stand firm in the midst of trials and become strong leaders of this generation.
I. By This You Will Know That I Am the LORD (7:8-8:32)
Look at verses 7:8-12. After coming back from the initial contact with Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron were directed to go back to Pharaoh again and perform a small miracle. Note God did not ask them to do something new. Instead, He asked to do something they knew. It was for them boost their confidence. They knew that when they would throw the staff down, it would become a snake and it would be a great message to Pharaoh. Perhaps, they anticipated such an effect. Then, there came something unexpected. Moses and Aaron did not know that the Egyptian magicians could do the same as they did. And yet, still another surprise happened. God-made snake swallowed up the magician-made snakes. What would this mean to Moses and Aaron (and to Pharaoh and his officials, too)? It possibly helped Moses and Aaron to believe that God’s power would prevail in the end no matter what. They could have a vague premonition of victory. In fact, this was a microcosm to what to come next.
In this uncertain and ever-changing world, we might be afraid and restless not knowing what to come next. Surely, in terms of knowns and unknowns, we have very few knowns in hand but lots of unknowns ahead of us. Who expected that everything would be shut down due to the pandemic? Yet, just as God showed a small victory to Moses and Aaron, all man-made problems would be swallowed up by God’s mighty power and we will all become victors in the end.
Look at verse 13. What was the condition of Pharaoh’s heart after observing the result of the snake match? His heart became hardened and did not listen to the word of God. Pharaoh definitely needed some form of “shake-up” to come back to his senses. So God began to have the main event with him, and the first round would be the plague of blood.
Verses 14-16 tell us how God helped Moses to stand strong by asking him to confront Pharaoh with His message to him. How scary would that be for Moses to go to Pharaoh and deliver the message of judgment to him again? At that time, Pharaoh was the most powerful man on earth, almost equal to a divine being. Yet, Moses obeyed God’s command by faith. With verse 17, Moses announced God’s message of the first plague to Pharaoh and all the Egyptians. “This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood.”
Look at verse 20. Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. Aaron struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. It would have been a horror film scene like that of the movie, “the Shining” where 3,000 gallons of blood filled the hallway. The fish in the Nile died and the river smelled so bad that nobody could drink its water. Surely, Pharaoh and the people of Egypt must have been awe-struck by such a scene.
Nonetheless, their response was not that encouraging. Look at verses 22-24. The Egyptian magicians brushed it off as if it were nothing as they could do the same, and Pharaoh and his officials were not impressed by Moses’ and Aaron’s performance. The middle class Egyptians felt just the same as Pharaoh when they began to dig along the Nile to get drinking water. They had some discomfort but did not bother paying attention to the message of God.
Then, seven days passed quietly. The first round of the main event ended without any significant development. The world seemed about the same as before.
God was not quiet, however. He prepared the next round of fight and commanded Moses to deliver another message to Pharaoh. This time, a plague of frogs would come upon their whole country unless they would let them go. Look at verses 8:1-6. As soon as Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, the frogs came up and covered the land. In verse 7, we can see the magicians did the same things by their secret arts. Their problem was that they could only emulate what God did and add headaches but could not do reverse-engineering to reduce the pain. Then, something truly unexpected happened. Look at verse 8. For the first time, Pharaoh positively responded to God’s message and asked Moses for help. Perhaps, the Egyptians, particularly Pharaoh’s wife could not sleep at all at night due to the constant croaking of the frogs and bothered Pharaoh to the point of death. So, Pharaoh, who was not bothered by snakes or blood was so much bothered by frogs that he asked Moses to pray to the LORD to take the frogs away.
Look at verses 9-10. We can see that Moses was gradually becoming a confident and firm leader who had the courage and wisdom to make it clear that the plague was not a natural disaster but the work of God by suggesting picking up the day of frog-removal. We cannot control which day we can have a tornado and which day we can let go of it. Yet if the frog-removal becomes like a garbage pickup day, it is definitely by the power of God. Pharaoh chose the next day, and that was the day all the frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields. There were so much dead frogs that they had to pile them into heaps. But Pharaoh hardened his heart again and would not listen to Moses and Aaron.
Then God prepared yet another plague for the land of Egypt. When Aaron stretched out his staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals. Gnat bites can be troublesome like those of lice or bedbugs. Note in verses 8:18-19 that the magicians could not emulate what God did this time but only admitted that it was the finger of God. Pharaoh was still not budging.
Look at the rest of Ch. 8. In preparing the next plague, God made the new disclosure to Pharaoh about His power. He would differentiate His people from the Egyptians by selectively inflicting the havoc on those who would not listen to Him. Even Pharaoh himself would later investigate on this (9:7). Here we can see how much God cares for His people (Mt 10:29-30). His care and protection are guaranteed. From this plague on, Pharaoh began to cut a deal with God by agreeing to something less than what God demanded. Moses stood firm and never compromised.
What can we learn from the first half of the main event of the plagues? We can see His divine purpose: “That you may know that I am the LORD.” We also learn that God takes care of His people and that He focuses on raising up a strong and firm leader.
II. But the LORD Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart … (9:1-10:29)
Now we are going to go to the second half of the main event. We see plagues upon plagues. In continuation of the first four plagues, there would be a plague on livestock (9:1-7), a plague of boils (9:8-12), a plague of hail (9:13-35), a plague of locusts (10:1-20) and a plague of darkness (10:21-29). Here, we can see a certain order and a distinct meaning on each one of the plagues. In the very first two plagues (blood and frogs), God gave Pharaoh and the Egyptians the clear warning messages. From the third plague on, in many cases, there would be no warning message. In addition, God began to put the distinction between His people and the Egyptians so that He might let the people know that He cares for His people. From the fourth plague, we see that there would be direct harms on the land of Egypt, starting from the death of livestock, to ultimately their own. In other words, the plagues came in a progressively worsening fashion. The intensity or the degree of the plague would be gradually increased.
We can observe that there are special meanings behind certain plagues. For example, striking the Nile with the blood and bringing the frogs from the Nile means that God passed the judgment on Heket, an Egyptian goddess of fertility, represented in the form of a frog. The Egyptians also believed in the river, the Nile, as the divine source of their wealth and power. God clearly showed that what they believed was false gods but only God is their true God.
On the fifth plague, the plague of boils, God somehow dealt with the magicians who constantly put an obstacle on the hearts of the Egyptians in believing in God. They got festering boils and could not stand before Moses.
From the sixth plague, the plague of hail, we can observe a change of heart among the Egyptians to the word of God. Verse 9:20 reads. “Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.” Some of the Egyptians began to fear God and took the warning message very seriously. There is a positive effect on the continuing plagues.
On the seventh and eighth plagues, the plague of locusts and the plague of darkness, we observe God dealing harshly with the Egyptians (10:2) to make sure that even the generation after generation would know who God is. Look at verse 10:7. Even Pharaoh’s officials implored him to let go of the Hebrews so that they might worship their God.
However, the pattern and the behavior of Pharaoh never changed. He was a proud and obstinate king, a hard-hearted promise-breaker, and a shrewd compromiser who never wanted to lose something. He first wanted Moses and his people to worship God in the land of Egypt. Later he allowed only men to go. Then, he compromised to let the women and children go except the herds. Perhaps, in Pharaoh we can see our own selves. When we are proud, hard-hearted, and compromising, our relationship with God can never be established right. But when we are humbled by God, we can you regain our true self-confidence and trust in God.
Some people might wonder if COVID-19 is today’s version of the plagues inflicted to Pharaoh and Egypt. But as we have observed, there are key differences and that will be our conclusion. Before the plagues, God clearly and specifically announced what plague would happen and the purpose of it would be displaying His power. In doing so, God also protected His people and even helped the Egyptians to believe. At the same time, He established Moses as a strong and firm leader. May God strengthen us in the midst of trials and all man-made problems may be swallowed up by God’s mighty power.