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Forecast of coming judgment (6:28-7:13)
Before Moses approached Pharaoh to give him a final opportunity to release Israel, God reminded Moses that not just Pharaoh but the whole Egyptian nation was under the threat of judgment. People and king alike were stubbornly opposed to Yahweh and were devoted followers of Yahweh’s enemies, the Egyptian gods (6:28-7:7; cf. 9:27; 12:12).
These were gods of nature and were therefore connected with the river Nile, on which Egypt depended entirely for its water and for the fertile soil washed down at flood time each year. According to the Egyptians’ belief, their gods brought them fruitfulness and prosperity. The plagues that God sent were therefore a judgment on these gods, bringing devastation to the Nile valley and creating widespread ruin and disease. Because these plagues had a religious significance, the Bible calls them ‘signs’ (see 10:2).
God gave Pharaoh one last chance to release the Israelites before the plagues began. But when his magicians used their skills to imitate the miracle performed by Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh arrogantly dismissed the Israelite leaders (8-13).
Nine plagues (7:14-10:29)
The timing, intensity and extent of these plagues show clearly that they were sent by God. It also seems fairly clear that God used the physical characteristics of the Nile valley to produce them.
When the first plague struck, it polluted all the water in the Nile and in the irrigation canals and reservoirs connected with it, resulting in all the fish dying. As the dead fish floated to the banks they would force the frogs out of the water, thereby producing the second plague. Egypt’s magicians were able to copy Moses in these two plagues, though in view of the abundance of red water and frogs, their achievements were hardly impressive. They would have helped Pharaoh more by removing the plagues. God alone was in control, and Moses proved this to Pharaoh by removing the plagues at the time he had announced (7:14-8:15).
As God intensified his display of power in the successive plagues, the Egyptian magicians were forced to admit defeat. They saw that Moses and Aaron were not just a couple of sorcerers or magicians who could foresee events then perform tricks to make it appear they had produced the events. This was the direct activity of God, and the protection of Israel through the plagues confirmed the fact. The favourable breeding conditions created by the first two plagues may have been the causes God used to produce successive plagues of gnats and flies (8:16-32).
With piles of dead frogs rotting in the sun and swarms of flies spreading the germs, there was soon a deadly plague of cattle disease throughout the land (Israel’s cattle excepted). This was followed by an outbreak of painful skin diseases among the Egyptian people (9:1-12).
Before he announced the seventh plague, God reminded Pharaoh of his mercy towards him in the previous plagues. God could have destroyed him and his people in one mighty plague, but instead he sent these lesser plagues, each time giving Pharaoh an opportunity to repent. The longer Pharaoh delayed, the greater would be his downfall, and the greater would be God’s glory when he finally overthrew him. God gave good warning before the coming destruction by hail and lightning, so that people could escape the judgment if they wished. Many of Pharaoh’s courtiers, fearful of Israel’s God, heeded Moses’ warnings and so were not affected by the disaster (9:13-35).
A clear division now existed among Pharaoh’s courtiers. Some stubbornly supported Pharaoh but others tried to persuade him to release the Israelites. Pharaoh offered Moses a compromise that was unacceptable and disaster struck again. Only the flax and barley had been destroyed in the seventh plague. The wheat, which grew up later in the season, was now destroyed by locusts in the eighth plague (10:1-20).
The ninth plague was probably a dust storm so intense that the sun was blotted out and the land left as dark as night. So thick was the dust that the darkness could literally be felt. Pharaoh would still not release the Israelites unconditionally. Moses saw that the time for reasoning with Pharaoh had come to an end (10:21-29).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Exodus 7". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany