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PLAGUES OF EGYPT
IMPORT OF THE EVENT
Murphy reminds us that:
To understand the import of this conflict we need to recall that for the first time since the dispersion of the nations (Genesis 11:0 ) the opposition between God and Satan in the history of mankind is coming out into broad daylight.
This nation for the time being represents all heathendom, which is the kingdom of the prince of darkness, and the battle to be fought is the model and type of all future warfare between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Hence it rises to a transcendent importance in the ways of God with man, and holds a place even in the preface to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2 ).”
THE ROD AND THE SERPENT
There are at least three ways to account for what these sorcerers are said to have done, and the suggestions apply similarly to their later performances with the water and the frogs:
1. One may deny they did it, for the Hebrew will allow this rendering in Exodus 7:12 : “They cast down every man his rod that they might become serpents, but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.” In other words, their rods were not changed at all, and were lost into the bargain.
2. One may say that by some feat of juggling an optical illusion was affected by which it appeared that their rods were changed.
One may accept the text on its face and say that they actually did the things by the power of Satan. This is the simplest view, harmonizing with the deep import to Satan of the whole transaction and with what we subsequently learn of his interference in the affairs of men and nations and the “lying wonders” he enables the former to perform (2 Thessalonians 2:9 ).
In this last case, the superiority of God’s power over Satan is seen in that Moses’ rod swallowed up those of the magicians, and hence Pharaoh was in so far inexcusable in not acknowledging his omnipotence.
HARDENING OF PHARAOH’S HEART
In the story the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is spoken of nineteen times, in eleven of which God is said to have done the hardening, in three Pharaoh is said to have done it, and in five it is simply announced as being done.
From this it is plain that no inscrutable omnipotence bore down on Pharaoh to make him go against his will, but that without such constraint he freely resisted God’s command.
Bates’ Alleged Discrepancies, from which the above paragraph is taken, explains that Pharaoh by his conduct put himself under the operation of that law according to which a man’s heart becomes harder the longer he resists divine mercy. Inasmuch as Pharaoh himself resisted he hardened his own heart, but inasmuch as God ordained the law it may be said that God hardened it.
But while thus seeking to explain this awful circumstance, let us not try to eliminate divine sovereignty from it, nor neutralize the inspired interpretation of Romans 9:14-22 .
God did not say, “Go to now, I will by a personal impact on Pharaoh’s mind and subjugating control of his faculties, harden him.” Nevertheless, Pharaoh did not hold out against God because God could not subdue him, but because He “had great ends to accomplish in permitting him to prolong his obstinacy.”
The story, and especially Paul’s inspired comment on it, should have a strong effect in bringing any sober-minded sinner to his knees before God.
THE ORDER AND PROGRESS OF THE PLAGUES
There were ten plagues in all, and it will be found that there was a kind of order and progress in their arrangement, going from the external to the internal and from the mediate to the immediate hand of God.
Divided first into nine and one, the one standing out from the others in the awful loss of the first born, the nine again are arranged in threes. This arrangement is marked by the way, the place and the time in which they are announced to the king, or the abruptness of their coming without announcement; by their effect on him, and on the magicians, and in other ways, leading to the conclusion that there was a deeper order of nature and reason out of which they sprung.
Speaking of their effect, it will be seen that at the third the magicians acknowledge the finger of God, at the sixth they can no longer stand before Moses, and at the ninth Pharaoh refuses to see his face further.
Finally, the first three fall alike on the Hebrews and the Egyptians, but the last seven are reserved for the latter alone.
Examine 2 Timothy 3:8-9 , and observe that the two names mentioned there may be those of the leaders of the magicians, traditional names probably, and preserved in documents since lost. They represented Satan much as Moses represented God, and their defeat was an impressive demonstration of the supremacy of the God of the Hebrews.
THE MIRACULOUS IN THE PLAGUES
There are two kinds of miracles, absolute and providential, the latter those which are not so miraculous in themselves as in the circumstances of their performance. Such were these plagues, for in their character they were the natural phenomena of the land, only that in these instances they came at an unusual season, in an unusual degree, and in immediate response to Moses’ command.
Also they were particularly humiliating to the Egyptians because they reflected on the power and dignity of their gods. The Nile was their patron god, and to have its waters turned into blood and become a torment to them was dishonoring to that divinity. Another of their gods was represented by a frog’s head. They also worshipped flies, reared temples in honor of the ox and the cow, and idolized the sun which was turned into darkness to them. How strange that they should not have been awakened by these things!
1. What gives great significance to the events of this lesson and those immediately following?
2. In what three ways may we account for the acts of the sorcerers?
3. How would you explain the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart?
4. Discriminate between the two classes of miracles.
5. Why were the plagues peculiarly humiliating to Egypt?
PLAGUES IN DETAIL
FIRST GROUP (Exodus 7:4 - Exodus 8:19 )
The river turned into blood (Exodus 7:14-25 ). How far did this plague extend over the waters of Egypt (Exodus 7:19 )? If this were literally so, it may be asked, where did the magicians find material on which to work with their enchantments (Exodus 7:22 )? Is the answer suggested in Exodus 7:24 ? May they have dug up water from the ground for this purpose? If so, we can imagine the limited scale of their performance in contrast with that of Moses.
In connection with this miracle it should be known that commonly the Nile begins to rise about the end of June and attains its highest point at the end of September. It assumes a greenish hue at first, and becomes disagreeable to the taste and unwholesome. Then it becomes red and turbid for two or three weeks, although fit for use when red. The miraculous is seen here:
(1) because it occurred in the winter, as we have not now time to prove; the water was not merely reddened but turned into blood; the fish died, which was not the case under the other circumstances; the river stank and became offensive, while in the other case it was fit for use when red; the stroke was arrested at the end of seven days, but ordinarily the redness lasted three weeks; and
(2) the change was brought on instantly at the command of Moses before the eyes of Pharaoh.
The frogs (Exodus 8:1-15 ).
Frogs abound in Egypt, but miracles are not the less supernatural because their products are natural objects, previously well known. That this visitation was miraculous is seen in that the frogs came at the word of command, and at an unusual time, and in an unusual degree and magnified form. Frogs are not usually spawned, transformed into tadpoles, and then into frogs and spread over a country in a few moments.
What different effect on Pharaoh has this plague from the previous one (Exodus 8:8 )? It is difficult to understand the meaning of Moses’ words, “Glory over me” (Exodus 8:9 ), unless we take them in the sense of “appoint unto me a time,” etc. As one of the older commentators suggests, “Moses experiences so much joy at Pharaoh’s apparent relenting that he willingly gives him the honor of appointing the time when he should entreat the Lord for the removal of the plagues.”
The lice (Exodus 8:16-19 ).
In other cases the water produced the cause of torture, whence does this arise (Exodus 8:16 )? What made this plague more aggravating than the former ones (Exodus 8:17 )? To what conclusion do the magicians come in this case (Exodus 8:19 )? Do you think they meant it was a judgment from Jehovah, or only a providential event? With which of these two possible opinions does Pharaoh’s action seem to agree?
SECOND GROUP (Exodus 8:29 to Exodus 9:12 )
The flies (Exodus 8:20-32 ).
What preliminary is omitted here that was observed in the other cases (compare Exodus 8:16 , first part)? How does this teach that the true wonder-worker is not tied to any particular mode of introducing his wonders? What distinction is now put between the Egyptians and the Hebrews? Why were the first three plagues permitted to fall upon the latter? Was it to help detach them from that land of their birth? How did this division between the two people emphasize the fact that the judgments were coming from the God of the Hebrews?
What further effect has this plague on the king (Exodus 8:25 )? Which is he willing to concede, the time or the place for sacrifice? Why will not Moses conform to his plan (Exodus 8:26 )? The Egyptians worshipped animals, like the cow and the sheep, and should the Hebrews offer them in sacrifice it would be an abomination in their eyes and bring serious consequence upon the offerers. Moreover, to do so in Egypt would, in some way, be an abomination to the Lord as well, and hence could not be considered.
What permission is now given the Hebrews (Exodus 8:28 )? What abomination to Pharaoh (Exodus 8:29 )? Was the latter heeded (Exodus 8:32 )?
The Murrain, or Cattle Disease (Exodus 9:1-7 ).
Notice that cattle in the field are specified. Some cattle among the Egyptians were stall-fed, and these seem to have been exempt (compare Exodus 9:19 ). What interesting investigation is the king led to make at this time, and with what confirmatory result (Exodus 9:7 )?
The boils (Exodus 9:8-12 ).
It is to be noted that the uncleanness resulting from such an attack would be particularly severe on a people who, like the Egyptians, made personal cleanliness a part of their religion.
THIRD GROUP (Exodus 9:13 to Exodus 10:29 )
The hail (Exodus 9:13-35 ).
Read carefully Exodus 9:14-17 of the section and observe the insight which God gives into the theory of His administration. It is instructive, corrective and punitive, but never destructive of moral agents. He might have smitten Pharaoh and his people as easily as their cattle, annihilating them and thus removing all opposition to His demands, but such is not His way in dealing with His rational creatures. He approaches them with love, reason and justice, and only when they fail will He have recourse to correction, and finally punishment. Pharaoh will be an example of these things to all succeeding generations. It was for this God “raised him up” instead of striking him down.
How even yet does God remember mercy and leave an opening for faith (Exodus 9:19-21 )?
The locusts (Exodus 10:1-20 ).
What effect are the plagues beginning to have on the Egyptian generally (Exodus 10:7 )? What expression in the verse indicates the terrible devastation that must have already taken place? To what further extent is the king now prepared to yield (Exodus 10:8-11 )? What in the last verse shows his spirit in the premises? How does this plague finally effect him (Exodus 10:16-17 ) ? But does he yet surrender?
The darkness (10:21-29).
What an object lesson is in Exodus 10:23 . Not only for Pharaoh and Egypt is this so, but for us in a spiritual sense. The world is in darkness even until now, but Christ is the light of the world, and where He dwells is no darkness at all. What a text for a sermon, especially if treated in the light of its awful context!
How much further is Pharaoh willing to assent to Moses’ demand (Exodus 10:24 )? But on what does the latter still insist (Exodus 10:25-26 )? What “reckless madness” takes possession of the king? What is there ominous in the reply of Moses to him (Exodus 10:29 )? Is it not strange in this connection that Pharaoh never attempted to destroy the lives of Moses and Aaron? What better evidence could we have of the divine protection that accompanied them than this? And how it proves also the limitations of Satan’s power (compare Job 1:2 ).
There is an awful significance in the plague of darkness, since the sun was a leading object of adoration with the Egyptians (under the name Osiris), of which the king himself was the representative, entitling him in some sense to divine honors. Thus all the forms of Egyptian will-worship have been covered with shame and confusion in these nine plagues.
1. What should the sorcerers have done to demonstrate superiority to Moses?
2. Prove the supernatural character of what Moses did.
3. What spiritual lessons are suggested in this lesson?
4. What light is here thrown on God’s administration of the universe?
5. In what particular was there divine restraint on Pharaoh?
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Gray, James. "Commentary on Exodus 7". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26