Up until today’s reading Moses and Aaron had just been delivering messages to pharaoh. But now the time had come to demonstrate God’s power. What God is about to do will not only show the Egyptians His power; it will also show the Israelites. They had been slaves for many years and someone was always telling them what to do and when and where. Now God, working through Moses and Aaron would begin to mold these Israelites into one nation with God as their Lord and a king. The miracles and plagues we see are not just softens of God's power. They are also God's way of judging the gods of Egypt and proving them false.
First, we see Moses and Aaron turning Aaron's staff into a snake. The Egyptians were big into magic and sleight of hand so it is possible they were able to turn a staff into a snake. But when Aaron's staff swallowed up the others snakes it gave the Egyptians pause. The purpose of this was not to debunk Egyptian magic but to show that the power of Israel's God was greater than any power Egypt possessed. Pharaoh was not impressed and his heart was hardened against Moses and Aaron. And then the plagues began.
The first plague was water turned into blood. The word plague means a blow or stroke, indicating the Lord was punishing the Egyptians. The first three plagues were distressful. The second three were painful and costly. The last four were dangerous and destructive. The longer pharaoh resisted God the more serious the judgements were. Not only did the water of the Nile turn into blood, so did all the other available water in the land. The magicians also managed to turn water blood red but they were not able to reverse the plague. That should have shown that Israel's God was much more powerful.
Next came frogs...lots of frogs. In fact, Egypt was overrun with frogs. In Egypt, the frog was a symbol of fertility, and the head of their goddess of resurrection, fertility, and childbirth had the head of a frog. Again, the magicians replicated the miracle but they had no means to stop the frogs from over running the country. Picture heaps and piles of dead frogs all over the place. It may seem peculiar that God allowed pharaoh to choose the time for the frogs to leave. But God wanted to prove to pharaoh and to the nation that He was the living God who heard their words and responded to the prayers of His servants. The plague of frogs was no accident. Israel's God was in control.
Picture all the dust in the land becoming gnats! They were everywhere. There was no escape. This was a judgement against Egypt's god ”Set” the Egyptian god of the desert. God was so great that He could give life to insignificant dust AND use that life to punish the same people who revered and worshipped “Set.” But there was even more. Egyptians in general and priests in particular were fanatical about cleanliness. They frequently washed and shaved their bodies so they were acceptable to their gods. Imagine their frustration when they were invaded by unclean gnats. And their gods could do nothing to deliver them.
Flies came next...millions of them. But the flies would not bother the Israelites in the land of Goshen. The flies posed a couple of problems. First of all, this was a direct attack on the Egyptian god Uatchit. Again, Israel's God was showing His superiority. But flies carried disease germs that would affect the Egyptians. And they likely laid eggs that when the larva came out, they ate the plants.
Plague number five affected the Egyptians livestock. And once again the Israelites cattle were spared. This plague could have been a couple of things. It could have been cowpox which would have been smallpox in humans. But the more likely disease was anthrax. It would have been fatal to the livestock, particularly the cows and sheep. Transferred to humans it would have resulted in the next plague of festering boils which left untreated would be fatal.
Slowly but surely God was bringing Egypt to her knees. With each plague pharaoh's heart got harder and harder. Hail was plague number seven. God rained down thunder, lightning, and hail; hail like they had never seen before and anything that was not protected was destroyed. Both the flax and barley harvests were destroyed, putting this plague in January or February.
Locusts came next, eating and destroying anything that was left after the other disasters. By now pharaoh's officials were questioning his motives. They had had enough and wondered aloud why pharaoh did not just do what Moses and Aaron asked. Plagues of locusts are not uncommon in the Middle East, even today. This was the most devastating natural calamity to hit the land of Egypt in all her history. In destroying all the vegetation God not only left the land bankrupt, but He triumphed over Osiris, the Egyptian god of fertility and crops. And He proved He had control over the wind as well.
Finally, the ninth plague was darkness, so thick you could feel it. It lasted three days. God proved He was much greater than “Ra” and Horus, both of whom the Egyptians revered as sun gods. It would have also been a direct affront to pharaoh because they were considered sons of ”Ra.” This darkness was not the result of a natural disaster like a sandstorm. It came directly from the hand of God. But the Israelites had light. The people of the world walked in darkness but the people of God walked in the light.
There is one plague left. And it is the worst of them all. Not only do we see the power and might of God here, but there is a warning for us in this as well. If our sinful hearts do not respond by faith to the Word of God we cannot be transformed by the grace of God. And then our hearts will become hardened. God wants nothing more than to give us His best, but we must be ready and willing to receive Him first.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W