Instead of reproving Moses for questioning His ways, God gave encouragement and strength to His harassed servant. God reveals his plan to Moses in this way, “See I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet”. This can be a confusing statement for us, but we will see as the LORD God Almighty systematically dismantles and destroys the gods of Egypt Moses will grow in power and respect among the Egyptians and the Hebrews because he speaks forth truth from the LORD.
God tells Moses, “but I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and although I will multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. I will reach into Egypt and bring out my regiments, my people the Israelites, from the land of Egypt with great acts of judgment. Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I extend my hand over Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them”. God is telling Moses what God will do!
This concept of hardening Pharaoh’s heart has been difficult to understand, one commentator describes it this way: God does not take the soft heart of Pharaoh and make it hard; rather God will apply pressure on Pharaoh to bring out of his heart what is already in it. God begins the plan to get the Israelites out of Egypt and the longer process of removing Egypt from the Israelites. God does this by demonstrating that the LORD is God and not the various creatures of the creation. God will release Israel from slavery in Egypt, slavery to their Egyptian masters and to their gods.
Moses meets with Pharaoh and his magicians and Pharaoh demands a sign. Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a snake; the clever magicians do the same, but then the momentous sign occurs when Aaron’s snake proceeds to swallow all the magicians’ snakes. Pharaoh demanded a sign, the cobra was the symbol of Egyptian sovereignty – the LORD’s snake destroyed Egypt’s protector. What follows are nine plagues that turn the Egyptians gods against Pharaoh and the Egyptians, what they worship becomes a stench, death and torture instead of a blessing. The first nine plagues can be divided into groups of threes; the first plague in each group comes with a warning for Pharaoh.
The first three plagues: blood, frogs and gnats, begins God’s showdown with the sorcerers of Egypt and proclaims the existence of the LORD. Moses goes to Pharaoh in the morning while he is at the Nile, the Nile River was considered the source of all life for Egypt; it was sacred to them as the creator of man and the pathway to the afterlife. Aaron stretches out the staff over the waters of Egypt and the rivers, canals, ponds even the water in their storage containers become blood. But the magicians of Egypt were able to turn water blood using their secret arts so Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. Seven days later Moses again approaches Pharaoh saying if you refuse to release the Israelites I will send a plague of frogs, once again Pharaoh didn’t heed Moses warning and a plague of frogs swarmed the land. Pharaoh called on his magicians they too produced a plague of frogs, but they were not able to remove the frogs from the land. At this point Pharaoh summons Moses to pray for the removal of the frogs with the promise to allow the Israelites to go. Remember at this point it is a request to travel beyond Pharaoh’s realm to offer sacrifices to the LORD. But when Pharaoh received relief from the frogs, he refused to let the Israelites go. Heket, the frog-woman god of Egypt was the divine midwife; the LORD had turn the life giving Nile into death, with piles of rotting frogs. The final plague in this group of three comes without warning, Aaron strikes the ground with the staff, and a cloud of dust appears that becomes gnats that went throughout all Egypt. Pharaoh calls his magicians to reproduce the same effect, but they cannot, they say, “it is the finger of God” but Pharaoh would not listen to them or to Moses. The Egyptian god Geb, was the god of the earth, who brought good crops from the earth; instead the dust of the earth has become tormenting bugs.
The second three plagues: flies, livestock and boils prove God’s protection for Israel; the LORD causes the plagues in Egypt but keeps Goshen free from the plagues. God is separating his people from the Egyptians, by protecting them. The plague of flies come with a warning, Moses and Aaron meet Pharaoh again early in the morning this time warning that the land of Goshen will not be harmed. At this point Pharaoh offers a compromise by saying the Israelites could go but they must stay within the boundaries of Egypt. Moses refuses this compromise; Pharaoh promises to let them go but once again deals falsely with Moses. Flies were always present at the sacrifices; therefore Egyptians believed that they symbolized the gods taking part in the ceremonies. They were considered a good sign in moderation, but God’s plague was not moderate. Many translators think the flies could have been the scarab, a flying beetle sacred in Egypt. Khepri the scarab-headed god, symbolized eternal life, the beetles laid their eggs in rotting flesh and dead matter, later scarabs emerged from the dead flesh thus life from death. Next Moses gives Pharaoh twenty-four hour notice before the plague on the livestock of the Egyptians. The next day all the livestock of the Egyptians died but of the Israelites’ livestock not one died. After this Pharaoh sent representatives to Goshen to investigate, it was proven true but he still hardened his heart. Ptah was the sacred Apis bull god of Egypt. No warning is given for the next plague of boils; Moses took handfuls of soot from a furnace and throws it into the air while Pharaoh is watching. This dust causes boils to break out and fester on both people and animals in all of Egypt. The Egyptian priests had to be without physical defect, circumcised, shaved clean of all body hair, bathed and dressed in white linen in order to serve Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. The priests of Egypt could not stand before Pharaoh because they were unclean no one was able to offer sacrifices to Sekhmet who they believed had the power of creating epidemics and ending them. Even her own priests could not serve the goddess; this turned the sophisticated healing arts of the Egyptians against them.
The third set of plagues: hail, locust and darkness will prove God’s absolute and exclusive control over the entire world. This plague comes with a twenty-four hour warning, God is about to unleash the full force of His power against Egypt and Pharaoh. The intensity of the plagues has stepped up but the Israelites are still protected in Goshen. A hail storm came in Egypt, those who are beginning to believe Moses protect their livestock and people, but “those who did not take the word of the LORD seriously left their servants and cattle in the field”. Hail fell and fire mixed with the hail, it struck everything in the open fields; everything that grows was killed and the trees were broken to pieces. This time Pharaoh seems to relent, claiming “I have sinned this time!” The LORD is righteous and I and my people are guilty. Pharaoh asks Moses to pray the LORD and he will release your people. Moses spread his hands to the LORD, the thunder and hail will cease so that you know that the earth belongs to the LORD. When the storm was ended, Pharaoh again hardened his heart and didn’t release the Israelites. Nut is the goddess of the sky, who brings the blessings of the sun to the crops; with this storm the barley and flax crops were destroyed, the wheat and spelt crop survived. If Pharaoh had kept his word to Moses, the Egyptians would have had the wheat and spelt harvest to survive. Once again a warning is given to Pharaoh about the coming plague of locust. Pharaoh’s officials knew that a plague of locust would destroy the remaining crops, producing a severe famine in all Egypt; they tell Pharaoh “don’t you know that Egypt is ruined”. Pharaoh once again offers a compromise that only the men could go, but Moses must leave the women and children in Egypt. The plague of locust destroys what was left of Egypt’s crops, the combined effects of the plagues, death of livestock, boils, hails and locust has completely devastated the Egyptian economy and culture. The Egyptians worshipped the gods that they thought protected and blessed the creation, with the complete destruction of all things agricultural came the ruin of the Egyptian gods – especially Pharaoh. The ninth plague is a direct attack on the greatest of the Egyptian gods RA, the sun god and it comes without warning. Moses extends his hands towards the heavens so that there was darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness so thick it can be felt. Pharaoh now says that the people could go but they cannot take any of their livestock, Pharaoh was trying to keep them from sacrificing to the LORD, Moses response was “not a hoof is to be left behind”. At this point Pharaoh tells Moses to go away; if he sees him again he will die. Moses agrees, I will not see your face again, and then gives a warning of the tenth and final plague to come. Moses tells Pharaoh that all the firstborn in Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn son of the slave girl and all the firstborn cattle. Then you will know that LORD God Almighty distinguishes between Egypt and Israel, and the Israelites will leave with gold, silver and all their people and belongings.
The LORD God Almighty demolished the Egyptian gods one by one, theirs gods have been turned against them, and instead of blessings they hoped for they have become slaves to the gods and receive sorrow and pain. We would miss God’s point completely if we didn’t apply this to our lives today, what gods do you continue to hold homage to in your life? The gods of this world will only bring sorrow and pain; the LORD God Almighty the Creator of the Universe still calls for our undivided loyalty.