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The Finger of God (Exodus 7:14-10:29)

Introduction

There are some tragedies in life which are simply that—tragedies. The crash of Delta flight 191 this past Friday evening is certainly one of those tragedies. No one would dare, at this point in time, to call this tragedy an act of divine judgment. It is simply one of those tragedies which is a part of the sufferings and sadness of life. There are also tragedies which have a very positive and beneficial purpose. The tragedies of Job’s life, for example, were beneficial to his walk of faith. The “tragedy” of the cross of Christ was beneficial, for it is through His death that we can be saved. The sufferings of the nation Israel during the 400 years of their slavery in Egypt also will, in the drama of Israel’s history in the Book of Exodus (and in the course of our study), prove to be beneficial.

There are also those tragedies which are the outworking of the wrath of God. The plagues which God brings upon the Egyptians are a part of God’s judgment of Pharaoh and his people for their oppression of His people, the Israelites (cf. Gen. 15:13-14; Deut. 11:1-4; Ps. 78:44-52). This is a side of God’s dealings with men which we would like to ignore, but we dare not.

The judgment of the Egyptians is given a significant amount of space in the Book of Exodus. If we are sensitive to God’s “editorial policy” then we must acknowledge that this judgment is important for us, as well as for the Old Testament saints. Not only does Moses go into a great deal of detail in describing the plagues of the Exodus, but this incident is frequently referred to throughout the Old Testament and the New. Thus we must come to the plagues as a rather unpleasant subject, but one that is vitally important to each of us. At the conclusion of this message we shall seek to explain why.

In response to the suffering of the Israelites (chap. 1), God has called Moses, whom He has divinely protected and prepared for the task of delivering His people from Egypt (chaps. 2-4). After considerable resistance, Moses has returned to Egypt, where he has been received by the elders and the people of Israel, rebuffed by Pharaoh, to the consternation of the Israelites. In chapter 7 we come to the beginning of the plagues which God will bring upon Egypt through Moses and Aaron. Because of the significance of the final (10th) plague, we shall make it the subject of our next lesson. This lesson will focus on the first nine plagues, which seem to have a distinct pattern of their own, as will be pointed out shortly.

The resistance (hardened heart) of Pharaoh and the resulting plagues come as no surprise, either to Moses or to the reader. God had foretold the necessity of the plagues which were to be brought upon Egypt: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go” (Exod. 3:19-20). Pharaoh may have found the petition to release the Israelites for three days so that they could worship their God in the wilderness especially irksome, for two principle reasons. First, he would not be inclined to acknowledge the existence of some other God, especially since he, himself, was regarded as a god. Second, religious observances necessitated a “day off,” and there seem to have been a sufficient number of those already:

But Pharaoh contemptuously dismissed this God as one more obscure Semitic godling—there were already enough religious holidays and festivals on which no work was done, and this was just an excuse to be idle (Ex. v. 8, 17).

… As for absence from work, Egyptian ostraca … include journals of work that give a day-to-day record of absenteeism, names of absentees, and reasons. One ostracon shows that the workmen of the royal tomb were idle at one period for thirty days out of forty-eight. One journal of absences takes note of several workmen, ‘offering to his god’ … and the laconic entry wsf, ‘idle,’ is not infrequent in such journals.109

One wonders if the “days off” which religious worship necessitated might not have been a factor in Israel’s worship of the gods of Egypt (cf. Josh. 24:14). After all, by simply going along with the worship of the various Egyptian deities, a brief rest from their hard labor was the reward for the Israelites.

For many reasons, Pharaoh was unwilling to release the Israelites so that they could worship their God. This necessitated the demonstration of the mighty hand of God through the plagues, which would compel Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.

The Nature of the Plagues

Before we look briefly at each of the plagues individually, it will be helpful to consider all of the plagues as a unit. When we seek to discern the nature of the plagues, explanations generally fall into one of these categories:110

(1) The plagues were mere myth. There are those who hold that none of the plagues which are described in this portion of Exodus as though they were miracles even occurred. This account, some believe, is merely a fabrication, myths which are fabricated to dramatically or creatively communicate certain religious beliefs. This view cannot be taken seriously, for it fails to take the Bible seriously, certainly not as the inspired Word of God.

(2) The plagues did occur, but were not miraculous. Such scholars take the events to be natural disasters which were common in Egypt, and which were interpreted as an act of divine judgment. This is an improvement over the first view in that it takes the text more seriously. It, however, fails because it does not want to find anything miraculous here, either. The event is true, but the miraculous element is false, being added by the author(s) for ideological or theological reasons.

(3) The plagues did occur as natural disasters, which were moderately miraculous. There are some writers who would be included in the camp of evangelicals who still lean a bit too far (in my opinion) toward the second view. These “miracles” would appear to be either Class C or Class B miracles, but not really first class (Class A) miracles. The miraculous element is to be found, we are told, in the timing and intensity of the natural disaster. K. A. Kitchen111 and Alan Cole112 both seem to fall into this category. The Nile turned to blood is viewed either as having reached flood stage, laden with red colored silt, or with some kind of micro-organism, which gave the river a red color. All of the other eight plagues are a kind of aftermath, a natural outworking, of the first plague.113 While nature is certainly employed (frogs, storms, locusts, etc.), there is something here which is more miraculous than just a greater-than-average natural disaster. These miracles were signs, and thus significantly out of the ordinary.

(4) The plagues involved nature and natural forces, but in a way that was designed to be decidedly and convincingly miraculous.114 As the magicians put it, “This is the finger of God.” There is a tension which we must be willing to acknowledge. On the one hand, the text tells us that the Nile was turned to blood. On the other, we know that elsewhere, “blood” is used in a non-literal way. We are told in Joel 2:31 and Revelation 6:12 that the “moon will be “turned to blood.” In the final analysis, we must take the text as literally and seriously as possible. Our motivation must be to understand the passage as it was written, and not in accordance with the explanation which is most believable.

Joseph P. Free lists five unique aspects of the plagues which set them apart as miraculous events. These are as follows: (1) Intensification. While frogs, insects, murrain and darkness were known in Egypt, these were intensified far beyond any ordinary occurrence. (2) Prediction. The fact that Moses predicted the moment of the arrival and departure sets them apart from purely natural occurrences (cf. 8:10, 23; 9:5, 18, 29; 10:4). (3) Discrimination. Certain of the plagues did not occur in the land of Goshen where Israel was living (8:22, no flies; 9:4, no murrain; 9:26, no hail). (4) Orderliness. There is a gradual severity in the nature of the plagues concluding with the death of the firstborn. (5) Moral Purpose. “These were not freaks of nature but were designed to teach moral precepts and lessons.”115

The “Miracles” of the Magicians

In addition the determining how “miraculous” the plagues of Moses and Aaron were, we must come to some conclusion as to the nature of the “miracles” performed by the magicians. The first two plagues were, to Pharaoh’s satisfaction, reproduced by his magicians. There are several ways to understand what was accomplished by the magicians.116 At the bottom line, we have but two options:

(1) The “miracles” were only apparent miracles, performed by some kind of illusion or sleight of hand. Either by trickery, deception, or sleight of hand, the magicians appeared to reproduce the miracles of Moses and Aaron. We are told, for example, that the cobra can be made rigid by applying pressure at the proper spot at the back of the creature’s head. Thus, the staffs of the magicians were really serpents all along, only appearing to be sticks.

(2) The “miracles” were supernaturally empowered, by Satan or his demonic helpers. It would appear that the magicians actually did reproduce the first two plagues, but were prevented from removing any of the plagues or of reproducing any others. In the case of the plague of the gnats, the text seems to indicate that the magicians thought they could produce gnats and tried, unsuccessfully, to do so (Exod. 8:18). There are several lines of evidence which inclines me toward the view that Satan was, indeed, the means of the magicians reproducing the first two “miracles.”117 This is more than just a contest between Moses and the magicians, it is God challenging the gods of Egypt (Exod. 12:12), behind which is Satan and his demonic assistants. False worship is often demonically inspired (cf. 1 Cor. 10:20-21; I Tim. 4:1).

The Pattern of the Plagues

As one views the first 9 plagues as a whole, there is a distinct pattern to them (note the summary chart at the end of this lesson). The 9 plagues can be grouped into a series of 3 contests, each composed of 3 plagues. The first plagues (1-3) produce discomfort; the next 3 bring about greater damage or destruction (4-6); the last 3 (7-9) produce the added dimension of downright dread. So the plagues progress from discomfort to destruction to dread. The first plague of each series (plagues 1, 4, and 7) begins with the expression “in the morning.” The last plague of each sequence (3, 6, and 9) comes unannounced and without the warnings of the others.

In the first series of plagues (1-3), the staff is stretched out by Aaron. In the second series (4-6), no staff is used. In the third series (7-9) Moses uses his staff. As the plagues progress, Pharaoh’s heart becomes increasingly hardened. When the king of Egypt bargains with Moses for relief, he agrees to grant more and more concessions, but he fails to keep his promises. In the first series of plagues, no mention is made of the Israelites being distinguished from the Egyptians so far as experiencing the plagues is concerned. From the second series onward, a distinction is either clearly made or implied.

The plagues begin with the magicians imitating the miracles of Moses and Aaron; then they themselves move to admitting the hand (or finger, to be more exact) of God in the plague; next, they are themselves so afflicted that they cannot stand before Moses. The “officials” of Pharaoh (who seem to be a different group from that of the magicians) have within their number those who heed the warning of Moses and put their slaves and cattle under cover (9:20). Finally, all of Pharaoh’s officials plead with him to release the Israelites before Egypt is completely ruined (10:7).

The Plagues in Particular

Having considered the plagues as a whole, we will now briefly consider each of the plagues individually. Each of the plagues conveys a message from God.

PLAGUE ONE: THE NILE TURNED INTO BLOOD (Exod. 7:14-25). The Nile is virtually the “life blood” of Egypt. Without the silt provided during its times of overflow and the water with which it constantly sustained life, Egypt would be almost uninhabitable. John Davis informs us of the importance of the Nile to the Egyptians and the way this affected their theology:

Were it not for this inundation Egypt would be as desolate as the deserts on either side. The Egyptians fully recognized this fact, and in thanksgiving for the blessings of the Nile, hymns were written. Not only were gods associated with the Nile, but fertility, blessing, and happiness were also associated with the faithfulness of this river. From the New Kingdom period comes a document known to us today as the “Hymn of the Nile,” a composition which may have originated in the Middle Kingdom period. The words of this hymn best tell the story of the importance of the Nile River to the Egyptian.

Hail to thee, Oh Nile, that issues from the earth and comes to keep Egypt alive! … He that waters the meadows which Recreated, in order to keep every kid alive. He that makes to drink the desert and the place distant from water: that is his dew coming down (from) heaven.118

The meaning of this miracle of turning the Nile to blood can best be understood in the light of the later prophecy God gave through Ezekiel:

“Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, ‘The Nile is mine; I made it for myself.’ But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will put you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales. I will leave you in the desert, you and all the fish of your streams. You will fall on the open field and not be gathered or picked up. I will give you as food to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air. Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the Lord’” (Ezek. 29:2-6).

PLAGUE TWO: THE FROGS (Exod. 8:1-15). Frogs were also regarded as having divine power:

In the Egyptian pantheon the goddess Heqet had the form of a woman with a frog’s head. From her nostrils, it was believed, came the breath of life that animated the bodies of those created by her husband, the great god Khnum, from the dust of the earth. Therefore frogs were not to be killed.119

Frogs were not uncommon in Egypt, especially around the Nile river. But there had never been so many. The account of the frogs is almost humorous. One can visualize them hopping and croaking all over Egypt. Especially delightful is the thought of them overrunning the palace of the Pharaoh. In my childhood, one of our favorite tricks at camp was to place a slimy creature, like a frog, in someone’s sleeping bag. In Egypt, the bag would have been full of frogs. They got into the food, into the kneading troughs, ovens, everywhere. The fact that the magicians of Egypt could produce even more frogs must have been a real delight to the Egyptians. What they wanted was no frogs, not more frogs.

Only Moses could take the frogs away. Moses gave Pharaoh the option of naming the time for the frogs to be removed. Pharaoh chose the next day. I would imagine that he did not ask for the frogs to be removed immediately, hoping that they would go away by themselves, before the appointed time, thus showing that Moses was not in control of the situation. Egypt was rid of the frogs through their death, which meant that huge heaps of frogs were piled all over the country, creating a stench that was a plague in and of itself. One can imagine that frog legs were not a delicacy offered in the fancy restaurants of Egypt for many years, due to the memory of this plague.

PLAGUE THREE: THE GNATS (Exod. 8:16-19). It is not altogether certain what is meant by the Hebrew term translated “gnat” in the NIV. The KJV renders the term “lice,” which is also possible. Some have suggested that it was a plague of mosquitoes. Having suffered from mosquitoes in the past, I find this at least a believable option. It does not really matter exactly what is meant. The gnats plagued both men and animals. I can almost see the Egyptians (and their animals) constantly scratching themselves (or swatting away at the creatures), trying to get some relief.

The importance of this plague is that the magicians of Egypt were unable to produce these gnats, even though they tried. This was convincing enough for the magicians to say to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (v. 19). From the other places where this same expression is found (Exod. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ps. 8:3; Luke 11:20), it seems to refer primarily to the power of God, directly intervening in the affairs of men. Nevertheless, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he refused to listen.

PLAGUE FOUR: THE FLIES (Exod. 8:20-32). With this plague, the second sequence of three plagues is commenced. Here, discrimination is made between the Egyptians and the Israelites. While we cannot be certain of the exact species of flies that plagued Egypt,120 we would probably be safe in assuming that they were bigger, and bit harder than the gnats previously set loose on the Egyptians.

The flies were so bothersome, Pharaoh was willing to negotiate with Moses. He offered to let the Israelites have time off to worship their God, but only if they were to stay in the land of Egypt (8:25). When Moses refused this offer, Pharaoh countered with an offer that they could “go into the desert, but not very far” (8:28). Pharaoh’s request, “Pray for me” (v. 28), indicates his self-centered interests. Moses left, but with the warning that there must be no more deceit on Pharaoh’s part regarding his promise to let Israel go. But when the flies were gone, so was Pharaoh’s motivation to let Israel go.

PLAGUE FIVE: LIVESTOCK KILLED (Exod. 9:1-7). The fifth plague was one that was directed against the livestock of the Egyptians, but which did not affect the cattle of the Israelites. Speculations as to what the cause of death was are simply that. By whatever means, God virtually wiped out the cattle of the Egyptians. Since wealth was measured largely in terms of cattle, this was an economic disaster. The gods of Egypt were once again proven to be lifeless and useless:

… many animals were sacred (cf. 8:26), particularly, as stated earlier, the bull which represented the god Apis or Re, and the cow which represented Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty, and joy. Hathor was depicted in the form of a woman with the head (or sometimes only the horns) of a cow. Also Khnum was a ram-god.121

PLAGUE SIX: BOILS (Exod. 9:8-12). Hannah writes, “The Egyptians, fearfully aware of epidemics, worshiped Sekhmet, a lion-headed goddess with alleged power over disease; Sunu, the pestilence god; and Isis, goddess of healing.”122 There is another humorous note here. The magicians are not only unable to rid the land of Egypt of the boils, they are also so afflicted themselves that they cannot even show up to stand before Moses. The expression, “Physician, heal thyself,” surely applies here.

PLAGUE SEVEN: THE STORM123 (Exod. 9:13-35). Usually, this plague is referred to as “the plague of hail” (cf. NIV). This, however, is only partly true. In reality, the plague is the worst thunderstorm in Egypt’s history (9:18). The death and destruction which occurs is the result of both hailstones and lightening (v. 24).

This plague begins the third and final trilogy of plagues. Things get considerably worse, and the account of the plagues become more lengthy and detailed. These last plagues begin with the warning that unless Pharaoh releases the Israelites, God will “send the full force of His plagues against Pharaoh and Egypt” (v. 14). God could have legitimately and easily wiped out all of Egypt in one blow, but He did not (v. 15). Now, if Pharaoh persists in his hardness of heart, things will get considerably worse.

In verse 16 Moses explains why God has allowed Pharaoh’s stubbornness to persist. God raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of hardening his heart and thus of providing the occasion for God to manifest His power to men. That God is free to do so is the point Paul makes in Romans chapter 9, citing this statement to Pharaoh as an example.

PLAGUE EIGHT: LOCUSTS (Exod. 10:1-20). The previous plague of the thunderstorm had destroyed the flax and barley crops, but the wheat and spelt crops were not destroyed, because they matured later on (9:31). The locusts would wipe out the wheat and the spelt crops.

This plague would, God said, give the Israelites something to tell their grandchildren about (10:1-2). When Moses foretold of the coming of the locusts on the next day, Pharaoh’s officials pled with the king to let the Israelites go (10:7). Egypt, they protested, was ruined, so why incur any further disasters? Pharaoh offered to let the men go, but not the women, and then drove Moses and Aaron out of his presence (10:10-11).

When the plague struck Egypt, Pharaoh confessed that he had sinned against God and against the Israelites. He asked Moses for forgiveness, and that he pray for the plague to be removed (10:16-17). A strong west wind carried the locusts into the Red Sea. When the plague was removed, Pharaoh returned to his old ways, and would not let Israel go (10:20).

PLAGUE NINE: DARKNESS (Exod. 10:21-29). The ninth plague was that of a darkness so intense that it produced a dread in the hearts of the Egyptians. For three days the Egyptians and the Israelites were confined to their homes. For the Egyptians, it would seem that their homes were darkened as well, but for the Israelites, there was light in their homes (10:22-23). Some have suggested that this “darkness” was only a partial darkness, created by a dust storm.124 This can hardly be the case, for the darkness which is described here is much more intense. The three days of darkness must have had a tremendous emotional and psychological impact on the nation as a whole. The experience may have been something like the 3 day period of blindness which Saul experienced prior to his conversion (cf. Acts 9:8-12).

This plague of darkness struck hard at the Egyptian deities:

This plague was aimed at one of the chief Egyptian deities, the sun god Re, of whom Pharaoh was a representation. Re was responsible for providing sunlight, warmth, and productivity. Other gods, including Horus, were associated with the sun. Nut, the goddess of the sky, would have been humiliated by this plague …125

The ninth plague, like the third and the sixth plagues, came upon the Egyptians without warning, which would have given them no opportunity to prepare for the disaster, either physically or psychologically. Pharaoh’s response to the plague was to offer to allow all the Israelites to leave Egypt to worship God, but that the cattle must remain behind (10:24). When this offer was rejected, Pharaoh hotly warned Moses that he must leave his presence, and to return would be his death. Moses agreed, but he had yet one more plague to proclaim before his final exit from Pharaoh’s presence. This tenth plague, he threatened, would bring about the release of the Israelites.

The Point of the Plagues

The plagues came from God upon the Egyptians for specific purposes. Let us briefly review what these purposes were.

(1) The plagues were an indictment and judgment of the gods of Egypt. “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt; I am the Lord” (Exod. 12:12; cf. 18:11; Num. 33:4; Isa. 19:1).126 Not only did the Egyptians need to renounce their pagan gods as no-gods, but so did the Israelites, who also worshipped them (cf. Josh. 24:14).

(2) The plagues were a demonstration of God’s existence and power. Pharaoh rejected Moses’ request that he allow the Israelites to travel three days into the wilderness to worship God (Exod. 5:1-2). The plagues were a rebuttal to Pharaoh’s response. They proved that Israel’s God alone was Lord. “And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it” (Exod. 7:5; cf. also, 7:17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 16; 10:2).

(3) The plagues were a judgment on Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their cruelty and harshness. “But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions” (Gen. 15:14).

(4) The plagues were God’s means of forcing Pharaoh to release Israel from Egypt. “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go” (Exod. 3:19-20; cf. 6:1; 7:4-5; 12:31, 33, 39; 13:3).

(5) The plagues were a prototype, a sample of God’s future judgment. The plagues which came upon the Egyptians for their sin were like those which Israel would experience, if this nation disobeyed the Law which God was soon to give them: “The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured” (Deut. 28:27). There is also much similarity between the plagues of Egypt and the plagues described in the Book of Revelation, which are poured out upon the earth in the last days, just preceding the return of our Lord. Thus, in the Book of Revelation we find the victorious tribulation saints singing the “song of Moses” (Rev. 15:3).

Conclusion

As we begin to probe the principles which underlie our text and their application to our lives, let me warn you not to assume that all calamity is the result of our sin, and evidence of God’s judgment. Job’s adversity, as outlined in the Book of Job, was not the result of Job’s sin, but a means of Job’s growth in his walk with God. In addition, Job’s affliction was a teaching tool for Satan, who cannot fathom why a saint would continue to worship God when it not profitable, but painful to do so.

The plagues of our passage were the judgment of God upon the Egyptians, but notice that God clearly identified them as such. The Egyptians may not have chosen to believe it, but God was clearly judging the gods of Egypt and those who would worship them. When God’s judgment comes upon men, He will let them know what is happening and why. When God is disciplining one of His saints, He will be sure to let that saint know what is going on. We need not agonize, searching for hidden sin, at the onslaught of every adversity and affliction. When God chastens us for sin, we’ll know about it.

When God is punishing men for sin, He is not silent about it. When He is silent at the time of the suffering of a saint, this is a test of our faith, not an evidence of God’s judgment.

This text reminds us of the seriousness of sin. God takes man’s sin very seriously. The severity of the plagues is the measure of how seriously God took the sin of the Egyptians. It is not just the sin of the Egyptians which God abhors, He hates our sin just as much as that of the pagans. Christians sometimes minimize the sin in their lives, and when they do so they fail to take our text seriously. Sin is serious business.

This is why God warns the Israelites of the judgment which awaits them for their disobedience (Deut. 28). This is why God sought to slay Moses on his way to Egypt (Exod. 4:24).

The seriousness with which God deals with sin is also the measure of His holiness. Often times we find ourselves horrified at the severity with which God deals with the sinner. When we think of God as harsh in such instances we only reveal our failure to grasp the holiness of God and the gravity of sin. R. C. Sproul has recently written an excellent book entitled, The Holiness of God, in which he deals with the difficult judgment texts of the Old Testament. I highly recommend this book to you for your reading.

If we think God’s judgment of the Egyptians to be severe, let me remind you of several other factors. The first is that God judged the gods of Egypt more than He did the Egyptians. Just as hell is the place prepared for Satan and his angels, so judgment here was for the Egyptian gods. But whoever chooses to serve these gods shares in their judgment. Second, God’s judgment was intended, I believe, to bring some of the Egyptians to a saving faith. The fact that some Egyptians left Egypt with the Israelites (Exod. 12:38) gives substance to this possibility. Third, God’s judgment upon the Egyptians was the means of delivering His people from terrible bondage. Finally, God’s judgment was poured out upon His own Son on the cross of Calvary, so that all men might be saved. God’s “severity” extended to His own Son. Finally, there was an alternative provided by God to suffering the plagues of Egypt, and that was believing God’s warning and doing as He commanded. God’s judgment could be avoided by faith and obedience.

The judgment of God on sin is something which false religionists seek to deny. Judgment is not something which men would choose to believe nor a subject which men like to dwell upon. In his second epistle, Peter speaks of the false teachers who deny the coming of our Lord to judge men: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). Judgment is not a popular subject, and thus the plagues of God against Egypt are not popular reading. But it is nevertheless a subject which we must give heed to, for it is a vital part of divine revelation.

This passage reminds us of the fact that the judgment of God is a strong motivation. It is a strong motivation for evangelism. It was the desire of Peter’s audience in Acts chapter 2 to avoid the coming wrath of God which motivated them towards repentance and faith. The Holy Spirit convicts men of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), bringing the sinner to faith in Christ. It is also an awareness of the coming judgment of God which motivates the Christian to evangelize (2 Cor. 5:11) and to live pure and holy lives until He comes (2 Pet. 3:11-12).

It has just occurred to me that the judgment of God, like His salvation, is a matter which must be believed and applied by faith. The psalmist in Psalm 73 looks about and senses that the wicked are not suffering for their sin, but are prospering, while the righteous seem to be the ones who suffer. In this present day, it may seem that sin is profitable, while righteousness is painful. At such times we must remember that we accept the fact of God’s future judgments (as we do His future rewards) by faith. It is no wonder that so few believe in the judgment of God, or live their lives as though judgment were a certainty.

The Book of Revelation speaks a great deal about this future judgment, and the descriptions we find of it make the plagues of the Book of Exodus almost pale. There is coming upon the earth of time of judgment that will be unlike that of any age. It surely is a time which should be avoided. The solution is that of faith in the provision which God has given—His own Son, Jesus Christ, who died in our place, who suffered our judgment, so that we might be forgiven.

THE PLAGUES

Level of Pain: Discomfort

Plague

Verses

Warning

Conditions / Details

Application to Egyptian Gods

Outcome / Responses

Nile turned
to blood

7:14-25

Pharaoh as he went to get water from Nile in the morning.

“In the morning”

Hapi (Apis), the bull god of Nile;
Isis, goddess of Nile; Khnua, ram god, guardian of Nile

Magicians duplicated; Pharaoh refused to listen; People dug along Nile for water

Frogs

8:1-15

Let My people go, or else …

 

Heqet, goddess of birth—frog head

Magicians duplicated; Moses petitioned to remove frogs; Pharaoh to set time

Gnats

8:16-19

None

 

Set, god of desert

“This is the finger of God”

Level of Pain: Destruction

Flies

8:20-32

Pharaoh as he goes to get water in early morning

“In the morning”
Time specified, Goshen exempted

Re, sun god;
Uatchit, possibly represented by fly

Moses summoned / Pharaoh bargains: “Don’t go far”

Livestock killed

9:1-7

If you refuse…

Israel’s cattle exempted,
Time of plague

Hathor, goddess with cow head; Apis, the bull god (fertility)

Pharaoh informed, no repentance

Boils

9:8-12

None

Soot of furnace tossed in air

Sekhmet, goddess over disease; Sunu, pestilence god

Magicians afflicted, could not stand before Moses. Pharaoh hardened.

Level of Pain: Dread

Storm

9:13-25

“Let my people go, or else… Plagues full force!”

“In the morning” worst storm in Egypt’s history. Time set. Bring in livestock.

Nut, sky goddess;
Osiris, god of crops, fertility;

Set, god of storms

Some officials brought in servants, cattle.
Goshen exempted
Pharaoh: “I have sinned—We are wrong”
King & officials hardened hearts

Locusts

10:1-20

“Let my people go … if you refuse. . .”

 

Nut, sky goddess
Osiris, god of crops, fertility

Officials plead for release of Israel before plague.
Pharaoh bargains, “Men, only”
“I have sinned”

Darkness

10:21-29

None

Total darkness.
Light in Israel’s homes

Re, sun god
Nut, sky goddess
Hathor, sky goddess

“Go, without herds”
“Out of my sight”
“Don’t come back”


109 K. A. Kitchen, “Moses,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), p. 846.

110 Davis gives three categories. John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971), pp. 84-85.

111 “The element of miracle in these plagues is usually bound up with their intensity, timing, and duration. By far the most painstaking study of the plague phenomena is that by G. Hort in ZAW LXIX, 1957, pp. 84-1-3, and ZAW LXX, 1958, pp. 48-59. While her treatment of the first nine seems excellent, her attempt to explain the tenth as ‘firstfruits’ instead of firstborn is decidedly artificial and unlikely. Hort has pointed out that the first nine plagues form a logical and connected sequence, beginning with an abnormally high Nile-inundation occurring in the usual months of July and August and the series of plagues ending about March (Heb. Abib). In Egypt too high an inundation of the Nile was just as disastrous as too low a flood.” K. A. Kitchen, “Plagues of Egypt,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, ed., (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), p. 1001.

112 R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973). Cole seems to follow the same position as Kitchen, as cited above.

113 “This would correspond with the conditions brought about by an unusually high Nile. The higher the Nile-flood, the more earth it carries in suspension, especially of the finely-divided ‘red earth’ from the basins of the Blue Nile and Atbara. And the more earth carried, the redder became the Nile waters. Such an excessive inundation could further bring down with it microcosms known as flagellates and associated bacteria: besides heightening the blood-red colour of the water, these would create conditions so unfavourable for the fish that they would die in large numbers as recorded. Their decomposition would foul the water and cause a stench.” Kitchen, “Plagues of Egypt,” pp. 1001-1002.

“The heavy precipitation in Ethiopia and the Sudan which led to the extraordinary high Nile would also provide favourable conditions for a dense plague of locusts by about March. These, following the usual route, would in due course be blown into northern Egypt by the east wind; the ‘west wind,’ … is literally ‘sea-wind’, i.e. really a north (or north-west) wind, and this would blow the locusts right up the Nile valley.” Ibid, p. 1002.

114 Gispen, in my opinion, best handles the issue of the nature of the plagues. W. H. Gispen, Exodus, trans. by Ed van der Maas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), pp. 84-85. Hannah also takes a conservative stance here. John Hannah, “Exodus,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), p. 121.

115 Davis, p. 85.

116 Cf. Davis, pp. 81-84 for an overview of the various explanations.

117 “…since the Septuagint translates this word [enchantments (KJV); secret arts (RSV); witchcraft (Jerusalem Bible)] as pharmakeiais which means “sorcery, magic, or magical arts” (cf. Gal. 5:20), it may well be that the original root was the Hebrew lat … which means secrecy or mystery.” Davis, pp. 82-83.

The magical arts of the Egyptians included “… cursing (including killing); curing; erotic magic; agricultural (including weather); divination; and resurrection.” Barbara Mertz, Red Land, Black Land (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 207-208, as cited by Davis, p. 82.

118 ANET, ‘Hymn to the Nile,” trans. by John A Wilson, p. 272, as cited by Davis, p. 91.

119 Hannah, “Exodus,” p. 121.

120 “These flies may have been the dog flies known for their painful bites. They may have represented Re, a prominent Egyptian deity. Or the flies may have been Ichneuman flies, who depicted the god Uatchit.” Hannah, “Exodus,” p. 122.

121 Hannah, “Exodus,” p. 123.

Some have asked, “If all the cattle died here, how, then, can we later (vss. 10; 20-21) read of other livestock which is killed in the thunderstorm?” Hannah (p. 113) suggests (1) hyperbole or (2) only all the animals in the field were killed. A better suggestion may be that the Egyptians purchased cattle from another country. To allow some time for the Egyptians to begin to recover from one disaster, only to lay them low again, is of much greater economic consequence.

122 Ibid.

123 “Nut, the sky goddess, was not able to forestall the storm; and Osiris, the god of crop fertility, could not maintain the crops in this hailstorm; nor could Set, the storm god, hold back this storm.” Ibid.

124 “This was a khamsin dust storm, but no ordinary one. The heavy inundation had brought down and deposited masses of ‘red earth,’ now dried out as a fine dust over the land. The effect of this when whirled up by a khamsin wind would be to make the air extraordinarily thick and dark, blotting out the light of the sun. The ‘three days’ of Ex. x. 23 is the known length of a khamsin. The intensity of the khamsin may suggest that it was early in the season, and would thus come in March. If the Israelites were dwelling in the region of Wadi Tumilat as their part of Goshen, they would miss the worst effects of this plague.” Kitchen, “Plagues of Egypt,” p. 1002.

125 Hannah, “Exodus,” p. 125.

126 Davis writes, “Unlike other rulers in the ancient Near East, the Egyptian Pharaoh did not merely rule for the gods, but he was in a literal sense one of the gods. His birth was a divine act. He was counted specifically as the child of certain deities and thus possessed the properties of deity. … In light of this observation it is not difficult to see why Pharaoh reacted as he did to the initial request of Moses and Aaron (Exod. 5:2). The king, as god, was to have sole rule over the people. … The plagues served to demonstrate the impotency of Pharaoh, both as a ruler and as a god. He was subject to the same frustrations and anxieties as the average man in Egypt during the period of the plagues. The fact that he called for Moses and Aaron rather than the wise men of Egypt during times of greatest distress attests to this fact.” Davis, pp. 89-90.

Kitchen adds, “In Ex. xii. 12 God speaks of executing judgments against all the gods of Egypt. In some measure He had already done so in the plagues, as Egypt’s gods were much bound up with the forces of nature. Ha`pi, the Nile-god of inundation, had brought not prosperity but ruin; the frogs, symbol of Heqit, a goddess of fruitfulness, had brought only disease and wasting; the hail, rain, and storm were the heralds of awesome events (as in the Pyramid Tests); and the light of the sun-god Re` was blotted out, to mention but of few of the deities affected.” Kitchen, “Plagues of Egypt,” p. 1003.