FROM BONDAGE TO FREEDOM
Frogs, Insects, Cattle, and Boils: Suffering of the Wicked
Exodus 8-9:17 SCC 8/12/12
With the beginning of the narratives about the plagues on Egypt a new section of the book unfolds. Up to this point the predominant theme has been the preparation of the messenger and the people of Israel for the exodus. Now the book will address the issue of the preparation of Pharaoh for the exodus. The theme running through the plague stories is that of judgment on Pharaoh. Nevertheless, each has a unique contribution to the whole—that God judges the wicked with great devastation as he delivers his people. It should be clear from the outset that God could have delivered his people simply and suddenly. But no, he chooses instead to draw out the deliverance with this series of judgments.
There are three main purposes for the plagues in this book:
First, the plagues are designed to judge Egypt. Here we stress the talionic justice of the oppression and the enslavement. God's attack on Egypt is retaliation in justice.
Second, the plagues are designed to inform Egypt and Israel of the nature of the Lord. Most significant is the fact that everyone know that it is the Lord who is doing all these things. The Egyptians must know this before they are destroyed, so they might realize that the Lord is sovereign over their gods.
Third, the plagues are designed to deliver Israel. God forces the exodus from Pharaoh as a demonstration of power.
A. The plagues on Egypt formed God's judgment on the oppressing nation by destroying the economic and religious system of the pagan empire. The working of the plagues covered a period of about a year and a half or even two years, given the kinds of things that are destroyed and the things that were growing in the field. The drawn out nature of the judgment would have a more powerful effect, always leaving Egypt wondering what was to happen next.
B. The plagues all undermine the religion of Egypt. The Nile was venerated as the source of life; but it was turned to blood, the symbol of death. Their deities could not resist the great diseases. These plagues were a polemic (a broadside) against Egyptian deities, Numbers 33:4 …while the Egyptians were burying all their first-born whom the Lord had struck down among them. The Lord had also executed judgments on their gods.
C. Each of the different plagues develops the theme of the Lord’s self-revelation (“that you might know that I am Yahweh”) as the true LORD God. Israel should have been encouraged by this demonstration that their God would deliver them from bondage and provide for them in the wilderness.
THE SECOND BLOW THE PLAGUE OF FROGS (Exodus 7:25–8:15)
THE LORD CONFRONTS UNBELIEF
Here we have instructions for Pharaoh 7:25-8:4
The text literally has “and seven days were fulfilled.” Seven days gave Pharaoh enough time to repent and release Israel. When the week passed, God’s second blow came.
Moses struck the water, but the plague was a blow struck by God.
For the Lord to say “I am about to plague you” could just as easily mean “I am about to strike you.” That is why these “plagues” can be described as “blows” received from God.
Here the description is figurative for all the territory of Egypt.
The water would be swarming with frogs in abundance. There is a hint here of this being a creative work of God as well. This verse enumerates the places the frogs will go.
The first three are for Pharaoh personally--they are going to touch his private life v 3. Then the text mentions the servants and the people. The ovens and kneading bowls or troughs of the people would be accessible because they were out in the open.
The word order of the Hebrew text is important because it shows how the plague was primarily directed at Pharaoh: “and against (on) you, and against (on) your people, and against (on) all your servants frogs will go up v 4.”
UNBELIEF WILL BE COUNTERED BY JUDGMENT
Plague is brought on through Aarons staff 8:5-7
In these first two plagues the fact that the Egyptians could and did do them is also very ironic. By duplicating the experience, they added to the misery of Egypt. One wonders why they did not use their skills to rid the land of the pests.
PT: It is determinative that if one refuses to acknowledge God in faith he will be forced too in judgment.
THE LORD’S JUDGMENT AGAINST UNBELIEF FORCES ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
LEADING TO CONFRONTATION 8:8-11
It is often translated “entreat” v 8 to reflect that it is a more urgent praying. The purpose of the prayer: pray . . . that he may turn away the frogs.
PT: This is the first time in the conflict that the Pharaoh even acknowledged that Yahweh existed. Now he is asking for prayer to remove the frogs, and promising to release Israel. This result of the plague must have been an encouragement to Moses.
Moses in v 9 is doing more than extending a courtesy to Pharaoh; he is giving him the upper hand in choosing the time. But it is also a test, for if Pharaoh picked the time it would appear less likely that Moses was manipulating things. Moses is saying my trust in God is so strong you may have the honor of choosing the time.
The hardening of Pharaoh's heart is clearly part of God's judgment on the pagan king who resisted the Lord (“Who is the LORD that I should obey Him”) v 10 now forced to acknowledge the Lord.
This will be a test of the divine source of this plague, that the servant of the LORD can ask for the removal when Pharaoh desired (Pharaoh, of course, was powerless). Moses actually prophesies in v. 11 that they would be removed on the next day, adding the point of it all: “that you may know there is no one like the LORD our God.”
DETERMINED UNBELIEF HOPELESSLY LEADS TO FURTHER HARDENING 8:12-15
Moses would have been in real danger if God had not answered this prayer. Certainly the frogs were appointed for the stubborn king. The word “heaps” is repeated: “heaps. heaps.” The repetition serves to intensify the idea to the highest degree– “countless heaps”.
The relief came when there was freedom to move about. But then Pharaoh hardened his heart v 15. The meaning of the word is “to make heavy,” and so stubborn, sluggish, indifferent. It probably means that he denied his promises, and refused to make good on them.
NB: The end of the plague revealed clearly God’s absolute control over Egypt’s life and deities--all at the power of the man who prayed to God. The Lord had made life unpleasant for the people with the plague, but He was also the one who could remove it. The only recourse anyone has in such trouble is to pray to the sovereign Lord God. Everyone would know that there was no one like the Lord.
Psalm 78:40-53 catalogues these plagues as a testimony to God’s power and person—both of which Israel forgot. Here is a record of historical events.
There are three points to stress here: the intercession, the clean-up, and the hardening. POINT:
Again the LORD troubles the Egyptians with his control of their life, this time making it very unpleasant with an abundance of frogs from the Nile. The only recourse one has in such a pestilence is through prayer to the LORD. Israel had much to learn in this discipline, and would have to learn it through repeated inconveniences. Egypt would learn that the Lord God was superior to their life forces. Everyone would “know” that the Lord was sovereign.
Comparing also the miracles of Christ over nature they too were uses to authenticate His person. In fact, a comparison of the motifs of Exodus and the Gospel of John is instructive. The motifs: I AM, LORD of nature, Passover, Exodus, Manna, Water, Lawgiver, Tabernacle, sacrifices, High Priest, etc. are both in relation to the Lord in Egypt and Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge the Lord!
THE THIRD BLOW THE PLAGUE OF LICE (Exodus 8:16-19)
8:16-19 The Lice
This was not the first time that the LORD brought life out of the dust. But this was the first time it was a pestilence that came to life, a judgment against the Egyptians who loathed uncleanness and pests. Besides the note of abhorrence that would be natural in such a plague, I would stress the text’s mention of the inability of the Egyptians to do this plague. They cannot create life, and are now forced to retire, and admit that “this is the finger of God,” an expression comparable to “hand” to show the power of the LORD over life.
This plague marks a new departure: it is an unannounced judgment that could not be duplicated–it was the Lord’s work. At the least, this section shows that God's creation of the pestering lice shows his sovereignty over the pagans. The power of God confounds the power of the magicians and brings this loathsome plague on the land. God’s “finger work” is only the beginning, for he has yet to touch their lives. At least here some of their number are beginning to know that all power belongs to him.
THE FOURTH BLOW THE PLAGUE OF FLIES (Exodus 8:20-32
The play on “send” stresses the talionic justice: “if you do not send out my people,” then “I am about to send the flies.”
At the heart of the plague, however, is the protection afforded to Israel. God makes a distinction or severance in the land of Goshen. Israel is spared from the flies.
Pharaoh’s words to Moses are advancement on previous words: “go, serve”–now using imperatives. But his instructions are qualified by “in the land,” which is a subtle attempt to restrict their obedience to the call and keep them as his subjects. This suggested compromise destroys the point of the exodus, which was that Israel leave, the land of Egypt and serve the LORD their God (not Pharaoh) in a new allegiance.
The point may be that the religious system of Israel would be incompatible with the Egyptians’. Everyone knew it. Moses is simply pointing it out to Pharaoh. Whatever sacrificing that was done in this pagan land would not have had the same purpose that Israel’s would. Israel’s sacrificing to the LORD would be the beginning of their total allegiance to the LORD. Moses knows that the call is to leave the land and go three days into the wilderness. His reasoning with Pharaoh puts the onus on Egypt. Israel has a call, but Pharaoh has yet to take it seriously.
NB: Now we learn that God can inflict suffering on some and preserve others. In his bringing the affliction on the Egyptians, he is showing the coming judgment that will release his people to sacrifice and worship. In sparing the Israelites from this plague he is anticipating the redemption that will be granted to them. Then Pharaoh will take things seriously. God is fully able to keep the dog-fly in the land of the Egyptians, and eventually bring his own people completely out of the land of the Egyptians.
THE FIFTH BLOW THE PLAGUE OF DISEASE (Exodus 9:1-7)
This plague demonstrates that the LORD has power over the livestock of Egypt. He is able to strike the animals with disease and death, thus ruining the economy of the land as well as the religious ideas of the people.
Now some of their chief deities will be attacked. In Goshen, where the animals were merely cattle, the plague does not extend. But in Egypt the matter is different. Hence Moses reminds Israel afterwards, “Upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments” (Num. 33:4); and Jethro, when he heard from Moses account of these events, said, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly, he was above them” (Ex 18:11).
That hand is specifically the subject of the bringing of the plague. “The hand of the LORD” is upon the cattle. Throughout the Bible it is clear that everything is in the power of God, but when his hand is upon or against something, then devastation will follow. Here it will be a grievous pestilence. Here too the LORD severs the cattle of Israel so that they will not die. Finally, the LORD sets the time that this will happen.
NB: The point is very clear: God was ruining all the livestock, and in so doing was bringing death a little closer to the life of Egypt. Eventually people also will die. This is but a warning of the price of refusing God. The Bible shows time and time again how those who stubbornly refuse to obey God and in the process cause great difficulty for the righteous will eventually be punished, and certainly could be cut off without remedy.
THE SIXTH BLOW THE PLAGUE OF BOILS (Exodus 9:8-12)
Verse 10 records the compliance with these instructions. Moses and Aaron “stood before Pharaoh” and did as the LORD commanded. Verses 11 and 12 report the effect. The Egyptians were afflicted with the boils. Notably, the magicians of Egypt were afflicted so that they “were not able . . . to stand before Moses.” Moses, therefore, appears as a sovereign before whom the religious men of Pharaoh could not stand. This reverses the normal restrictions of men like Moses and Aaron standing before Pharaoh.
NB: The lesson of this plague is that the LORD has absolute power over the physical health of people. Physical suffering consequent upon sin comes on all regardless of their position and status. In the hour of such retributive judgment, all men are helpless. Even Satan's instruments are vanquished by the mighty power of God. Now God was beginning to touch human life, and in so doing he, the LORD, hardens Pharaoh's heart, for greater judgments on wicked men are about to come.