Moses has undergone training to be qualified as God’s mediator. He’s prepped and ready for the big fight with Pharaoh. The plagues make up the first three rounds, followed by a fourth round (Passover), and then a fifth (Red Sea). What does God want to teach us in round #1?
Observation of Exodus 7:14-8:19
Most repeated words: Lord (19 times), Nile (16x), Pharaoh (13), said (13), frogs (12), Moses (12), water (12), all (10), Egypt (10).
- This is somewhat unusual, but the repeated words don’t immediately highlight major themes for me. I need to look elsewhere.
Purpose or result statements: the plague narratives are packed with them.
- “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness” (Ex 7:16).
- “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood” (Ex 7:17).
- “…and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile” (Ex 7:18).
- “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Ex 8:1).
- “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God” (Ex 8:10).
- First plague: Nile waters turn to blood, making the Egyptians weary (Ex 7:18) so they have to work harder for stuff to drink (Ex 7:24).
- Second plague: Nile swarms with frogs and Moses asks God to take them away, so Pharaoh would know there no one like Yahweh our God (Ex 8:10).
- Third plague: When the Egyptian magicians cannot replicate the dust becoming gnats, they declare this to be the finger of God (Ex 8:19).
At the end of all three plagues, we’re told that Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and that he would not listen, as Yahweh had said (Ex 7:22, 8:15, 8:19).
Interpretation of Exodus 7:14-8:19
Some possible questions:
- Why are there so many purpose or result statements?
- Why do these first 3 plagues have these results?
- Why do all three plagues end with nearly identical statements about Pharaoh’s heart (which, looking ahead, are not repeated identically after the rest of the plagues)?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- The narrator communicates his message not so much through what happens as through why it happens. For this reason, I wonder if it’s misguided to try to identify which specific Egyptian god or goddess is under assault in each plague. Of course, we can’t miss the obvious connections to some of the most revered Egyptians gods in the first (Nile) and last (Ra, the sun-god) plagues. And, yes, God does say that on Passover night he will execute judgments on all the gods of Egypt (Ex 12:12). However, we should be careful to note that, other than in Ex 12:12, the text nowhere draws attention to specific Egyptian deities. Instead, the text draws attention to why each plague happens, and to what result God desires from it. In addition, we must get the purpose behind the Exodus. God does not want to move people from slavery to (unqualified) freedom, but from service to Pharaoh to service to God. Let my people go, that they may serve me.
- The first plague makes the lives of the Egyptians harder with hard service; this is a just payment for how they’ve treated the Hebrews (Ex 1:11, 13-14). In Ex 5:2, Pharaoh wanted to know who Yahweh was, such that Pharaoh should obey his orders to release these people. The second plague begins to give Pharaoh a clear answer to his question (Ex 8:10). The third plague brings the magicians to the end of their power, causing them to declare the work of God.
- As highlighted in the prologue (Ex 7:13), God’s word must be vindicated. God has remembered his covenant (Ex 2:24-25). God told Abram he would bring judgment on Egypt and deliver his people with great possessions (Gen 15:14). God told Moses he would have to strike Egypt with a mighty hand to secure plunder for his people (Ex 3:19-22). God assured Moses that many miracles would not be enough; God would have to strike Pharaoh’s firstborn (Ex 4:21-23). God also said he’d have to harden Pharaoh’s heart to multiply his signs and wonders so Egypt would know he is Yahweh (Ex 7:3-5). In other words, God’s word is at stake. This is why we are told repeatedly that Pharaoh hardened his heart, as Yahweh had said.
Train of thought:
- Plague #1: The arrival of the plague proves that Yahweh alone is God.
- Plague #2: The removal of the plague proves that there is no one like Yahweh.
- Plague #3: Even the enemy sorcerers conclude there’s something special about this God.
Main Point: Yahweh is the only judge of all the earth, who both executes and removes judgments.
Connection to Christ: Because of his death and resurrection, God the Father has entrusted all judgment to the Son, Jesus Christ. We now know that this God who executes and removes judgment, this Yahweh, is none other than Jesus (John 5:22-29).
But what differentiates between those who have judgment executed on them and those who have judgment removed from them? We’ll have to wait for the second cycle of plagues to find out.
Application of Exodus 7:14-8:19
If Yahweh is the only judge, all that matters is that I be right with him. I can trust his word of deliverance, even when I feel like I’m living in a pit of judgment. I can’t find life and peace from my employer, parents, teachers, neighbors, or society. Only in Jesus.
And if Yahweh is the only judge, that means I don’t have to be the judge. I don’t have to punish others for their sins, even when committed against me. I don’t have to expose every act of wrongdoing. And I can turn aside from vengeance, letting the Lord have his way with people (Rom 12:19-21). For example, I’m not failing my children if I don’t assail them for every misstep.
And yet, the only judge of all the earth has chosen to share his throne with his exalted people, after a fashion (Luke 22:28-30, Rev 20:4). As Moses represented the heavenly Judge before Pharaoh, so, too, must churches represent their Judge by holding to the Lord’s standards of righteousness and truth (1 Cor 5:9-13). There remains real authority, in its proper social context, to execute and remove “judgment” by teaching, receiving, disciplining, or even excommunicating (Matt 16:18-19, 18:15-20).
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