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 #2?
Observation of Exodus 8:20-9:12
Most repeated words: Lord (21 times), Pharaoh (15x), people (14), go/going (13), not (13), Moses (12), let/letting (10), flies (8).
But as with the first plague cycle, the key themes arise not from the repeated words but from the purpose statements:
- “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Ex 8:20, 9:1).
- “I will set apart the land of Goshen…so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am Yahweh in the midst of the earth” (Ex 8:22).
- “I will put a division between my people and your people” (Ex 8:23).
- “It would not be right…for the offerings we shall sacrifice to Yahweh our God are an abomination to the Egyptians” (Ex 8:26).
- “But Yahweh will make a distinction…so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die” (Ex 9:4).
- First plague: Swarms of flies fill the Egyptian houses but not the land of Goshen (where Israel dwells), causing Pharaoh to try allowing Israel to offer a sacrifice in Egypt. But that is not acceptable to Moses, and Pharaoh hardens his heart.
- Second plague: Egyptian livestock dies, but Israelite livestock does not die. Pharaoh investigates to make sure this distinction does in fact exist (Ex 9:7).
- Third plague: Moses throws soot from the kiln into the air, and it becomes boils on man and beast in Egypt. Magicians can no longer stand before Moses, and (for the first time in the plague narrative) God hardens Pharaoh’s heart as he promised he would do (Ex 9:11-12).
Interpretation of Exodus 8:20-9:12
Some possible questions:
- Why is the distinction between Israel and Egypt mentioned here? Does that mean the Israelites had suffered the first cycle of plagues?
- Why is it unacceptable to Moses to worship Yahweh in the land of Egypt?
- What is significant about the magicians’ inability to stand before Moses?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- The division, or distinction, between Egypt and Israel saturates this cycle. The narrative introduces it as a new idea, giving it great attention in Ex 8:22-23 as the entire point of the plague of flies. Pharaoh goes out of his way to investigate the distinction in Ex 9:7, and his findings lead him to harden his heart further. It is possible that the Israelites suffered from the first cycle of plagues, since the distinction was not mentioned there. It’s also possible that we should read the distinction back into that first cycle, and that the narrator merely wanted to highlight it here in the second cycle. Either way, it is clear that Yahweh’s distinction between “my people” and “your people” (Ex 8:23) is crucial to the meaning of this second cycle of plague narratives.
- Ex 8:26 highlights the theme of division between Israel and Egypt. They are distinct not only in how God treats them but also in how they treat God. If the Israelites do what would be acceptable to Yahweh, the Egyptians would loathe them and lynch them. There are fundamental differences in the worship of these two people groups.
- Again, Ex 9:11 continues the theme of division between Egypt and Israel. the climax of the third cycle comes when the magicians are no longer able even to stand before Moses. The lowly fugitive, the abominable shepherd, the little man with big ideas, is rising. The powerful cabinet ministers of the mighty king of Egypt are declining. Yahweh is raising one up and throwing the others down. Herein lies the division between his people and not-his-people.
Train of thought:
- Plague #1: The division vindicates the worship of God’s people.
- Plague #2: The division vindicates the possessions of God’s people.
- Plague #3: The division elevates the position of God’s people.
Main point: Yahweh is the divider of peoples, vindicating and elevating those who are his and casting down those who are not.
Connection to Christ: When face-to-face with Yahweh the Judge, Abraham’s chief concern was “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? … Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen 18:23-25). The Apostle Peter expressed the same concern in his second letter (2 Pet 2:4-10):
- If God did not spare sinning angels, but cast them into hell…
- If he didn’t spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah…
- If he turned Sodom and Gomorrah to ash, but rescued righteous Lot…
- Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.
Therefore, as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18), we can count the patience of the Lord as salvation (2 Pet 3:15) and await his promise of a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13). God will always separate those who trust in Jesus out from those who receive the blasting judgment of his just fury.
My Application of Exodus 8:20-9:12
I will suffer terrible things in this life, along with those who scoff at the glory of the Lord. We will all endure hardship, flood, hurricane, destitution, hunger, oppression, and violence. But I will never be swept away in the final judgment as long as I worship Jesus as the only Lord and Savior. Such worship is an abomination to those around me, and they may crucify me for it. But it is my life. He is worth everything, and he always takes care of his own.
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