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 #3? In short, welcome to hell.
Observation of Exodus 9:13-10:29
Most repeated words: LORD (a whopping 35 times), land (20x), all (19), go (19), hail (19), Moses (19), Pharaoh (18), said (17), Egypt (16).
- All 35 occurrences of “LORD” are in all caps in the ESV, meaning they translate God’s personal name, Yahweh. In Ex 5:2, Pharaoh wants to know who is the LORD. This third cycle of plagues delivers a clear answer.
It’s also noteworthy that the plagues in this third cycle have the longest narratives of all the plagues. It’s as though the action slows down to make sure we don’t miss the point. And as with the rest of the plagues, our best clues come from the many purpose statements.
- “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Ex 9:13; 10:3, 7).
- “This time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth” (Ex 9:14).
- “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex 9:15-16).
- “You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go” (Ex 9:17).
- “There will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (Ex 9:29-30).
- “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord” (Ex 10:1-2).
- “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” (Ex 10:3).
- “For we must hold a feast to the Lord” (Ex 10:9).
Also, notice how the devastation from these plagues is more widespread than that in previous cycles:
- “all my plagues…all the earth…all that you have…in all the land of Egypt…all your servants…all that day…all…all…all”—19 times.
- “Such [hail] as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now” (Ex 9:18, 24).
- “Every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them” (Ex 9:19, 25).
- “The flax and the barley were struck down” (Ex 9:31).
- “[The locusts] shall cover the face of the land, so that no one can see the land. And they shall eat what is left to you after the hail, and they shall eat every tree of yours that grows in the field, and they shall fill your houses and the houses of all your servants and of all the Egyptians, as neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day” (Ex 10:5-6).
- “Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” (Ex 10:7).
- “The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt” (Ex 10:14-15).
- “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Ex 10:21).
- First plague: Fiery hail from heaven sent to dominate the one who exalts himself.
- Second plague: Swarms of locusts sent to devastate the one who refuses to humble himself.
- Third plague: Creation finally unravels into prehistoric darkness (compare with Gen 1:2), leading Pharaoh to threaten death if Moses dares to see his face.
Interpretation of Exodus 9:13-10:29
Some possible questions:
- Why did God send so many plagues? Weren’t the first 6 enough?
- Why do these three plagues bring more widespread destruction than the others?
- So what does the Lord want to teach Pharaoh, Egypt, Israel, and us?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- I argued in a previous post that the structure of the plagues (3 groups of 3 plagues each) sets us up for 3 major lessons about the Lord. The first cycle focuses on demonstrating that the Lord is the agent of the plagues; Yahweh is the judge of all humanity. The second cycle continues that theme but also focuses on the division between God’s people and God’s enemies; Yahweh is the divider of peoples. This third cycle continues both of those themes but adds a new emphasis: the completeness of the devastation.
- Every man, woman, and child must understand who this God is. He destroys everything so his fame can spread through the whole earth (Ex 9:14). He raises up Pharaoh and repeatedly hardens his heart, so things can get this bad, and so God can demonstrate his power in all the earth (Ex 9:15-16). The witnesses of these events must recount them to their children, who will recount them to their children, who will recount them to their children, until the end of the world (Ex 10:1-2). All must learn how harshly God will deal with those who exalt themselves against him.
It should not surprise us that imagery from this passage saturates the rest of the Bible.
- A “swarm of locusts” becomes an image for every sort of destruction and devastation—Deut 28:38, Judg 6:5, 7:12, Ps 78:46, 105:34, Jer 51:27, Joel 1:4, Rev 9:3, etc.
- “Raining fire from heaven” takes on a tone of retribution against the wicked—2 Kgs 1:10, Job 1:16, Ps 18:13, Joel 2:30, Lk 9:54, 2 Pet 3:7, Rev 20:9, etc.
- “Darkness” paints a picture of confusion, terror, sorrow, and great weeping—1 Sam 2:9, Job 3:5-6, 19:8, Ps 35:6, Is 8:22, Joel 2:2, Matt 8:12, 25:30, Rev 16:10, etc.
When Jesus spoke about the terrors of hell, common choices of metaphor were “unquenchable fire” (Matt 7:19, 13:40; Mark 9:43) and “outer darkness” (Matt 8:12, 22:13, 25:30).
Train of thought:
- Plague #1: Yahweh dominates those who exalt themselves.
- Plague #2: Yahweh devastates those who refuse to humble themselves.
- Plague #3: Yahweh deteriorates creation’s goodness
Main point: Yahweh glorifies his name in all the earth by executing ultimate judgment on evil.
Connection to Christ: We must proclaim the good news to men and women of every nation, lest they be swept away at the blazing fury of the risen Christ, whose robe is dipped in the blood of his enemies, while he strikes them down and offers their flesh to the birds of the air (Rev 19:11-18, Is 63:1-6). We have hope that the Lord Jesus will eventually do away with all evil (Rev 20:10), and justice and righteousness will reign (2 Pet 3:13).
My Application of Exodus 9:13-10:29
Who am I to stand before this terrible, glorious God? And yet I have a role to play in warning many to flee the wrath to come. I must not remain silent.
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