The Plagues

Tony Sammut   -  

As we journey through the season of Lent, our Community Bible Reading and Weekly Blog will take us through the book of Exodus.  This incredible Old Testament story — though it took place centuries before Jesus came  — offers both a foundation and a foreshadowing of the incredible things that God would do through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  As we journey through this biblical book, we’ll explore the connections between the two, and celebrate the incredible wisdom in God’s plans and the incredible grace in His salvation! Read on!

This week’s readings take us through the 10 Plagues that God sent upon Pharoah and all of Egypt.  The story seems to be set up almost like a stand-off between two super powers:  Pharoah, on the one hand, whom Egyptians believed was a divine ruler and the preserver of the god-given order.  And Israel’s God, Yahweh, on the other hand, who was about to show not only how much power He truly had, but how far He would go to save his people from slavery.  As you reflect on each day’s reading this week, consider this story in light of the apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12 – Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…

Day 1: Exodus 5:1-21

A request denied.  Moses and Aaron, following God’s instructions, go to Pharaoh to ask him to release the Israelites for three days so that they can go into the wilderness and worship God.  His response explains so much of what will unfold in the next few chapters: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go?  I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”  And to follow that up, he then decides to make Israel’s labour even harder, refusing to provide them with straw, but demanding they continue to make their same quota of bricks.  Pharaoh is a whole new level of evil and abuse of power.   He has redefined what is “good” and “just” based on his own inclinations.  And because of that, he has stripped the humanity and dignity from all the people around him.  He is a picture of what sin is, and what it can look like when we refuse to trust God’s loving rule and determine to define what is good and right for ourselves.

Ask God: How does this attitude show itself in my own life, work, and relationships?

Pray: For others around you who are suffering under people and systems that operate out of the same mentality that Pharaoh had.

Day 2: Exodus 5:22-7:7

Clearly, Moses’ first attempt to free the people from slavery has been a flop.  So he goes back to God, complaining that the problem has only gotten worse, not better.  And in response, God uses a powerful word to describe what He’s about to do (and to this point, it’s appeared only once before in the Biblical story): redeem (6:6).  It literally means “to purchase a slave’s freedom”.  So God reaffirms his promise to Moses that he’s going to free Israel, and that He’s got the capital to do it.  He’s going to “purchase” them out of Pharaoh’s ownership, and into His own. “I will take you as my own people and I will be your God” (6:7).  The 10 plagues are about to begin.  They will be real, and they will be intense.  But they will show just how real and intense God’s determination is to bring down the world’s greatest oppressor, and to bring the people He loves into freedom.

Reflect: Consider this story in light of the great lengths that God has gone to in order to save us and free us from the slavery of sin.  Not by sending plagues, but by sending His own Son.  Not by raining down judgement, but by taking it upon Himself in order to pour out his mercy on us.

Day 3: Exodus 7:8-8:32

The Plagues have begun.  Blood.  Frogs. Gnats.  Flies.  These might seem a bit random, but each plague was set up as a direct assault not only against the corrupt power of Pharaoh, but against the different gods that Egypt worshipped and depended upon.  The God of Israel was showing that He alone had the power and authority to determine what is right and good, and to rule over the people of Israel.  So the plagues were sent in order that “the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord… (7:5). Each one increased in intensity, and made a further distinction between Egypt and Israel, between Egypt’s gods and Israel’s God, between Pharaoh’s authority and God’s authority.

Pray: True God, would you show me the lesser gods – the idols of my heart – that I all too often cling to for my own sense of security, joy, peace, or purpose.  Help me to see these false gods for what they are, and to cling to You as the One in whom each of these is truly found.

Day 4: Exodus 9:1-35

With each new plague comes increasing levels of chaos and destruction upon Pharaoh and Egypt.  At first, it seems that Pharaoh’s own advisors can conjure up their own small-scale replicas.  But it’s not long before even they are baffled and afraid.  But one thing remains unchanged: Pharaoh’s heart.  Repeatedly we hear the refrain:  But Pharaoh hardened his heart.  He would not listen.  He would not let the people go.  He so stubbornly dug his heels into the ground that even his advisors were tearing out their hair as they watched their ruler bring down more and more devastation upon them.  But here’s the thing.  God knew that this was the state of Pharaoh’s heart, and He knew that Pharaoh would respond like this.  But He still gave Pharaoh the opportunity to make a choice.  To respond.  To repent.  God continued to dignify Pharaoh by giving him the opportunity to freely respond, even when his choices were bringing about more and more destruction.

Reflect: The apostle Paul wrote, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4).  You may not be causing millions of frogs to fall out of the sky.  But ask God if there is any way that your own stubbornness is keeping you from experiencing more of His freedom, love and peace…

Day 5: Exodus 10:1-29

The language in this common refrain begins to change at this point.  After many opportunities have been met with Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to repent, now the Lord begins to step in on a new level.  Pharaoh has hardened his heart, and refused to partner with God. So now God partners with Pharaoh and hardens his heart (10:1).  Darkness is the last plague.  Not only is this representative of God’s opposition and authority over Egypt’s god of the sun, but it is symbolic of a darkened nation and a darkened ruler.  One who has become hardened to truth, goodness, and justice.  By the end of this plague, Pharaoh sends Moses away for good.  He has closed the door on any more opportunity to repent, or to make things right.

Reflect: The apostle Paul used similar imagery as he wrote about the human condition: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21).   We normally don’t like to think of this kind of thing being true about ourselves.  But ask God to show you if there is any way that you have shut the door on what it is He wants you to do or who it is He wants you to become?  Is fear, pride, doubt, anger or past wounding keeping you in the dark from seeing what God wants to do?