Ten plagues. Some harmless but annoying, while others were deadly and destructive, and all of them wreaked havoc on everyday life. We know that God brought them as a judgment against the gods of Egypt. However, let’s step back and consider one thing: what if Pharaoh hadn’t hardened his heart at the very beginning? What if he had conceded and let the Israelites go after one or two plagues?
Over the past month or so, we’ve been studying the people and events surrounding the Ten Plagues of Egypt—everything from the great and powerful to the small and slightly hilarious. We’ve seen magic men try to replicate God and simply fall short and make the situation worse, and we’ve watched Moses’ rise from outlawry to greatness. But most of all, we’ve witnessed God’s awesome power and glory, His intense judgment on the people of Egypt, and His goodness and kindness towards His chosen people.
As we near the end of the plagues of Egypt, we come to one of the most beautiful pictures in the Old Testament—the Passover. Its institution was in the land of Egypt before the Israelites were free, and it has been carried on over the past six thousand years. One of the most important events in the Jewish year, thousands continue gather to celebrate the Passover to this day.
Moses. So far, his life has been one epic drama, full of highs and lows. However, all these things were molding him into the man God needed him to be for the task ahead. And eventually, when he was completely following the Lord and carrying out his mission, Moses rose to greatness among all the people, Egyptian and Israelite alike.
“Let my people go, that they may serve me. Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.”
Egypt was afflicted with ten plagues, and while you may think that Israel got away scot-free, they didn’t. They had a few plagues to deal with too. It wasn’t until the fourth plague—flies—that God began to spare His people the suffering to come. Therefore, the Israelites had to deal with the water turning to blood, frogs, and gnats.
As with all stories and dramas there are the good guys and the bad guys—the protagonist and the antagonist. For the drama of the Exodus the good guys are easy to find, Moses and Aaron, and the antagonist is obvious, Pharaoh. However, there are a few other bad guys that are not so easy to pick out. But that’s their mode of operation. They prefer being secretive, hidden, and under the radar. Their craft was magic and their methods were top secret. Some might say they were powerful, however, before the power of God their actions became pathetic. These men were the magicians of Egypt.
The stage was set for one of the most epic dramas to unfold in human history. All the players were in place. From Pharaoh who stubbornly sat on his royal throne in Egypt greedily unwilling to let free labor go without a fight, to the people of Israel who were broken-hearted and hardened by years of tough and painful slavery. While things looked bad and all hope seemed lost, it was merely a setup for some of the most dramatic accounts in Scripture—the Ten Plagues of Egypt.
Times were tough. Moses was between a rock and a hard place. The Israelites had given up on God. All seemed lost. Then God spoke hope into the situation. But only one person listened to that word and was forever changed.
God uttered a word for Moses to pass on to the Israelites, but the Israelites didn’t listen. However, as we discussed last week, I think God gave it more for Moses’ benefit than Israel’s. Moses needed the encouragement from God. And God gave it. Let’s read again what God said.
The plight of the Israelites had gone from bad to worse. The people of Israel had given up on Moses and Aaron and even started blaming them for their additional problems. They were done listening and had given up all hope of deliverance. Meanwhile, Moses was ready to throw in the towel. Within the first few days of his mission, it seemed that his efforts had failed. At the first sign of resistance, Moses was ready to give up.
Moses and Aaron told the people of Israel all that God had said to Moses during his burning bush encounter. They performed the signs God gave them and Israel believed and worshipped God for remembering His people. Thus ended chapter four—a good, positive ending. One that would make a person believe that Moses’ mission was already a success. However, there was rocky water ahead.
Pharaoh was the most powerful ruler in the world during the days of Moses. His kingdom was vast and Egypt was at the height of its glory. And while the Pharaoh reigning during the time of Moses’ return to Egypt didn’t have the same paranoia about the Israelites as the previous one, he did recognize the usefulness of free labor and continued oppressing the Hebrews and enslaving them in hard manual labor.