Good morning! We have a challenging passage today in Exodus 8-10. Eight more plagues come on the Egyptian people as a result of Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Hebrews go for three days to worship God. The Moses who acts as God’s mouthpiece today is confident and self-assured (unlike in previous chapters), because he recognizes that the power of these plagues comes from beyond him. This is really a battle between deities, since Pharaoh was considered divine as well. The request to go away and make sacrifices to the Hebrew God is so threatening to Pharaoh because it demonstrates allegiance to another, greater Power.
I’ve heard some intriguing theories that try to match the progression of plagues with natural phenomena. The course of spring flooding along the Nile might have provided inspiration for some of these phenomena, but to my mind a preoccupation with the natural origins of the plagues misses the main point, which is the power and determination of God to deliver the Hebrew people from slavery. Egyptian people, livestock, crops and society are all lost as collateral damage. Note that the God of Moses is able to protect Hebrew people from devastation in the land of Goshen, which is a further sign of divine power as the Egyptians go unprotected by their Pharaoh.
One vital area for reflection here is Pharaoh’s destructive pride, and how this connects with divine responsibility for the plagues. Pharaoh’s response to each plague changes gradually from “Pharaoh hardened his heart” to “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened” to “the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh”. If we believe that Pharaoh was mortal, it starts to look like the human is a victim of God’s determination to totally destroy Egypt. Yet the author(s) of this account believed that Pharaoh WAS a god, and so his defeat by the Hebrew God was a key demonstration of divine power. The progression from an active hardening of heart to a passive “was hardened” is also a recognition that digging in one’s heels (as Pharaoh does early on) can calcify to such an extent that the way is set and it’s nearly impossible to change directions or avoid doubling down. (How many rulers could we name who insist on “staying the course” even though there’s abundant proof that it’s only increasing harm?) The God we come to know elsewhere in Scripture does not deliberately hold a person on the path of destruction, so I tend to disbelieve that Pharaoh’s hardness of heart is God’s will. However, God does sometimes decline to miraculously save innocents from the ravages of the powerful (as anyone who looks at Syria today can attest). This is a mystery I don’t pretend to fully understand, yet it increases the urgency for responsible people to intervene and safeguard innocent lives. Perhaps God refuses to arbitrarily do for humanity what we are unwilling to do for ourselves, and in the meantime the stakes of inaction just get higher. We see that as the plagues become progressively worse, and will witness it even more fully in tomorrow’s passage, Exodus 11-13. Happy(?) reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Thanks for reading!