On the day the LORD spoke to Moses in Egypt 29 he said, “I am the LORD. Repeat to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, all that I tell you.” 30 But Moses protested to the LORD, “Since I am a poor speaker, how can it be that Pharaoh will listen to me?”
1 The LORD answered him, “See! I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall act as your prophet. 2 You shall tell him all that I command you. In turn, your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave his land. 3 Yet I will make Pharaoh so obstinate that, despite the many signs and wonders that I will work in the land of Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Therefore I will lay my hand on Egypt and by great acts of judgment I will bring the hosts of my people, the Israelites, out of the land of Egypt, 5 so that the Egyptians may learn that I am the LORD, as I stretch out my hand against Egypt and lead the Israelites out of their midst.” 6
Moses and Aaron did as the LORD had commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh. 8 The LORD told Moses and Aaron, 9 “If Pharaoh demands that you work a sign or wonder, you shall say to Aaron: Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will be changed into a snake.” 10 Then Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the LORD had commanded. Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it was changed into a snake. 11 Pharaoh, in turn, summoned wise men and sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did likewise by their magic arts. 12 Each one threw down his staff, and it was changed into a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed their staffs. 13 Pharaoh, however, was obstinate and would not listen to them, just as the LORD had foretold. 14
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh is obdurate in refusing to let the people go. 15 Tomorrow morning, when he sets out for the water, go and present yourself by the river bank, holding in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. 16 Say to him: The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you with the message: Let my people go to worship me in the desert. But as yet you have not listened. 17 The LORD now says: This is how you shall know that I am the LORD. I will strike the water of the river with the staff I hold, and it shall be changed into blood. 18 The fish in the river shall die, and the river itself shall become so polluted that the Egyptians will be unable to drink its water.” 19
The LORD then said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt– their streams and canals and pools, all their supplies of water– that they may become blood. Throughout the land of Egypt there shall be blood, even in the wooden pails and stone jars.” 20 Moses and Aaron did as the LORD had commanded. Aaron raised his staff and struck the waters of the river in full view of Pharaoh and his servants, and all the water of the river was changed into blood. 21 The fish in the river died, and the river itself became so polluted that the Egyptians could not drink its water. There was blood throughout the land of Egypt. 22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same by their magic arts. So Pharaoh remained obstinate and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had foretold. 23
He turned away and went into his house, with no concern even for this. 24 All the Egyptians had to dig in the neighborhood of the river for drinking water, since they could not drink the river water. 25 Seven days passed after the LORD had struck the river. 26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him: Thus says the LORD: Let my people go to worship me. 27 If you refuse to let them go, I warn you, I will send a plague of frogs over all your territory. 28 The river will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and into your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your servants, too, and your subjects, even into your ovens and your kneading bowls. 29 The frogs will swarm all over you and your subjects and your servants.”
1 The LORD then told Moses, “Say to Aaron: Stretch out your hand and your staff over the streams and canals and pools, to make frogs overrun the land of Egypt.” 2 Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 3 But the magicians did the same by their magic arts. They, too, made frogs overrun the land of Egypt. 4 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray the LORD to remove the frogs from me and my subjects, and I will let the people go to offer sacrifice to the LORD.” 5 Moses answered Pharaoh, “Do me the favor of appointing the time when I am to pray for you and your servants and your subjects, that the frogs may be taken away from you and your houses and be left only in the river.” 6 “Tomorrow,” said Pharaoh. Then Moses replied, “It shall be as you have said, so that you may learn that there is none like the LORD, our God. 7 The frogs shall leave you and your houses, your servants and your subjects; only in the river shall they be left.” 8
After Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh’s presence, Moses implored the LORD to fulfill the promise he had made to Pharaoh about the frogs; 9 and the LORD did as Moses had asked. The frogs in the houses and courtyards and fields died off. 10 Heaps and heaps of them were gathered up, and there was a stench in the land. 11 But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he became obdurate and would not listen to them, just as the LORD had foretold. 12
Thereupon the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron to stretch out his staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may be turned into gnats throughout the land of Egypt.” 13 They did so. Aaron stretched out his hand, and with his staff he struck the dust of the earth, and gnats came upon man and beast. The dust of the earth was turned into gnats throughout the land of Egypt. 14 Though the magicians tried to bring forth gnats by their magic arts, they could not do so. As the gnats infested man and beast, 15 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” Yet Pharaoh remained obstinate and would not listen to them, just as the LORD had foretold. 16
Again the LORD told Moses, “Early tomorrow morning present yourself to Pharaoh when he goes forth to the water, and say to him: Thus says the LORD: Let my people go to worship me. 17 If you will not let my people go, I warn you, I will loose swarms of flies upon you and your servants and your subjects and your houses. The houses of the Egyptians and the very ground on which they stand shall be filled with swarms of flies. 18 But on that day I will make an exception of the land of Goshen: there shall be no flies where my people dwell, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth.
19 I will make this distinction between my people and your people. This sign shall take place tomorrow.” 20 This the LORD did. Thick swarms of flies entered the house of Pharaoh and the houses of his servants; throughout Egypt the land was infested with flies. 21 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said to them, “Go and offer sacrifice to your God in this land.” 22 But Moses replied, “It is not right to do so, for the sacrifices we offer to the LORD, our God, are an abomination to the Egyptians. If before their very eyes we offer sacrifices which are an abomination to them, will not the Egyptians stone us? 23 We must go a three days’ journey in the desert to offer sacrifice to the LORD, our God, as he commands us.” 24
“Well, then,” said Pharaoh, “I will let you go to offer sacrifice to the LORD, your God, in the desert, provided that you do not go too far away and that you pray for me.” 25 Moses answered, “As soon as I leave your presence I will pray to the LORD that the flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh and his servants and his subjects. Pharaoh, however, must not play false again by refusing to let the people go to offer sacrifice to the LORD.” 26 When Moses left Pharaoh’s presence, he prayed to the LORD; 27 and the LORD did as Moses had asked. He removed the flies from Pharaoh and his servants and subjects. Not one remained. 28 But once more Pharaoh became obdurate and would not let the people go.
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him: Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go to worship me. 2 If you refuse to let them go and persist in holding them, 3 I warn you, the LORD will afflict all your livestock in the field– your horses, asses, camels, herds and flocks– with a very severe pestilence. 4 But the LORD will distinguish between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that none belonging to the Israelites will die.” 5 And setting a definite time, the LORD added, “Tomorrow the LORD shall do this in the land.” 6
And on the next day the LORD did so. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one beast belonging to the Israelites. 7 But though Pharaoh’s messengers informed him that not even one beast belonging to the Israelites had died, he still remained obdurate and would not let the people go. 8 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take a double handful of soot from a furnace, and in the presence of Pharaoh let Moses scatter it toward the sky. 9 It will then turn into fine dust over the whole land of Egypt and cause festering boils on man and beast throughout the land.” 10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood in the presence of Pharaoh. Moses scattered it toward the sky, and it caused festering boils on man and beast. 11
The magicians could not stand in Moses’ presence, for there were boils on the magicians no less than on the rest of the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD made Pharaoh obstinate, and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had foretold to Moses. 13 Then the LORD told Moses, “Early tomorrow morning present yourself to Pharaoh and say to him: Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go to worship me, 14 or this time I will hurl all my blows upon you and your servants and your subjects, that you may know that there is none like me anywhere on earth. 15 For by now I would have stretched out my hand and struck you and your subjects with such pestilence as would wipe you from the earth. 16 But this is why I have spared you: to show you my power and to make my name resound throughout the earth! 17 Will you still block the way for my people by refusing to let them go? 18
I warn you, then, tomorrow at this hour I will rain down such fierce hail as there has never been in Egypt from the day the nation was founded up to the present. 19 Therefore, order all your livestock and whatever else you have in the open fields to be brought to a place of safety. Whatever man or beast remains in the fields and is not brought to shelter shall die when the hail comes upon them.” 20 Some of Pharaoh’s servants feared the warning of the LORD and hurried their servants and livestock off to shelter. 21 Others, however, did not take the warning of the LORD to heart and left their servants and livestock in the fields. 22
The LORD then said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that hail may fall upon the entire land of Egypt, on man and beast and every growing thing in the land of Egypt.” 23 When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent forth hail and peals of thunder. Lightning flashed toward the earth, and the LORD rained down hail upon the land of Egypt; 24 and lightning constantly flashed through the hail, such fierce hail as had never been seen in the land since Egypt became a nation. 25 It struck down every man and beast that was in the open throughout the land of Egypt; it beat down every growing thing and splintered every tree in the fields. 26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt, was there no hail. 27
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said to them, “I have sinned again! The LORD is just; it is I and my subjects who are at fault. 28 Pray to the LORD, for we have had enough of God’s thunder and hail. Then I will let you go; you need stay no longer.” 29 Moses replied, “As soon as I leave the city I will extend my hands to the LORD; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail. Thus you shall learn that the earth is the LORD’S. 30 But you and your servants, I know, do not yet fear the LORD God.” 31 Now the flax and the barley were ruined, because the barley was in ear and the flax in bud. 32 But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they grow later. 33
When Moses had left Pharaoh’s presence and had gone out of the city, he extended his hands to the LORD. Then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down upon the earth. 34 But Pharaoh, seeing that the rain and hail and thunder had ceased, sinned again: he with his servants became obdurate, 35 and in his obstinacy he would not let the Israelites go, as the LORD had foretold through Moses.
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have made him and his servants obdurate in order that I may perform these signs of mine among them 2 and that you may recount to your son and grandson how ruthlessly I dealt with the Egyptians and what signs I wrought among them, so that you may know that I am the LORD.” 3 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and told him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews: How long will you refuse to submit to me? Let my people go to worship me. 4 If you refuse to let my people go, I warn you, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. 5
They shall cover the ground, so that the ground itself will not be visible. They shall eat up the remnant you saved unhurt from the hail, as well as all the foliage that has since sprouted in your fields. 6 They shall fill your houses and the houses of your servants and of all the Egyptians; such a sight your fathers or grandfathers have not seen from the day they first settled on this soil up to the present day.” With that he turned and left Pharaoh. 7 But Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long must he be a menace to us? Let the men go to worship the LORD, their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is being destroyed?” 8
So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, who said to them, “You may go and worship the LORD, your God. But how many of you will go?” 9 “Young and old must go with us,” Moses answered, “our sons and daughters as well as our flocks and herds must accompany us. That is what a feast of the LORD means to us.” 10 “The LORD help you,” Pharaoh replied, “if I ever let your little ones go with you! Clearly, you have some evil in mind. 11 No, no! Just you men can go and worship the LORD. After all, that is what you want.” With that they were driven from Pharaoh’s presence. 12
The LORD then said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt, that locusts may swarm over it and eat up all the vegetation and whatever the hail has left.” 13 So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the LORD sent an east wind blowing over the land all that day and all that night. At dawn the east wind brought the locusts. 14 They swarmed over the whole land of Egypt and settled down on every part of it. Never before had there been such a fierce swarm of locusts, nor will there ever be. 15
They covered the surface of the whole land, till it was black with them. They ate up all the vegetation in the land and the fruit of whatever trees the hail had spared. Nothing green was left on any tree or plant throughout the land of Egypt. 16 Hastily Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the LORD, your God, and against you. 17 But now, do forgive me my sin once more, and pray the LORD, your God, to take at least this deadly pest from me.” 18
When Moses left the presence of Pharaoh, he prayed to the LORD, 19 and the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which took up the locusts and hurled them into the Red Sea. But though not a single locust remained within the confines of Egypt, 20 the LORD made Pharaoh obstinate, and he would not let the Israelites go. 21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that over the land of Egypt there may be such intense darkness that one can feel it.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and there was dense darkness throughout the land of Egypt for three days. 23
Men could not see one another, nor could they move from where they were, for three days. But all the Israelites had light where they dwelt. 24 Pharaoh then summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go and worship the LORD. Your little ones, too, may go with you. But your flocks and herds must remain.” 25 Moses replied, “You must also grant us sacrifices and holocausts to offer up to the LORD, our God. 26 Hence, our livestock also must go with us. Not an animal must be left behind. Some of them we must sacrifice to the LORD, our God, but we ourselves shall not know which ones we must sacrifice to him until we arrive at the place itself.” 27 But the LORD made Pharaoh obstinate, and he would not let them go. 28 “Leave my presence,” Pharaoh said to him, “and see to it that you do not appear before me again! The day you appear before me you shall die!” 29 Moses replied, “Well said! I will never appear before you again.”
This talk is by Catherine Upchurch.
Ex. 7:2, 3-4
2 You shall tell him all that I command you. In turn, your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave his land. 3 Yet I will make Pharaoh so obstinate that, despite the many signs and wonders that I will work in the land of Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you
We can learn much from failure – Steve Jobs. As well as the importance of persistence and trust.
“See! I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall act as your prophet.
God liberates Israel
- To save them from oppression
- So that ‘all Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”
So, what’s with God hardening the heart of Pharaoh?
Pharaoh was a real person – Rameses II or the one immediately before or after him. But, while real, he is portrayed in such a way as to make a symbolic character. He could exist in any place and any time.
“Yet Pharaoh remained obstinate and would not listen to them, just as the LORD had foretold”
Yet I will make Pharaoh so obstinate that, despite the many signs and wonders that I will work in the land of Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you.
The battle between the LORD and Pharaoh is about power, about who was really in charge.
Freedom, life, a new order vs. oppression.
But the LORD said: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. 8Therefore I have come down* to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Pharaoh is a symbol of anything that attempts to stand in the way of God’s Plan. (Peter: rabbi says that “Egypt” stands for limitation, whatever limits our humanity.)
“Kabed” = to be heavy, dull or burdensome (but also glory)
“hazaq” = to be strong, stout, or rigid
“qasah” = to be hard, stiff, stubborn
Israel also said to be hard of heart, stubborn, or a stiff-necked people.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
8 Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah,
as on the day of Massah in the desert.
9 There your ancestors tested me;
they tried me though they had seen my works.
Why do you make us wander, LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we do not fear you?*
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
But the house of Israel will refuse to listen to you, since they refuse to listen to me. For the whole house of Israel is stubborn of brow and hard of heart.
Hard of heart = the will and the mind have been made stiff
Continuous bad choices hardened Pharaoh’s heart.. (rabbis say that God simply allowed Pharaoh to go in a direction that he was already drawn to.)
For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.
The Talmud: The real reward for a good deed is that it makes the next good deed easier, and the real punishment for a sin is that it makes it more likely that you will commit the same sin the next time.
Sometimes we get caught up: were the plagues entirely natural events? Or entirely supernatural? Fretheim: the plagues were ‘hypernatural’, natural things made excessive in amount etc.
Gradually the intensity of the plagues grew: from inconvenience to death
Pattern of Plagues
- Moses initiates a dialogue with Pharaoh
- Moses: “Let my people go”
- The threat of a plague is then followed by the plague itself. Pharaoh agrees (temporarily) to the commands from the LORD
- The plague is lifted and Pharaoh changes his mind
- The stage is set for the next plague
The first 9 plagues are organized in three triplets:
First triplet: water turns to blood, frogs, gnats. Demonstrates the superiority of God and the agents of God
Second triplet: flies, pestilence, fever boils. God’s protective presence in the land.
Third triplet: hail, locusts, darkness. The LORD is incomparable
The story of the plagues emphasizes God’s superiority, God’s protecting presence, and God’s incomparability.
- Function as signs. Signs that God was truly present and active in history.
Chapters 7 through 10
Fox p. 345 notes that Pharaoh considered himself a god but here the LORD makes Moses, clearly not a god, a god to Pharaoh. Also – there are three words used for “harden” their hearts but all have that sense of making Pharaoh stubborn, unfeeling, arrogant and inflexible. This carries on in the prophets for the people of Israel too.
there are a number of echoes of creation throughout the plagues though it is not systemic enough to link everything to it.
Fox p. 352: The list of ten plagues is organized into 3 triads with one last and most devastating plague on its own. The first three Aaron has the staff outstretched. In the first of each triad Moses meets Pharaoh going out; in the second of each triad Moses enters the palace of Pharaoh; and in the third the plague comes about without warning. HOWEVER: they can also be arranged as pairs:
sign – staff turned into a snake. but the Egyptian magicians did the same. Moses’ staff /snake ate theirs. Foreshadows how the sea swallowed up the Egyptians.
Structure of the plague narrative:
Schermann p. 326 “The three sets of plagues were intended to establish three eternal principles for all time.
- The first three plagues proved the existence of the LORD (7:17) (because Pharaoh had said that he had never heard of the LORD);
- the next three proved that His providence extends to earthly affairs and that He is not oblivious to material matters (8:18) (because these three affected the Egyptians but not the Jews); and
- the next three proved that God is unmatched by any power (9:14).
Scherman p. 326: “Within each group of three, only the first two were preceded by warnings to Pharaoh. When he ignored them, the two plagues became ‘witnesses’ that established the intended point, as noted above. The third plague in each series was not preceded by a warning; the point having been made and proven, the third plague came as a punishment to Pharaoh and his people for not heeding the message that had been delivered forcefully and undeniably.”
Within each set – first warning at the river, second in the palace.
Schermann p. 328: At the very beginning of the month Moses would begin warning Pharaoh and would do so for three weeks. Then the plague would come and stay for a week. Then it would cease automatically – unless Moses petitioned the LORD for a quicker end.
First Plague: All the water of Egypt (Nile, rivers, buckets etc.) is turned into blood. But the magicians did the same. Fox suggests (p. 347) that perhaps the royalty went somewhere along the Nile to bathe on some regular basis. Another possibility is that he went down to check the level of the Nile waters (Ibn Ezra). A third by Rashi (Schermann p. 327) “Since Pharaoh had proclaimed himself to be a god who had no need to perform normal bodily functions, he would go to the river every morning to relieve himself unobserved. God told Moses to approach him while he was doing so.”
Note that blood as the sacred life-force here becomes a force of death. Fox p. 349: “Again, the reality of a technology of magic is not called into question but it is noteworthy that the soothsayers can do no more than effect a pale imitation of the destructive act of the God of the Hebrews; what they are powerless to do is to reverse the process of destruction.”
During the plague the Egyptians could buy water from the Jews.
Second plague: frogs. frogs everywhere. But the magicians do the same. Call them off and I will let you go. Moses does. Pharaoh changes his mind. swarming. the piles of dead frogs stink.
A midrash says that only 1 frog came out of the water but every time that the Egyptians struck it, it split in many more. Another interpretation of the word is not frog but crocodiles.
Third plague: gnats. (Fox has “lice”.) they infested everything. The magicians could NOT do the same. Midrash (Schermann p. 331): the magicians worked through the power of demons – but a tradition elsewhere, Rashi, is that demons cannot affect things as small as gnats / or lice. The magicians admit: “This is the finger of God”. Pharaoh does not relent. Fox p. 354 notes that part of the intent here is that the Egyptians be portrayed as squirming and uncomfortable – this is not a life-threatening plague.
Fourth plague: flies. Jewish translation is “wild beasts, snakes, and scorpions” Over all of Egypt EXCEPT Goshen where the Israelites are. Pharaoh offers a compromise – offer sacrifices here. Moses rejects. Pharaoh says go, but then changes his mind as soon as the flies go away.
Fifth plague: pestilence / epidemic. This disease strikes only the animals of the Egyptians. Pharaoh does not relent. Many of their animals died (all those in the fields?). The Egyptians replaced them by buying animals from the Jews.
Sixth plague: boils. on man and beast throughout the land. Actual Hebrew is “a burning rash” – connected to using the soot from the kilns? Pharaoh does not relent.
Seventh plague: hail. fierce hail everywhere – except Goshen where the Israelites were. Hail destroyed all the crops near harvest but not those newly planted. Pharaoh says go, but then changes his mind as soon as the hail stops.
Eighth plague: locusts. After the warning – Pharaoh says only the men can go. Pharaoh acknowledges his sin but does not promise to let them go.
Ninth plague: darkness. “darkness so intense one can feel it”. for 3 days. All people can go – but not herds and flocks. Fox p. 370: “The force of the hyperbole, which beautifully conveys the claustrophobic palpability of absolute darkness, is diminished by those who try to provide a naturalistic explanation for this plague (or indeed, for any of the others) – i.e. a desert wind bearing particles of sand and dust darkens the land and makes the darkness palpable. …they are all emphatically presented as extraordinary interventions by Go0d in the order of nature,…”
Schermann p. 344: the Jews were able to move about freely though. They took the opportunity to go through Egyptian homes so that they would know what items to ask for later – but they did not take a single thing despite this opportunity. The Egyptians realized this later and they were impressed.
Tenth plague: death of the firstborn (people and livestock). This constitutes the warning piece, in this chapter it is anticipated. Will be described after the Passover ritual is described.
All the plagues emphasize a disordered creation, things not in balance.