In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
Unlike most weeks, we won’t be looking at a single passage, simply because it’s too long. However, we do want to consider what’s going on in the plagues account as a whole (and, of course, I encourage you to read the passage on your own). Firstly, we want to note that, though we typically talk about the ten plagues, this section of scripture is actually slightly more complicated than that.
As we discussed last week, chapter 7:8-13 gives us an account of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh which introduces and summarizes what is to come. However, we can also note that it’s distinct from the succeeding passages in that it can’t be considered a plague. It’s an isolated encounter between Moses (God) and Pharaoh (Egypt). It’s certainly a sign, but it has no effect on the nation of Egypt as a whole. Nevertheless, the purpose of the sign is certainly connected to the plagues that follow.
Likewise, the last plague (the plague on the firstborn) stands apart from the other plagues. Considerably more space is spent on this event and considerably more detail is given. This demonstration of God’s power and sovereignty has more obvious connection to his redemptive purpose than the other plagues.
Therefore, we can picture the account as such:
- Introduction – 9 plagues – final plague
Several scholars have suggested a more detailed outline of the plague accounts:
- Plagues 1-3
- Plagues 4-6
- Plagues 7-9
- Final Plague
Accepting that this is a reasonable account of the narrative structure, here’s what we notice is going on in the passage.
Exodus 7:14-17 (first plague)
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. 16 Then say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened. 17 This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood.
Exodus 8:20-22 (fourth plague)
20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them.
22 “ ‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land.
Exodus 9:13-16 (seventh plague)
13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
What we can notice is that at the beginning of each triad of plagues, God begins with a pronouncement to Moses (which he is to communicate to Pharaoh) that includes the equivalent of:
“So that you will know that I am the Lord.”
This is reminiscent of the verses we read a couple of weeks ago, first in Exodus 6, after Moses first confronts Pharaoh (before the staff into snake episode) and Pharaoh rejects him, doubling the Israelites work. Moses complains to God and God’s response is this:
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”
2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, l but by my name the LORD n I did not make myself fully known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.
6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
And then again, in our introductory sign episode (the staff into snake) in chapter 7:
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”
“So that you will know that I am the Lord…” We’ve talked in some detail about the importance of this theme, not only in the plague accounts, but in the book of Exodus. What we are saying is that the Exodus account, in particular the plague accounts, are not just about power, but about revelation. In other words, this isn’t just about God saying, “look what I can do,” but about God revealing, “see who I am.”
This appears to be a key theme in the book of Exodus – that we might know, that all creation would know, that He is God. And we struggle with this because I don’t think we really want to know this. We don’t really want to know that God is God. I sometimes think that people are right – we use God as a crutch, or we a fairy godmother in the sky who gives us what we want – but we’re not really interested in a God of the universe.
We want someone or something who will make us feel like everything is going to be alright, but are we really interested in a God of all creation?
We want someone who will make our lives pleasant and who will take care of our problems, but are we really interested in a God who is Lord over all the kingdoms of the earth?
We want someone who keeps us from harm, but are we really interested in a God who delivers us from evil?
Not to be too blunt about it, but are we Moses or are we Pharaoh? Are we standing before God saying, “Show me your glory”? Or do we say, explicitly or in our hearts and actions, “I do not know the Lord”?
So What Now…?
Again, it’s my opinion that knowing God is one of the key themes of the book of Exodus – that the chosen people would know the Lord. But knowing is not just about head knowledge or book knowledge. Knowing God is about entering into relationship with God. We have yet to arrive there, but this is one of the key elements of the covenant – the Law. The point of the Law is that the Israelites could live in relationship with God. That knowing God, being chosen by God, would show forth in how the Israelites live in the world.
So, the question before us is, quite simply, do we know God? Do we know the Lord? Do we know Him in our work, do we know Him in our worship, do we know Him for salvation in this world and the world to come?
Wherever you are in your faith journey, regardless of whether you are confident in your faith or whether you struggle each moment, I’d invite you to enter further in. I’d invite you to know this God who wants to be known.