Exodus 9: Adding Up Plague, Boils, and Hail Stones
This passage continues the recounting of the plagues, or as we have seen, the mighty acts of God’s judgment. Exodus 9 tells us about plagues 5, 6, and 7, the plague on livestock, of festering boils, and a horrendous hail storm, respectively.
By way of reminder, the battle between Yahweh and Pharaoh has to do with
Yahweh says, “I am the One who Is.” Yahweh tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and say, “Thus says Yahweh.” Yahweh says, “Let my people go, that they may serve/worship me.” In response, Pharaoh has said he has never heard of Yahweh (= Yahweh is not), has told his servants, “Thus says Pharaoh,” and has commanded his Israelite slave labor force to keep making bricks for his kingdom.
With each act of judgment that Yahweh delivers through the hand of Moses, it becomes more and more evident that Pharaoh is no match for Yahweh, and yet Pharaoh becomes more and more stubborn. But this too is just as Yahweh had said.
The plague on the livestock marks a new level of intensity in the plagues. So far death has only touched fish and frogs. Now Egypt’s livestock succumbs to a deadly Yahweh pestilence while the Israelite livestock remains healthy. We have moved from inconvenience to economics. (Once the Egyptians lost their livestock, I wonder how much longer the Israelites got to keep theirs, or if the Egyptians confiscated it in the name of the welfare of the nation.)
The plague of festering boils also marks a further escalation. While no death is reported, a development takes place with Pharaoh’s magicians. Initially, the magicians were able to duplicate Moses’ works even though they could not reverse them. When Moses turned the dust to gnats (8:16 ff.) the magicians admitted to Pharaoh that they could not do this one, that it was “the finger of God.”
Now in chapter nine we see the magicians reduced to a position of not even being able to stand before Moses because they have become victims of the festering boils that have come upon all of Egypt. The magicians steadily decline in status from “we can match anything” imitators to powerless bystanders to helpless victims. “But Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen.”
The strain grows even greater in the plague of the hailstorm. Yahweh warns Pharaoh that if he does not comply, he will soon feel the full force of Yahweh’s judgment. Yahweh paradoxically enables Pharaoh to keep on standing so that Pharaoh will know that “there is no one like me [Yahweh] in all the earth [including the land of Egypt],” so that Yahweh’s power might be displayed to Pharaoh, and so that “my name [Yahweh] might be proclaimed in all the earth [including the land of Egypt].”
Yahweh fully intends to become more famous in Egypt than Pharaoh himself, and Yahweh is going to do so at the expense of Pharaoh. In the very land of Pharaoh it will become overwhelmingly evident that Yahweh is, and Pharaoh is not. I can imagine hope-full Israelite slaves gleefully tagging “YHWH” on all of Pharaoh’s building projects while those Israelite slaves a little less brash inscribed “YHWH” in small print on the back of every brick they made. Yahweh’s name would be recognized as The Name!
Yahweh also tells Pharaoh, through Moses, that the hailstorm will be so severe that the Egyptians would be wise to bring in their servants and (newly acquired?) livestock from the fields lest they be killed by the hail. Some of Pharaoh’s men heard Moses and had their servants and livestock brought inside. Their lives were spared. Others paid no heed to the word of Yahweh, and thus did not escape death. While Pharaoh remained obstinate, some of his people were learning to respect, “Thus says Yahweh.” I’m reminded of Jesus’ closing to his sermon on the mount (Mt. 7:24 ff.), “Whoever hears my words and does them is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. . ..”
While the hailstorm rages on, Pharaoh summons Moses and makes a strange confession, “This time I have sinned. Yahweh is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to Yahweh, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go.”
Knowing Pharaoh’s track record (and also how the story turns out), when Pharaoh says “this time” I get the impression that he is not so much confessing himself to be a sinner as he is saying that “This time I really miscalculated Yahweh.”
Yahweh was right – Yahweh made good His thunderous threat. Pharaoh was guilty of miscalculating Him. Having had enough of the storm, Pharaoh recalculates, says the right words (“I will let you go”) and hopes they work again. And they do. Moses prays and the storm stops.
I cannot help but wonder how much we are like Pharaoh, always calculating, miscalculating, and recalculating God, but never fully, truly acknowledging that God is God and therefore beyond calculation. The confession we need to make from the heart (and not just say as the right words) is not “This time I have miscalculated” but “Woe is me. I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have beheld the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isa 6:5). We need to move from calculation to true confession, from the manipulation of the right words to the surrender of wrong hearts.
Moses recognizes that Pharaoh does not truly revere Yahweh, and tells him so. Nonetheless, he commits to pray to Yahweh on Pharaoh’s behalf “so you may know that the earth [including especially the land of Egypt] is Yahweh’s.” Yahweh is not only claiming ownership of Pharaoh’s slaves, but also of Pharaoh’s Egypt. All of the earth belongs to Yahweh, yet Pharaoh has all along been presuming that a corner of it belonged to him. Pharaoh will learn that it is a dangerous and costly thing to presume upon the LORD. The greater one presumes, the more deadly the cost.
Imagine what society would be like if people acknowledged that the earth belongs to the Lord. While we might use those words every now and then to sanction a project of our own (and thus take the name of the Lord in vain), it really is a foreign concept to us.
"The earth belongs to the Lord."
"The land belongs to the Lord."
We live under the false doctrine that we can own the earth, that land can actually be ours to possess. How much does this doctrine breed greed that turns into warfare of one kind or another? Wouldn’t the truth that the land belongs to the Lord undermine much of the war, injustice, greed, etc. that we see in the world today?
What would we, the church, be/look like if we were really gripped by this truth of God’s ownership of the earth? What would we, the church be/look like if we were really gripped by the truth that God cannot be calculated? If the church can’t imagine it, you can bet the world won’t be able to either. So I’ll leave you, the church, imagining what life would be like under the truth that the land is the Lord’s and that the Lord cannot be managed.