Only a fool will challenge the Almighty, and the Emperor of Egypt had to learn the hard way that God never loses a contest. While we shudder as God ravaged Egypt’s economic, civil, and religious life, it does our heart good that God’s will gets done on Earth as well as in heaven. We want to be on God’s side in the winners’ circle.
Let’s watch as Jehovah’s mighty hand won the contest against a foolish mortal who thought he ruled Egypt-land. The EofE (Emperor of Egypt) was a tough fellow, over-confident that he had divine status, and he did not intend to roll over and play dead before a God he did not recognize: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice…? I do not know the LORD…” (5:2). Though God would rather win his heart than subdue him by force, this fool chose to toughen himself against the God he soon got to know better.
That’s what made the contest drag on for months. See how he misrepresented a religious issue as laziness (5:4-5,17) in order to punish his slaves? That callous disregard for God’s religion and for His people instigated the LORD’s declaration: “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh.” (Stand back and watch, for I, Jehovah God, will make visible My superiority over the uppity king of Egypt. When I have finished with the EofE, he will yield to Me, not only allowing the Israelites to leave as per our original request – but actually issuing a federal mandate that My chosen people get expelled from Egypt.)
If you note the repeated “I am the LORD,” you realize that this is a key point: God insists on being who He is—Master of the Universe. God will not compromise on being true to Himself as Creator, and His creation will serve Him through the miracles/strokes against the wicked king and his unholy empire.
God makes a second, related point—that Egypt deserves to know the truth about deities and religions: “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” by the unassailable evidence of nature bowing in obedience. Four times God left an opening for the EofE to change his mind—encouraging him to “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (8:1,20; 9:1,13), but the Emperor dug in his heels.
Consequently, God’s agenda escalated: First, He struck the life-blood of their “sacred” Nile river to become rotten; then He roused billions of froggy marsh critters to invade homes, and nobody escaped by pulling up the covers (8:2-7). The frog-flood prompted the EofE to ask for divine intervention, and Moses graciously extended him the honor of picking the time when God would remove the frogs (8:9). He picked “Tomorrow,” and God obliged, just as if the EofE were in the driver’s seat. (Our God surely has winning ways!) The King then relapsed again into tough-minded resistance to God’s will—but the tougher he got, God got even tougher, gripping Egypt-land ever more tightly.
Dead frogs can be shoveled out, but what can anyone do when the dust of the earth morphs into lice? Sensible people admitted, “this is the finger of God” and called it quits. But not the EofE, whose “heart grew hard, and he did not heed them” (8:19). By now, the sacred Nile, its revered critters, and the venerated Egyptian soil had all turned against their obstinate king. His toughness merited tougher treatment by God.
A Foolhardy Contest With God!
Next, God employed creatures that were not venerated or revered – and amplified them so exponentially that “the land was corrupted because of the swarms” of bugs (flies, midges, gnats, hornets, wasps, etc.). This divine stroke spared Israel but was so devastating to Egypt that the EofE capitulated, granting a three-day religious retreat to Israel (8:28)—“but just don’t go very far away,” he begged. When God miraculously swept Egypt clean of the bugs, the EofE reversed himself again. Evidently he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) break free of his slavery to self and Satan.
Lest the EofE miss the point that God was targeting Egyptians and sparing Israel, the next divine stroke made it clear, for God directed a virulent and fatal disease to infect Egyptian livestock but spare the flocks of Israelites. The king investigated and found it to be true (9:7) but was not moved to abandon his foolhardy contest with God.
So God ramped up another notch with a plague of boils on humans and all animals still alive in Egypt—cats, jackals, and other wild critters venerated in the heathen Egyptian religion. From this point onward God was done playing games with the EofE (9:12).
In case anyone wonders why God allowed this mis-matched contest to drag out so long: God was making a religious statement about Himself, and the EofE would become the case-book example of human folly. “For this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (9:16).
Then God made a merciful proposal: the king and his people might avoid the next stroke if they would take cover when the lightning and hail come boiling down. When the storm was over, everything left outdoors was hammered into the ground while those Egyptians who trusted God’s word found safety indoors. That was right impressive, and the Emperor came up with a fine-sounding apology; but Moses had heard that sorry tune before, and he did not buy it (9:18-30).
So it boiled down to this: On the one hand God abandoned the obstinate king, while on the other hand He moved forward with a great and worthwhile lesson—that the next generations should learn “the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD” (10:2).
To carry the point, God sent His squadrons of locusts to cover the face of the Earth, fill every nook and cranny of homes, and devour everything edible left over from the hailstorm—at which point the EofE was driven to admit his sinfulness and to beg forgiveness. His words sounded good, but (we deduce that) his heart wasn’t in it!
What finally budged the king to issue the federal mandate expelling God’s people? It was the plague of darkness so thick that for three “days” and three nights no Egyptian dared move, while the children of Israel had light in all their dwellings. That pressured the EofE to sputter: “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!”
With that murderous threat against God’s servants, he turned on his royal heel and stalked off stage. When Moses responded, “I will never see your face again,” he meant what Pharaoh didn’t mean—that they were already separated by the divine barrier between salvation and damnation. You and I will see Moses in God’s heaven, but Pharaoh’s face is obliterated among the legions of the damned.
What shall we then say to these things? Let us take to heart the warning embedded in these six chapters: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of un-belief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).
Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord, have mercy upon us!