Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Warning of The 7th Plague: Hail is Coming, Pharaoh -- Exodus 9:13-21

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.  For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.  For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth.  Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go.  Behold, about this time tomorrow, I will send a very heavy hail, such as has not been seen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.  Now therefore send, bring your livestock and whatever you have in the field to safety.  Every man and beast that is found in the field and is not brought home, when the hail comes down on them, will die.”’”  The one among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses; but he who paid no regard to the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.
We now come to a portion of Scripture that once again poses some difficulties for the reader.  To begin with we note that this is the second time God has told Moses to rise up early and stand before Pharaoh.  Again, one would argue that is a straightforward request and not strange at all.  When I stop to think about it, I draw on my labor relations world and experience.  I picture Moses as a union leader (from the union’s head office, not an employee of the company) showing up at the corporate headquarters of a multi-national organization early in the morning, without an appointment, and walking into the CEO’s office.  The chances of that happening are next to none, let alone twice in a row.  Unless of course that union leader had such authority or power over the ‘welfare’ of the organization, that while all the management detested him, they knew they had to give him credence and access to themselves.  And I believe that is exactly how Pharaoh viewed Moses.  Thoughts of “Oh no, not him again” were intertwined with “I’d better hear him out and see what his God has in store for us next”.  All this to say that while some skeptics may find Moses’ free access to Pharaoh strange, a skeptical mind like mine, but with the desire to find a way to prove a Scriptural statement, can easily do so.
We next come to another puzzling phrase as God says, “For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people . . ..”  Had He not already done this?  Or is the emphasis here on “all My plagues”?  Most commentators imply that up to this point God had not brought about fatal disasters upon the Egyptians.  He had not yet cut them (and their ruler in particular) off from the earth, but was giving Pharaoh every opportunity to obey the Lord.
And now, as Matthew Henry suggests, Moses has to deliver this “most dreadful message” to Pharaoh.  A message which relates that “he is marked for ruin, that he now stands as the butt at which God would shoot all the arrows of his wrath.”  Therein being the interpretation of “all My plagues”.  God had finally stated, as He had foretold Moses, that Pharaoh would not repent and thus his utter destruction had to be brought about.  Up to now God was attacking the temporal aspects of Pharaoh’s life, but now it was time to send plagues that would touch his heart and soul, making him feel hopeless and beyond relief.  There is no longer any opportunity of retreat for Pharaoh.  The time for that had passed.  He had hardened his heart one time too many.
And if you thought that was a hard message for Moses to deliver, take a look at the further request of what God wanted him to share with Pharaoh.  Try telling a “pharaoh” in your life (a spouse, relative, friend, manager, false church leader, or godless world leader, etc.) that his/her legacy, the way history would always see him/her from now on, would be as a everlasting example which brought about both God’s justice and wrath.  In verse 16, God wants Moses to tell Pharaoh that God allowed him to be on the throne of Egypt at this time for the very purpose of showing him (and others) His power and to proclaim His name through all the earth.  And that included Moses, Aaron and all the children of Israel.
As an aside, we note what Matthew Henry said on this very point:  “God sometimes raises up very bad men to honor and power, spares them long, and suffers them to grow insufferably insolent, that he may be so much the more glorified in their destruction at last.”  Henry wrote this commentary on this text back in 1706 (207 years ago) and I believe it is just as applicable today as we look around and see the various world leaders rattling their own sabers – ideologically, financially, militarily, and in some cases, spiritually.  Those of us that have lived a good number of decades have watched the worldly mighty (those that have defied God all their lives) fall from grace over and over again.  And each time the true believer in God is helped to realize that no one can take on the Almighty and win.  Each time we are shown exactly what He wants us to see, that there is “none like Him”.
It is also wise for us to realize that this applies to us as well.   If we are being defiant to God in any way; if we are disobeying Him and continuing to sin against Him in any way, we need to stop and realize what He was telling Pharaoh.  God says, “Oh man (woman), I could have finished you off at any time.  But I have not done so yet, for a reason.”  And then He goes on with Pharaoh as He might well be doing with us, “Even knowing all this, you still exalt yourself against My way, My people, and thus against Me.  I won’t allow this to continue.  Now hear this; hear what is going to happen next.”
God then proceeds to describe what will happen – the plague of hail upon Egypt.  And He says exactly when it will happen.  And not only that, God, in His sovereign grace, tells Pharaoh and all the Egyptians, through Moses, exactly what can be done about it so they might save themselves.  God has done the same for all mankind and us.  In our case, the plague of death will come and then we will be judged.  And because He loves us, He has shown us the way out of the consequences of that judgment.  He has provided His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the “judgment sentence of death” for our sins, in our place.  The rest is up to us, as it was up to Pharaoh.
What is interesting is that verses 20 and 21 of this chapter tell us that some of Pharaoh’s servants took the advice God had given them through Moses to put their servants and livestock into shelters, thus protecting themselves and their cattle from death – even against the Pharaoh’s wishes.  Some did not, and they left their servants and their cattle out in the open, not believing God would do what He said He would.  I pray we would be in the first of the two categories, even going against the modern-day pharaohs in our lives.
At the beginning of our study on this portion of Scripture, I indicated there were some difficult parts and discussed two of them above.  But there is one more that perhaps may pose an even greater difficulty and it has to do with the Egyptian livestock.  Did we not read just earlier in this very chapter, in Exodus 9:6, that “all the livestock of Egypt died” as a result of a previous plague (the fifth one)?  If so, how then do we explain the availability of all the livestock for this plague of hail (the seventh one) that was about to befall the Egyptians?
This is an excellent question that has been raised before.  Several attempts at answering it apologetically have emerged.  One possibility is that the word “all” in Scripture has often been used to mean “for the most part” or “for the greater part” or “all of a particular category”.  And several examples both from Scripture and from life are given as to how that meaning is a viable possibility.  [For example, when a hockey player is taking a penalty shot in the last game of the championship series which, if he succeeds, gives his team the coveted trophy, the announcer may say, “All eyes are on him.”  Yet we know that is not literally possible.]
Another explanation offers the possibility that the fifth plague only fell on a particular group of livestock for in Exodus 9:3 we see God referring only to the livestock “which are in the field” (and then lists the types).  This also is a possibility.
A third possibility is that since we do not exactly know how much time elapsed between the fifth plague and the seventh, it is possible to assume that Pharaoh started to replenish his livestock by purchasing, or taking by force, livestock from the children of Israel.  Again, this is another possibility.
Finally, let me add my own thought simply as a possibility and not necessarily one that I would be a proponent of over the other possibilities.  It is possible that if we read the text carefully we see that the fifth plague is all about “Egypt” and the livestock of Egypt.  I remember reading or hearing elsewhere that in Bible times as well as today, a ruler of a nation was sometimes referred to using the name of the nation itself.  [Israel is a very good example here, as God called Jacob that and actually changed his name to be that.]   One possibility therefore is that the fifth plague applied only to the Pharaoh’s livestock and not the livestock of the people.  And now the seventh plague applies to all the livestock of the actual land.  Again, others may prove me wrong here.   But this we know for sure, one of these possibilities, or maybe one we have not even come up with, does indeed explain the apparent contradiction.  Cynics can be silenced and believers can give praise for God’s Word is indeed the Truth.   These temporal difficulties of language should never, however, prevent us from grasping the need to examine our own heart when it comes to our obedience to God as discussed above.

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