God Unleashed

Plagues of Egypt

by Lois Tverberg

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'” Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” Exodus 5:1-3

During Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh, God told him to tell Pharaoh that the Israelites needed to take a three-day journey into the desert to worship him (Ex. 3:18, 5:3, 8:27). This is confusing because it sounds as if they are asking for a long weekend off, and then they’ll come back. But in fact, in no place does Moses say that they will return afterward.

Another suggestion is that the phrase “three-day journey” is actually not about the length of time they plan to be away, but the distance they need to travel from Egypt before they worship God. In the Scripture, measuring distance in “days of journey” was common. (See Gen 31:33, Num 10:33, Deut 11:1, 1Ki 19:4, etc.) Moses was likely saying that people must be far away from the false Plagues of Egypt“gods” and oppression of Egypt before they worshipped God, or their awesome God might release plagues and destruction. The Egyptians were the ones in danger!

It seems that Pharaoh was undaunted by Moses’ warnings about the power of his God, and he refused to let the Israelites go a safe distance from Egypt. It is easy to imagine that as this holy God approached his people, getting nearer and nearer, the plagues on Egypt became increasingly worse. First the river ran red from some distant danger sweeping downstream, then the insects started swarming, then the animals started dying, then the sky blackened with hail and locusts and utter darkness as this awesome God approached Egypt.

Finally, when the Israelites went ahead and sacrificed a lamb and worshipped their God right in the midst of Egypt, his full power was unleashed on the Egyptians and destruction poured out on the oppressors of his people. Because Pharaoh would not release Israel to worship their holy God, he came to punish their captors and release them himself.


Photo: John Martin

Plagues from the God of Nature

by Lois Tverberg

Pray to the LORD, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.” Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. – Exodus 9:28-29

HorusAs the passage above says, God unleashed the powerful forces of nature in the plague of hail to show that he was the true ruler over the earth, not the hundreds of “gods” that the Egyptians worshipped. It was clear that God was in control of other aspects of nature when locusts and diseases destroy the crops and livestock at Moses’ command.

It may be a surprise to some that most of the plagues could be describing natural events that were known to occur in Egypt. The Nile turning to blood may describe the red tide, a type of algae that kills fish when it overgrows, or an excessive reddish silt washed down from the mountains during an abnormally strong annual flood. The frogs might have bred in the stagnant water left behind from the flooding. Even the “darkness that can be felt” seems to be a description of a sandstorm that comes from the hamsim, strong winds that blow in from the desert at certain times of year that blot out the sun by filling the air with dust, which can make it as dark as night.

This observation initially can be disturbing, because it seems to be more spectacular to turn nature on its head. The key is to realize, however, that what showed God’s power is not the unearthliness of the plagues, but God’s sovereignty over their timing and who they afflicted. While they might have been events of nature, they clearly were controlled by God’s will. And, the last plague really has no natural explanation – how every firstborn could be chosen to succumb to an illness all on the same night. God can work inside of nature or outside of it, and he can choose when and how.

When you think about it, God working through nature is really the most appropriate display of his power, because he is the creator and sustainer of all things. We can see this in that the point at which the magicians realized that their gods were defeated was a seemingly mild plague, that of the gnats. (Ex. 8:18-19) Why? Because God is the creator, not Satan. God’s creation of the tiny gnat was too much for Satan to imitate. It was the God of Israel who held the life of every creature in his hands.


Photocred: Bibleplaces.com

Why All Ten Plagues?

by Lois Tverberg

ThPlagues of Egypte LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. – Exodus 4:21

It seems odd that God would tell Moses from the very beginning that it would take many plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Why couldn’t God have freed them with one spectacular display of power? Why couldn’t God have skipped the milder plagues if he knew he’d send the more powerful ones later?

One reason was that the purpose of the plagues wasn’t just to convince Pharaoh to free the Sun God RaIsraelites, but to declare that God was supreme over the many “gods” that Egypt worshipped (Ex.
12:12). God was communicating this to Pharaoh, and also to his own people who very likely believed in them after four hundred years in that land. Each of the plagues was a defeat of one or more of the gods that the Egyptians worshipped – the Nile god, the Sun god, the Frog god, the animal gods

Another reason could have been mercy. God didn’t simply come in and destroy the oppressor of his people, Pharaoh, before giving him a chance to let them go on his own. God gave him many chances that he rejected, and only after several times did God harden him from further repentance.

Finally, perhaps it was simply that God realized that after four hundred years of not knowing him, his people had to experience his power firsthand many, many times. He knew that they would soon be in the desert facing trials, and would lose faith quickly enough. He knew they would be there for forty years before reaching the Promised Land, and they needed strong memories to sustain them. He also knew that humans often think they’ve learned a lesson when they need to repeat it many times. He was instilling in his people a sense of his power that would sustain them for the millennia ahead.


Photocred: J. M. W. Turner and Riccadov

The Hardening Heart

by Lois Tverberg

The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said. – Exodus 8:19

Pharaoh StatueMany of us struggle with the fact that God said that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that that God could bring all ten plagues on Egypt before he finally would free the Israelites. It seems like Pharaoh might be innocent pawn which God callously manipulates.

It helps to examine the story more closely. The idea of “hardening the heart” is mentioned twenty times in the Exodus story. The text says ten times that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and ten times that God hardened it. The first time that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart was in the sixth plague, after Pharaoh had already had five chances to change his mind. With each plague that Pharaoh ignored, it showed that he cruelly cared nothing of the misery of his subjects.

After the third plague, Pharaoh’s magicians declared that the plague of gnats were the “finger of God” – meaning that they were up against something mightier than anything they’d ever known. But in spite of the fact that it was irrational to think that he could defeat this God, Pharaoh refused to yield. At this point, it seems to have become a test of wills between Pharaoh, who considered himself a god, and the real God. Because Pharaoh was understood to be a god himself, his will was absolutely supreme. All decisions of his were uncontested because he held all authority. The fact that God was in control over his power of decision showed that God was ultimately supreme even over him.

We can learn a valuable lesson from this too. When we fall into sin, God is generous with his offers to repent, but at a certain point, our hearts become hardened because of our own desires. As the rabbis used to say, “When sin starts out, it is weak like a spider’s web, but then it becomes as strong as an iron chain.” We should examine ourselves and repent before sin has hardened our wills to the point where we can no longer turn back.


Photocred: Captmondo