Exodus 5–8: Pharaoh & Plagues

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 15: Monday

But Pharaoh said, “Who is Yahweh that I should listen to His voice to let Israel go? I do not know Yahweh, and also, I will not let Israel go.”
Exodus 5:2 LSB

Monday’s Bible reading of Exodus 5–8, finds Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh telling him to let God’s people go.

Remember that in Exodus 3:19–20, God said:

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not give you permission to go, except by a strong hand. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wondrous deeds which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.”
Exodus 3:19–20 LSB

Pharaoh’s first response to Moses’ message is to make the lives of the Israelites harder by telling them they must find their own straw to make bricks without reducing their quota.

Then Moses returned to Yahweh and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.”
Exodus 5:22–23 LSB

John Davis writes:

“We should not regard the response of Moses to his God as being irreverent or insubordinate, but these were the words of a searching heart and of one deeply perplexed by the turn of events. What is significant about all of this is that Moses did not surrender the cause to which God had called him.”1

Before sending Moses and Aaron back to Pharaoh, God says:

Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for by a strong hand he will let them go, and by a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”
Exodus 6:1 LSB

Davis continues:

“What could God do now to encourage His servant?…The Lord begins by identifying himself.”2

Notice how many times God tells Moses, His name, Yahweh, as He reminds Moses He established His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and again, that He has heard the cry of His people and will deliver them (cf. Ex. 3:7–10).

God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am Yahweh; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Yahweh, I was not known to them. And I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel because the Egyptians are holding them in slavery, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the hard labors of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their slavery. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out from under the hard labors of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am Yahweh.’”
Exodus 6:2–8 LSB

Davis writes,

“this represents a special revelation of the name yahweh, not its first introduction. This view is perhaps best expressed by Henry Cowles:

“The meaning is, not that the name Jehovah [yahweh] was never used by them of given of God to them: but that its special significance had not been manifested to them as He was now about to make it manifest.

“This viewpoint appears to be the best interpretation of the verse in light of both the previous Pentateuchal material and the immediate context of the verse itself.”3

The first four of the ten plagues that God brings on Egypt are in today’s chapters. Davis notes:

“Joseph P. Free lists five unique aspects of the plagues which set them apart as miraculous events. These are as follows: (1) Intensification. While frogs, insects, murrain (pestilence) and darkness were known in Egypt, these were intensified far beyond any ordinary occurence. (2) Prediction. The face that Moses predicted the moment of arrival and departure sets them apart from purely natural occurences (cf. 8:10, 23; 9:5, 18, 19: 10:4). (3) Discrimination. Certain of the plagues did not occur in the land of Goshen where Israel was living (8:22, no flies; 9:4, no murrain; 9:26, no hail). (4) Orderliness. There is a gradual severity in the nature of the plagues concluding with the death of the first-born. (5) Moral Purpose. These were not freaks of nature but were designed to teach moral precepts and lessons.”4

The first plague is the turning of the waters of the Nile into blood.

Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hard with firmness; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he is going out to the water, and station yourself to meet him on the bank of the Nile; and you shall take in your hand the staff that was turned into a serpent. And you shall say to him, ‘Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness. But behold, you have not listened until now.”
Thus says Yahweh, “By this you shall know that I am Yahweh: behold, I am about to strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood. And the fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will become foul, and the Egyptians will be weary of drinking water from the Nile.”’”
Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there will be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”

So Moses and Aaron did thus, as Yahweh had commanded. And he raised up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood. And the fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. And the blood was through all the land of Egypt.
Exodus 7:14–21 LSB

Davis writes:

“It was appropriate that the first of the plagues should be directed against the Nile River itself, the very lifeline of Egypt and the center of many of its religious ideas. The Nile was considered sacred by the Egyptians….One of the greatest gods revered in Egypt was the god Osiris who was the god of the underworld. The Egyptians believed that the river Nile was his bloodstream. In the light of this latter expression it is appropriate indeed that the Lord should turn the Nile to blood!”5

As you read, in addition to noting the different plagues also look at Pharaoh’s reactions, the reactions of the Egyptian magicians, and how these reactions change from plague to plague.

Hywel Jones comments on Pharaoh’s hardening of heart:

“Pharaoh’s heart was already filled with blind pride and self-will when Moses appeared to him on the first occasion (5:1ff.; cf. 1:9, 10, 16; 3:19). He heart was hard already and for this he was responsible. God might have softened his heart and disposed him to allow the Israelites to departs, but He chose to act otherwise (9:16; cf. Rom. 9:17), and, by an outpouring of His just wrath, to bring to naught Pharaoh’s inveterate and increasing opposition, and to judge him for it….God is at perfect liberty to use His words and works to soften hearts as in the case of Moses (3:6), or so to ordain it (Rom. 9:18) that they should be the means of throwing into marked relief the natural and deep-seated antipathy of others, as in the case of Pharaoh (5:1-10; 7:10-13, 22, 23, etc.). Pharaoh hardens his heart, i.e., resists God, when given a command or a temporary alleviation of chastisement (e.g. 9:34, 35). This is no chance happening, however, and it is itself the outworking of the wrath of God who ‘gives men up’ to the dominating power of their own innate desires as a present judgment on their sin (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).”6

Hard hearts is a theme of the Bible that begins in the Old Testa­ment and continues into the New Testament, and it’s one I’ve written about before. It’s a theme of warning and a call to repentance—that when we hear God’s Word we not harden our hearts as Pharaoh did, but hear, heed and obey.

Philip Ryken writes, “in the Bible, the heart is more than an emotion; it is the spiritual center of the person that feels, thinks, and decides.”7

See to it brothers, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “TODAY,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 3:12–13 LSB

Notice that the deceitfulness of sin hardens our heart. And that a prevention and antidote given here to having our hearts hardened is to encourage one another. Sin can deceive us in many ways with unbelief having different guises; we can fall into despondency and despair or stubborn rebellion. We must be a part of each others lives, in love and humility knowing when to remind, help, or warn someone.

In Hebrews 4, the author continues to warn us not to harden our hearts, and concludes by pointing us to the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us take hold of our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things like we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14–16 LSB

Let us take hold of our confession and not let our heart be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Rather, go with confidence to the throne of grace, to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
The first plague: water changes into bloodJan van’t HoffGospel Images. Exodus 7:20.
1,2,3,4,5John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus (BMH Books, Winona Lake IN: 1971, 1986 Second ed.) 84, 84, 85, 93, 102.
6Hywel R. Jones, “Exodus,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 125.
7Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL: 2005) 267.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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