The Word Made Fresh
1Again the LORD spoke to Moses. “Go to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go and worship me. If you continue to hold them back, 3I will strike your livestock with a deadly disease — horses, donkeys, camels, flocks, and herds. 4But I will distinguish between what belongs to the Israelites and what belongs to the Egyptians, and none of the Israelites’ animals will die.” 5Then the LORD set a time: “This will take place tomorrow.”
6The next day it happened just as the LORD had said. All the animals that belonged to the Egyptians died, but the Israelites’ animals did not.
7Pharaoh investigated and discovered that the Israelites’ animals were unharmed, but he was stubborn and refused to give permission for them to leave.
8Some time passed and the LORD spoke again to Moses and Aaron: “Take handfuls of ashes from the brick ovens. Let Moses throw it in the air in Pharaoh’s sight. 9It will spread like dust all over Egypt and cause the skin of the people and the animals to break out in pus-filled boils.”
10So, Moses and Aaron gathered ashes from the ovens, approached Pharaoh and in his sight, Moses tossed the ashes into the air, and it resulted in a hideous skin disease breaking out on people and animals. 11The court magicians could do nothing because they were infected along with all the Egyptian people.
12And yet, the LORD made Pharaoh stubborn and he wouldn’t listen to Moses and Aaron. Which is exactly what the LORD told Moses would happen.
13Then the LORD told Moses, “Early in the morning go and present yourself to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says, “Let my people go to worship me, 14or else I will send disasters upon you and your administrators and your people, and you will know there is no one like me in the whole world. 15I could have struck you down by now and wiped you and your people off the face of the earth, 16but I haven’t done that. I have let you live to demonstrate my power so that my name will be made known around the world. 17You think you are in charge of my people, and you refuse to let them go. 18Very well. Tomorrow at this hour I will send the worst hailstorm Egypt has ever witnessed since the day it was founded. 19I am giving you this warning so that you can arrange to have your livestock and your people brought out of the open fields and given shelter. Every living person or animal that is not sheltered will die in the hailstorm.”‘”
20Pharaoh’s administrators who respected the word of the LORD hurried to get their people and their animals under shelter. 21But others, who paid no heed to the LORD’s words, left their people and animals in the fields.
22The LORD said, “Moses, reach your hands towards the sky, and hail will begin to fall on Egypt, on people, and animals, and plants alike.” 23Moses raised his hands and the LORD sent thunder, and lightning began to flash, and hail began to fall on the land of Egypt. 24Lightning flashed and hail continued to fall such as had never before been seen in Egypt. 25Everything standing in the open was struck down — people, animals, and plants, even the trees. 26But in Goshen, where the Israelites lived, there was no hail.
27Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron. “This time I was wrong,” he said. “The LORD proved to be right, and me and my people wrong. 28Tell the LORD we have had enough lightning and hail, and I will let you go. I won’t hold you back any longer.”
29“As soon as I’m out of the city I will lift my hands to the LORD,” Moses said. “The thunder, and lightning, and hail will stop, and you will know that the whole earth belongs to God. 20But I know that neither you nor your administrators still have no respect for the LORD God.”
31The flax and barley crops were completely ruined, because they were nearly ready for harvesting, 32but the wheat and spelt were not damaged because they sprout later.
33Moses walked out of Pharaoh’s house and left the city. Then he raised his hands to the LORD and the thunder and hail stopped, along with the rain. 34When Pharaoh saw that the storm was over he erred again, and he and his administrators were more stubborn than ever. 35So Pharaoh was adamant and refused to let the Israelites go, which is exactly what the LORD had told Moses would happen.
1-7: Plague #5 is now unleashed. There is no way to tell how long most of the plagues lasted or how much time has elapsed between them. The entire course of 10 plagues could cover a few months or a few years or more. Many of them are seasonal, tied to the annual rise and fall of the Nile. The fifth plague is a disease that kills domestic animals but apparently does not affect humans or wildlife. The LORD tells Moses to go speak to Pharaoh and demand that he let the Hebrews (the Egyptian way of referring to the descendants of Jacob) go to worship, or else the livestock of the Egyptians will die, but the livestock of the Israelites (the name the people use to refer to themselves — Israel was the alternate name God gave Jacob) will not be affected. Pharaoh is given an ultimatum; he has until the next day to comply. He does not, and the next day the livestock of the Egyptians begin to die. Pharaoh sends to investigate and verifies that none of the Israelite animals died, but he still will not let the people go.
8-12: Plague #6 is unleashed. This time there is no demand made of Pharaoh. Aaron and Moses confront him, but rather than argue Moses simply tosses handfuls of soot from the kiln into the air. The kiln is the oven in which the bricks are baked. Moses is using a symbol of his people’s toils to create the plague. The soot causes skin eruptions, or boils, to break out on people and animals alike. We are not told whether the Israelites are affected, but perhaps skin irritations are part and parcel of their suffering as slaves. Pharaoh’s magicians are being gradually reduced to ineffectiveness. They are able to replicate the first plague, water turning to blood (7:20-22), and the second plague of frogs (8:6-7). They are not able to replicate the third plague, the infestation of gnats, and at that juncture they admit that God is behind that plague. They are mysteriously absent during the fourth plague, flies. Now, in the fifth plague, not only are they not able to replicate it but they are themselves afflicted by it. We will not hear of the magicians of Egypt again anywhere in the Bible. They have been rendered utterly useless.
13-21: Plague #7 receives the most extensive treatment of all the plagues until we come to the last. There is a hint in verse 14 that perhaps the earlier plagues have not personally affected the upper class of Egypt, but it is made clear to Pharaoh that this time it will be different because God wants to be known throughout the earth. Moses tells Pharaoh that the worst hailstorm in the country’s history is coming tomorrow. He has even given a way to avoid destruction: send and have your livestock and your slaves take shelter — in other words, acknowledge the God of Moses. Many of the officials do just that, but many others do not. God’s onslaught has defeated the magicians of Egypt and now even government officials are taking note of this foreign (to them) deity, but not Pharaoh, not yet.
22-26: God tells Moses to stretch out his hand, and he raises his staff. The storm begins, with hailstones and lightning such as had never been seen in Egypt. People and animals caught outside are killed and crops are decimated. The land of Goshen where the Israelites reside is not affected.
27-35: Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron (this is the first mention of Aaron in this chapter), and now he is contrite. He admits that he has been in the wrong and he is ready to let the people go. Moses tells Pharaoh that he will stop the hail, but that he knows Pharaoh will renege on his promise. We are left to wonder how he gets out of the city while it is hailing. As Moses makes his way out of the city, we are told that not all the crops are destroyed, just the flax and barley. At the edge of town Moses stretches out his hands to the LORD and the storm passes, and with it Pharaoh’s contrition.
The story of the Israelites in bondage in Egypt is the story of how God’s people often suffer in the hands of unbelievers; and an assurance that God will come to their rescue even if it takes ten plagues to free them!