Pharaoh won’t free the Israelites
Agitated grasshoppers1 The LORD told Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. Again, I have made him and his officials more stubborn than ever. I’m doing it so I can give everyone more proof of who I am. 2 And I’m doing it so you can tell your children and grandchildren how I showed the Egyptians who’s boss, and how my miracles proved that I am the LORD."
3 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh. They said, “We’re here to deliver this message from the LORD, the God of the Hebrews. ‘Just how long do you plan on refusing to do what I tell you? Let my people go so they can worship me. 4 If you don’t let my people go, tomorrow I’m going to fill your sky with locusts. 5 When they land, you won’t see the dirt anymore. They’ll cover everything. They’ll eat all the plants that had managed to escape the hailstorm, and they’ll strip the trees. 6 That’s not all. They’ll take over your palaces. And they’ll fill the houses of all Egyptians, including your officials. What you’re about to see has never been seen before in the history of Egypt.’” Moses and Aaron left the palace.
7 Pharaoh’s advisors said to him, “How long are we going to keep doing this? Offer to let the Hebrew men go worship the LORD, their God. Can’t you see how Egypt is falling apart?”
8 Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron back in. He told them, “Go ahead and worship the LORD, your God. Who will be going?” 9 “All of us,” Moses said. “Young and old, we’ll take all of our children as well as our flocks and herds. We have to do this to honor the LORD at the festival.”
10 Pharaoh said, “It would take an act of God before I’ll let myself get talked into releasing everyone, kids included. You’re up to no good. 11 It’s not gonna happen. You men can go worship the LORD by yourselves, since you desperately want to go.” Then they kicked Moses and Aaron out of the palace.
12 So the LORD told Moses, “Stretch out your arms and welcome the locusts to Egypt, so they can eat all the plants that escaped the hailstorm.” 13 Moses raised his walking stick and reached out to the land of Egypt. The LORD sent a wind from the east. It blew westward all that day and all night. The next morning, this east wind airlifted in the locusts.
14 Locust descended on Egypt and covered all the territory. Egyptians had never seen so many locusts—nor would they ever again. 15 Locusts covered the ground with themselves, burying it and turning the land locust-black. They ate every plant, including all the fruit in the orchards that had escaped the hailstorm. Not one green plant survived.
16 Pharaoh rushed to call in Moses and Aaron. He said, “I was wrong. I stand guilty before you and the LORD, your God. 17 Forgive me for what I did here. And beg your God to stop killing my country.” 18 Moses left Pharaoh and prayed that the LORD would end the locust infestation. 19 The LORD shifted the wind. A strong wind blew in from the west, hurling the locusts eastward and into the Reed Sea. Egypt was all clear. The locusts were all gone. Not one remained. 20 The LORD kept Pharaoh stubborn as ever. The king did not let the Israelites go.
Dark days in Egypt21 The LORD told Moses, “Stretch out your hands toward the sky. Darkness will swallow Egypt. This darkness will be black enough for people to touch and feel it.” 22 So Moses did that. He lifted his hands toward the sky. Darkness descended and covered Egypt for three days. 23 During that time, Egyptians didn’t venture out. Israelites, however, had light where they lived.
24 Pharaoh called Moses back and told him, “Go ahead and leave to worship the LORD. Take your people, including the children. But leave your flocks and herds behind.” 25 Moses said, “You need to let us take these animals. They’ll provide the sacrifices we’ll burn as offerings to the LORD. 26 We’re taking all of our livestock. We’re leaving nothing but hoof prints behind. Some of the animals will be sacrificed to express our worship of the LORD. We won’t know which animals will be acceptable until we get there.” 27 The LORD stiffened Pharaoh’s stubbornness. He wouldn’t let them go. 28 Pharaoh told Moses, “Get out of my sight. And stay out of my sight. The day you see my face again is the day you die. 29 Moses said, “Alright. I will never see your face again.”
Locusts are large, flying grasshoppers. They usually live by themselves. But when weather conditions are right and predators such as birds are nowhere around, the locust population can explode. Crowded together, they can get very hungry and very agitated. When they swarm off to go hunting for patches of green, they can darken the sky.
East of Egypt’s Nile River Valley are the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula and, beyond, deserts of Saudi Arabia. Even today, locusts hatch in these deserts where there are few predators to challenge them.
Many Bibles say “Red Sea.” But the Hebrew words are yam suph, “sea reeds.” Later in the story, Moses and the Hebrew refugees will escape through a path God makes in this body of water. Scholars usually track Moses and the Hebrews escaping Egypt by walking southeast, out of the Nile Delta fields and toward the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula. They would have passed through lake regions along what is now the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. These lakes and ponds reportedly had reeds growing along the banks, like the ones the Bible says grew along the Nile River and helped anchor Baby Moses in a basket (Exodus 2:3).
Israelites lived at the northern tip of Egypt, in the fertile Nile River Delta area called Goshen (Genesis 47:27). This is where the Nile River spreads out into many smaller streams before flowing down into the Mediterranean Sea.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Exodus repeatedly says that God made Pharaoh stubborn and then more stubborn. Some scholars say that when the Bible says that God made something happen, it is simply a way of saying that it happened. Because the Israelites of old believed that nothing happens without God’s say so, if something bad happens, the Bible writers report that it is God who made it happen, even though this is not really the case. Do you think God really did make Pharaoh stubborn or do you think the text is merely saying that Pharaoh was naturally stubborn and that God took advantage of this fact?
When God threatens to send locusts, some of Pharaoh’s advisers try to convince him to give in, asking “Don’t you see how Egypt is falling apart?” (Exodus 10:7). So Pharaoh calls in Moses and Aaron and says they can go, but then asks who would be going. Everyone, he is told. Men, women, children, and even the livestock. Pharaoh says he smells a rat and refuses to let all the people go. How can Pharaoh do this? How could he continue in his stubbornness under such extreme conditions, when even his own advisers are trying to talk him down?
Pharaoh says, “It would take an act of God before I’ll let myself get talked into releasing everyone, kids included” (Exodus 10:10). Pharaoh seems to be forgetting that he has already witnessed seven acts of God, none to his advantage. Take a look at the list. Which one do you think should have been most convincing?
- Nile River turns to blood.
- Frog infestation.
- Gnat infestation.
- Fly infestation.
- Death of Egyptian livestock.
- Skin boils.
- Hail wipes out the plants and kills people and animals.
Pharaoh refuses to see the big picture. He agrees to let only the Hebrew men go, then he has Moses and Aaron kicked out of the palace. As instructed by God, Moses calls in locusts, which come in on an east wind and devour all the crops that had survived the hail plus the wheat, which had not yet come into season at the time of the hailstorm. Again, Pharaoh admits being wrong, but this time his apologies are further reaching. What changes do you see in Pharaoh’s latest apology?
The next plague follows unannounced. Darkness descended and covered Egypt for three days. Israelites, however, had light where they lived. What do you see in this juxtaposition? Do you think there’s some symbolism going on? For example, the Egyptians, who worshipped the sun god, Aton, are plunged into total darkness. The Israelites who know nothing of Aton, but who have suffered the darkness of slavery for centuries in a foreign land, are bathed in light.
Pharaoh’s response to this frightful darkness is to give in to Moses—up to a point. He tells Moses that he can take his people, children and all, into the desert to worship their God, but that he must leave the livestock behind. Moses responds that the people need the livestock for sacrifices, but he won’t know which animals until the time comes. Do you think Moses was making an excuse, so the slaves would be able to take everything they owned when they made a run for it?
Having refused to accede to Moses’ request once again, Pharaoh tells Moses, “Get out of my sight. And stay out of my sight. The day you see my face again is the day you die.” Moses agrees to this, saying, “Alright. I will never see your face again.” They actually do meet again. But that’s when Moses announces the last plague, which will take the life of Pharaoh’s oldest child—and the firstborn child in each Egyptian family. Do you think Pharaoh brought this on himself by what he said when he ordered Moses to leave?
LIFE APPLICATION: Although we learn to hate him, Pharaoh finds himself in a difficult situation. He depended on the Israelites. They provided cheap labor for his building projects. Without them, he couldn’t get as much accomplished, but they kept insisting on making impossible demands on him. How have you seen people in positions of power respond (for better or worse) to requests from people they supervised?