"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 16



Chapter 16: "God versus a Tyrant (2)"




Chapter 16 – God versus a Tyrant (2)


But I have spared you for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name

might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Ex 9:16 )



Contents of Chapter 16

16.1 The Plagues Continue

16.2 Reviewing the Plagues: reviewing the gradual build up

16.3 The Final Plague

16.4 The Last Stage: Pharaoh's final folly

16.5 Concluding Thoughts

16.6 And So?


16.1 The Plagues Continue

So now we have to continue to see the gradual build-up of the plagues and how they eventually reach their climax. Note carefully, though, how the progress is made clear by God but is disregarded by Pharaoh.
Watch carefully how the strategy develops


f) The Sixth Plague – Boils


Ex 9:8-12 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt , and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land." So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on men and animals. The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.

  • This now gets very personal – boils on every person – magicians and Pharaoh included
  • This is now getting painful physically as well as financially, but still Pharaoh is not going to give way. This now moves into the realm of crass stupidity!
  • Six times now Moses has said this is what is going to happen – and it did! Bit by bit it got gradually worse.


Ex 9:13-17 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, `This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go.

  • In the next challenge, the Lord through Moses faces Pharaoh with the realization that God could have killed him instantly long back, but there is now a reason given: the Lord has set Pharaoh up to make an example of him to the whole world.
  • The outcome will be threefold:
    • the world will see Pharaoh's stupidity and helplessness in the face of God's power,
    • they will understand God's power,
    • and hopefully they will learn about God from it and repent of their own pride and foolishness before God comes and deal with them! (i.e. hopefully they will revere Him.)


g) The Seventh Plague – Hailstones


Ex 9:18-21 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt , from the day it was founded till now. Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.' "Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field.

  • This plague brings in something new – it enables individuals to respond, or otherwise, to it.
  • The foolish will ignore it and may be injured or even die from the hailstones and will certainly lose their livestock. The wise will take cover and save themselves and their livestock. There will be a clear demarcation between the wise and the foolish.


Ex 9:34,35   When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. So Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the LORD had said through Moses

  • Thus as soon as the ‘plague' has passed he reverts back to his obstinate refusal to let them go.
  • In case we think this is just Pharaoh, this also includes all his officials, his advisors – there is corporate guilt here! This tells us of the pride and what was also probably the occult dimension that went with their magical arts, which also produces a hardness against God. This is not just one man's pride, it is the hardness of the people also!
h) The Eighth Plague – Locusts


Ex 10:1,2 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD."

  • God's strategy is now right out in the open – He is openly provoking Pharaoh to further harden his heart and to provide further opportunity to do things that will be spoken of long into future history, to reveal the power and authority of the Lord.


Ex 10:3-6 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, "This is what the LORD , the God of the Hebrews, says: `How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians--something neither your fathers nor your forefathers have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.' " Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh.

  • This is no gentle counsel approach; this is a blatant ‘in your face' challenge – why won't you humble yourself!
  • That is exactly what pride won't do, so Pharaoh's heart will harden even more, just as the Lord has previously said.
  • So far the plagues have touched the skin of people (boils), killed of their livestock and devastated their fields with hail. Now all greenery is going to be stripped by locusts. It just keeps getting worse – slowly and gradually! Note that - slowly and gradually!


Ex 10:7-11 Pharaoh's officials said to him, "How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the LORD their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?" Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh.

  • With the previous plague the guilt of Pharaoh's officials was made clear. Now they turn on Pharaoh in the recognition of the awfulness of what is happening.
  • This, surely, should put pressure of Pharaoh to capitulate – but he doesn't!
  • Anybody with an ounce of sense would realise they were going to lose. Pharaoh obviously hasn't!
i) The Ninth Plague – Darkness


Ex 10:21 -23 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt --darkness that can be felt." So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

  • It is quite probable that some of the other plagues struck at the superstitious beliefs in the ‘gods' of the land, but this one struck particularly at Ra the sun-god, a most important god to the Egyptians.


Ex 10:27 -29  But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, "Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die." "Just as you say," Moses replied, "I will never appear before you again."

  • Pharaoh must be feeling more and more frustrated at his utter helplessness in the face of these ever increasing plagues, yet pride stops him changing. Does pride stop us?
  • His frustration and pride boil over and he basically brings it all to en end by refusing to ever see Moses again. Perhaps he thinks that will somehow bring an end to them. How wrong can he be!

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16.2 Reviewing the Plagues


Before we examine the final ‘plague' on Egypt and all that then followed, we would do well to review the plagues so far:





1. Blood

Fish die, no drinking or washing water. Unpleasant but no damage to property

Magicians copy the miracle. Pharaoh walked off and hardened himself against God and Moses.

2. Frogs

Got into houses – a thorough nuisance! Ditto

Magicians copy it. Pharaoh offers release if frogs removed – but backs down afterwards.

3. Gnats

Came on people and animals – a worse, unpleasant nuisance. Ditto

Magicians can't copy. Pharaoh just won't respond.

4. Flies

Came into homes, worse irritant – but not on Israelite homes. Ditto

Pharaoh offers to let them worship there in the land, then in the desert, but backed down again.

5. Livestock

All Egyptian (only) livestock died – major economic catastrophe!

Note: no possibility of Pharaoh responding – it has happened! He just hardens his heart.

6. Boils

On all Egyptian people and animals – unpleasant & painful

Pharaoh just hardens his heart.

7. Hail

On all Egypt except Israelites, killed humans & animals and beat down trees – devastation of crops and animals!

Pharaoh says he has sinned and that he would let them go but when it is stopped he backs down yet again.

8. Locusts

They filled and stripped the land – devastation of vegetation!

Pharaoh offered to let the men only go before the plague. Afterwards he says he has sinned but yet again backs down afterwards.

9. Darkness

All of Egypt – except where Israelites were – is brought to a halt

Pharaoh says they can leave without their flocks but casts them out refusing to see them again.


This we see from the ‘impact' the gradualness of the ongoing plagues. They are designed to bring any wise person to their senses – Pharaoh and his advisors are clearly not wise!


From the ‘responses' we see Pharaoh's lack of integrity. Promises mean nothing to him. Again and again he goes back on what he has previously said to Moses.


Now this brings us to something we have noted before but which we need to state again and which should be ever-embedded in our understanding: Egypt and Pharaoh determine the extent of the punishment – at any time they could release Israel and send them away – it is only their sin that brings on them all that occurred. What follows is because Pharaoh and his advisors have constantly refused to heed the obvious – this is getting worse and worse every time - and they could stop it any time !

So, if you harbour any negative thoughts about the Lord's activity, bear this truth in mind: He gives opportunity after opportunity for us to change. If our stupidity fails to ignore the incredible grace that is being shown to us in this way, we bring on ourselves whatever comes! His love for the world is 'tough' and so for the sake of the world, He will act against Pharaoh; it is up to Pharaoh how far it will go.
Don't blame God if, in our stupidity, we ignore all the opportunities He gives us.


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16.3 The Final Plague

And so we arrive at the climax. Remember though, what we've learnt in earlier chapters about the Lord:

Ezek 18:23   "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?"

God takes no delight in what follows.

Ex 11:1 Now the LORD had said to Moses, "I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely.

  • This verse reviews what had already happened – “ the Lord had said …”
  • The Lord had made His strategy quite clear – there is one more plague to come.
  • So devastating would that be that it would result in Pharaoh driving Israel out of the land.


Ex 11:5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.

  • Here the devastating ‘plague' is spelled out, the oldest son in every family in Egypt will die - unless!
  • This would not wipe out the population of Egypt at all but would leave the entire population devastated. They would never be the same again.


Ex 12:1-3,5-7,12,13 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt , "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb (or a kid) for his family, one for each household…… The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs…… On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt . I am the LORD . The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

  • This action will be remembered for ever by Israel in the future, and their year will start from this month.
  • This was not a passive time for Israel; they were to do something that would have significance both now and in the rest of history. They were to slaughter a lamb or kid and eat it and put some of the blood on the doorposts of their homes as an act of faith and as a sign of who they were.
  • This became the Passover when the angel of death would ‘pass over' Egypt.
  • In every home there would be a dead body – either the first born son or a lamb.
  • The NT picks up this picture and portrays Jesus Christ as the Son of God who was sacrificed for our sin. When it comes to the punishment for our sin, either we die or we take the lamb of God, Jesus, as our sacrifice as an act of faith.


Ex 12:29-33 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me." The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. "For otherwise," they said, "we will all die!"

  • The final plague strikes and the story is over – or so you would think!
  • The Egyptians urge the Israelites to leave, for now there is no doubt about the end – in fact their doubt is whether they themselves will live!


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16.4 The Last Stage

No, it is not the end. You would think that Pharaoh had had enough but sin, I often think, is equated with stupidity. There is more to come before this is finished,  but if the Passover plague and all that had gone before it didn't show us enough of Pharaoh's stupidity, what follow must do!
The extent of Pharaoh' stupidity is about to be revealed.


Ex 14:1-4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, `The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.' And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD ." So the Israelites did this.

  • God still knows Pharaoh's capability and so leads him into further stupidity. It is a terrible thing what pride will do!
  • The Lord instructs Moses to double back so that they appear to be lost and will only be confronted by the Red Sea.
  • The word gets back to Pharaoh and his stupid pride rises up and he determines to go after them as they appear weak and vulnerable in his eyes. He immediately forgets that it's nothing to do with whether they are strong or weak; it's all to do with the Lord! Madness takes over!


Ex 14:5-7 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, "What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!" So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them.

  • The fury of Pharaoh is unleashed and he pursues the Israelites with all his army.
  • At the very least he wants to take Israel back into slavery – possibly worse, he is full of anger and, as we noted above, has forgotten what God has done.


Very well! So far we have included verses because we felt is was important to see exactly what was happening at each stage. However, in these closing stages of this story, we can save space by simply summarising what actually happened:

  • Pharaoh and his army chased after Israel who were shut in with the sea ahead of them.
  • That night the Lord provided a thick cloud to keep Egypt from approaching Israel so that what then took place, took place in the daytime.
  • The next day the Lord made the Red Sea part so that the whole of Israel could cross as on dry ground.
  • When Egypt sought to cross however the wheels of their chariots either got stuck in the mud (which hadn't hindered Israel!) or fell off!
  • To complete the action, the Lord let the sea return and Pharaoh and his army were drowned. (For those who maintain the sea was shallow at this point and didn't need a miracle to cross, how would it then have got so deep that the Egyptian army perished?)
  • Israel were thus free to go on their own way and journey to Sinai where they would meet with the Lord and be constituted a special nation.

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16.5 Concluding Thoughts


You want to see the Biblical theology of this whole incident?


a) Overall Picture


  • God is the Creator of the whole world and has designed it so that human beings work best when they are living in relationship with Him – to receive all of His goodness and blessing.
  • Despite the presence of Sin in the world, the Lord constantly works to draw people to Himself.
  • What can be observed as pagan idolatry was superstitious untruth which kept people away from knowing God – instead they relied on the occult (hidden powers) to control life.
  • Often this involved subhuman behaviour, e.g. sacrificing children and others etc.
  • Wherever that happened, God would be working to turn the hearts of such people away from such counterfeit spirituality and untruth, and to turn them back to the truth about Himself and the world and His loving intentions for the world.
  • Where occult activity blinded people and stopped them from seeing the truth, the Lord was forced into providing miracles to challenge those superstitious beliefs and occultic activity, to show it up for what it was, while at the same time revealing His power and the reality of His presence.
  • THIS is what was happening throughout this incident with Pharaoh.


b) God's Strategy


We may be horrified at the awfulness of what happened, but consider the following in your assessment of it:


Look again at the gradual growing impact of these plagues

  • they started out simply creating inconvenience, (blood, frogs, gnats, flies)
  • they moved on to creating financial loss, (livestock)
  • they then moved onto personal discomfort (boils)
  • they then started to damage the crops and vegetation (hail, locusts)
  • they then brought everything to a halt (darkness)


You would think that by now it was quite obvious that:

  • the superstitious beliefs and occultic powers were helpless before God, and
  • God was real and all powerful and could not be stopped.


At any point Pharaoh could have let Israel go, but instead he and his advisors

  • sought to make life harder for Israel,
  • continued to keep them in slavery,
  • tried to bargain with and manipulate God,
  • yet determined not to give way to God's demands, and
  • failed to learn that God was real, God was there and God was not to be put off.


c) Historically True?


Now behind all that we have said in these two chapters, must reside the question. “Is this a true historical account?” Or “Did it actually happen as Exodus tells us?”


Well the options open to us are, in fact, very limited. Our approach, as with all of history, when we are faced with ancient history documents, is to say, “What does the evidence suggest, and what are the most likely outcomes?”


i) Archaeology?

  • What does Archaeology tell us?
  • Well, certainly that there was a Pharaoh called Ramesses II who
  • was a prolific builder and who had an immense demand for bricks (see Ex 1:14, 5:7-18)
  • built the cities of Pithom and Rameses (see Ex 1:11)
  • had slave labour taken from other than Egyptians.


ii) Plagues

  • What does history tell us?
  • That the Nile often turned red, that there are indeed commonly ‘plagues' of frogs, gnats, flies, cattle die of pests, rashes spread to cause ulcers and locusts are not uncommon.
  • So do we write off these things as natural phenomena?
  • Well if we do, we have a problem. Let's look at the plagues again:



Improbability of it being a ‘natural' event

1. Blood

Ex 7:14 -24

•  the ‘miracle' was performed infront of Pharaoh and he would have been familiar with the Nile turning red from silt from the Abyssinian lakes and that would not have appeared miraculous to him,

•  it appeared to happen instantly and also killed off fish which didn't usually happen and made it impossible to use for drinking or washing,

•  the sorcerers were sufficiently convinced by it being blood that they felt they had to complete and do the same by occult powers,

•  the transformation happened everywhere, including in wooden buckets and stone jars (v.19) throughout the land, including mile away from the river.

2. Frogs

Ex 8:1-15

•  again this seemed to happen in direct response to Moses & Aaron's actions,

•  again it seemed sufficiently linked to what they had said that it seemed beyond the natural (which Egypt would have shrugged off) that the sorcerers felt obliged to copy it as a supernatural or occult act,

•  again it happened throughout the land and not just at the Nile.

3. Gnats

Ex 8:16 -19

•  the uniqueness of this appears in two forms apart from the fact that Moses & Aaron provoked it:

•  first, the magnitude of it – it happened throughout the land,

•  second, the sorcerers again felt compelled to copy this supernatural act but now could not.

4. Flies

Ex 8:20 -32

•  this came about at a specific time at Moses' instigated,

•  it did not come into the land where the Israelites lived.

5. Livestock

Ex 9:1-7

•  again this came about at a specific time at Moses' instigated,

•  again it did not come into the land where the Israelites lived.

6. Boils

Ex 9:8-12

•  this came about at a specific time at Moses' instigated,

•  it did not come onto the Israelites (implied).

7. Hail

Ex 9:13 -35

•  very clearly spelled out beforehand,

•  started exactly as Moses stretched out his staff to the sky,

•  again missed the Israelites but devastated everywhere else.

8. Locusts

Ex 10:1-20

•  yet again very clearly spelled out,

•  Pharaoh's officials realised what was happening,

•  complete devastation.

9. Darkness

Ex 10:21 -29

•  a three day darkness is an impossible eclipse,

•  yet where the Israelites lived there was light.

10. Firstborn

Ex 11 & 12

•  impossible for a human to arrange,

•  total anguish across the nation,

•  nothing less would have moved Pharaoh's heart.




  • The staff turning into a snake and back again, and the leprous hand were both described by the Lord as ‘miraculous signs' (Ex 4:1-9)
  • All of the plagues were described by the Lord as miraculous signs – Ex 7:3, 10:1,2, 14:11,22
  • The plague of flies not going on the land of the Israelites, was referred to as a sign by God (Ex 8:23 )

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16.6 And So?


Our final concluding picture of God must be of a God of love who faces the challenge of an oppressed people and a fearful people (from their leader and from the occult) and who gives opportunity after opportunity for people top respond well to His overtures but who, at the end, will remove this despot and his army that supports and maintains him to free the people and to reveal Himself to the rest of the world. His bigger love for these people and for His world requires this situation is brought to an end, and if Pharaoh decrees his own death, so be it.

When we step back from this incident and listen to people who object to Pharaoh's death, we can only conclude that sometimes we, the human race, are capable of gross hypocrisy.

In life in general we want criminals to be caught, criminals to be stopped. In fact if they are not we feel bad about the police and about the government, and every now and then the media rise up in denunciation of the forces of law and order who are seen to be failing in their duties when crime goes unchecked.

In the early part of the twenty-first century many words have been spoken about the need of the West to deal with terrorists in other countries who might threaten our own. We want force to be exerted to deal with them, to kill them if necessary, as they struggle for what, in their eyes, is a fight for freedom or a fight for their religion.

If we hear of genocide or even of slavery being carried out in other countries, we speak negatively of such countries and wonder why the United Nations is not taking action against them. We want action to be taken and we recognise along the way, that lives will be lost and if they are of the enemy or the perpetrators, then so be it. We are pragmatists.

But then we come to the same thing that involves God and suddenly we get very picky. Here was a nation, Israel, in slavery. Here was another nation, Egypt, in bondage to a cruel tyrant and to occult forces. So when God determines to bring justice to bear and make this tyrant an example to the rest of the world, we start making carping comments. If feel very hypocritical.

It is also arrogant in that we think we could come up with a better way to deliver Israel.  It is also wilfully blind as we fail to see the incredible grace of God that moves so slowly and gradually in dealing with this king. If we have negative comments about this incident in the Old Testament, it says more about us than it does about God. At the very least it may reveal our ignorance, at the worst it may reveal something much more terrible about us.



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