The ten plagues account has been a very challenging and questionable passage in the Bible since it deals with the belief of either miracles or the natural calamities. However, in this paper, we shall be looking into details how it was the work of the Lord and not with natural occurrence; for with every plague, there has to do with something theologically, for God wants to show and prove his power and the purpose of every plague to his people primarily, and also to the people in the land, eventually to every land.
The very starting of the passage clearly depicts the authority and the supremacy of the God of Moses and Aaron or of the Israelites when Moses and Aaron were sent to Pharaoh and displayed the signs given to them. However, Pharaoh did not believe in the display of the power or the sign shown right in front of his very own eyes only resulting to face the consequences of it. In fact, the exhibition of the signs was exclusively for him (Pharaoh) since it was kind of a preparation for Moses and Aaron to prove the authority in what they were asking (to let the people go) when Pharaoh asked. It is interesting to observe the play of words in this text, the writer chose to use “when” meaning something very imminent rather than “if” meaning probability. In short, Pharaoh definitely asked for the authority or the genuineness of their demand. God could have directly intervened in the process but he chose not to, He chose to be gracious and show his compassion on everyone, in this context, Pharaoh. He could have instantly stopped the magicians from performing the very signs he did through Moses and Aaron and thus prove himself the all-powerful God and make him also believe (by default) that whatever Moses and Aaron said were true since they had been sent by Him. One thing one cannot miss out a very important lesson from this passage is that just because God does not intervene immediately in one’s life does not mean that He does not see or know about it. It is a way of showing his patience and love to see if he will realize and return to him. After all, everything happens according to his will and to how he has planned it, and in his plan, there is always a valid reason and purpose to what and why it happens. But for one to know that plan and purpose, he has to go (ask) to the one who allows it to happen or who makes it happen. None (can never) knows the plan or the purpose of things that are happening in his life on his own until he asks of him who is in control of the (every) things. Sadly, Pharaoh never realized that, he went on hardening his heart and paid no attention to the work God was doing. In fact, he chose to disregard the very thing he asked for from Moses and Aaron to show the authentication of their message of demand. As a result of his disbelief, he had to go through several plagues and discomfort. If one observes the plagues account, he will realize that God indeed sends Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and constantly makes them say “Thus says the Lord…” before bringing the plagues. God continually reminded Pharaoh that the message which Moses and Aaron brought was from God, which definitely shows God’s just justice and mercy once again. Had God sent the plagues without any prior warning, it would still be fair and just, but again God chose to show his long suffering character and patience. The first rejection of Pharaoh to God’s message was all good enough to crush his stubborn heart and reluctance of letting the people of Israel (God) go.
Another observation to be made is that God does not necessarily intervene in our life as we expect or as we would want, one needs to constantly remind himself that God does his thing according to his plan and in his own time, all we need to do is wait on him and asking for his guidance, knowing that his plan and the things he does are always the best and perfect! Moses had also expected the same, he thought that God directly intervene when he (Moses) went to Pharaoh and asked for the people to go. He might have thought since he was carrying out the plan of under the guidance of God, therefore, Pharaoh definitely would obey him and in case, if he did not, God would immediately intervene and free the people from the hand of Pharaoh. And when that happened, when the expectation failed, he was disappointed and cane back to God and complained (Ex. 5:22-23). The plagues themselves display God’s character and sovereignty. Well, it is true that the main purpose of the plagues was to show Pharaoh and ultimately to every land that there is no other god besides the God of the Israelites. The distinction also proves that God of Israel is mightier than the gods of the Egypt. The God of Israel could do anything He wanted and nothing could stop Him, not even their gods. It is clearly a picture of God’s sovereignty over the nature and everything! The plague of blood signifies that it is not the god of Nile who controls the floods, the weather and the climatic conditions that make the land fertile but God makes it happens. For he has created the earth and everything in it as the Psalmist declares (Psalm 24:1&2), and only that he also takes care of everything he has created, and has commanded and planned for different seasons (Gen. 8:22). So, it was a great challenge to the Egyptians and the god(s) they believed and worshipped, to prove their existence or if they had any control over the thing as the people claimed to be. No doubt, the magicians performed the same sign which hardened the heart of Pharaoh even more. Some tend to think that it was not really blood but some natural changes of the water which happened yearly. Had it been the case, the water would not have been affected those that were in the vessels of wood and stones. The people would have been more prepared for the calamity if it were a natural phenomenon.
Their search for water for their sustenance showed the otherwise. God could have continued the plague until they realized their ignorance and repented, but in his grace He allowed them to have the Nile water back in its normalcy. Time and again, this reminds us of how we manipulate God’s grace and take things for granted saying that God would eventually (give) let us have our normal life back again. No matter how patient and long suffering He is, we should not take advantage of his patience, we should always be reminded that the purpose of his patience towards his children is to them realize of their mistake and making them come back to Him in repentance. One should also keep in mind that He is also holy and just; punishing the wicked and evil and rewarding the faithful and righteous (Psalm 11:21). The first few plagues (including the signs of the serpent) Pharaoh really never cared and showed not even a bit of remorse for the thing that had happened to the people and the land because of his ignorant decision until the plague of frogs. He seemed to compromise of his ignorance, called Moses and Aaron, and promised to let the people go if they would pray to the Lord and remove the frogs from the land. God was still being kind and compassionate, He was faithful to his word, and He removed the plague from the land despite Pharaoh’s stubbornness and unfaithfulness who failed to keep his word. The third plague that came by surprise or say without prior warning, made the magicians confess that it was the doing (finger) of the Lord, which indirectly implies that Pharaoh should obey to what Moses and Aaron were saying. The thing that caused the magicians to confess as such was because they tried but could not perform the same sign that definitely triggered them to think and confess that there was someone who was more powerful than them or the gods they believed in. It was time for Pharaoh to give up his stubbornness and repent and let the people go. The very people who helped him in hardening heart were now declaring/acknowledging the work of the Lord. And that was the last time the magicians tried contesting against God. Every time Moses and Aaron came and stood before Pharaoh, there was always a choice that God gave to Pharaoh to choose in spite of his stubbornness. The condition of the choice was such that the plague would either come upon the land or not based on the choice of his decision, the call was his. In doing so, the Lord yet again reveals his merciful character. I cannot tend to think that God was so gracious and kind even when dealing with someone who never considered his compassion. How painful and funny it would have been for God to see his creation trying to outplay with God when He knows and understands everything in and out. Realizing this fact should make one humble and submissive to the Lord and also remain always thankful for what He does, knowing that we deserve nothing, and the very reason we are alive is purely because of his grace and mercy, nothing to be proud of. The very reason why Pharaoh was stubborn and foolish enough not to realize the fact that it is the Lord and that he can never win is because of Satan has blinded the mind and eyes of Pharaoh (2 Corinthians 4:4). The plagues became progressively intense and more horrifying. On the fourth plague onwards, He made a distinction between the two groups of people or land. There was always a warning as usual before the plague was brought, and in order to prove His sovereignty and power, He even announced beforehand that there would be a distinction made between the land of Egypt and Goshen where the Israelites dwelt. Some might question here about God’s dealing with the Egyptians and the Israelites when he distinguished between the two in this plague and the ones that are yet to come, saying that when God claims to show no favoritism to his creation or say it is against his nature or character, why then did he do the thing he did? How would one justify such incident? First of all, his dealing was just because every time he sent a plague, he warned them of the plague, not only that he constantly reminded of them that it was from the Lord, in short, obey and escape the plagues or disobey and face the plagues; and secondly, why would anyone suffer when he has no part in the game? At this point the Israelites were not disobeying God or were taking any part in Pharaoh’s decision/disobedience. So, there was no room for partiality. The very reason the Egyptians were going through the horrible plagues was because they were arrogant, ignorant and disobeyed the words of the Lord. Had they obeyed, there would be no plagues, simple as that. Not every plague that God made a distinction was a total distinction; there were also plagues that came with a condition for the Israelites to follow, for an instance, the killing of the firstborn, if they would not apply blood on the posts of their doors they would not be spared, in that case, they were no better than the Egyptians; another plague was the plague of hailstones, if they did not care to bring their cattle in, the same plague would fall upon them as well. After all, it was all about being obedient to the word of the Lord. The Lord in his gracious act did not only spare the Israelites but also the Egyptians who believed and obeyed Him. And He continues to show his grace and love to all throughout the ages and dispensations. He showers his blessings graciously both on the wicked and the righteous evenly despite their sinfulness and shortcomings.
I strongly believe that the reason why God sent the plagues to Pharaoh and the Egyptians was to destroy their mindset of limiting the creator’s sovereignty and making the creation equivalent to its creator. God was explicitly showing and declaring to them that there was (is) no gods besides Him, and He was (is) the only one who deserved(s) true worship and honor. So the Egyptians worshipping the creation and the man-made gods instead of the true God were detestable in the sight of God. It is also seen in the Ten Commandments and in the Law of Moses where it is repeated time and time that God alone should be worshipped and that there are no other gods but Him. In it we see the seriousness of the object of worship; God puts it as a law for all the Israelites to follow. However, He did not force them to worship Him nor did he make them robotic to make them realize who He really was. He did want praise and worship from His creation but from sincere hearts. Therefore, in order for them to realize that there was no gods or the gods they were worshipping were not really gods, he had to prove them one by one. It must have broken His heart to see how reluctant and stubborn Pharaoh was that he was not willing to change himself even after the intervention of God, not just once but many times. In fact, God still does intervenes in many ways even today, in order to draw His attention, He brings “things” in our way, sometimes severely but many times lovingly. Sadly, we also fail many times to realize God’s intervention when we are so much caught up with ourselves. Pharaoh seemed to outsmart God many times throughout the passage; when the plague was sent he would seem to agree to anything Moses and Aaron had to say but upon the removal of the plague he would continue playing his same old trick, changed his mind and hardened his heart. He seemed to think that he could continue in his plan and eventually wearing Moses and Aaron out from their persistence and thus continue keeping the people of Israel in the land as slaves. Little did Pharaoh know that he was testing God’s patience and sovereignty.
Despite his game, God played along with his holy character and nature, He allowed Pharaoh to have his ways yet God stuck to his faithfulness. Unlike Pharaoh, who kept changing his words and not keeping his promises, God was faithful, every time Moses prayed and pleaded for the removal of the plagues, God did remove it without any delay or any question of reluctance, even though He knew that Pharaoh would continue deceiving and lying. This is a good reminder to us all that every time when we come to God with sincere hearts He is always there to listen to us no matter how evil and wicked we may be or have done. It is very fortunate and blessed to have such a God who seeks and understands the hearts of His creation and worshippers. One should not underestimate God’s patience and grace, but his love and grace should lead one to repentance. However, Pharaoh had to learn the hard way, he took God’s longsuffering for granted and therefore had to face the consequence losing his very own firstborn (son) which shattered him so much so that he could not bear it anymore and had to let the people go reluctantly.
In short, to put the theological of the passage in a nutshell, one can say that God deserves the honor and worship from his creation; there is no other god but Him alone. He definitely is sovereign over all things. God’s silence does not mean that He is passive, or his patience that He does not see or know anything that is going on. Being the creator of the universe, He is in control. His grace is extended to all but not to be taken for granted, He is the same God who is just and holy, and therefore He will judge the people accordingly according to His time. With all these aspects, it should point one to love God more and be grateful for all of His doings in one’s life. Our response should always be filled with humility and desire to be more faithful to his word. Considering His grace and patience, we should meet His expectation which is obedience.