All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Plagues – Part 1
Based on Exodus 5–8

God seeks to free the Egyptians from bondage to false gods by systematically eliminating each deity with a plague, establishing Himself as the only true God. However, before the plagues begin, Moses and Aaron deliver God’s message to Pharaoh: Let His people go into the wilderness to worship Him.

Pharaoh answers, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?” and then accuses the Israelite slaves of laziness. Next he demands they find their own straw to hold their bricks together and maintain their quotas. If they fail, their Hebrew overseers will be beaten in customary style—on the soles of their feet!

Moses and Aaron ask again; but Pharaoh demands a miracle, so Aaron throws down his rod and it becomes a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians do the same, but the Lord’s snake swallows them all.

Humbling a Proud Heart

Pharaoh’s hard heart and cruel treatment of God’s people now move Him to establish His power and authority. But because the Lord uses the gentlest hand possible, the first three plagues are light ones that serve mostly as irritants.

The first plague targets the obese god, Hapi, a personification of the Nile’s flooding that brings fertility and prosperity. The water turns into blood and the fish die and stink, forcing the people to dig in the sand for seven days to get filtered drinking water. Although the magicians manage to do the same, they can’t eliminate the plague, so Pharaoh’s heart is hardened.

The second plague comes seven days later and targets the frog-headed goddess, Heqet. Millions of frogs crawl out of the Nile into the homes, kitchens, and beds of the people; and since frogs are revered as gods, they cannot be killed. The clammy creatures crawl onto the people, and their croaking drives them mad! Although Pharaoh’s magicians manage to duplicate this, they cannot eliminate them, so he calls on Moses to rid the land of frogs. God does so, but their putrid carcasses pollute the air—and Pharaoh hardens his heart again.

The third plague targets Geb, the god of the earth. When Aaron’s rod strikes the dust it becomes lice that cover every man and beast. Once again, Pharaoh’s magicians try to imitate this, but this time they fail. “This is the finger of God!” they exclaim, but Pharaoh’s heart just becomes harder!

Freewill Removed?

One might ask, “Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? I thought He gave us free will?” So let’s look at how this hardening is expressed in the Bible (my emphasis supplied).

After Aaron’s rod turns into a serpent, “Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.” Exodus 7:13. After the Nile turns to blood, “Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.” Exodus 7:22. When Pharaoh’s magicians can’t get rid of the frogs, he turns to Moses. “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the Lord had said.” Exodus 8:15. Finally, the plague of lice causes the magicians to recognize God’s sovereignty, “But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had said.” Exodus 8:19.

The Lord applies increasing pressure on Pharaoh to accept or reject Him, but in no way does He violate Pharaoh’s free will. As Bible commentators have wisely pointed out, the substance of Pharaoh’s heart reacts to the chastening of God. The same sun that melts wax hardens clay!

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