Chapters 7 and 8 of Exodus look pretty familiar to me from years of watching The Ten Commandments. God tells Moses what to do and say, and he and Aaron return to Pharaoh again and again, turning Moses’ rod into a serpent, turning the rivers into blood, bringing on the plagues of frogs, lice, and flies upon Egypt. Pharaoh asks Moses to take the plagues away and Moses does, pointing out that everything is coming from God–both plague and relief. Pharaoh seems to be softening toward God until the respite comes, and then he hardens his heart again.
It seems unbelievable that Pharaoh could endure all of these plagues and still not accept that God is God, and yet how often do we do the same kind of thing. We find ourselves in trouble, and we suddenly remember God and turn to him in prayer and supplication. The answer comes, the moment of disaster passes, or the answer comes to us during the night and we, in effect, say, “Never mind, God. I got it. Sorry to bother you.”
By Chapter 9, God is changing things up a little. He tells Pharaoh to let his people go so they can worship Him and warns that if he won’t, God will send a plague upon the cattle of Egypt–which he eventually does. This time, all the cattle belonging to Egypt die, but none of the cattle belonging to the Israelites. When that didn’t work, God sent boils to plague all of the Egyptians.
The Lord sends Moses to Pharaoh again, saying:
13 ¶And the Lord said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.
His purposes are becoming more clear now, and He’s even warning Pharaoh about what’s coming.
16 And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.
17 As yet exaltest thou thyself against my people, that thou wilt not let them go?
This is a fine point that has previously been lost on me–God sends word to Pharaoh, reminding him that God has lifted him up and given him power so that he can declare God’s greatness, God’s mercy, God’s power to all the earth. Pharaoh isn’t in his position by accident or by any of his own doing. He has been put in this position by God–as we all are.
Now Pharaoh is being asked to do what God put him here to do, yet even though God has lifted Pharaoh to this position, Pharaoh still has his free agency. He can make his choice. God won’t force him to do anything, but with the choice comes the consequences.
Pharaoh and Moses go around and around again, and still Pharaoh won’t let the people go. I’m sure the decision wasn’t an easy one for him to make. Like any culture that relies on slave labor, the Egyptian economy would have collapsed if Pharaoh had just turned loose all the manual laborers in his country. He had political ramifications to consider and the reactions of the wealthy who would lose so much if Pharaoh let the Israelites walk away to serve God.
At the end of Chapter 10, Pharaoh tells Moses to go away:
28 And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die.
Knowing what we know now, this feels a little ominous, but at the time, I’m sure Pharaoh thought he’d finally rid himself of that pesky Moses and solved his problem. He didn’t have to worry about the political, cultural and economical ramifications of letting Egypt’s slave labor go.
But as we all know, his problems were just getting started. You just can’t win in a stand-off with God.