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Life of Moses

Ten Plagues

Exodus 7 - 12

Lesson audio

(Note: because of the extent of the Scripture being covered, we will omit the usual selections of Scripture. Reading through the chapters indicated will cover all but the tenth plague. That plague is found to be completed late in the 12th chapter.

This story is one of the most well known from the Bible, and one of the most compelling. Particularly for Americans, this is holy ground. Many of the negro spirituals dating from before the Civil War use the Exodus as a metaphor for the freeing of American slaves. The spiritual Go down, Moses is perhaps the best known of these expressions.



Let’s begin with a partial review of miracles, adapted for this context. A miracle is:

  • A supernatural event. It is often a natural event, but speeded up, or arriving out of season, or in a place not expected.
  • Connected to the words spoken by one who speaks for God.
  • In a context which makes it clear that the miracle carries a message.

This goes some way to explaining the “magicians by their secret arts.” If something occurs naturally, it can often be made to appear on demand. Science and magic are twins. But only God is God.


It should be clear that the impact and scope of these miracles increases step by step. At first Moses demands only that the people go out three days journey to sacrifice to the Lord. By the end of the sequence, it is clear that the Israelites are not coming back. Similarly, the miracles themselves have increasing impact.

Hardening of the heart

One of the most difficult aspects of this package is that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (over and over again) for the explicit purpose of the glory of God. A comparable dilemma happens with the man blind from birth.[1] It seems that the glory of God is so important that extensive suffering may be required for it.

The Plagues

We shall not take too much time to detail these, but point out along the way the lessons which might not quite be obvious.

Aaron’s snake

The word used for snake here actually means a creature of the water; to the Egyptians this would be from the Nile. Aaron’s snake, therefore, attacks the credibility of the magicians. The miracle is harmless except to the ego, but it does serve to credential Aaron and Moses.

Blood in the water

This is a natural phenomenon which occurs late in the summer. The miracle is therefore in the time of year and speed with which it occurs. We have the same sort of thing in the Pacific; an algae bloom. This is rather different; the normal version does not kill the fish. The magicians can do the same; just note that they can’t undo the miracle. Moses can.

It’s also interesting to note that this plague goes on for seven days. That’s long enough to make everyone in Egypt needy for a well.


There is an annual glut of frogs in September in the Nile. Again, it’s the timing of this invasion that is the miracle. Also, there is a primary deity in the Egyptian gods who is female and is portrayed with a frog’s head. Thus, this miracle asserts the superiority of the Lord over this deity.

Interestingly, Moses allows Pharaoh to “call the shot” for the end of this plague. It’s a very convincing technique. Anyone can say that the frogs will be dead some time next week; letting your enemy pick the day shows the confidence Moses had in the Lord.


The gnats (or possibly mosquitoes) are a step up in the plagues. This time the plague falls on the earth (from which the father-god in Egyptian culture is taken). But note this: the magicians can’t duplicate this. So about this time they are thinking that Moses is just a more clever illusionist.


This plague has a noticeable effect: Pharaoh finally is willing to let them sacrifice. But Moses insists on going three days out into the desert. It’s a sign that Pharaoh is cracking. But not yet.

There is some suggestion that the flies are in fact beetles, a sacred insect to the Egyptians. They would be the representation of the sun god (remember scarabs?)


Here, for the first time, we see a clear distinction between Egypt and Israel. Moses has, if you will, upped the ante.


This is going to have quite an effect on the magicians. First, these frauds are encountering Reality in a painful way. The fact that they have no such trick up their sleeves starts a change of view.

Second, this is done with ashes. The Egyptians often cremated people, then scattered their ashes to the winds. To the magicians, this would have seemed a hint to the power of life and death.


For the first time we have recorded that the people around Pharaoh are divided in their opinion of Moses. Those who think Moses really can do this head home to round up everyone and everything under a roof. Then the storm hits.

We’re not really sure just what kind of storm this is. Those who tend to the opinion that this was just a natural event say that lightning flashed; the word actually used is not lightning, but fire. (The NIV has lightning; NASB has fire). Hebrew does have two different words for these; the one used here is fire.

Pharaoh, for the first time, acknowledges his sin. But as soon as the storm stops, he’s back to his usual position.


At this point the only person in favor of keeping the Israelites is Pharaoh. His advisors are telling him to let them go. So Pharaoh once again “repents” (“forgive my sin just this once”) when he calls Moses back to him. Now Pharaoh is willing to let them go – but leave the livestock.

Death of the firstborn

This event is closely connected with Passover, which is in next week’s lesson, so we shall defer comment to then. This, however, hits Pharaoh hard and he tells the Israelites to leave. Interestingly, even after this, Pharaoh will come after them.

Lessons for us

The hard heart

It is useful to remember that in Scripture the word “heart” does not mean “seat of the emotions.” It means the center of the will. When the heart is hardened, it is God’s good pleasure (often enough) that he will gradually increase the affliction of the hard hearted. This is so that He gives them plenty of time to repent.

What should we do?

Jas 4:10 NIV Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.


All of us have known someone who “just won’t listen.” Discernment is largely a matter of taking the facts and organizing them in God’s way so that we might see what His will might be.

  • We can combine the facts with the word of God. This is why we are always encouraged to read and memorize the Scripture; when the facts arrive, we have a framework to hang them on.
  • We can combine the facts with words of warning from our fellow Christians. Such warnings are often taken directly from the Scripture, or can be related to it.
  • We can combine the facts with our guilty consciences. The right way to get rid of guilt is to repent.

Whatever we do, remember that God will crescendo His actions toward us. It is better to repent quickly than at leisure.


Sometimes it’s just a matter of seeing God in what He does. It might look natural, but you wonder about the “coincidence.” There are no coincidences with God; therefore, watch for His hand working around you.

[1] John 9

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