The story of Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, and the 10 plagues in Egypt has many interesting wrinkles. So, I took two mornings to create the following chart of Exodus 7-12 ...
Each Row depicts one of the 10 plagues. Each Column asks an important question about each plague. For example, the 8th (and final) column asks what is Pharaoh's Response to each plague. These are my observations from the chart:
- The plagues unfold with increasing consequence – from inconvenience (digging for new water sources) to irritation (smelly frogs, gnats and flies) to trauma (dead livestock, full-body boils, ruined vegetation) to existential crisis (death to every family's firstborn).
- Scholars debate whether each plague is targeted toward an Egyptian god – but even if not specifically, the set of the 10 plagues is surely a collective renunciation of Egypt's gods. God said, "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn ... and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt." (Exodus 12:12).
- Six of the 10 plagues are introduced by God's declaration to Pharaoh through Moses: "Let My people go, so they can worship Me." Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years before Pharaoh finally relented. (Exodus 12:40)
- It's fascinating that Column 3 (Who Hardens Pharaoh's Heart?) portrays some ambiguity. Four times the text attributes the hardening of Pharaoh's heart to God's hand. Twice it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. And five times the text is ambiguous whether it is God or Pharaoh who does the hardening. (I color-coded Column 3 to help quickly see these three options). I love this kind of mystery in the Scriptures, that scandalizes our tidy minds! Was it God who hardened? Yes. Was it Pharaoh? Yes, again. Is God sovereign in what He does? Yes. Is man (Pharaoh) responsible for what he does? Yes.
- Column 4 demonstrates that, although the Egyptian magicians had initial success in replicating the plagues on a small scale, they increasingly failed to match God's power. And, eventually they end in utter defeat when boils erupt over their bodies. Don't mess with God.
- Column 5 highlights that, wherever God sends a plague, no one is immune from its effects except His people. This is thunderously encouraging to the believer. These 10 plagues completely bypass the Israelites who are living in Goshen. (Note: Goshen is referred to 5 times). Goshen is a reminder that God protects and provides for those who follow Him faithfully.
- It's noteworthy that God often gives Pharaoh some time to reflect and repent of his obstinate behavior, before the plague takes effect (Column 6). Isn't this kind of God to do? Yes. Multiple times Moses declares what the plague will be, but says it won't come until tomorrow. A whole day to consider and change one's mind.
- The impact of these plagues (Column 7) is difficult to overstate. Simply, they devastate Egypt. Consider the following: fish die, no potable water, dead frogs reek in every bed, flies swarm in black clouds, livestock fall dead left and right, boils flare on every person's extremities, crops are devastated, locusts strip every plant and tree, darkness blackens three straight days, ... and then ... the wailing from every family as their firstborn suddenly dies.
- Pharaoh's response is a case study in the foolishness of man's craving for control and power. He initially says, "No, you can't go." Then later, "Ok, you can go worship God, but stay in the land of Egypt." Then later, "Ok, you can cross the border into the desert, but only the men can go (no women, children or livestock). Then, "Ok, the women and children can go also, but not your flocks and herds." Finally, a beaten Pharaoh let's them all go. Playing incremental games with God is a fool's errand.
After reading these 10 plagues, we might rightfully ask, "How is it possible they teach us anything about Jesus?" Here are my quick thoughts:
- The 10th and final plague is the death of the firstborn. The only protection against this judgment is if you place the blood of an innocent, male, spotless lamb on the doorframes of your home. This lamb became known as "The Passover Lamb," since it was the Lamb's blood that caused God to "pass over" the Israelite houses that night.
- Recall John the Baptist's words about Jesus: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). And remember, Jesus actually bled and died on the cross on Passover Friday.
- Moses instructed the people to take the Lamb's blood and put it "on the top and the sides of the doorframe." What might that look like? Here is my thought:
In the picture above, I "applied" blood to the top and sides of the doorframe. Being practical, I assumed I would accidentally sprinkle some on the floor. Does this image bring anything to mind? How about this?
Perhaps the blood on the doorframes at Passover is a foreshadowing visual of the Ultimate Passover, the Day we call Good Friday, when the innocent, spotless Lamb of God was stretched upon a Cross, with a blood-stained Crown upon His head, with hands and feet pierced through ... to die instead of you and me?
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:7, "For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed." Yes, Jesus shows up in every story of Scripture, sometimes more obviously than others.