Exodus 5:1-8:19

The contrast between the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 is very marked. The children of Israel believed the words of God when they saw the signs, and they worshipped. Pharaoh heard the words of God with unbelief and replied with insolence.

The word to him was, "Let My people go . . ." Thus the Lord at once claimed the people as His, whilst for a century or two the Pharaohs of Egypt had regarded the people as theirs, and enslaved to them. So from the outset the issue was joined. Jehovah claimed the people that Pharaoh regarded as his own. Which claimant would prevail? The issue could not be in doubt for one moment.

It is evident that from the first Pharaoh boldly challenged the might of Jehovah. He knew very well the many gods of Egypt, but to him Jehovah, God of Israel was the unknown God, and he flatly refused to obey. He adopted the hard and stubborn attitude, which became characteristic of him under the government of God.

In reply to the further appeal of Moses and Aaron he simply increased the burdens upon the people, making their enslavement more thorough and more bitter. From this incident has come the common saying about "making bricks without straw," signifying having to undertake an almost impossible task. Their brick-making was to the end that Pharaoh might pursue his building schemes. Under the task-masters they were beaten into helping to consolidate the power of the king who tyrannized over them.

In 1 Corinthians 10: 6 and 11, we are told that the things that happened to Israel were "our examples," or, "types" for us, and at this point we begin to see the type taking shape. Pharaoh held the power of death over the children of Israel, and thereby kept them in bondage. He is thus a type of Satan as he is presented in Hebrews 2: 14, 15. Egypt with all its magnificence is clearly a type of the world, enslaving the people of God under the direction of the devil, and, ironically enough using them to increase the power and glory of the system that oppressed them. God was now setting in motion the power that was to deliver them.

But the first effect of this intervention was to increase the bondage and miseries of the people. They were made to realize that they were under a sentence of death, as verse 21 reveals. They had but little faith and hence their reaction was to blame Moses and Aaron, who had begun to act on their behalf. Even the faith of Moses shook under the strain and he turned to God with a complaint that had the character of a reproach, as the two verses, closing Exodus 5, record. How often it is the case that, when God begins to deal with a soul in grace, the adversary is immediately stirred up and his energy increases, so that, for a time at least, things are worse rather than better.

The first eight verses of Exodus 6 record, however, the gracious way in which the Lord answered this failure on the part of both Moses and the people. Let those verses be read with care and it will be seen that His answer was virtually to present Himself as, Jehovah, the I AM, faithful to the covenant of promise, made to the fathers. There are chapters in the Bible, such as Job 29, Ecclesiastes 2, Romans 7, marked by the constant repetition of "I," by foolish men. In the case of Job we listen to a self-satisfied "I," in the case of Solomon to a self-gratified, in the case of Paul to a self-condemned. God Himself is the only One who can rightly and truly speak much of "I," and here we find it repeated 18 times in the 8 verses.

Moses had just seen and been painfully impressed by what Pharaoh had done to the people, so Jehovah's word to him was, "Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh." As a result of what He was about to do, the strong hand of Pharaoh, which had been at work to keep the people in slavery; should be stretched forth to drive them out of his land. Pharaoh and his kingdom would be turned upside down.

Moreover God greatly emphasized the Name under which He had just revealed Himself. He had revealed Himself to Abraham and the fathers as God Almighty but not as Jehovah. They had known the name but the significance of it had been hidden from them. Now its meaning had come to light, and it was to be displayed in His dealings with the insolent man who had begun to defy Him. This furnished the occasion for God to display Himself as the great "I AM"—ever-existing, unchangeable, ever true to His purpose and word, supreme above all the power that would aim at deflecting Him from or thwarting His plan.

In verse 4 He specifically mentions the covenant of promise, under which He was going to act, in delivering them from Egypt and bringing them into the land He had purposed for them. Their redemption from Egypt, their establishment in Canaan which had been the land of their pilgrimage, when they were but strangers in it, all was to be under that covenant, which was made 430 years before the covenant of the law. Galatians 3: 17 tells us this, as also that the law could not disannul the promise that had been made. Of course it could not, for Jehovah had made it, though the implications of that great name were not known to Abraham. God is true to what He is in Himself irrespective of what we may know Him to be. Great comfort comes to our souls when we-apprehend this. So this great statement begins and ends with the same words, "I am Jehovah" (verses 2 and 8).

For the moment the anguish of the Israelites was so great that the recital to them of these wonderful words had no effect. Even Moses had lost heart and felt that Pharaoh would not heed anything he might say. Nevertheless the word of the Lord stood.

But before we proceed with the record of how it did stand we have a parenthesis. The last verse of the chapter repeats the words of Moses recorded in verse 12, and in verses 14-27 we are given genealogical details concerning the sons of Reuben and Simeon, and then more particularly of the sons of Levi leading up to Moses and Aaron and their immediate descendants. The identity of these two chief actors on God's behalf is thus established.

The dealings with Pharaoh were now to start in earnest, so the first seven verses of Exodus 7 give us the instructions under which Moses and Aaron were to act. Moses directly represented God before the king, and Aaron was to act as his "prophet," or, spokesman. God is invisible, so Moses was to be His visible representative. Aaron was to speak and act under the direction of Moses, though in point of fact he was the elder. Once more we see how the first has to give place to the second.

Pharaoh, who had no faith, was sure to demand some visible and miraculous sign to accredit Moses, so the sign of the rod of Moses becoming a serpent was given. Aaron performed this, but the magicians of Egypt showed that they also could bring this wonder to pass. Acting under the power of Satan, who is the serpent, they too could show that the casting down of authority produces what is satanic. The next move they did not expect and it was beyond them. Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. Divine power, even if cast down, proved itself stronger than the power of the foe. But in spite of this there was no softening in the heart of Pharaoh.

So the first of the plagues in Egypt was scheduled to take place in the morning, when Pharaoh made his visit to the Nile. The demand for the release of the people was again to be made, and if refused the rod that had been turned to a serpent, and that had devoured the rods of the magicians, was to be stretched out over the river and its waters turned to blood. The river that was the very life of Egypt was turned into a river of death and stinking.

But again the magicians proved that they could similarly produce death and stinking, so that Pharaoh's heart remained hard. That Satan could produce death, or that which is symbolic of death, is not at all surprising, since he is the author of sin, and by sin death has come to pass. Though Pharaoh made light of this first plague, the common people felt the weight of it and it lasted for seven days. This, we suppose, is what the last verse of the chapter indicates.

At the end of that time the Lord through Moses reiterated His demand for the release of His people, and announced a second plague if the demand was refused. The demand was refused and the frogs in their millions appeared out of the waters that had been smitten (Exodus 8: 5, 6). The magicians showed however that they too could produce frogs out of the waters, thus minimizing the effect of the miracle in the mind of Pharaoh. Those conversant with Egypt and its history tell us that a "red Nile" is something that used to happen annually and that the river was a breeding place of frogs; but what came to pass here was quite out of the ordinary both as to time and intensity, and the invasion of the whole land by the frogs was a dreadful affliction.

Again, we are told by Egyptologists that a special goddess was supposed to preside over the frogs, so as to protect the land from them. She was named Heki, and is represented on the monuments sometimes with the head of a frog. The Egyptians had to learn that Heki was as nothing before Jehovah. It illustrates the word, "Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment" (Exodus 12: 12). It is probable also that when the first plague fell, just as Pharaoh approached the river, he was going to worship the god that the Nile was supposed to represent.

While Pharaoh disregarded the first plague, as we saw in verse 23 of the last chapter, he was not unmoved by the second, as we see in verse 8. Out of every branch of the river, the irrigation canals, the reservoirs, as indicated in verse 5, the slimy creatures came, penetrating into houses, into their beds, their food vessels, their ovens, defiling everything. The magicians may have helped to increase their numbers slightly, but they could not take them away. He had to recognize the hand of the Lord was in this dreadful affliction. So he made pretence of yielding to the demand of God in order that the plague might be removed.

The removal was made the more impressive by Moses asking him to stipulate when the frogs should go. The words, "Glory over me," are rendered in the Septuagint "Fix for me." His answer was, "Tomorrow." Moses replied that Jehovah the God of Israel would prove His power by removing the plague just as the king had stipulated. It seems obvious that their removal in this fashion was an even more impressive miracle than their being brought up.

But even so, the effect of the plague was not yet over for, save in the river, the frogs all died that day in a miraculous manner, and gathered in heaps the land stank with their carcases. Yet even this was a respite, and directly Pharaoh saw it he hardened his heart and continued to defy God. The judgment had not produced any vital change.

Hence, without further delay or appeal to the king, Moses was to stretch out his rod and smite the dust, when it was to become lice throughout all the land. This was done by Aaron on behalf of Moses and the trying plague came to pass. At this point the magicians of Egypt were baffled. Out of the dead dust the living lice had come. The magicians could not imitate it, and they had to confess as much. Only God can bring life out of death. They could only confess, "This is the finger of God," and retire from the contest. From this point we hear of no more attempts to belittle the acts of God by satanic power.

From those who are experts in ancient languages we learn that the word translated " lice " is an unusual one, and in the Septuagint is translated by a word which means a kind of small mosquito. It is of small moment what exactly the word means, but it is of interest to learn that the difficulty is occasioned by the word not being a strictly Hebrew one. It is an importation from the language used in Egypt, and is one of the many internal proofs that the Pentateuch was not written about the time of Ezra, as the "higher critics" would have us imagine. It was written when these Egyptian terms were well known and quite intelligible to the Hebrew reader.

Darby's New Translation gives us "gnats" as the plague, which accords with what we have just written. We may well be thankful to God that He has caused to be woven into the very texture of the Scripture these little signs that Moses, who was so well acquainted with Egypt, its words and its ways, was indeed the writer under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. This fact is the more striking, as we shall see when we consider the fourth plague, since the word, used there for the "swarms" that came up, is again not a Hebrew one but rather one that was peculiar to Egypt.