Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
12. The Plagues Upon Egypt (Continued)
In our last article we made a number of general observations upon the judgments which the Lord God sent upon Pharaoh and his people. The subject is admittedly a difficult one, and little light seems to have been given on it. This should make us seek more fervently for help from above, that our eyes may be opened to behold wondrous things in this portion of the Word. We shall now offer a few remarks upon each plague separately according to our present understanding of them.
1. The first plague is described in Exodus 7:14-25—let the reader turn to the passage and ponder it carefully. This initial judgment from the Lord consisted of the turning of the waters into blood. Blood, of course, speaks of death, and death is the wages of sin. It was, therefore, a most solemn warning from God to Egypt, a warning which intimated plainly the doom that awaited those who defied the Almighty. Similarly will God give warning at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, for then shall the moon "become as blood" (Rev. 6:12). The symbolic significance of this first plague is easily discerned. Water is the emblem of the Word (John 15:3; Ephesians 5:26), and the water turned to blood reminds us that the Word is "a savor of death unto death" (2 Cor. 2:16) as well as "of life unto life".
The striking contrast between this first plague and the first miracle wrought by the Lord Jesus has been pointed out by others before us. The contrast strikingly illustrates the great difference there is between the two dispensations; "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). All that the Law can do to its guilty transgressor is to sentence him to death, and this is what the Water turned into blood symbolized. But by the incarnate Word the believing sinner is made to rejoice, and this is what the turning of the water into wine speaks of.
Before passing on to the next plague we would offer a word of explanation upon a point which may have troubled some of our readers. The Lord’s command to Moses was. "Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood" (Ex. 7:19). And yet after this we are told, "And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments" (v. 22). Where then did they obtain their water? The answer is evidently supplied in verse 24; "And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink".
2. The second plague is described in Exodus 8:1-7. An interval of "seven days" (7:25) separated this second plague from the first. Full opportunity was thus given to Pharaoh to repent, before God acted in judgment again. In view of the fact that the Flood commenced on the seventh day (see Genesis 7:10 margin), that is, the holy Sabbath, the conclusion is highly probable that each of these first two plagues were sent upon Egypt on the Sabbath day, as a Divine judgment for the Egyptians’ desecration of it.
This second plague, like the former, was Divinely directed against the idolatry of the Egyptians. The river Nile was sacred in their eyes, therefore did Jehovah turn its waters into blood. The frog was an object of worship among them, so God now caused Egypt to be plagued with frogs. Their ugly shape, their croaking noise, and their disagreeable smell, would make these frogs peculiarly obnoxious. Their abounding numbers marked the severity of this judgment. Escape from this scourge was impossible, for the frogs not only "covered the land of Egypt" but they invaded the homes of the Egyptians, entered their bed-chambers, and defiled their cooking-utensils.
The moral significance of these "frogs" is explained for us in Revelation 16:13—the only mention of these creatures in the New Testament. There we read "And I saw three unclean small spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the Dragon, and out of the mouth of the Beast, and out of the mouth of the False Prophet". Frogs are used to symbolize the Powers of evil and stand for uncleanness. The turning of the waters into blood was a solemn reminder of the "wages of sin". The issuing forth of the frogs made manifest the character of the Devil’s works—uncleanness.
Concerning this second plague we read, "And the magicians did so with their enchantments and brought forth frogs upon the land of Egypt" (8:7). This is most suggestive. The magicians were unable to remove the frogs, nor could they erect any barriers against their encroachments. All they could do was to bring forth more frogs. Thus it is with the Prince of this world. He is unable to exterminate the evil which he has brought into God’s fair creation, and he cannot check its progress. All he can do is to multiply wickedness.
3. The third plague is described in Exodus 8:16-19. This judgment descended without any warning. The dust of the ground suddenly sprang into life, assuming the most disgusting and annoying form. This blow was aimed more directly at the persons of the Egyptians. Their bodies covered with lice, was a sore rebuke to their pride. Herodotus (2:37) refers to the cleanliness of the Egyptians: "So scrupulous were the priests on this point that they used to shave their heads and bodies every third day, for fear of harboring vermin while occupied in their sacred duties". As another has said, "This stroke would therefore humble their pride and stain their glory, rendering themselves objects of dislike and disgust".
The key to the moral significance of this third plague lies in the source from which the lice proceeded. Aaron smote the dust of the land "and it became lice in man and beast" (8:16). In the judgment which God pronounced upon disobedient Adam we read that He said, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake" (Gen. 3:17), and again, "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19). When Aaron smote the "ground", and its "dust" became lice, and the lice came upon the Egyptians, it was a graphic showing-forth of the awful fact that man by nature is under the curse of a holy God.
Concerning this plague we read, "and the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not" (8:18). How small a matter the Lord used to bring confusion upon these magicians! As soon as God restrained them, they were helpless. Turn water into blood, and bring forth frogs, they might, by God’s permission; but when He withheld permission they were impotent. Thus it is with Satan himself. His bounds are definitely prescribed by the Almighty, and beyond them he cannot go. Death he can inflict (by God’s permission), and uncleanness he can bring forth freely—as the "magicians" illustrated in the first two plagues; but with the Curse (which the "dust" becoming lice so plainly speaks of) he is not allowed to tamper with.
The admission of the magicians on this occasion is noteworthy: "Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God" (8:19). These are their last recorded words. In the end they were obliged to acknowledge the hand of God. So will it be in the last Great Day with the Devil himself, and with all his hosts and victims. They, too, will have to bow before the Lord, and publicly confess the supremacy of the Almighty.
There is a striking correspondency between this third plague and what is recorded in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel. There we find a similar contest—between the Lord and His enemies. The Scribes and the Pharisees, using the woman taken in adultery as their bait, sought to ensnare the Savior. His only response was to stoop down and write on the ground. After saying to them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her", we read that "Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground". The effect was startling: "They which heard, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one . . .and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst". What was this but the enemy of the Lord acknowledging that it was "the finger of God" as He wrote in the dust!
4. The next plague is described in Exodus 8:20-32. This plague marked the beginning of a new series. In the first three, the magicians had opposed, but their defeat had been openly manifested. No longer do they appear upon the stage of action. Another thing which evidences that this fourth plague begins a new series is the fact that God now made "a division" between His own people and the Egyptians. The Israelites too had suffered from the first three judgments, for they also merited the wages of sin, were subject to the debasing influences of Satan, and were under the curse. But now that the Lord was about to destroy the property of the Egyptians, He spared the Israelites.
It will be noted by the student that the words "of flies" are in italics, supplied by the translators, the word "swarms" being given for the original term. The Hebrew word signifies, literally, "mixture", being akin to the term "mixed multitude" in Exodus 12:38. Apparently these "swarms" were made up of not only flies, but a variety of insects. As we are told in Psalm 78:45, "He sent divers sorts of flies". Moreover, this verse in the Psalms informs us of their devastating effects—they "devoured them"; the Hebrew signifying "ate up". This was, therefore, worse than the plague of lice. The lice annoyed, but the "divers sorts of flies" preyed upon their flesh.
The deeper meaning of this plague may be gathered from the nature of its effects, and also from the fact that the Israelites were exempted from it. This judgment had to do with the tormenting of the bodies of the Egyptians, thus looking forward to the eternal judgment of the lost, when their bodies shall be tormented forever and ever in the Lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. In this the people of God will have no part.
5. The next plague is described in Exodus 9:1-7. This judgment was directed against the possessions of the Egyptians. A grievous disease smote their herds so that "all the cattle of Egypt died". But once more Jehovah exempted His own people—"of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one" (9:6). This afforded a striking demonstration of the absolute rulership of God. He completely controls every creature He has made. Disease strikes only when and where He has decreed. The herds of the Egyptians might be dying all around them, but the cattle of Israel were as secure as though there had been no epidemic at all.
The spiritual meaning and application of this judgment is not difficult to perceive. The cattle are man’s servants. He harnesses them to do the hardest portion of his work. The destruction of all the "horses, asses, camels, oxen and sheep" of the Egyptians tells us that God will not accept the labors of the unregenerate—"the plowing of the wicked is sin" (Prov. 21:4). This world and all its works will yet be burned up—destroyed as completely as were the beasts of Egypt. The sparing of the cattle of the Israelites intimates that the works of the new nature in the believer will "abide" (1 Cor. 3:14).
6. The plague of the boils is recorded in Exodus 9:8-12. Like the third plague, this one was sent without any warning. Moses was instructed to take "handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and sprinkle it toward heaven in the sight of Pharaoh" (9:8). The definite article implies that some particular "furnace" is meant, and that Pharaoh was near it, suggests it was no mere heating apparatus. The Companion Bible says of this furnace: "i.e., one of the altars on which human sacrifices were sometimes offered to propitiate their god Typhon (the evil Principle). These were doubtless being offered to avert the plagues, and Moses, using the ashes in the same way produced another plague instead of averting it." Just as the previous plague signified the worthlessness of all the works of the natural man, so this teaches the utter vanity of his religious exercises.
7. The next plague is described in Exodus 9:18-35. It marks the beginning of a third series. We quote from the Numerical Bible; "We are now, in the third stage, to see, man being what he is, what the attitude of Heaven must be toward him. The three plagues that follow all distinctly point to heaven as their place of origin. Here too the rod, which in the last three, had not been seen, appears again,—a thing which the typical meaning alone, as it would seem, accounts for. For it will be seen that the middle plagues, to men, seem scarcely Divine inflictions; they proceed more from man himself, although, in fact, the government of God may truly be seen in them. But now we come again, as in the first plagues, to direct, positive influences". In other words, the last three plagues brought out, emblematically, the state of the natural man; the swarms of flies breeding from filthiness; the murrian (anthrax) of the cattle and the boils on man, telling of impurities within, which, through the corruption of sin breaks out in moral diseases; reminding us of that graphic but awful picture of the sinner drawn by Isaiah—"From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores" (1:6).
The severity of this plague is marked by several particulars. It was "a very grievous hail" (9:18). It was "such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now". The hail was accompanied by an electric storm of fierce intensity, so that "the fire ran along upon the ground". The effects were equally striking: "The hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field and brake every tree of the field". This judgment was expressive of the wrath of a holy and sin-hating God. Similar expressions of His anger will be witnessed during the Great Tribulation—see Revelation 8:7; 16:21.
8. The eighth plague is recorded in Exodus 10:1-20. Locusts are one of the terrors of the East. They prey upon the crops, and consume all vegetation. This plague, coming on the top of the destruction of the cattle, seriously threatened the food-supplies of Egypt. Referring to this plague, the Psalmist says, "He spake and the locusts came, and caterpillars, and that without number and did eat up all the herbs in their land, and devoured the fruit of their ground" (Ps. 105:34, 35). They came at the bidding of God, and they departed at His bidding. So does every creature, the feeblest as well as the mightiest, fulfill the secret counsels of their Creator. In Joel 2:11, which speaks of a yet future judgment in the Day of the Lord, the locusts are termed, "His army".
We are not quite sure about the deeper meaning and spiritual significance of this eighth plague. It is clear, that like the previous one, it definitely manifested the wrath of God. But there would seem to be an additional line of thought suggested by these "locusts". The second chapter of Joel and the ninth of Revelation should be carefully studied in this connection. In these two chapters we have a species of infernal "locusts" brought to our view. They issue from the Bottomless Pit, and the Anti-Christ, is said to be their "king". It would seem then that the plaguing of Pharaoh and the Egyptians with the "locusts" points to the yet future punishing of the lost in the company of infernal beings: as the Lord said, "They shall be cast into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
9. The plague of darkness is described in Exodus 10:21-29. "In Egypt the sun was worshipped under the title of Ra: the name came conspicuously forward in the title of the kings, Pharaoh, or rather Phra, meaning ‘the sun’" (Wilkinson’s "Ancient Egypt"). "Not only therefore was the source of light and heat eclipsed for the Egyptians, but the god they worshipped was obscured and his powerlessness demonstrated—a proof, had they but eyes to see, that a mightier than the sun, yea the Creator of the sun, was dealing with them in judgment" (Ed. Dennett).
This ninth plague formed a fitting climax to the third series. It is easily interpreted. God is Light: darkness is the withdrawal of light. Therefore, this judgment of darkness, gave plain intimation that Egypt was now abandoned by God. Nothing remained but death itself. The darkness continued for three days—full manifestation of God’s withdrawal. So fearful was this "thick darkness" that the Egyptians "saw not one another, neither rose any from his place". Striking is the contrast presented in the next sentence: "But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings." This light was as supernatural as the darkness. It emanated, most probably, from the Shekinah glory. The Egyptians had a darkness which they could not light up: Israel a light which they could not put out. Thus it is upon earth to-day. The people of God are "children of light" (Eph. 5:8), because God "who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). But "the way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble" (Prov. 4:19), and this because they are "without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12).
The three days of darkness which brooded over the land of Egypt remind us of the three hours of darkness over all the earth when the Savior hung upon the cross—outward expression of God’s abandonment. There the Holy One of God was being "made sin" (2 Cor. 5:21) for His people, and He Who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity" (Hab. 1:13), turned away His face from the One who was being punished in our stead. It was this turning away of God from Him which caused the Savior to cry, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?".
Finally, this three days of dense darkness upon Egypt utters a solemn warning for all who are now out of Christ. Unsaved reader, if you continue in your present course, if you go on slighting the mercy of God, if you refuse to heed His warning to flee from the wrath to come, you shall be finally cast into "the outer darkness" (Matthew 8:12)—the "blackness of darkness forever" (Jude 13). Neglect, then, thy soul’s salvation no longer. Turn even now unto Him who is "the Light of the world", and in His light thou shalt see light.
10. The final plague upon Egypt is recorded in Exodus 11 and 12. Comments upon this we will reserve for our next papers. In this last plague, the Lord did that to which all the other plagues were logically and irresistibly leading up—the slaying of the first-born. Terrible climax was this. Disease, desolation, and darkness had visited Pharaoh’s land; now death itself was to do its work.
The study of these plagues shows plainly the character of Him with whom we all have to do. The Lord is not indifferent to sin, nor can He be defied with impugnity. He bears with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath, but in the end His righteous judgments descend upon them. What point do these plagues give to that solemn word, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31)! Be warned, then, dear reader. Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart. Remember what befell Pharaoh for hardening his! Flee then to the Divinely appointed Refuge. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.