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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.