Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I can't stand it! Exodus 9

Carrying on through the whole Bible, we come to Exodus 9 (link). This chapter continues the plagues that strike Egypt and details the plagues on the cattle, the plague of boils, and the hail (with fire!). The situation in Egypt is going from frogs, flies, and gnats to worse.

And that means it's going a lot worse.

The first plague strikes cattle. That's terrible, because cattle die without meeting the grill afterwards, and this is a shame. A pair of critical details here: Moses announces this plague before it hits and the plague does not affect Israelite cattle. God expresses that He will distinguish between the Egyptians and the Israelites, and then He does: the curse does not destroy His people.

Life does not always work this way. Note that the frogs and flies and gnats appear to have been everywhere, notwithstanding the fact that the Israelites are in oppressive bondage to Pharaoh. This is not to say that God will always keep the bad things on His enemies and the good things only on His people. There are times of common grace where the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45); there are times where the common affliction of sin, the common ancestry of sinners, brings pain on us all.

But this time, there is a distinction. Alongside it is an explanation of the point of the distinction, that God is making a point to the Egyptians about whose side they should be on. Will they get it?

You can see that some did when you skip ahead to the hail. The hail falls while there is fire in the sky like had never been seen in Egypt. I suspect the possibility of severe thunderstorms, something that the dry climate would make less likely. The crop damage is similar to what we see in farm country if the storms come at bad times: mature crops destroyed while immature ones have an opportunity to keep growing.

There's a rabbit to chase: there are sins and attitudes that will destroy those who claim to be mature that do not really hit those who admit immaturity. Consider that and how it applies to you—now, back on task.

When the hail comes, there's a warning again from Moses that it's coming. Exodus 9:20 tells us that some of Pharaoh's officials feared the message from God and sheltered their animals (that survived from earlier) and servants. Others did not bother with safety—and lost those animals and their servants.

So a few Egyptians are beginning to listen to the voice of the One True God. This is a good thing for them—if they will continue to listen.

In between these, there's the boils. It's possible that the cattle plague and the boils are related: cowpox, perhaps, or anthrax, or hoof-in-mouth. No, that's foam around the mouth, not boils. Anyway, it infects the people. Pharaoh's magicians reappear and prove that they, too, can produce boils. They're covered with them.

So much so that they cannot stand and face Moses or Pharaoh due to their illness. It's a terrible thing for them. They just can't stand the situation. Yet the hearts of the magicians and of Pharaoh remain stubborn.

What do we do? Catch the contrast between Pharaoh with his magicians and the officials who hide their cattle and shelter their servants. Some people are just going to be stubborn—you can destroy everything around them and they will not turn. Other people take a long time to come around, but they do come around.

These folks may take a while to get there, though: we don't see them walking across the room to join Moses. These officials are likely those who start telling Pharaoh to just get rid of the Israelites so that Egypt can have peace again. It's as if they are about halfway out of the dark: they might go back, they might go forward.

At times, we're all there. It's most obvious when we think of bigger moments, like salvation and surrender to Christ or repentance from major besetting sin. Yet we can see it in less obvious things: learning to love that one more person, learning to look past those old traditions, learning to grow a little more every day.

So be patient: that wall you keep banging your head against? It might be starting to crack. Keep banging.

Today's nerd note: You may have noticed that all the livestock die in the first plague of the chapter, then there's still livestock in the end for the hail plague. A couple of possibilities here:

1. Different types of livestock: we could be looking at feed cattle in the first and dairy cattle in the second, such that the plagues hold differing impacts. The additional groups could be cattle/livestock that are used for food purposes, both eating and dairy, compared to pack animal/plow animal livestock. Either way, there would be a distinction. Striking the feed cattle but leaving the dairy cattle would be a grace: struggle for years to recover that wealth and luxury (wait, no, eating cows is a need, right?) but not the starvation for children that losing dairy cattle would be.

Then the ones who lose the dairy cattle to the hailstorm are really the ones to blame: they failed to heed the Word of God about the danger. Grace delivers us from many of our own mistakes, but eventually we face the consequences of neglecting the Word.

2. Different locations: one consideration in all of this story is that Egypt is a pretty big country. Especially for the lines of communication that were available at that time. So, you may be seeing the nearby cattle killed in the plague and then reports from a distance of cattle killed in the storm. Or possibly that the plagued cows were being replaced by distant sources and those replacements got hailed.

Personally, I think the first possibility works best.

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