Saturday, November 26, 2011

Exodus 9:8-12 The Plague of Boils

"Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron,
'Take handfuls of soot from a furnace
and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh.
It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt,
and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land.'

So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh.
Moses tossed it into the air,
and festering boils broke out on men and animals.
The magicians could not stand before Moses
because of the boils that were on them
and on all the Egyptians.

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart
and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron,
just as the LORD had said to Moses.

Exodus 9:8-12 (NIV)

This account is very straightforward.  However, I think that it is interesting that:

  • The NIV Study Bible notes in its commentary on these verses that the furnace from which the soot was taken may be "...a kiln used for firing bricks, the symbol of Israel's bondage" (see Exodus 1:14 and 5:7-19).
  • The same commentary also notes that the plague now extends to other animals beside the ones previously affected.

Wait, I just realized that there is actually something quite controversial in these verses.  In verse 12, the text says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart.  If that is so, then why is Pharaoh still held accountable for his actions?

Well, we know that God always acts justly, so it is not as though Pharaoh is just some type of puppet for God's use.  So there must be more to this story, and there is.

If we look back at the previous five plagues,
  1. The plague of blood 
  2. The plague of frogs 
  3. The plague of gnats 
  4. The plague of flies 
  5. The plague on livestock,
we see that in each case, Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart and/or deliberately turned away from any evidence that it was truly the LORD who was speaking to him.  As the NIV commentary notes, it is not until this sixth plague that the LORD confirms the Pharaoh's willful action.  God will receive glory from the final results of these incidents, but He never made Pharaoh do evil.  Pharaoh chose that for himself.

The book of James in the New Testament says this:

"When tempted, no one should say,
'God is tempting me.'
For God cannot be tempted by evil,
nor does he tempt anyone;
but each one is tempted when,
by his own evil desires,
he is dragged away and enticed.
Then, after desire has conceived,
it gives birth to sin;
and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

James 1:13-15 (NIV) 

In his hardened state, Pharaoh is apparently unaware that the plagues are about to get far worse.

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