God tells Moses once again that he’s purposefully hardening Pharaoh’s heart “that I may show these signs of mine among them” (Exod. 10:1). Like a child who’s just learned a new trick, he’s going to force everyone to watch him perform it whether they want to or not, whether it hurts them or not. This whole narrative really isn’t flattering for the big J. Definitely not something I’d have kept in my Testament…

The Eighth Plague

So Aaron and Moses go in to see Pharaoh again and give him another 24hours or they’ll unleash locusts. Pharaoh’s servants are getting fairly anxious, and they ask him to let the Hebrew men go to worship, for: “do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” (Exod. 10:7).

So Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron and asks them who intends to go on the pilgrimage. Moses says that all the Hebrews will be going, as well as all their cattle. Pharaoh isn’t an idiot, and he knows that “you have some evil purpose in mind” (Exod. 10:10) – which is completely true. Moses is asking for a couple days to go worship while fully intending to run away. I can’t help but sympathize with Pharaoh on this one. There’s no question that Moses and God aren’t approaching their request in good faith.

So since it’s typically the men who do the worshipping, Pharaoh gives the Hebrew men permission to go and worship. This is called a compromise, and this would be entirely sufficient if Moses and God weren’t lying about their motives. So at this point, Pharaoh has conceded to the Hebrews all of their reasonable requests.

So Moses calls down the locusts.

There are so many locusts that they eat every plant left over after the hail. They “covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened” (Exod. 10:15). As if the last plagues weren’t bad enough, this one pretty much ensures the starvation of most Egyptians. This is absolutely horrendous! Children will be dying left and right from malnutrition, whole generations will have their lives shortened. This is God doing to Egypt what most of us cringe to see happening in Somalia today.

Pharaoh recants and begs God to “remove this death from me” (Exod. 10:17). So the wind changes, driving the locusts into the Red Sea. But, once again, Pharaoh changes his mind as soon as the plague is gone.

The Ninth Plague

The Plague of Darkness by Gustave Doré, 1865

The Plague of Darkness by Gustave Doré, 1865

The penultimate plague is darkness, which Moses spreads over the land of Egypt by waving his hands in the air. The darkness lasts three days and covers all of Egypt so that even lamps do not emit light. Only in Goshen do people have light in their homes. My study bible says that this may be a reference to “the hot wind, the ‘khamsin,’ which blows in from the desert during the spring (March-May), bringing with it so much dust and sand that the air is darkened and breathing becomes difficult.”

Pharaoh agrees to let all the Hebrews leave, children included, but they must leave their cattle behind as a kind of security deposit. Moses, ever ready with the lying, says that they can’t leave any of their cattle behind because they don’t know what God wants for supper until they get there. Pharaoh, having conceded much, is pretty sure that the Hebrews won’t come back if they leave with all their people and all their stuff, so he refuses to let them go. He ends by telling Moses to get out of his sight and “never see my face again; for in the day you see my face you shall die” (Exod. 10:28).

This is the perfect set up for Moses’ exit, so he struts away, saying: “As you say! I will not see your face again” (Exod. 10:29). I have a feeling that’s foreshadowing…

A final note on the plagues

As we come to the end of the story of the plagues, Kenneth C. Davis gives us something to think about on page 103 of Don’t Know Much About the Bible:

In commenting on the plagues in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary Rendsburg note that each of the plagues is aimed at specific gods in the Egyptian pantheon, ending with the sun god Ra, who is overpowered by darkness. Yahweh was not only demonstrating his power over men and nature but proved that this God is greater than any other gods.

So I did a quick Google search and here’s a page that explains which plague corresponds to which god.