Exodus 10: Locusts, Darkness, and Strings
In this passage, Egypt is hit with a plague of locusts and three days of darkness, except in the ghetto of Goshen where the Israelites lived (Exodus 10). These are mighty acts of judgment eight and nine. The plagues and the tension between Yahweh and Pharaoh are moving toward their peak: judgment ten, the death of all Egypt’s firstborn.
The locust plague is reported in Ex. 10:1-20. This plague is so terrible because it will utterly destroy all the food sources of Egypt. The locusts eat everything that is green or growing: plants, crops, trees, fruit, grass, wheat, barley, etc. That means there will be a severe famine in the land that will starve people and livestock.
Because of the rich soil (thanks to the Nile) and the always sunny weather, Egypt was a major source of wheat for the whole region. Peoples turned to Egypt when there was no food. Remember, whenever Abraham and his descendents experienced famine, they always went down to Egypt. Egypt was for the most part a land of constant plenty. But with the unprecedented onslaught of the locusts, Egypt was about to experience a deadly famine with nowhere to turn for food.
The introduction to this plague is especially important (10:1-2). Here Yahweh tells Moses that He has hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that He might perform these signs in the midst of Pharaoh and his people. Yahweh is determined that Pharaoh will recognize that Yahweh is present in Egypt, and that Yahweh is the One Who Is in Egypt. But this is not Yahweh’s only purpose in hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Yahweh hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that He might do these mighty acts of judgment so that “you (plural) will know that I am Yahweh (I am He who Is).”
The mighty acts are not just against Pharaoh, but they are to be faith-creating acts for Israel. Moses and all Israel need to know that Yahweh Is and that Pharaoh is not. Israel needs to know that Yahweh is God, not Pharaoh. Israel will come to know this through experiencing these judgments on her behalf. Moses is told specifically to “report in the ears of his children and grandchildren” how Yahweh made foolishness of the mighty Egyptians and performed His signs among them. The story of Yahweh’s salvation is to be told from generation to generation, that Israel will be a people full of the experiential knowledge that Yahweh and no other reigns in both heaven and earth, even Egypt.
The message for the church in this is that we need to know, by experience, that Christ reigns in heaven and earth, even in our local worlds. Often it is emphasized that the world needs to know that Jesus is Lord, that God Is. While this is true enough, Yahweh’s purpose in the plagues tells us we need to back up a step. We need to know that Jesus is Lord. We need to experience the reality that the Kingdom of God Is, and that the kingdoms of our world are on the way to being not.
If we do not know the reign of Christ, how is the world ever going to know Christ is Lord?! If we cannot speak from experience, how will we speak with conviction?! How will our children and grandchildren believe us, let alone the world?! We need to know, first hand, the awesome saving, judging deeds of God in Christ. And if we do not know, we need to cry out that God will reveal that His Kingdom Is, and that Jesus is Lord, lest we die never seeing-knowing-experiencing the mighty salvation of God. Lest we die never having any knowledge of God to pass on.
When Moses warns Pharaoh of the impending locust plague, Pharaoh yet refuses to humble himself before Yahweh. Moses leaves, but Pharaoh’s officials have seen enough. They plead with Pharaoh to call Moses back and let the people go before Egypt suffers any further devastation.
Pharaoh heeds their advice, sort of. He concedes to Moses that the men may go and worship, but he will not permit the women, children, and livestock to go. Moses asserts that worship, a festival to the LORD, requires that all go: old, young, sons, daughters, flocks, and herds. When going to worship the Lord, nothing can be left behind. Yahweh both necessitates and is worthy of all. Pharaoh refuses to let Moses and Israel go. The locusts come like they have never come before or since.
Under the devastation of the locusts Pharaoh quickly summons Moses to pray once again on his behalf. He confesses his sin and asks for forgiveness. Moses prays, an east wind blows, and the locusts are gone. But Pharaoh still refuses to let the people go.
The plague of darkness comes with no warning – Pharaoh has run out of warnings and is beginning to run out of time. Yahweh brings a darkness on Egypt that is so thick it can be felt. For three days the only place there is light is where the Israelites live.
The darkness horrifies the Egyptians, not just because they cannot see and go about life, but because they banked their lives on the sun. The sun governed Egyptian life. The Egyptians worshipped the sun. It was deified and recognized as the supreme deity “Re” (or Ra; the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses means “son of Ra”). To blot out the sun was to blot out the chief god of Egypt’s pantheon, as well as to blot out the powers of Pharaoh. With this demonstration of control over the sun Yahweh left no question as to Who Is.
Pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to go. He granted permission for all the people to go, including women and children. But he would not allow Moses to take the flocks and herds. Moses said that the flocks and herds must go – else how could they sacrifice to Yahweh. Pharaoh was unwilling to let everyone and everything go. He ordered Moses out of his presence and threatened Moses with death should he ever appear before Pharaoh again. While Yahweh may be, Pharaoh is determined not to lose his slave labor force.
Have you noticed the track that Pharaoh is on? He knows how to confess sin. He knows to ask Moses to pray for his forgiveness. But he does not know how to surrender himself to Yahweh. He does not know how to humble himself before the rule of Yahweh. He always seeks to control, to work out a compromise. Moses, you cannot go. Okay, your men can go, but not their families. Okay, the families can go, but not their livestock. Pharaoh simply refuses to submit to Yahweh’s rule. He will ask for forgiveness but he will not surrender. He will say what needs to be said to get relief but he will relinquish neither the Israelites nor himself to Yahweh. The holding on to the Israelites is going to mean the loss of his own people.
How often are we like Pharaoh? We have learned well the prayers for forgiveness, but prayers of submission are foreign to our lips. And when we do submit, how often is it done in the manner of Pharaoh, always keeping a string attached, never fully relinquishing life and possessions to the Lord. Submission with strings is nothing but an effort at deception, and the Lord cannot be deceived. We only deceive ourselves. As Pharaoh found out, the end of deception is destruction.
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Matt 10:39, Mark 8:35, Lk 17:33)
We need to make the journey from prayers for forgiveness to prayers of losing life to Jesus and the gospel. Maybe then we will know-experience-see the powerful reality that Christ and His Kingdom Are, and that all else is not. Maybe then we will have knowledge of some mighty acts of salvation to report in the ears of our children and grandchildren. Maybe then we will know with great conviction and passion that Jesus is Lord.
As Pharaoh serves as a warning to Israel and the church, the position of the Israelites helps the church to understand its position. All these mighty acts of judgment have taken place. There is no question as to Who Is. There is no question as to Whose Word is powerful, true, and creative. And yet the Israelites still have to get up early, gather straw, and make bricks for Pharaoh’s passing kingdom projects. Exodus is hoped for, even anticipated, but it is not yet consummated.
So it is with the church and the Kingdom of God. We the church know that Jesus is Lord. We testify to the presence of the Kingdom. But we still find ourselves having to make an awful lot of bricks without straw. The Kingdom is yet to be consummated in its fullness. So we hope and anticipate, and even get frustrated. But just as Yahweh worked the exodus in the fullness of time, so is Yahweh bringing the Kingdom in the fullness of time as well. Blessed are they who continue to wait upon the Lord.