First I want to say thank you for bearing with me while I stepped away this weekend. I had grandkids and their parents over for our annual Camp NaPa. We had a BLAST! But I’m VERY glad it only lasts two days! Back on track now.
Today we read about the sixth plague God “graced” Egypt with; BOILS. If you have ever had a boil you will minimally understand what they were facing. They were covered head to foot and had NO relief! Remind anyone of the suffering of Job? Two different instances, two different reasons, and two different outcomes.
A few things struck me in reading about this plague. The first is that with this plague Pharaoh wasn’t presented with an ultimatum. He wasn’t given a chance to let the people of Israel go. Second, he wasn’t given warning of what was to come. Moses simply made a demonstration in his presence and then God worked the rest out. Third, this is also the first time it is said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. I’m wondering if it was because this plague hit him personally and painfully. I know that when “interrogating” a person they tend to break more readily when under physical pain. God was not finished yet to Pharaoh needed a little help to hang tough. And finally, this is more a question than a fact, but I have a feeling the kiln that provided the ash for Moses’ demonstration was the one that the Hebrews used every day to make the Egyptians bricks. The remnants of their oppression became the instrument of their despair.
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Moses is sitting under his favorite tree in the evening spending time with the Lord. He doesn’t hear an audible voice every night but he enjoys their time together just the same. Tonight the Lord speaks to him again.
“Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.”
“It is time to show Pharaoh a new ‘wonder’ on his way to freeing my people.”
“It has been a few days since the last ‘wonder’ left. I was curious when You were going to send the next one.”
“Tomorrow morning I want you to go to the kiln. I want you to gather up some of the soot from the kiln…
“The one we bake the bricks in?”
“Yes. That one. I want you to put it in a small pouch that you can carry easily on your belt. You and Aaron are to take this soot and, in the sight of Pharaoh, scatter it into the air. ‘It shall become a fine dust over all the land of Egypt and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt’ (verse 9). ”
“I will follow Your directions Lord but may I ask why soot from the kiln?”
“This is the place of suffering for the Hebrews and a place of prosperity for the Egyptians. Now it will be a source of suffering for the Egyptians and a source of rejoicing for the Hebrews instead.”
Moses and Aaron went early in the morning to gather the soot. Pharaoh also came to the place of the kiln that day. This was not a usual occurrence for Pharaoh but it also wasn’t unheard of. Pharaoh would come to “look in on his property” from time to time. It was not a visit of a savior for the Hebrews but of an overseer of cruel treatment making sure his subjects were suitably broken and doing the job they were intended to do for survival.
Moses and Aaron are spared the walk to the castle by Pharaoh’s presence. Seeing Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron walk over to stand in front of his Chariot. Moses unties the little pouch tied to his belt. He then pours some of it into his hand and finally throws it into the air where Pharaoh can plainly see him.
The wind gusts at that moment and picks up the soot and begins to disperse it. Pharaoh watches Moses without saying a word. Seconds later he begins scratching his left bicep. Then he moves to scratching his neck. In the background all the others Egyptians begin scratching too. Their scratching soon turns to digging at their skin and then into painful sores. It is as if the soot itself has entered their pores and began to fester inside them.
Cries of pain begin to echo around the quarry. Pharaoh demands his driver take him home. The driver is in agony too but responds to Pharaoh’s command. Upon arriving at his palace Pharaoh summons his magicians to have them deal with this plague. But no magicians come. They too have been stricken by this plague and are unable to move from their beds.
Egypt comes to a standstill again as every man, woman and beast suffer in agony for four days. In Goshen another “work holiday” is observed. The people are focusing on the Lord instead as ALL give thanks for the division between the two people and the Lord fighting their battle. They are excited about the prospect of Pharaoh relenting and releasing them.
On the fifth day when the Hebrews are ordered back into the quarry and treated even worse than before their hope begins to tarnish. “Why is the Lord taking so long?” “Is He torturing Egypt just so they will make our lives even more miserable?!” “Why can’t He just leave us alone?!”
Moses shakes his head in wonder as he hears the hearts of the people. “Why can’t they just trust You Lord?”
“Because they are a stubborn people and they need a little more convincing.”
“When will they be convinced and when will this end?”
“Soon My son. Remain obedient and faithful no matter how it looks or what the people say.”
“Yes Lord. I will follow wherever You lead.”
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I know our reading doesn’t specifically state this is the attitude of the Hebrews but their later behavior leads me to believe this is how they responded. Also that is how the story was impressed upon me. In the face of their miracle all they saw was the adversity. They were only singing when things were going great. They were having trouble maintaining that joy in the middle of the struggle. They were seeing the storm instead of the boat carrying them in safety. They didn’t suffer the sores. They were free from that agony, but yet that wasn’t enough to convince them fully of God’s faithfulness.
Father I am as guilty as Israel of praising in the good times and fretting in the bad ones. I have learned though to RUN to You in the middle of the struggles. Those seem to be the greatest growth times. Was that true for Israel too? Did they grow the most when under pressure? Or were their growth spurts confined to the demonstrations of Your miracles?
In the storm when Your miracles come they make my heart sing! That is what was happening with the Hebrews. Their hearts must have been singing at the end of each storm. But there were more to walk through. More to stress the lessons of the last one. I PRAY I carry the lessons from my previous storms into tomorrow’s storms. THOSE lessons are where I find my joy in the midst of sorrow. Honestly, my sorrows have been minor compared to some that others have faced. But my lessons are no less trustworthy and affirming of Your love than anyone else’s. Thank You for keeping me safe in the storms and for keeping me protected from even worse ones.
I pray for those who are walking through “hurricane force storms” in their lives. Please hold them fast in Your arms and remind them that You are just as present on the mountain tops as You are in the deepest darkest valleys or the roughest seas. Thank You for walking me out of those deep dark valleys too.