21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. 24 Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.” 25 But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must take of them to serve the Lord our God, and we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there.” 27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. 28 Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” 29 Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.” – Exodus 10:21-28 ESV
In reading all the details concerning the various plagues, it is easy to overlook the reason for their very existence. Yes, it is clear that Pharaoh’s stubbornness played a role in each plague’s arrival, but it is important to consider what Pharaoh was rejecting. Repeatedly, God made the same request that the arrogant king refused to honor.
“Let my people go, that they may serve me.” – Exodus 10:3 ESV
What sounded like a request was actually a demand from the God of the universe. He was not asking Pharaoh for permission; He was demanding full compliance with His sovereign will. From the beginning, God had made it clear to Moses and Aaron that they were there to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, and Pharaoh was expected to comply with God’s preordained plans.
“You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” – Exodus 7:2 ESV
From the very first moment Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, they had clearly articulated Yahweh’s demands. There was never a question as to what God wanted from Pharaoh. Prior to each successive plague, Moses and Aaron made the Lord’s demands known.
“Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” – Exodus 7:16 ESV
“Let my people go, that they may serve me.” – Exodus 8:1 ESV
“Let my people go, that they may serve me.” – Exodus 8:20 ESV
“Let my people go, that they may serve me.” – Exodus 9:1 ESV
“Let my people go, that they may serve me.” – Exodus 9:13 ESV
“How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me.” – Exodus 10:3 ESV
But there is an interesting and often overlooked pattern to these repeated demands. With every third plague, God does not issue any demands or give Pharaoh an opportunity to respond. He simply acts.
With the third plague, God told Aaron, “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:16 ESV). There was no formal appointment between Pharaoh and God’s messengers. No demands were issued and no response was necessary. God simply ordered the land to be filled with an infestation of gnats.
Now, fast-forward to the sixth plague. Once again, rather than have Moses and Aaron reiterate His demands, God chose to pour out another judgment upon Egypt.
“Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become 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.” – Exodus 9:8-9 ESV
Pharaoh was a non-factor in this entire process. He was not consulted and, therefore, he had no say in the matter. The sovereign God acted independently and authoritatively, orchestrating His divine judgment against the unsuspecting people of Egypt.
And with the ninth plague, the pattern repeats itself. As with plagues three and six, plague nine comes with no warning. God makes no effort to inform Pharaoh of the consequences of refusing His demands. The king has made his will known. He has no intention of conceding to God’s command. In the face of God’s unrelenting and unstoppable displays of divine judgment, Pharaoh has remained resolute in his decision of non-compliance. So, God tells Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21 ESV).
The nation was still reeling from the devastating damage done by the locusts. What little vegetation had not been destroyed by the hail was completely wiped out by the supernatural swarm of locusts. Even Pharaoh’s counselors had warned him that his continued stubbornness was going to result in the complete destruction of their nation.
“Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” – Exodus 10:7 ESV
But Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened. He refused to bow his knee to Israel’s God. So, God ordered Moses to stretch out his hand and, immediately, an all-pervasive darkness came over the entire land of Egypt. For three solid days, “the people could not see each other, and no one moved” (Exodus 10:23 NLT). This was no ordinary darkness. It was a complete absence of light. No sun. No moon. No stars. It was impossible for anyone to see. All normal activities came to a complete halt as people remained inside their homes, huddled around the light from their oil lamps. No one dared to venture outside.
But there was light as usual where the people of Israel lived. – Exodus 10:23 NLT
As He had done before, God spared the people of Israel from the effects of this particular plague. Somehow, they were given light while the rest of the nation was blanketed in an opaque and oppressive darkness. The apostle John describes light as a primary characteristic of God.
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. – 1 John 1:5 ESV
The prophet Isaiah would later write to the people of Israel, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD” (Isaiah 2:5 ESV). With this ninth plague, God was demonstrating the reality of His light-giving presence. He was with His people. His light shined in the darkness that pervaded the rest of the land. In Him is no darkness at all. But in Egypt, the people were immersed in unpenetrable darkness. And what makes this plague so significant is the statement it made regarding Egypt’s most revered god.
Of all their deities, one stood out as the greatest of them all. Ra was considered the king of all the Egyptian gods and was believed to be the father of all creation. And because of his superior position among the gods, he was afforded great power and authority. He controlled the sun and light, and was responsible for the heavens and all power, including that of the king. He was sometimes portrayed riding through the heavens in a celestial boat, with the sun resting on his bird-like head.
He is one of the oldest deities in the Egyptian pantheon and was later merged with others such as Horus, becoming Ra-Horakhty (the morning sun), Amun (as noonday sun), and Atum (the evening sun) associated with primal life-giving energy. Ra is the Egyptian word for ‘sun’. As a solar deity, Ra embodied the power of the sun but was also thought to be the sun itself, envisioned as the great god riding in his barge across the heavens throughout the day and descending into the underworld at sunset. – http://www.worldhistory.org
One can only imagine the impact this plague of darkness had on the people of Egypt. Their revered God had literally disappeared from sight. Ra wasn’t just responsible for the sun, he was the sun itself. The God of Israel had vanquished the most powerful god of the Egyptians. And yet, in Goshen, the light was bright and comforting because Yahweh was present with His people.
With his patron god sidelined, Pharaoh decided it was time to concede to the God of Moses and Aaron. But, once again, he decided to try and bargain with Yahweh.
Finally, Pharaoh called for Moses. “Go and worship the Lord,” he said. “But leave your flocks and herds here. You may even take your little ones with you.” – Exodus 10:24 NLT
He would no longer prevent the women and children from accompanying their husbands and fathers. But, as a precaution, Pharaoh forbade the Israelites from taking any of their flocks or herds. He wanted collateral to ensure that the Israelites would return to the land of Goshen. Pharaoh was not about to risk losing his largest unpaid workforce. But Moses refused to accept Pharaoh’s terms.
“…you must provide us with animals for sacrifices and burnt offerings to the Lord our God. All our livestock must go with us, too; not a hoof can be left behind. We must choose our sacrifices for the Lord our God from among these animals. And we won’t know how we are to worship the Lord until we get there.” – Exodus 10:25-26 NLT
And true to form, Pharaoh dug in his heels and rejected Moses’ conditions. Fully frustrated by the actions of these two elderly Hebrews, Pharaoh cast them out of his presence and warned them never to return, upon pain of death.
“Never come back to see me again! The day you see my face, you will die!” – Exodus 10:28 NLT
And Moses politely and calmly replied, “As you say! I will not see your face again” (Exodus 10:29 ESV).
God was about to do something great. With the ninth plague, He was setting up His final and most devastating judgment against the people of Egypt. As the helpless Egyptians huddled in the darkness, the children of God were basking in the light of God’s presence. And that light was about to burst forth in glorious day as God unveiled the last phase of His grand plan of redemption for His people.
The prophet Isaiah wrote of a yet-future day when God will deliver His people yet again. But it reminds us that the story of Exodus is a foreshadowing of an even greater deliverance to come.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. – Isaiah 9:2-4 ESV
And Isaiah goes on to reveal the nature of this future light that will penetrate the darkness of man’s captivity to sin and death.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.