In the Burning Bush, God called Moses back to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of the slavery back to the land promised to their father Abraham. Moses had questions and doubts, but ultimately accepted his mission. Led by miraculous signs of his staff God’s power, Moses and his brother Aaron go to the Israelites and tell them of God’s plan. Believing the signs, the Israelites bowed their heads and worshiped God.
Moses and Aaron then went to Pharaoh and asked for the Israelites to go three days into the wilderness to worship God. Pharaoh refused, scoffing at the God of the Israelites. Because of Moses and Aaron’s bold ask, Pharaoh made the Israelites make their own bricks, by gathering their own straw (previously the Egyptians had provided these) without lessening their daily quota. The Israelites turn on Moses, blaming him and God for their new troubles (not the last time this will happen in the next 40 years). Yet, God reassures them of His plan. Moses and Aaron show Pharaoh the signs of God (Aaron’s staff turning into a snake), however, Pharaoh refuses to relent.
Because Pharaoh’s heart has been hardened, God sends ten plagues to show Pharaoh his power. The Nile turns to blood, the land is invaded by frogs, gnats, flies and locusts, livestock is destroyed, boils come upon the people, thunder and hail ravage the land, and darkness covers the land. Many times Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites go if the plagues relent, yet each time he goes back on his word. After these nine plagues, the final one would be the worst, but also a sign of hope for future generations.
What can we learn from these plagues? First, each of the plagues correlated with an Egyptian God. By bringing forth the plagues, God was letting the Egyptian people know that He is greater than their false gods. In addition, God’s plagues disrupt the lives of the Egyptians. God proves his love for His people by saying He will not be ignored by Pharaoh.
Next, when breaking free from Egypt, slavery got worse before it got better. When threatened to lose his slaves, Pharaoh tightens his grip on the Israelites. Sin is like this. When we accept our sins as part of our life instead of struggling against them, we hardly notice them after a while. We become complacent and accept them as the status quo. We may even like them. But often when we try to rid ourselves of sin, it is an arduous process initially. God allows our hearts to be tested to purify our intentions to truly desire freedom.
Finally, God says he will harden Pharaoh’s heart. We must not be troubled by this language. Whenever the burning love of God is revealed to us, there are two reactions. The fire either tortures or purifies our souls, depending on our disposition. This is what will ultimately happen at our final judgment. When God says he will harden Pharaoh’s heart, He is prophesying that when He reveals Himself to Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s disposition is one that will not accept Him. Even when Pharaoh agrees to bend to the Father’s will, Pharaoh immediately changes his mind when the plagues relent. Meaning he only agreed to do God’s will because he was concerned about external comforts, not honoring God. Once things go back to normal, Pharaoh returns the hardness of his heart.
In the plagues, we often can relate more to Pharaoh than to anyone else in the story. The historical story of the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt also serves as an excellent allegory for our slavery to sin. However, even after nine plagues, the Israelites were still in slavery. It was going to take a paschal sacrifice to deliver the people from Egypt, just as it will take a paschal sacrifice to deliver us from sin.