Pharaoh’s servants by now understand that it is becoming dangerous to live in the land of Egypt, that the plagues are substantial and no one is immune. They understand that Pharaoh should surrender, and send the male Israelites to worship their god.
“And Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long will this one be a snare for us?! Send the [individuals] … and let them worship YHVH their God; Do you not yet know that Egypt has been destroyed!’” (Exodus 10:7)
I take note of the word in the Hebrew original, that both Pharaoh’s servants and Pharaoh himself choose when they describe the Israelites. For them, sending these (male) “individuals” is not sending a nation, whereas Moses came to Pharaoh with the demand:
“Let my people [ami] go!”
The Egyptians frame it as (in the worst case) letting go of a conglomerate of individuals (anashim). They are not ready to accept that there is another collective nation-group living among them. Why? That would force them to deal with the fact that there is a group among them that they are treating brutally and enslaving.
Not just the men
Pharaoh was a leader in the mold of the ancient world, and Moses was the new leader. Pharaoh thought of serving the divine, as the realm of men, not women.
“‘No! Have only the men go; and worship the LORD, since that’s what you have been asking for.’ And Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.” (Exodus 10:11)
Moses, in contrast, sees the worship of God as applicable to everyone.
“Moses answered, ‘We will go with our young and old, with our sons and daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the LORD.’” (Exodus 10:9 NIV)
Pharaoh was a dictator with dark views. And the enlightened Moses sought and believed in freedom for each and every person.
The seventh plague that comes now is the plague of locusts: a plague that darkens the face of the earth. It is a blow that speaks of darkness, and brings us into the last round of plagues. Darkness is not only physical darkness, but darkness in thoughts and opinions, darkness of morals and values. One people group is enslaving another, and is unwilling to wake up even in the face of severe plagues. The Egyptian people are totally blind to the heavy discrimination taking place under their noses.
And in the Bible, as usual, the punishment is in accordance with the action itself. The Egyptians, who behave in such a dark way and walk in total blindness in the face of someone else’s suffering, end up receiving the plagues of darkness. The plague of locusts blocks the sunlight partially, and then the plague of literal darkness comes, emphasizing the loneliness of each and every Egyptian.
“No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days.” (Exodus 10:23)
We can see in these two severe plagues the war of light against darkness. The Egyptians are in total darkness, but where the children of Israel live, there is light.
“And all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”
And this is actually the light that opens the eyes of the Israelites and their hearts to see. To see that there is hope, to see that there is salvation, to see that there is redemption, and to want to escape slavery… to get out of the place where they were before emotionally. It was a place of being “short of spirit.” Now the way to leave slavery in favor of getting to know the light of God has become tangible.
In order for Pharaoh to become willing to set the people of Israel free, God had to bring him to the edge. To the hardest place a person can reach, and that is the death of his firstborn son, the death of his heir, and perhaps the death of his dynasty.
It took other people experiencing pain and suffering, to make them release the Israelites and set them free. I admit that it is never easy for me to read this and understand that, for the children of Israel to be freed, the lives of so many others came under judgment and ruin. It is written regarding this final plague:
“There was no house without someone dead.”
Pharaoh was stubborn, he was not ready to change his opinions. He saw no one but himself. And he was not able to compromise, or give up ideas that had already stopped serving him, and certainly did not serve his people. And this stubbornness led to destruction on a personal and national level.
We can learn much wisdom from this episode, regarding our lives today. We all long for a life of freedom and liberty. Freedom of religion, freedom of decisions, democracy, freedom to love God. In order to enjoy freedom, we must denounce all the things that enslave us.
This means giving up ideas if necessary, and perhaps idols we have adopted for ourselves. Idols can come in many forms, including money, cellphones and other people. The suffering and pain that come from biases and preconceptions, are illustrated here through egotistical Pharaoh. We should ask:
Where have we let our ego take control?
What ideas do we hold that cause us suffering or separation or loneliness?
How flexible are we in life?
Are we ready to listen to others who may think differently? And understand that they also are God’s creation?
Going through change is not easy. It means choosing to step out of the comfort zone. Just like the Israelites left Egypt, which for them was the comfort zone, to go into the unknown and dangerous desert.
Are we ready for this? To take a path that is sometimes scary and unfamiliar, in order to gain freedom?
If so, let’s save ourselves some big trouble. We don’t need to resist like Pharaoh and get all the way to the plague of the killing of the firstborn. Let’s wake up and banish the darkness and the dark opinions, and let God’s light illuminate our lives.
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