1The Lord sent Moses with this message for the king of Egypt:
The Lord God of the Hebrews commands you to let his people go, so they can worship him. 2If you keep refusing, 3he will bring a terrible disease on your horses and donkeys, your camels and cattle, and your sheep and goats. 4But the Lord will protect the animals that belong to the people of Israel, and none of theirs will die. 5Tomorrow is the day the Lord has set to do this.
6It happened the next day—all of the animals belonging to the Egyptians died, but the Israelites did not lose even one. 7When the king found out, he was still too stubborn to let the people go.
8The Lord said to Moses and Aaron:
Take a few handfuls of ashes from a stove and you, Moses, throw them into the air. Be sure the king is watching. 9The ashes will blow across the land of Egypt, causing sores to break out on people and animals.
10 So they took a few handfuls of ashes and went to the king. Moses threw them into the air, and sores immediately broke out on the Egyptians and their animals. 11The magicians were suffering so much from the sores, that they could not even come to Moses. 12Everything happened just as the Lord had told Moses—he made the king too stubborn to listen to Moses and Aaron.
Through every blow on Egypt, every warning from Moses, every suffering of his people, the Pharaoh remained recalcitrant and defiant. Even when he tried to negotiate with God, or made promises he didn’t keep, Pharaoh’s heart was unyielding (v7). It can be distracting to focus on the phrase, “he made the king too stubborn to listen” (v12) and claim that he didn’t have a choice in the matter. Pharaoh’s path was chosen and his hard heart was a consequence and culmination of all his decisions up to that point.
This plague against the livestock of Egypt was a direct hit to their worship of sacred cattle and possibly to their mother-god Hathor, portrayed with a cow’s head. We read that the Israelites knew the sacrifices they would offer to God would be abhorrent to Egyptians (8:26). The loss and suffering experienced in Egypt did not penetrate Pharaoh’s stony heart. The affront to his gods did not sway him. The pain in his body from the boils did not bring true repentance. In the next chapter, Pharaoh confesses his sin and wickedness to Moses and Aaron but he still did not fear the Lord (9:27-30).
How can we avoid the stubbornness of Pharaoh in our lives today? How do we respond to the nudge of God’s Spirit in our hearts? Do we say one thing and then do another? We can know God’s Story and fail to participate in it. I confess that I examine this ruler of Egypt and shake my head in disbelief but I do a disservice to myself if I don’t see my humanity in him. It takes effort to keep my heart soft to the Lord and accept his grace. I always want to keep myself pliable, open to correction and maintain a constant state of yielding to him.
Gracious Lord, you are slow to anger and patient with us. We ask that our hearts would be pliant towards you and that any calcification would be quickly revealed and corrected. Keep us close to you, walking in your ways, for your name’s sake. In the name of Jesus, Amen.