Passover Plagues: Ten Days of Devotions
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Day One: Moses the Messenger
Pharaoh asks the question, “Who is the LORD, that I should I obey His voice…?”(1) and Moses is God’s mouthpiece to demonstrate the answer. Moses has been specially preserved and prepared by God for eighty years to be His instrument of deliverance. But that deliverance will come at a cost, with an important lesson in the process. Pharaoh’s question flaunts his fundamental unwillingness to acknowledge the all-powerful God. God unleashes a series of plagues that show His power over all the so-called gods of Egypt. Moses announces the plagues to demonstrate who God is and why Pharaoh should obey Him at the banks of the Nile River, which the Egyptians worshiped and revered as their source of life and power.
We encounter people on a daily basis who are asking pretty much the same questions as Pharaoh asked. Whether they are religious pluralists like the Egyptians, atheists or agnostics like many in the Western world or just “too busy” to pay attention to God, we are called to be God’s messengers to them. Not the easiest task.
I’ve sometimes made excuses (like Moses did when God first commanded him to speak) but I realize that my mandate is not based on my skill and I’m not released from it because of my own “poor speaking.”(2) It’s all about God’s promises and His power.
As followers of the mighty God, we are mandated to share God’s redemption story with a world of people who have hardened their hearts against Him. We need God’s empowerment as Moses did. We have His Spirit to enable us in this task. God continues to confront the gods of our day with His unique power and sovereignty. He has chosen us as His messengers to introduce people we encounter to the Creator of life and light.
God of Israel, You are all-powerful, patient and loving. Help me to be a faithful messenger of Your story to people You have placed in my life. May they choose to follow You into eternity. Through Jesus the Messiah, Amen.
- Exodus 5:2
- Exodus 6:30
Day Two: Let My People Go and Worship
God’s desire to free His people to worship Him is the focus of the Exodus story. While the plagues God brought upon Egypt might be seen simply as agents of destruction, it’s important to remember that their purpose was to save His people. God is in the business of redemption.
Why frogs? They were considered sacred, a symbol of fertility, by the Egyptians. God is still answering Pharaoh’s question, so that he will know that there is no one like Him (v. 10). With the addition of the gnats without warning, Pharaoh’s magicians recognized that “God has done this” yet Pharaoh still reneged on his promise to let Israel worship the Creator (vv. 15 & 19).
If this story were aired on prominent news channels today, the emphasis would be on the injustice of slavery, and indeed, slavery is unjust. But the focus of God’s story is redemption. God saved Israel out of slavery to worship Him. How free are we to worship today? There are many ways to be entangled by the “gods” of our day, though we’re not so likely to idolize a river or a particular animal. But what about the seemingly sacred idea that real freedom is doing whatever we want? Not only is that a false idea, for many it is a false god. People worship the ability to do as they please, as though there is no higher good. But God has designed us to journey with Him in obedience. He does not want us to be enslaved by our own agenda and desires, which keep us from freely following Him. He bought us back with a price that we could never repay. He releases us into true freedom, peace and power.
God our Redeemer, I acknowledge that Your Word is true and You never fail us. You want us to be free to love You. Show us anything we might be worshiping in our hearts or placing above You. Bring us out of our slavery into Your freedom. In the promised Messiah Jesus, Amen.
Day Three: God Preserves His People
A pattern emerges as God releases the fourth plague. We see a symmetrical, unfolding scheme. The first nine plagues are a series of three plagues each. The first is announced by Moses at the Nile, the second by Moses at the palace and the third without warning. As swarms of flies are released into Egypt, God makes a distinction between His people and the Egyptians. He does this with other plagues as well (Exodus 9:4,6; 9:26; 10:23; 11:7) but this is our first glimpse of the distinct preservation of God’s people in the midst of these plagues.
This is a vivid reminder that God is a covenant-keeper. God’s judgment was a reminder to the Hebrews of God’s calling. Their exemption from Egypt’s calamities affirmed that God had set them apart for His purposes and an emphatic display of His character. We can take similar comfort in the knowledge that we are children of Israel’s God.
Faithful Father, You are the God who patiently protects us. You never change and You never make promises You don’t keep. Thank You for setting us apart to serve You. Help us to be obedient children so that others may see Your love and follow You. In the name of our Savior Jesus, Amen.
Day Four: A Hard Heart
Through every warning from Moses, every blow to Egypt, and despite his own suffering and that of his people, Pharaoh remained recalcitrant. Even when he tried to negotiate with God, or made promises he didn’t keep, Pharaoh’s heart was unyielding (v. 7). 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 is 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). And yet the loss and suffering experienced throughout Egypt does not penetrate Pharaoh’s stony heart. The affront to his gods does not sway him. The painful boils in his body do not bring true repentance. In the next chapter, Pharaoh confesses his sin and wickedness to Moses and Aaron but he still does not fear the Lord (9:27-30).
I read about this ruler of Egypt and shake my head in disbelief—but then I realize I do myself a disservice if I don’t see any of my own flaws reflected in him. 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. It takes effort to keep my heart soft to the Lord and to accept His grace. Pharaoh’s arrogance can remind me to strive to keep myself pliable, open to God’s lessons, corrections, and directions.
Gracious Lord, You are slow to anger and patient with us. We ask that our hearts would be pliant towards You and that You’ll reveal any calcification and hardness, and help us be quick to receive Your correction. Keep us close to You, walking in Your ways, for Your name’s sake. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Day Five: For This Purpose
In the desert land of Egypt, God sends a wildly destructive hailstorm. The Egyptians worshiped fire and water so God used both to judge them. The Lord’s purpose is clear: to show His power and bring honor to Himself using imagery the Egyptians understood. The Lord tells Pharaoh that He could have wiped the people out completely but He wants them to know who He is (vv. 14-16). His goal is to save, not destroy. The Apostle Paul repeats this lesson in Romans 9:10 to emphasize God’s power, justice and mercy.
The purpose of God’s story is being realized in this passage. The Egyptians are now beginning to fear the God of Israel and obey Him. Those who believed Moses’ message sheltered their servants and livestock and were spared the worst of the destruction. Those who did not know Him and saw His character displayed in acts of power could choose to turn and believe. God’s justice is married to His mercy and that divine partnership is displayed here.
I visited a Jewish woman several years ago who did not believe in Jesus. I offered to pray for her and she said that if God answered her request for a job in Jesus’ name, she would be open to faith. God responded miraculously to her prayer; she then explored the Bible and put her trust in the Messiah of Israel. Often in the midst of suffering and uncomfortable circumstances, God’s purpose is to bring us closer to Him. Well-known 20th century author C.S. Lewis writes, “Pain . . . is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”(1) When life’s hailstorms threaten to overwhelm us, we can take shelter in our Lord.
Saving God, You have made Your name known throughout the earth. In Your power You made Yourself personal. Help us to see Your purpose in our lives in every situation. May we be faithful to display Your story in our lives so others will obey You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
- C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Day Six: Tell Your Children
Pharaoh is being disciplined and humbled as he continues to contend with God, although his efforts are frustrated and fruitless. As Pharaoh attempts to negotiate with the Creator, he is confronted with the reality of who is actually in charge of Egypt. Ancient civilizations dreaded locusts, so the Egyptians surely saw their arrival as divine judgment. This swarming army of voracious insects toppled false belief in the Egyptian god Set who was thought to protect Egypt’s crops. As the plagues increase in severity, Pharaoh still refuses to recognize who holds his world together, and it spins out of control.
The Lord tells Moses that Pharaoh’s stubbornness and the resulting plagues will be a lesson for his (Moses’) children, their children and generations to come. This is emphasized repeatedly in Exodus, as the memory of God’s promises kept must be passed down from generation to generation. (1) (More than 400 years later, the Philistines remembered the Lord God of Israel as the one who plagued the Egyptians(2).) This incident was sung repeatedly in the Psalms(3) as a reminder of Yahweh’s power. This story is regularly heard on the lips of Jewish people worldwide to mark God’s faithfulness to His covenant. Memorializing what He’s done through the generations is a foundation for our faith. God wants this story repeated to Israel’s children for centuries to come so all will know that He is the Lord (v. 2).
My children know when I’m teaching them a lesson that I have deeply learned in my own life. Their alert antennae are quick to pick up any insincerity and hypocrisy. When I talk to them about the Lord, they see I speak from experience and not just from a book I’ve read. When we celebrate the Passover meal annually, it’s not a story that is removed from them. The God who showed His mighty power in delivering us out of Egypt is the same God that is meeting them at our table today.
- Exodus 10:2; 12:26-27; 13:8&14
- 1 Samuel 4:8
- Psalm 78:51; 105:36; 135:8; 136:10
Mighty God, You work miracles for Your name’s sake. May we teach Your mighty works daily in our homes, to our families, in every way so they might also come to know You. Help us to participate in passing on Your story for generations to come. In the name of Messiah, Amen.
Day Seven: Creation Undone
In the beginning of the creation account in Genesis, God makes the formless and dark world light. This ninth plague unravels God’s creation and returns the land to chaos. It attacks Egypt’s most potent religious symbol, the sun god Ra, and Pharaoh himself who was considered the incarnation of Amon-Ra. In the Bible, God is characterized as light(1), but when He withdraws His presence there is a supernatural darkness that can be felt. That darkness symbolizes evil, chaos and judgment. Yet the people of Goshen were not touched by this tangible darkness, but were bathed in light. Pharaoh is exasperated beyond reason as he ironically banishes Moses from “seeing” him again.
Throughout God’s story, those who follow Him are portrayed as walking in the light. John’s Gospel often uses the image of light to refer to Jesus and to those who believe in Him. Yet some choose to live in darkness and to enjoy, even flaunt, that darkness. And that darkness presses in around us as boundaries of what is considered acceptable are continually pushed in our culture. Television shows that were once considered controversial and on the edge of what’s appropriate are now considered laughably tame and outdated. Our culture seems to demand tolerance, yet in reality has no tolerance for the idea that God created the universe, including us, for His purpose.
Well-known pastor Tim Keller notes that, “Jesus is the Maker who was willing to be unmade so that we might be remade.(2) “ This story shows elements of that unmaking in order to remake. Disobedience to the unique God of Israel results in chaos and darkness. Without God’s gift of redemption, we could not be children of light. May we be like the people of Goshen living in the light even if the world surrounding us is plunged into the darkness.
- John 1:5
- Tim Keller, Before the Beginning (Sermon), May 28, 2011
God of Light, You have created all things for Your glory and for Your purpose. May we walk in the light, as You are the light. Banish darkness from our hearts and help us to shine brightly so that others may see You clearly in us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Day Eight: A Price to Pay
Pharaoh refused to release Israel, God’s firstborn son, and now God will take his firstborn son(1). This tenth plague cannot be reversed by Pharaoh’s insincere confession of sin—there is a price to pay. It dealt a final blow to the Egyptian false gods and undermined Osiris, the Egyptian giver of life. The entire community was being judged from the lowest to the highest. The death of Pharaoh’s firstborn wiped out the future divine king over the land.
Some might respond to this passage by pumping a fist with glee over God’s great judgment of the “bad guy” while others might shake their heads in disbelief over a God whose judgment is so deadly. But either response would be missing the point. God has made Himself known through these mighty miracles. Where He pronounces judgment, He provides a way of escape, even to the final and most deadly plague. Without God’s provision, no one would be spared from that plague; the death of the firstborn included the children of Israel as well as the Egyptians. All would pay the penalty unless they were sealed by the blood of the lamb on the door.
God’s justice and mercy are inextricably linked. All people are under God’s judgment for sin, yet all can be spared by grace through faith in His provision. There were those with the Hebrews who listened to God and took hold of His escape plan, as seen in the next chapter. The Lord chose Israel to teach all nations about Him(2). He did this to show His love and faithfulness(3). This final plague is a disturbingly graphic yet comforting picture of the Redeemer who was to come.
- Exodus 4:22-23
- Isaiah 43:10-12
- Deuteronomy 7:7-8
Everlasting Father, You are faithful, holy and just. Your mercy and love endure forever. Thank You for sending Your one and only Son to pay the price for our sin. Help us to tell this story to others who need Your hope. In the name of our Savior Jesus, Amen.
Day Nine: The Passover Lamb
The Passover event is so important that it will mark the beginning of the Jewish calendar from now on. God is painting an eternal picture of redemption in this chapter. It is to be a memorial forever, imprinted, not only in scrolls, but in yearly celebrations, for every generation to follow.
The first Passover meal was part of the redemption story. Subsequently, we commemorate that redemption story. From the bitter herbs to the unleavened bread to the lamb, the children of Israel are to re-enact all that God did for them in bringing them out of Egypt. Many traditions have since been added, all for the same purpose. In all the Jewish people prepare for, in all they see on the table, the food they touch, taste and smell, the words they hear – every sense is engaged as they participate in the story. Every element is loaded with meaning.
God’s lamb is a central part of His story just as it was when He provided a lamb for Abraham as a substitute for his only son Isaac(1). The lamb’s blood protected the Israelites from death. John beheld Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away sin(2). Jesus identified Himself as the provided Lamb as He instituted the new covenant(3) in His blood at His last Passover meal with His disciples(4).
All of us, Jewish or not, are invited to participate in God’s story. We are invited to place the blood of Jesus on the doorposts of our hearts so that death would pass over us. Through the Messiah, we have the gift of eternal life. And those of us who know Jesus are invited to remember what He’s done for us as we take the bread and cup to remember His body and blood, given for us. When we agree with God about our sin, and receive His forgiveness through the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, death passes over us. This is the provision we need to share with others. This is the miracle that all believers need to commemorate, and pass on from one generation to the next.
- Genesis 22:1-19
- John 1:29
- Jeremiah 31:31-34
- Luke 22:20
God our Provider, You saw our need and met it through the sacrifice of Your only Son. Forgive our sins and remind us of Your redemption. As we have freely received the gift of life, prompt us to share it with others. For Your kingdom’s sake, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Day Ten: Deliverance
To recap our reflections over these ten days: God definitively answered Pharaoh’s question, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice . . .?” (5:2) and Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go! The Lord displays His nature, defeats the gods of Egypt and delivers His people from bondage. God is the director and producer of this dramatic documentary. The Israelites were obedient and ready to be freed to worship God (vv. 35, 50-51). This is the reason for the plagues. His people were saved through judgment, not destroyed and left in the darkness. Many others came out of Egypt with the Hebrews (v. 38) because God’s invitation to be saved under the blood of the lamb is open to all.
At Passover, we drink four cups of wine. The second is the cup of plagues. Before we drink it, we pour out ten drops from the cup to show that our joy is diminished due to the destruction of the Egyptians. For those who participate in this story, we are not to gloat over of the consequences of Pharaoh’s disobedience. We should be mindful of our own propensity to disobey.
As believers in Jesus, we understand that the consequences of our own disobedience have resulted in far more than whatever short term consequences we may suffer. The Son of God bore our judgment on the cross. He took the plagues on Himself, He experienced the darkness for us(1). God didn’t just talk about His love, He demonstrated it by dying for us(2). And because He rose from the grave, we can know that we are no longer slaves to sin. We are free to be who He created us to be and to worship Him. In disobedience, we will lose our purpose and identity. Instead, let us find deliverance and discover that there is no one like Him!
- Matthew 27:45
- Romans 5:8
Gracious God, You deliver us from death and destruction. You are perfect in Your plans and You love Your people. Cleanse our hearts and homes so that we can worship You. Thank You for sending Christ our Passover to die for us. Thank You for raising Him from the dead. Thank You for the new life we have in Him, and that nothing is too difficult for You! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Laura Barron is a missionary at the Toronto branch of Jews for Jesus. Along with her husband Andrew, who heads up the Jews for Jesus work in Canada, Laura pioneered the South African ministry of Jews for Jesus. She is a fluent Hebrew speaker and regularly takes part in the organization’s outreach ministry in Israel. Laura and Andrew have three children: Rafael, Ketzia and Simona.