DIG: How has Moses’ tough talk gotten tougher? What does the full force of this plague do? Sparing whom? Why? After the hailstorm, what new tactic does Pharaoh use in his battle of wills? What does Moses see behind this façade?
REFLECT: Do you think God could have achieved His goals without the plagues? If so, how? If not, why? What do you see as the LORD’s main purpose in causing Egypt to suffer the plagues? Were they primarily for the benefit of Egypt or for the Israelites (see 6:1-8)? Do you believe that judgment is coming? How are you preparing for it?
This seventh plague starts the third cycle of three judgments, and once again the first in the triad (the blood, the flies, and the hail) came with an extended warning from Moses to Pharaoh. The contest was heating up. Then ADONAI said to Moses His servant: Get up early in the morning and literally, take your stand before Pharaoh, as he goes to the water and say to him, “This is what ADONAI, the God of the Hebrews says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me” (9:13).
The seventh plague had two purposes. The first purpose was to show the uniqueness of God. Moses went on to warn the king: Let My people go, or this time I will send the full force of My plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth (9:14). The heavens themselves were to be unleashed against Egypt. The Egyptians believed that Pharaoh’s heart was the all-controlling factor in both history and society. Now the King of Egypt’s heart was hardened against the Hebrews. ADONAI assaults his heart to demonstrate that only the God of the Hebrews is sovereign in the universe.158 Secondly, the seventh plague demonstrated the power of God. For by now I could have stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth (9:15).
What is unique about this plague is that now Moses lets Pharaoh in on a secret, one the readers have been privy to from the beginning.159 Pharaoh was allowed to remain alive, so that God might show Pharaoh His power and so that His name might be proclaimed everywhere. Therefore, God said through His prophets: But instead of destroying you, I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you My power and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth (9:16). The Apostle Paul quoted this verse almost verbatim as an outstanding illustration of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9:17.160 Pharaoh needed to understand the he was serving the LORD’s purpose, not the other way around.
Then ADONAI gets right to the heart of the matter. You still set yourself against My people and will not let them go (9:17). Pharaoh was playing god, lifting himself up against the Holy One of Israel. A line in the sand of Egypt had been clearly drawn. Moses through Aaron continued as God’s mouthpiece: Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now (9:18). The last three plagues were phenomena that produced increasing degrees of darkness. Literally, I will cause a very heavy hail to rain down. Again, heavy is descriptive of the state of Pharaoh’s heart throughout the Exodus account. The harshness of the hailstorm mirrors the degree of hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.161 The fact that Moses predicted the time and day of the arrival and departure (9:29) of the plague sets it apart from a purely natural occurrence.162
Then God gave Pharaoh and the Egyptians a test to see if they would take steps to comply with His warning and thus acknowledge Moses’ advice. Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die (9:19). Pharaoh had huge amounts of livestock and he, more than anyone else in Egypt, needed to listen to Moses. There is no record of the king’s obedience, but for the first time, some Egyptians started to listen to Moses.
Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of ADONAI hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored His word left their slaves and livestock in the field (9:20-21). It is assumed that the livestock mentioned here are those not stricken by previous plagues.163 Those who did not believe God made no provision for protection. The message the LORD gave the Egyptians is the same one He gives to the world today. Judgment is coming. Mankind is not wise to go on as if nothing is going to happen. It was that way in the days of Noah, and it will be that way when Christ comes again in judgment. Many people in Egypt did not believe God and they paid the price for their unbelief. All God asks is that you believe Him.164
The next day God commanded Moses to bring the plague on the land as He had said. Then ADONAI said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt – on men and animals and on everything growing in the field of Egypt” (9:22).
When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, ADONAI sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So He rained hail on the land of Egypt; hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. The severity of the seventh plague was quite striking. The appearance of lightning and thunder in the Old Covenant, or the TANAKH, often pointed to the presence of God (19:16 and 20:18). It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation, spanning eighteen centuries (9:23-24).
Even though hailstorms were rare in the land, throughout Egypt hail struck down and killed everything in the fields – both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped away most every tree (9:25). The psalmist Asaph described the scene this way: He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamore-figs with sleet. He gave over their cattle to the hail, their livestock to blots of lightning (Psalm 78:47-48). Although the damage done by the hailstorm was widespread and devastating, a few trees remained for the locusts of the next plague to devour (10:5).165
One cannot help but be touched by the sorrow that must have existed in the homes throughout Egypt. Those who had labored long and hard in the hot sun witnessed in a few moments the total destruction of their crops. Their desperate cries to their gods brought no relief. We know from Egyptian documents that the loss of crops was one of the greatest disasters in the country. The economy and the life of the people were very much intertwined with agricultural success. Crop failure not only brought economic desperation, but also led to great sorrow and social chaos.
It is crucial to remember that the Egyptians believed their gods to be personified in the elements of nature. The catastrophe of the hailstorm was therefore a mockery of the Egyptian gods. What would the worshipers of Nut, the female goddess of the sky, think when they looked up to see the tragedy of storm and violence and not the blessings of the sun? It was from her domain that tragedy came. Shu, the supporter of the heavens who held up the sky and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture, seemed not to hear.166 They must have felt confused when both Isis and Seth, who had responsibilities relating to agricultural crops, were powerless. The black and burned fields of flax were a silent testimony to the impotence and incapacity of their wooden and stone gods. They indeed had ears, but did not hear (Jeremiah 5:21, Romans 11:8). The destruction of flax was also significant since it was flax that provided the linen for the garments of the priests throughout the land of Egypt.167
The only place the plague did not fall was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were (9:26). Goshen remained untouched, safe, secure and tranquil. This time Pharaoh didn’t even send anyone to see the results of the seventh plague. He already knew in his heavy heart.
There is a striking introversion between the seventh and fourth plagues. Here in the seventh plague we read: The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived; so also in the fourth plague we are specifically told that God exempted the Israelites in the land of Goshen. No swarms of flies were found there.168
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. No mention was made of the magicians or priests. For the first time Amenhotep II admitted that he had sinned when he said: ADONAI is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. It would be a mistake to think that Pharaoh had seen the light and was truly repentant. The ancient Egyptians believed he could do no wrong and was perfect. Therefore, God attacked Pharaoh’s character to show that He was the only One who was good and perfect. Nevertheless, Pharaoh continued and said: Pray to ADONAI, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer (9:27-28). This is the third time Pharaoh has asked Moses to pray for him. But he continued to lie. Like a snake in the grass, he waited for his opportunity to strike.
Moses replied: When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to ADONAI. Statues of men praying with hands upraised have been unearthed at several ancient cites (also see First Kings 8:22, 38 and 54, Second Chronicles 6:12-13 and 29, Ezra 9:5, Psalms 44:20, 88:9, 143:6, Isaiah 1:15). The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is ADONAI’s (9:29). It was God who ruled over the earth, not Pharaoh or the gods of Egypt. So Moses was very blunt with Pharaoh, saying: But I know that you and your officials still do not fear God (9:30). He knew the confession and asking for prayer were empty words, having a form of godliness but denying its power (Second Timothy 3:5a).
The flax and barley were destroyed, since in January or February the barley had headed and the flax was in bloom. The wheat, which comes up in March or April, and spelt, however, were not destroyed because they ripen later (9:31-32). This showed God’s grace in the midst of judgment. Spelt is a grass related to wheat, and has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. Therefore, about eight weeks passed between the seventh and eighth plagues.
Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands toward God; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land (9:33). That was no natural phenomenon.
When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again. He and his officials hardened their hearts (9:34). Again he refused to fulfill his word once the danger had passed. The text literally says: He added to or increased his sin. For the first time we see that his officials also hardened their hearts. Moses, in a strong show of force that, under normal circumstances, would have sealed his own fate, called Pharaoh a liar when he said to him: I know that you and your officials still do not fear God (9:30).169
So Pharaoh’s heart was hard to the lesson he should have learned long ago. He could not compete with Israel’s God. And because his heart was hard, he would not let the Israelites go, just as ADONAI had said through Moses (9:35). This plague ended with the formula, found in one variation or another, at the end of every plague so far (7:22, 8:15, 19, 32, 9:7 and 12). Pharaoh remained adamant about preventing the Hebrews from leaving on a three-day journey to sacrifice to the LORD. Therefore, the heart of Pharaoh was anesthetized from the pain that his people were experiencing. The end of the confrontation was drawing near.170
We read in the Book of Revelation the following description of the seventh bowl of wrath that will be poured out on unbelievers: The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” Then came flashes of lightning, rumbling, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on the earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of His wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky, huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so horrible (Revelation 16:17-21).
The similarities between the first trumpet judgment in Revelation and the seventh plague in Egypt are remarkable (see my commentary on Revelation Cw – Hail and Fire Mixed With Blood Were Hurled Down Upon the Earth). First, it should be noted that both plagues are accompanied by thunder and lightning. Secondly, the extent of the two plagues is underscored: in Egypt nothing like it had been seen in all the land of Egypt since the day it was founded as a nation (9:24); in Revelation nothing like it had occurred since man came to be on the earth. Both plagues were extremely severe, and in both instances mankind’s response to them was hardness of heart or blasphemy.
The size of the hailstones in Revelation underscores how severe the plague in the end times will be - it will be so much greater than the plague in Egypt. The disaster that befell the Egyptians was simply a foretaste of the final judgment. That ought to give us pause, and drive us to share the good news of the Messiah that delivers people from such an end.171
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017