9:1- Only two named men in the story so far have been called Hebrews—Abraham and Joseph. It could just be that God was identifying Himself with the people group as a whole. But part of me wonders if Pharaoh had been doing some studying at his hall of records after Moses claimed to speak on behalf of the God of the Hebrews in his first visit. Maybe by now Pharaoh knows the connection to Joseph?
9:3- “The Hebrew verb here has a spine-tingling effect for which there is no obvious English equivalent. The verb “to be” in Hebrew is not supposed to have a participial, or present, tense. . . This strange usage involves a kind of fearsome pun on the divine name YHWH that was mysteriously highlighted in the Burning Bush episode. God’s intrinsic and unique capacity for being, we are made to see, is not just a matter of static condition but an awesome power of action—the hand that is “about to be” against all the livestock of Egypt.” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary
Some will claim that camels were not domesticated in Egypt at this point, but that is debated. Murrain is an older English word for a disease mainly affecting cattle. But we’re not sure exactly what kind of disease it was. Sever means God is keeping that division between the nations.
9:8- “This scooping up of soot and casting it skyward intensifies the ominousness of the moment and has the look of an act of sympathetic magic. The black dust from the kiln turns into broadcast contamination, a plague clearly paired with the preceding plague of livestock pestilence but affecting man as well as beast.” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary
9:9- “The Hebrew [word for boil] obviously refers to a painful skin disease, but no definitive identification of the malady has been made. The noun is probably related to a root that means ‘to be hot. . . . The fact that the plague is inaugurated with soot taken from a kiln may reinforce an association between burning heat and the skin disease in question.” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary
9:11- Interesting that the magicians pop back up here since they were missing during signs 4 and 5. Some scholars have suggested based on the work of Herodotus that the lice and boils made the priests ritually unclean and unable to serve their gods.
9:12- Yet again, Yahweh strengthens Pharaoh's resolve. He is not hardening Pharaoh's heart against Him as we often think. God is giving Pharaoh the courage to make a decision at this key juncture. Unfortunately, Pharaoh uses that resolve to stiffen his neck against Yahweh.
9:13- By this point, the narrative is flat out repeating dialogue to emphasize the number of chances Pharaoh has been given to repent.
9:14- This verse sounds like there’s no going back at this point. While I certainly can’t say with authority that God wouldn’t have stopped the plagues had Pharaoh conceded after this, it does seem like this is a Rubicon moment, a point of no return.
9:15- This is the first threat of annihilation for this Egyptian dynasty. In a culture that highly valued the continuation of your family and clan name, such a threat would not have been taken lightly.
9:16- This verse should make you pause and think. Yahweh is claiming responsibility for the rise of this Pharaoh. What does that mean for Yahweh’s responsibility when it comes to the actions of the Pharaoh? It’s fair to wonder why God would raise up certain people at certain times throughout world history. One important detail though that we can’t overlook is that the verse says nothing about God’s raising up Pharaoh in order to oppress the Israelites or to punish the Egyptians. The verse only says that this Pharaoh was raised up in order that God’s power could be understood and His name written down in the earth. These things could have been fulfilled had the Pharaoh chosen to listen to Yahweh and let Israel go.
Everyone approaches life from different perspectives. Some are able to view texts like the hardening of Pharoah’s heart or Yahweh’s raising up of Pharoah and trust that it was all for a reason and will work out well in the end. Others really struggle with how God can be good and allow or even sanction such violence as we see in these stories. Those of us who have settled on our own answers need to be careful not to rush others into the same conclusions. It took us time to get to our answers; others deserve the same. Sometimes an offer of companionship on the journey of questioning and uncertainty is more meaningful than an easy answer. On the other side, those of us who are more prone to feel the dissonance need to be patient with those who have already worked through their own answers. What can feel overly simplistic to us is meaningful to them. Perhaps this week, you can find someone who views passages like this from an angle opposite yours and ask them questions about how they currently understand these complex issues. Don’t try to convince them of your position. Just ask questions and listen. While we all like to believe we’re the ones who are right, the truth is often in between the two sides.