From Eternity Past


Chapter 23—The Ten Plagues of Egypt

This chapter is based on Exodus 5 to 10.

Aaron, being instructed by angels, went forth to meet his brother amid the desert solitudes near Horeb. Here Moses told Aaron “all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him.” Exodus 4:28. Together they journeyed to Egypt to assemble the elders of Israel. “The people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that He had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.” Exodus 4:31. EP 176.1

With a message for the king, the two brothers entered the palace of the Pharaohs as ambassadors from the King of kings: “Thus saith Jehovah, God of Israel, Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness.” EP 176.2

“Who is Jehovah, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” demanded the monarch; “I know no Jehovah, neither will I let Israel go.” EP 176.3

Their answer was, “The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest He fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.” EP 176.4

The king's anger was kindled. “Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let [hinder] the people from their works?” he said. “Get you unto your burdens.” Already the kingdom had suffered loss by the interference of these strangers. At thought of this he added, “Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.” EP 176.5

In their bondage the Israelites had to some extent lost the knowledge of God's law, and the Sabbath had been generally disregarded. The exactions of their taskmasters made its observance apparently impossible. But Moses had shown his people that obedience to God was the condition of deliverance; and the efforts made to restore the observance of the Sabbath had come to the notice of their oppressors. (See Appendix, Note 1.) EP 177.1

The king, thoroughly roused, suspected the Israelites of a design to revolt from his service. He would see that no time was left them for dangerous scheming. And he at once adopted measures to tighten their bonds and crush their independent spirit. The most common building material was sun-dried brick; and the manufacture of brick employed great numbers of the bondmen. Cut straw being intermixed with the clay to hold it together, large quantities were required. The king now directed that no more straw be furnished; the laborers must find it for themselves, while the same amount of brick should be exacted. EP 177.2

The Egyptian taskmasters appointed Hebrew officers to oversee the work. When the requirement of the king was put in force, the people scattered to gather stubble instead of straw; but they found it impossible to accomplish the usual amount of labor. For this failure the Hebrew officers were cruelly beaten. EP 177.3

These officers went to the king with their grievances. Their remonstrance was met by Pharaoh with a taunt: “Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord.” They were ordered back to their work; their burdens were in no case to be lightened. Returning, they met Moses and Aaron, and cried out to them, “The Lord look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.” EP 177.4

Moses was distressed. The sufferings of the people had been increased. All over the land a cry of despair went up from old and young. All united in charging upon him the disastrous change in their condition. In bitterness of soul he went before God. “Lord, wherefore hast Thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that Thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast Thou delivered Thy people at all.” EP 178.1

The answer was, “Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.” EP 178.2

The elders of Israel endeavored to sustain the sinking faith of their brethren by repeating the promises made to their fathers and the prophetic words of Joseph foretelling their deliverance from Egypt. Some would listen and believe. Others refused to hope. The Egyptians, informed of what was reported among their bondmen, derided their expectations and scornfully denied the power of their God. They tauntingly said, “If your God is just and merciful and possesses power above that of the Egyptian gods, why does He not make you a free people?” They worshiped deities termed by the Israelites false gods, yet they were a rich and powerful nation. Their gods had blessed them with prosperity and had given them the Israelites as servants. Pharaoh himself boasted that the God of the Hebrews could not deliver them from his hand. EP 178.3

Words like these destroyed the hopes of many of the Israelites. True, they were slaves. Their children had been slain, and their own lives were a burden. Yet they were worshiping the God of heaven. Surely He would not thus leave them in bondage to idolaters. But those who were true to God understood that it was because of Israel's departure from Him, because of their disposition to marry with heathen nations, thus being led into idolatry, that the Lord had permitted them to become bondmen. They confidently assured their brethren that He would soon break the yoke of the oppressor. EP 178.4

But the Hebrews were not yet prepared for deliverance. They had little faith in God. Many were content to remain in bondage rather than meet the difficulties attending removal to a strange land; and the habits of some had become so much like those of the Egyptians that they preferred to dwell in Egypt. Therefore the Lord overruled events more fully to develop the tyrannical spirit of the Egyptian king and also to reveal Himself to His people. The task of Moses would have been much less difficult had not many of the Israelites become so corrupted that they were unwilling to leave Egypt. Says the Scripture, “They hearkened not ... for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.” EP 179.1

Again the divine message came to Moses, “Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.” In discouragement he replied, “Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me?” He was told to take Aaron with him, and go before Pharaoh, and again demand “that he send the children of Israel out of his land.” EP 179.2