Moses confronts Pharaoh

What lessons for us are there in the Exodus 10 account of Moses' meeting with Pharaoh?

Exodus 10:1-9, 20-25

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them 2 that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord."

3 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, "This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: 'How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 4 If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. 5 They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. 6 They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians -- something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.'" Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh.

7 Pharaoh's officials said to him, "How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?"

8 Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. "Go, worship the Lord your God," he said. "But tell me who will be going."

9 Moses answered, "We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord." . . .

. . .20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

21 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt -- darkness that can be felt." 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 23 No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, "Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind."

25 But Moses said, "You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God."

Week 42 (October), Commentary on Exodus 10

Some years ago, a film titled His Land was used in an evangelistic thrust in Sicily, that island "football" off the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. This film, produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, portrayed the land and people of Israel in the light of biblical history, with a particular emphasis on divine prophecies.

At the conclusion of one film showing in Sicily, some left-wing Italian radicals loudly began accusing the church group of being CIA agents who believed the modern state of Israel was under special divine protection.

That's not true, of course. The Apostle Paul declares in several places that every true believer is a descendant of Abraham. God indeed did call the Israelites out of Egypt, and on a special day in the Sinai, Israel took her marriage vows to the Lord, vows that the New Testament says bind us today since all Christ-followers are the spiritual ancestors of those with whom God made that covenant.1

To be sure, the Sinai event wasn't called a marriage ceremony. But the covenant between God and Israel at Mount Sinai was almost immediately identified by Moses as a kind of marriage covenant. It is clear from the Exodus 10 events that God wanted His people to set themselves apart only for Him. Later, Moses will refer to the People of God's unfaithfulness to the covenant agreement as "whoring" (KJV) or "prostituting" (NIV).2

That's strong language. However, it is a theme used in the Old Testament by prophets such as Ezekiel and Hosea. The use of figures of speech drawn from the man-woman relationship indicates the kind of exclusive relationship God wants with His people, including us today.

However, the covenant agreement is not to be understood in terms of most Western marriages. It is more like the "arranged" marriages of some cultures that could be viewed as "imposed" marriages. To outsiders, it may seem like the bride in such marriages has little to say in the choice of a husband. The stories of Isaac and Rebekah and of Jacob and his two wives are examples of this.

It's easy to see some parallels between this kind of marriage agreement and the covenant at Sinai (and with the "better covenant" outlined in Hebrews 8).

Neither the inborn merits of the Jews nor a plot by the CIA made them the descendants of Abraham the "chosen people." The same thing can be said of us. We did not choose ourselves. God has always taken the initiative in wooing us into a covenant relationship by His loving promises.

In a certain sense, God's covenant today is an "imposed" covenant, but only upon a willing people. God asks us only to respond to His offer of "a better covenant established upon better promises" (Hebrews 8:6). He calls us to pledge our lives, our love, and our affection to Him. He wants us to accept our part of the joint responsibility that a covenant always entails.

We are not signing just a mutually agreed-upon, haggled-over contract. We are committing ourselves to a marriage-type covenant already signed and sealed with Jesus' precious blood.

In the light of His sacrificial love, can we do less than take our vows seriously? Let's discover the depth of meaning anew in our relationship to God. Let's reciprocate His faithfulness! Let's be faithful to Him because He has been faithful.

Discussion questions

  1. How did Moses' understanding of God's covenant with His people as an agreement for an exclusive arrangement affect how he dealt with and bargained with Pharaoh?
  2. Reflecting on the use of figures of speech drawn from the man-woman relationship in describing God's relationship with His people, what insights can we gain about the kind of commitment and loyalty God expects from us?
  3. What are some ways God actively seeks a relationship with us today? How should we respond to God's initiative and enter into a deeper covenant relationship with Him?
  4. What does calling the Sinai covenant an "imposed covenant" mean for our understanding of free will and the choices we make in entering into a covenant with God? How does this concept fit with our understanding of personal agency and responsibility in our relationship with God?
  5. How should Jesus' sacrifice for us impact our thinking about our commitment to God and our faithfulness in the covenant relationship? In what practical ways can we demonstrate our faithfulness to God based on His faithfulness to us?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.


The account of Moses' meeting with Pharaoh in Exodus 10 provides several lessons relevant to us today:

In summary, the story of Moses' meeting with Pharaoh in Exodus 10 provides valuable insights into themes such as persistence, humility, faith, justice, and compassion, which remain relevant and applicable to our lives today.

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