The Ninth Plague: Darkness
If you have your Bibles, I'd like to direct your attention to the end of Exodus, chapter 10, picking up in verse 21. Today we come to the penultimate plague of the next to the last of this series of ten plagues.
We have seen three triads of plagues so far. The first three, the middle three, and now this, the end of the last three. There will be one more plague, but it's in a category all its own. We've been having hints all along that it may be coming, and we have a hint of it in this final, the third triad of plagues. It will become a reality as we move into Exodus chapter 11, as it is threatened, and then as it's implemented in Exodus, chapter 12.
All along we have said that God has emphasized His sovereignty in His dealings with Pharaoh through the plagues. He has shown Israel that He is the Lord, and that His care is for them. He has made it very clear that His purpose in the Exodus is to bring them out of bondage in order that they might serve. And how beautifully does that fit with Paul's theme in Romans, chapter 6 verses 19 through 23. Brought out of bondage in order to serve. It is a service of fullness and freedom and holiness and blessing, but it is service. It is for the worship of the Lord that the children are being brought out of Israel. And so with this introduction, let's hear then Exodus chapter 10, beginning in verse 21. This is God's word.
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. They did not see one another, not did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings. Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, ‘Go serve the Lord only let your flocks and your herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you.’ But Moses said, ‘You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings that we may sacrifice them to the Lord our God. Therefore, our livestock too, will go with us; not a hoof will be left behind. For we shall take some of them to serve the Lord our God, and until we arrive there, we ourselves do not know with what we shall serve the Lord. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, ‘Get away from me. Beware. Do not see my face again for in the day you see my face, you shall die.’ And Moses said, ‘You are right, I shall never see your face again.” Amen, and thus ends God's holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let's pray.
When we sense the solemnity, the ominousness of these words, strong words of warning as the plague is commanded and set forth, we also sense the dullness of Pharaoh's heart. We pray that our hearts would not be dull to hear Your word and warnings, and Your overtures of grace. So grant that we would respond to Your warnings, and see in them a warning that sets forth the hope of grace as we trust in the Lord. And then grant to us the ability to trust, to turn from our sins and to rest in the only one who is our hope. These things we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This last plague, just like the third and the sixth plagues, comes without warning. And in this final plague, we have come to an end of the bargaining between Moses and Pharaoh. It really hasn't been much in the way of bargaining has it? It's like someone in a stall in a marketplace who keeps suggesting a lower price, and the one who owns the stall keeps coming back and giving the original price marked on the tag. So also Pharaoh has for eight plagues bargained to some extent with Moses, and Moses keeps coming back with the same price. But after this plague, there will be no more bargaining, no more debate, no more discussion at all. This is the end of the road.
I'd like you to see three things in three sections in this great passage before us. First, if you look at verses 21 through 23, we see this, the next to the last plague, the ultimate plague commanded. It's implemented unannounced and it's described for us in these verses 21 through 23, and in the very commanding of the plague and the description of the nature of the plague, we see God's sovereignty displayed. How? Well, we see God in His sovereignty show His might even over the greatest of Egypt's gods, Ra, the god of the sun. As we said, this last plague comes without warning but it is full of significance and of impending doom. There is going to be darkness over the whole land of Egypt. Now what is the significance of this darkness? Let me suggest at least four things about the darkness. First of all, darkness is a biblical sign of God's judgment. Throughout the Old Testament and especially in the prophets, the threat of darkness is a sign of God's judgment, and in the New Testament it continues to be a sign of God's judgment. For instance if you were to turn with me now to Revelations chapter 16 verses 10 and 11. That's a chapter that almost seems as if John has the exodus plagues opened before him, or we might say it this way, undoubtedly these plagues were memorized in the mind of the Apostle John and he's running down these plagues in his mind, even as he reveals what God has revealed to him and writing it out in Exodus chapter 16. And here we see this plague of darkness referred to Revelation 16 verse 10: “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast and his kingdom became darkened.” And then further description is given, “and they gnawed their tongues because of pain and they blasphemed the God of Heaven because of their pains and their sores and they did not repent of their deeds.” Interesting parallels there, not only a plague of darkness, but a lack of repentance upon the part of those who had been visited by this particular plague, just like we’ll see in the case of Pharaoh here in Exodus chapter 10. But in the Bible darkness is a sign of God's judgment. That's the first thing that we need to know about this plague of darkness. What's the significance of it? Why is it so dire? Because it is a sign of God's judgment.
Secondly, let me say that darkness is specifically associated in the Bible with God's abandonment and that is one reason it is so severe a sign of His judgment. What does the Bible teach us about our God? He is light, and so when a judgment sign of darkness comes it indicates His removal of Himself from a situation for blessing. He is light. When He withdraws Himself, and darkness is left in the wake of His withdrawal, it's a sign of His abandonment of a situation for blessing. When He withdraws, only darkness is left.
You know, our Confession even picks up on this language when it speaks about the situation of assurance. Take up your hymnals for a moment and look in the back of the Confession in chapter 18. You’ll find that on page 858, and if you’ll look at section four, I’ll show you some of this language. It's talking about the fact that believers, true believers, sometimes struggle with assurance. It's laid forth in sections one, two, and three, why believers are able to have assurance and why God wants believers to have assurance, but then it very helpfully acknowledges that believers do have struggles with assurance. Why is that so helpful? Because if it didn't acknowledge that when you went through those struggles with assurance you’d wonder whether you were a true believer. And so even in acknowledging the struggles that believers have the Confession is encouraging us. Listen to what it says: “True believers may have the assurance of their salvation, dire ways shaken, various ways shaken, diminished and intermitted as by negligence in preserving of it.” So, the Confession is now going to list some of the ways in which we contribute to our own lack of assurance. “In divers way, in negligence in persevering of it by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the spirit by some sudden and vehement temptation,” and then listen to this phrase, “by God's withdrawing the light of His countenance and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light.” Is that not the experience of Job? No particular sin provokes that dark providence and yet there is this withdrawal of the light of His countenance.
Well, in even a starker way, in even a more ominous way, God's withdrawal of light and His judgment in darkness shows His abandonment. This is most keenly seen on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Turn with me to the book of Matthew. In Matthew, chapter 27 verse 45, we read this, “Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour, and about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?” You see, now, why we sang the psalm, Psalm 22, immediately prior to this passage tonight. Because in the withdrawing of God's blessing, and in this sign of darkness and judgment against Egypt, we have a foreshadowing of that darkness, that judgment, that forsakenness, that abandonment that dereliction which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ endured on our behalf. So, darkness is specifically associated with abandonment in the Bible. It is a dire warning that is being given here. Egypt is being told that all the kinds, common providential provisions that God has made are about to be withdrawn and His judgment is about to be against her completely.
Thirdly, this plague of darkness basically returns us to the situation that existed in the world, in the universe prior to the first day of creation. Let me ask you to turn back now to Genesis chapter 1. You've caught on tonight that you’re going to need to have your Bibles handy because I want you to see with your own eyes some of these connections. Genesis chapter one verse 2, “And the earth was formless and void and darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” This is a description of the world prior to God's structuring creative days, and we're told three things: that in this state the earth was orderless, it was chaotic, it was void, it was empty, and it was dark, there was no light.
Now, the rest of the creation days explain how God remedies this situation. Now, think about this for a minute, if the world is like this, this presents an enormous problem, not to God, but to man if we are going to inhabit the world. We can't survive in a totally chaotic, totally empty, totally dark world. So, God in His goodness and mercy solves this problem, not a problem for Him, but a problem for us, through His creative power in the days of creation as He fills up the world so it's no longer empty, it's full, as He brings order to the world, so it's no longer chaotic, but it's structured. He separated light from darkness and water from land, and the upper world from the lower world and brings order and structure, and He grants light. The very first thing we just sang about it in that wonderful hymn, “O’ Day of Rest and Gladness” On you, on the Lord's day, on Sunday on the first day of the week He brought light into being. Let there be light, He said.
But what we see in the plague of darkness is returning us to a situation prior to the first day of creation. God is indicating that He is about to deconstruct and de-create Egypt. His hand of judgment is against Egypt, and now He is going to Egypt to, as it were, a pre-creational state. Emptiness, chaos and darkness will characterize her.
Fourth and finally, this plague of darkness shows the sovereignty of God over Ra, the sun god, the chief of the gods of Egypt. The Egyptians worshipped Ra in almost all of the palace ceremonies. Ra worship was pervasive in the land. They believed that the sunrise in the east symbolized Ra's victory over the demonic powers of the netherworld, and that sunset indicated that these forces of darkness were waging war against Ra. And then when the sun rose again it showed that Ra had won. He was victorious over those that would challenge his rule. So, when God through Moses announces, not a day, not just the daylight hours, but three days of darkness, He is showing that the God of the Hebrews in sovereign over the chief deities over Egypt. This darkness was described in the most apocalyptic terms in verses 21 and 22. Look at the end of verse 21. It's called a darkness that may be felt. It's called a thick darkness, literally a dark darkness, in verse 22. It was characterized by an extraordinary duration. Three days this darkness would endure.
So often three days is a symbolic representation in the Old Testament for the fullness of time, the completion of a particular activity. This darkness was miraculous in two ways. It was miraculous in its pervasiveness. We’re told that the Egyptians couldn't even see one another, and it's even hinted at that they were unable to supply any sort of artificial remedy for this darkness. Furthermore, we are told that a distinction is made and the mercifulness of this plague is seen in that it is manifested in a distinct way in Goshen in the land of the Israelites: they have light in their homes. And so God shows His miraculous power in the pervasiveness of this plague and in the distinctive way in which it manifests itself.
Once again, a difference is made between Israel and Egypt. So, in this plague of darkness, God is saying to Egypt, “My judgment is upon you, My judgment is about to come in a way, with a force that you cannot comprehend and which you will not be able to resist and which you will not be able to bear up under.” So, God's prophetic warning here presents yet another opportunity for Egypt and for Pharaoh to see the error of its ways and to turn to Him repenting and in humility. But this doesn't happen.
So, in the plague of darkness we see a portent of God's abandonment of Egypt. Not only His victory over the God's of Egypt, but the fact that shortly His final judgment will fall. That's what we see in verses 21 through 23 as this second to the last plague is described for us and commanded.
Secondly, if you look at verses 24 through 26, two things in particular stand out. We see Pharaoh's final bargain, Pharaoh is still bickering at this point and he makes what will be his final offer to Moses. In the same section, verses 24 through 26, we see Moses’ steadfast refusal to compromise. Again, God's sovereignty is displayed in this. God's sovereignty is seen in the dignity and the uncompromising posture of His prophet of His representative Moses. I mean, think of it in terms of worldly power. Pharaoh has all the cards in his deck. Everything is in his favor in regard to worldly power. Am I the only one who thought over these last plagues? I wonder how in the world Moses survived these interviews. Surely that, in and of itself, is a sign of God's sovereignty and His providence because had I been Pharaoh, I want to tell you, after the first encounter I would have been looking for the execution squad to help me out.
Yet, Moses in the face of this kind of danger is bold in His refusal to compromise with Pharaoh. Look at verse 24. Pharaoh again changes his terms. He relents from an earlier position. Do you remember earlier in chapter 10, Pharaoh had said, look I’ll let the men go but the woman and the children have to stay behind. Now, he relents from that position. Over and over Pharaoh's failed compromises show his weakness and prove God's sovereignty. Pharaoh is backing off at every point. He had bid low and his bids are getting higher every time, closer to the original directive that had been given to him by God through Moses. But Pharaoh, though his bid keeps changing, though there continue to be offers and counter offers on the table, Pharaoh continues doggedly to refuse an unconditional surrender, and that's the key. “Only this time leave the animals.” There is always some qualification with Pharaoh. He will not go along with what God has told him through Moses.
Now look at verse 25, this is one of the thrilling responses to a tyrant in all of the prophetic literature. Moses boldly and even royally tells Pharaoh what he is going to go. Moses tells Pharaoh what he must do. “You must let us have the sacrifices.” This is not the language of bargaining. This is the dictate of a monarch, and of course Moses is speaking for the Monarch. He's the representative of the Monarch, he's the mediator of the Monarch and he even insinuates in this passage, that in the end, it would be Egypt that provided Israel with the sacrificial material to worship the God of the Hebrews, the only true God.
Pharaoh, he says, you must let us have the sacrifices and burnt offering that we may sacrifice them to the Lord. Of course that's exactly what would happen. In Exodus chapter 12 verse 32, after the final plague has been implemented Pharaoh would say “Uncle. Do it just like you said in the first place, just get out of here and take them all. Take the women, take the children, take the animals, just get out of here. ” Then he pauses and says, “One thing, when you get there to worship bless me.”
Now, I have two reactions to that. First of all, this is the cheekiest guy in the history of the world, but secondly do you not see the ironic fulfillment of Genesis 12 in that? That “in Abraham all the nations would be blessed” and here is the mighty tyrant of Egypt begging for a blessing from the covenant people. You see how God is going to show His sovereignty in this whole affair.
There is one more thing. In verse 26 Moses goes further. He announces to him again, therefore our livestock too shall go with us. Moses utters this immortal rebuff. Pharaoh, not one hoof will be left behind. Moses is in no mood for compromise. There is going to be no bickering with this tyrant. God's will is going to be done to it's fullest. Now how Moses managed the courage to do that, I don't know. It reminds us, of course, that when it comes to worship, when it comes to serving the one true God, God has not the slightest bit of interest in compromising with the world. He doesn't intend to compromise you with the world, He doesn't plan to compromise His worship with the world, He wants all of you, all that you are, all that you have, all for Himself and He will share you with no one. Moses’ words are not the words of a man who is obstinate and hard headed and unreasonable. His words reflect the heart of a servant who is holy and solely devoted to the Lord and that ought to be our heart in the worship of the living God. When it comes to His peoples calling to worship Him in and with all that they have and are, God is not interested in compromise and so not one hoof will be left behind. Do you see God's sovereignty displayed in the uncompromising, the courageous posture of Moses even facing Pharaoh down in this circumstance? That's the second thing I want you to see.
Third and finally if you look at verses 27 through 29. Two other things strike me in this brief section. First of all there is this surprising, providential intervention of God. Then there is Pharaoh's threat, but his threat is a self-curse. He doesn't know it, of course. He doesn't know that he's cursed himself in this threat that he's uttered, but he does and we've been seeing this happen all along. Pharaoh will make a threat and we all read it, having read the end of the story and we think to ourselves immediately, “Uh oh, better stop talking now, Pharaoh, you’re only making this worse on yourself.” So if you look at verse 27 you’ll see God's sovereignty displayed in the obstruction of Pharaoh's conditional plans to let Israel go. Pharaoh says, “Okay, go ahead and serve, but here are my qualifications, here are my conditions, here are the executions to your proposal.” And Pharaoh is ready on those conditions to let them go, but God's sovereignty intervenes. In verse 27, the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart. It's the fifth time that we've heard the phrase, “The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart.” What's the result? “And he was not willing to let them go.” The Lord intervenes and Pharaoh becomes unwilling to yield, unwilling to bargain, unwilling to let them go.
What's Moses trying to tell you? It's God who is in charge here. It's almost comical at this point. God will decide when Pharaoh will let them go. “I’ll make that decision,” God says. Does that remind you of something else? Turn with me to Matthew again to chapter 26. It's really an amazing passage. I want you to zero in on verses 2 and 5. Matthew 26:2 and 5. In Matthew 26:2, Jesus is speaking to His disciples, and says that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion. Now look at verse 5. Just set Jesus’ prophetic words to His disciples in verse 2 over against what the Sanhedrin, the people who are going to be the perpetrators of His betrayal and crucifixion. What are they saying in verse 5? They were saying, “Not during the festival lest a riot occur among the people.” I mean, you get the picture here all along, since Matthew chapter 10, Jesus has been telling His disciples that He's going to be betrayed. Here He says, “Now by the way men, it's going to happen in two days.” Three verses later we have the people who are going to carry out this horrendous betrayal and crucifixion, this wicked deed and they are saying, “Uh uh, it's not going to happen in two days.”
Let me ask you a question, “Who was right?” They were the perpetrators. They said they weren't going to do it then. When did it happen? Two days hence. God is sovereign. He's in charge here. He’ll determine when this happens and that is exactly what we see in Exodus chapter 10 verse 27. The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart and he's unwilling to let them go. God will decide when Pharaoh will let His people go.
:Look at verse 28. Not surprisingly, after Moses’ strong remarks, Pharaoh is not really interested in continuing the conversation. Pharaoh dismisses him with an unveiled threat. Basically it's this; “I’ll kill you if you show your face to me again. You come into my presence again and you show your face here again, I’ll kill you on the spot.” The remark is a little ironic. We've already been told that the Egyptians couldn't even see one another, and here is the Pharaoh saying, I'm not going to see your face again. It's like Moses saying, you don't see it right now and you’re certainly not going to see it again, because you’re under the curse of God's judgment of darkness. But again Moses indicates in his response, if you look at verse 29, that Pharaoh's words are literally going to come back to haunt him. God is using Pharaoh's own mouth to curse him. That's right. Pharaoh wouldn't see Moses’ face again, but it wouldn't be Moses that would be killed, it would be Pharaoh and his first born and his people and his nation. Pharaoh's own hardness of heart has spelled out the decree for his own death. His threat is an unwitting self-malediction. God is in charge.
Now, there are many things that we could derive by way of application from this truth. But there is one thing that I want you to think about for a few moments. If God is so in charge in His providence, that those who are the greatest enemies of His people have all their designs against His people determined by the God of His people, then are we not ultimately secure? Can we not say with Paul, “if God is for us then who can be against us?” Are we not able to face everything, in this life, every inexplicable event with a confidence that no matter how truly anguishing it is, no matter how erroneous it is to experience, and we don't attempt in any way to undercut or under value or deny the reality of those trials or tribulations, their horror or the pain which they caused their reality, but can we not even in the midst of those things trust that God is moving in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform? Can we not trust that behind a frowning providence there hides a smiling face? Can not we trust that though the bud has a bitter taste, sweet will be the flower? This is not make believe stuff friends, you either believe this or you don't. If you believe it, it makes all the difference in the world. I had the responsibility at a meeting this year to critic a movement called ‘Open Theism’ that wants to teach that God is not omnipotent, but He's omni-confident. He doesn't ordain everything that is going to come to pass, in fact He doesn't know everything that is going to come to pass, but he's really quick on His feet. When it happens, He's on it like white on rice. You know, that is not the picture at all of God that you find here in the book of Exodus. We’re catching up with Him, not the other way around.
I want to tell you that that God doesn't frighten me. Not because He's not awesome and powerful and dangerous, He is, but that God doesn't frighten me for two reasons. The first is, that God abandoned His son so that I might become His son. Secondly, that God is so sovereign that no force in this universe could possible challenge Him. That's a pretty impressive combination. Now it just comes down to this, do you believe in that kind of God? And if you do my friends, there is nothing else to fear but Him. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God You are awesome and good, and wise. We acknowledge that there are situations in our lives that we have no way to understand or to analyze, to comprehend or to grasp. Sometimes we feel like we can't even endure them, but we know that You are sovereign and You are good. You have shown us that goodness in the face of your Son, Jesus Christ, and in the death that He died on our behalf. So we pray that You would grant us the grace to trust in You, even when the cloud is dark even when the bud is bitter. And that in the end Your glory would be revealed and our confidence would be shown to be sure and certain. These things we ask in Jesus name. Amen.