Scripture: And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” Exodus 9:8-9 ESV
Observation: This sixth plague marks the end of the second of three cycles of curses. And like the third plague (which ends the first cycle), the curse is acted out unannounced. Here, the detail of soot from a kiln likely symbolizes the physicality of Israel’s suffering under forced labor, given that they would have baked bricks in a kiln. Thus, casting the dust into the air signaled judgment soon for Pharaoh and his people. Moreover, the resulting painful boils forebode the type of judgment: just as the Egyptians disregarded the physical wellbeing of the Hebrews (which included loss of lives), so will the final plague.
Two other observations remain. First, Pharaoh’s magicians, who faded to the background with plagues three and four, appear again, but this time without bravado or trickery. Instead, humbled by the appearance and pain of their boils, they cannot “stand before Moses” (verse 11). Secondly, while Pharaoh hardened his heart in response to the previous plagues, here, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (verse 12).
Takeaway: First, God initiated the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to communicate his sovereignty and certainty of redemption to Israel. While this might raise a question of fairness, we must always come back to the truth that the noetic effect of sin diminishes our understanding of justice and mercy. Moreover, we are the creation, so who are we to question our Creator. On a softer note, God exercises judgment, knowing full well the extent of Pharaoh’s and our hearts and every decision he and we will make. For us who know and love our Triune God, like Israel, this is excellent news that ensures our perseverance to the finish line: that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Secondly, as in this historical account, those who we deem our antagonists, such as the magicians, in the end, will meet their just fate. While we should never crow over others’ misfortunes, equally, we should not envy their successes because final judgment awaits everyone. But as God’s children, we stand acquitted in Christ.
Lastly, our anguish does not go unnoticed by God. He has redeemed us from our ultimate enemy, sin, and will rescue us in due time from the sinful actions of others. For just as the unrepentant wreak suffering on the helpless, so they one day will helplessly suffer according to their crimes, eternally separated from the glorious kingdom of God. But we will rise above the ashes of the kiln to a magnificent heavenly banquet.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who paid the price for our sins in his death and who prepared a place for us with you in eternity through his resurrection and ascension. Would you please help us to rise above the ashes of our suffering with Christ in the communion of your Holy Spirit and the Church, that we might patiently endure the ill effects of sin until you call us home? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling