Whereas the purpose of the hailstorm plague we considered last week was for the benefit of Pharaoh’s faith, so that he and the other Egyptians might know that there was no one on earth like the LORD and that his name might be proclaimed in all the earth,[1] the purpose in this week’s plague of locusts is for the benefit of the faith of the Israelites, the people of God.

As stated beginning with verse 1, 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 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.” Pharaoh’s hard heart provided an occasion for the Israelites to know how much God loved them and how much he desired for them to come before him in worship.[2] He wanted his children to come before him so much that he would continue to rain plagues on the head of Pharaoh and the Egyptians until Pharaoh agreed to let them go worship. By way of these signs, not only Pharaoh but also the people of Israel would “know that I am the Lord.” The presence and power of God would be so evident, that the people of Israel would be able to “tell [their] children and grandchildren how [the LORD] dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how [he] performed [his] signs among them.” In fact, later in Scripture we see that once the LORD delivered them from Egypt, Moses again reminded Israel of the importance of remembering and passing along the meaning and significance of this wondrous deliverance.[3] Again, as last week the LORD had Moses tell Pharoah that the reason for the hailstorm was “so you [Pharaoh] may know that there is no one like me in all the earth,”[4] now the LORD had Moses tell the Israelites that the reason for the signs performed among the Egyptians was “that you [the Israelites] may know that I am the Lord.”

Moses and Aaron again did as the LORD commanded. As recorded in verse 3, they 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.’” And, as in the past, Yahweh, the LORD, began by telling Pharaoh what he needed to do: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” But Pharaoh didn’t humble himself. As in the past, rather than humbling himself he chose to undergo:

The Nile River turning into blood;[5]

A plague of frogs;[6]

A plague of gnats;[7]

A swarm of flies;[8]

The death of his livestock;[9]

Festering boils;[10]

And a horrific hailstorm.[11]

So now, Pharaoh would choose a plague of locusts rather than allow the Israelites go and worship their God, the God of the Hebrews. As we noted early on, Pharaoh must have somehow reasoned that if the Israelites were his slaves, then surely the God of these slaves who kept making these demands couldn’t be as great as he. After all, Pharaoh was king of Egypt whereas Moses, Aaron, and the rest of the Israelites were his possession. What Pharaoh didn’t understand was that the LORD had chosen to make known his plans in order that Pharaoh might repent of his evil deeds. As we’ll see in the coming weeks, it would take three more plagues before Pharaoh was dissuaded from this false understanding of believing that his power was greater than that of the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Also as in the past, the LORD had Moses tell Pharaoh the consequences should he again disobey. As stated in verses 4-6,

If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. 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. 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.

This time the price of disobedience would be the arrival of locusts. Although a migration of locusts wasn’t all that uncommon, this migration of locusts would be categorically different, “something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.” For as had occurred with the frogs, gnats, and flies, God who is LORD over all creation wouldn’t bring just a few locusts, no. He would afflict the Egyptians with locusts beyond numbering. There would be so many locusts that “the face of the ground” couldn’t be seen. The presence of these locusts would cause extensive damage to trees and crops. To put this in perspective, one commentator notes, “Fifty million [locusts] could occupy a square kilometer”—or just under half a square mile—“and devour as much as 100,000 tons of vegetation in a single night.”[12] But these locusts wouldn’t remain outdoors, no. They would fill the houses of the Egyptian officials and people. Such was the message that Moses and Aaron delivered to Pharaoh before turning and leaving him.

Now as previously Pharaoh’s magicians had told him that the plague of gnats upon the people and animals was “the finger of God,”[13] now his officials said to him, verse 7, “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?” Although the officials didn’t outright acknowledge the finger of God as had the magicians, they nonetheless understood that unless Pharaoh permitted “this man,” Moses, and his people to go and worship their God, Egypt would be ruined. Surprisingly, Pharaoh took their advice—well, sort of. As stated in verse 8, after having Moses and Aaron brought back, he told them, “Go, worship the Lord your God” but not before adding, “But tell me who will be going.”

When Moses answered, verse 9, “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,” Pharaoh balked—and in a sarcastic manner at that. As recorded in verses 10–11, “The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. 11 No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Pharaoh’s “benediction” was a refusal and accusation in disguise. Now it should be noted that at no point did Moses ever state that only the men were to go worship—that was Pharaoh’s addition. For Moses understood that women and children were an integral part of the life of worship. The LORD wanted all of his people, not just the men, to be present for this festival of celebration to him. But, as stated at the end of verse 11, upon completing his false accusation against Moses and Aaron, they “were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.”

Since Pharaoh’s counter-proposal was unacceptable to the LORD—again, God valued the worship of not only the men but also of the women and children— he told Moses, verse 12, “Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.” Therefore, when Moses “stretched out his staff over Egypt,” the plague of locusts arrived just as the LORD had said. As stated in verses 13–15,

the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; 14 they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. 15 They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.

After the LORD caused a wind from the east to arrive and “blow across the land all that day and all that night,” the locusts were to be found everywhere in numbers so great that, “Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again.” As the LORD had warned Pharaoh, the locusts “covered all the ground until it was black.” As the LORD had warned Pharaoh, the locusts “devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees” until “Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.” This horrifying outcome led Pharaoh to “quickly [summon] Moses and Aaron.” Then, as had occurred with the hailstorm, Pharaoh said to them, verse 16, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you.”[14] And as also had occurred with the hailstorm, Pharaoh said to them, verse 17, “Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”[15] These two plagues of hailstorm and locusts sufficiently caught Pharaoh’s attention that he confessed that he had sinned against the LORD—and this time he admitted that he had also sinned against Moses and Aaron. The plagues of hailstorm and locusts also led Pharaoh to ask Moses and Aaron to ask that God remove “this deadly plague” from him.

Moses again did as Pharaoh asked. As stated in verse 18, “Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD” with the result that, verse 19, “the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt.” As the LORD had brought the locusts with the east wind, so now he removed them with “a very strong west wind” that carried the locusts into the Red Sea. As with every other plague, the arrival and departure of this one was no coincidence. It arrived as a result of Pharaoh not doing what the LORD had asked, letting his people go worship him; and it departed only at God’s beckoning.

So we see how once again, when found in dire straits, Pharaoh knew the right words to say; but, once again, as had occurred with the hailstorm and every other plague thus far, his heart remained hard. As stated in verse 20, “…the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.”[16]

Well, in looking back at this terrible plague of locusts, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a future plague of locusts similarly foretold by the LORD in the revelation he gave to the Apostle John and which is recorded in the ninth chapter of the Book of Revelation.[17] It’s a tragic reminder that the more things change, the more they remain the same for the future, horrific plague of locusts among other plagues that God will send will also meet against hardened hearts that don’t heed him but choose instead to continue in their self-destructive, godless behavior.

The opening of Revelation 9 provides the setting for this future plague of locusts: “1 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.” In this vision of judgment, a fifth angel gives a star—likely another angel and perhaps even Satan himself[18]—“the key to the shaft of the Abyss.” From the Abyss that was producing so much smoke that both sun and sky were darkened did the locusts appear. As stated in verse 3, “And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.”

As with the locusts in the time of Pharaoh, these locusts arose in order to bring judgment. The specific instructions[19] given them is provided in verses 4–5, “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes.” Earlier in Revelation, God’s servants were marked by his seal.[20] This divine seal meant that, as the Israelites, God’s people, were spared the plague of locusts in the time of Moses, so will God’s people, those who have God’s seal, be spared this plague of locusts. In the words of one commentator, “These infernal monsters attack only the wicked, not the saints.”[21] And, as we recently noted, “saints” or “holy ones” is how those who believe in and belong to Jesus Christ are referred to in Scripture.[22]

However, the rest of humanity will suffer the sting of these scorpion-like locusts. So much so that, verse 6, “During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.” One would be hard-pressed to find a stronger statement of suffering than this. Next, after providing a brief description of the locusts in verses 7–10[23]—including a statement of how they would remain for five months, as opposed to the usual few days[24]—verse 11 states that the locusts “had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon”—a word meaning “Destruction”—“and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).” This is a severe judgment, indeed.

Verses 12 then notes, “The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.” Next, verses 13–17 tell of a sixth angel. Upon sounding his trumpet John heard a voice coming “from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God” (verse 13) that told the angel to release four other angels. All told, “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” or two hundred million mounted troops (verse 16) that “had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind” (verse 15).[25] After providing a description of the horses and riders in verse 17,[26] verse 18 tells how “A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.”

But notice the astonishing statement recorded in verses 20–21, “20 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. 21 Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts” (emphasis added). Concerning this lack of repentance, one commentator observes, “Even physical pain will not change the rebellious heart.”[27] Despite the horrific and tragic death of one-third of the people living in their day, like Pharaoh who chose to undergo the scourge of locusts along with seven other plagues rather than do as the LORD had asked, those who witnessed the devastating effects of this future plague of locusts and the plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur similarly did not repent. They chose instead to continue “worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood” despite the fact that these idols, like the false gods in Pharaoh’s day, couldn’t “see or hear or walk.” This two-thirds of humanity that witnessed and survived these terrible plagues didn’t turn to the LORD in order that they might receive his forgiveness; they didn’t repent “of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

In thinking about the eight plagues that Pharaoh chose over against obedience to the LORD along with this future plague of locusts that will result in two thirds of those who don’t know the LORD similarly remaining unmoved as they choose dying for their sin rather than living in and through their Savior, I’ve felt perplexed and saddened that this should be so. Such suffering is unnecessary for the only thing necessary for such suffering to be alleviated would have been for Pharaoh and others to acknowledge their sin and turn away from it in order that they might receive the forgiveness of the LORD.

Horrific as the plagues that the LORD sent upon Pharaoh—and the future plagues he will send upon those who are not his—are, they can also be understood as a severe mercy. Their severity is beyond dispute but the fact that they are also a mercy may be more difficult to see. Two definitions of “mercy” may help us see it, however:

First, mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” Without question, God would have shown mercy to Pharaoh—and to any who repent—if they but turn from their wicked ways;

Second, mercy is “an event to be grateful for, especially because its occurrence prevents something unpleasant or provides relief from suffering.”

Again, the plagues that Pharaoh chose to undergo and the future plague of locusts could have been seen as events “to be grateful for” for they could have prevented “something unpleasant;” they could have provided “relief from suffering.” Yet Pharaoh, along with that portion of mankind that wasn’t killed by the future plagues of locusts, fire, smoke, and sulfur, chose their suffering over God’s deliverance. They were blind to his compassion. They were blind to his salvation. Their eyes remained open only to their sin and enjoyment of evil despite the suffering these would entail for they refused to acknowledge that there is no one on earth like the LORD. They refused to proclaim his name in all the earth.

Dear brothers and sisters, our hearts should grieve over this. Reflecting upon these events should drive us to our gracious Father in heaven who by his Holy Spirit opened our eyes to the truth of who Jesus Christ is and to the greatness of his sacrifice and gift of salvation. Reflecting upon these events should drive home the truth of how amazing God’s grace really is.

As we ponder these historical and future realities, may we be driven to our knees in gratitude for Christ’s compassion and mercy towards us;

As we ponder these historical and future realities, may we be driven to our knees to pray for strength and perseverance for all who belong to Christ;

As we ponder these historical and future realities, may we be driven to our knees to pray for salvation for those who are yet choosing to live in darkness;

As we ponder these historical and future realities, may we be driven to our knees as we acknowledge that there is no one like the LORD in all the earth; may we ever proclaim his goodness and greatness to those near and far.

Let us pray.

Benediction: Jude 24–25 24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Exodus 9:13–14, 16, 29: 13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth…. 16 But I have raised you up[Or have spared you] for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth…. 29 Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.

[2] See sermon preached on October 10, 2021, Holy Relationships, on Exodus 9:1–12.

[3] Deuteronomy 6:20–25: 20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

[4] Exodus 9:13–14: 13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.

[5] Exodus 7:14–24.

[6] Exodus 8:1–15.

[7] Exodus 8:16–19.

[8] Exodus 8:20–32.

[9] Exodus 9:1–7

[10] Exodus 9:8–12.

[11] Exodus 9:13–35.

[12] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Exodus 10:4.

[13] Exodus 8:18–19: 18 But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said.

[14] Compare Exodus 9:27: 27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.

[15] Compare Exodus 9:28: Pray to the Lord, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”

[16] Exodus 9:34–35: 34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. 35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.

[17] This connection is a natural one. As noted in the Reformation Study Bible note on Revelation 9:1–12, “The imagery derives from Ex. 10:13–15 and Joel 2:1–11, where a literal locust plague foreshadows even more devastating judgment coming from a divinely commissioned army (Joel 2:11).”

[18] Notice that in verse 11 he is called “Destruction” (Abaddon in Hebrew) and “Destroyer” (Apollyon in Greek) which is in keeping with Satan’s character. Another possibility, as stated in the Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Revelation 9:1: “However, many scholars think that this ‘star’ represents a good angel, and that this verse in connection with 20:1 marks the beginning and the end of the middle section of the book.”

[19] If this fallen star/angel is, in fact, Satan, then it’s expressing a similar dynamic to that found in the Book of Job in which God reigns Satan in by prescribing the extent of the damage Satan is allowed to do. See, e.g., Job 1:12: The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.; Job 2:6: The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

[20] Revelation 7:2–3:Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” See also Revelation 3:12: “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.” Notice how in various other passages in the New Testament believers are spoken of as being sealed by God’s Holy Spirit: Ephesians 1:13–14: 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.; Ephesians 4:30: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22: 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[21] Reformation Study Bible note on Revelation 9:1–12.

[22] Again, see sermon preached on October 10, 2021, Holy Relationships, on Exodus 9:1–12.

[23] Revelation 9:7–10: The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10 They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.

[24] Noted in the Reformation Study Bible note on Revelation 9:5.

[25] Revelation 4:12–16: 12 The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come. 13 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. 14 It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I heard their number.

[26] Revelation 4:17: The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.

[27] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Exodus 9:21.