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Moses plague of darkness - Artist unknown

After the devastating plague of locusts, God said to Moses,

“Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt – darkness that can be felt.”

So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

Moses plague of darkness - Artist unknownPharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship your god. Even your women and children may go with you. Only leave your flocks and herds behind.”

But Moses said,

“You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. Our livestock must go with us, not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshipping the Lord our God and until we get there, we will not know what we are to use to worship our Lord.”

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”

“Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”

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What the story means to us today

Pharaoh understands God is in control but stubbornly refuses to release the Israelites

Pharaoh still stubbornly refuses to release the Israelites from captivity and by holding their livestock, can pressure them to return. Given the supernatural form of this plague, Pharaoh understands that God is in control here. Yet his arrogance and stubbornness will not allow him to concede to God’s will.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Egypt’s supreme sun god is silenced

Egypt’s high god was Re, the sun god. Re provided sunlight and warmth. Now God has shown his power by throwing darkness over the country and completely silencing Egypt’s primary god.

Sandstorm in Cairo, EgyptWas the darkness caused by a sandstorm?

Those seeking to explain the ten biblical plagues as natural phenomena propose the darkness was caused by a sandstorm. Sandstorms occur periodically in Egypt and can last for 2-3 days. However, the darkness described by Moses’ plague is a “darkness of night”, an account intended to stress the degree of darkness (e.g. pure black). Moses further says the darkness was so great, no one could see his brother, a further indication that the darkness was much more severe than a common sandstorm or even nighttime without light from the moon.

The science and history behind the story

Sandstorms in Egypt

Egypt sees sandstorms (called haboobs) in March and April of each year. They typically see only 1 or 2 per year and they only last about half a day. The worst sandstorms can restrict visibility to about a quarter mile.

Bible Text

NIV

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. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the LORD our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.”

27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. 28 Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”

29 “Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

10:21  The LORD said to Moses, “Extend your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness so thick it can be felt.”

10:22 So Moses extended his hand toward heaven, and there was absolute darkness throughout the land of Egypt for three days. 10:23 No one could see another person, and no one could rise from his place for three days. But the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

10:24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD—only your flocks and herds will be detained. Even your families may go with you.”

10:25 But Moses said, “Will you also provide us with sacrifices and burnt offerings that we may present them to the LORD our God? 10:26 Our livestock must also go with us! Not a hoof is to be left behind! For we must take these animals to serve the LORD our God. Until we arrive there, we do not know what we must use to serve the LORD.”

10:27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to release them. 10:28 Pharaoh said to him, “Go from me! Watch out for yourself! Do not appear before me again, for when you see my face you will die!” 10:29 Moses said, “As you wish! I will not see your face again.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.

24 Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.”

25 But Moses said, “You must also give us sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. 26 Our livestock also shall go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind. For we must take some of them to serve the LORD our God, and even we do not know with what we must serve the LORD until we arrive there.”

27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. 28 Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!”

29 So Moses said, “You have spoken well. I will never see your face again.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

21 GOD said to Moses: “Stretch your hand to the skies. Let darkness descend on the land of Egypt—a darkness so dark you can touch it.”

22–23 Moses stretched out his hand to the skies. Thick darkness descended on the land of Egypt for three days. Nobody could see anybody. For three days no one could so much as move. Except for the Israelites: they had light where they were living.

24 Pharaoh called in Moses: “Go and worship GOD. Leave your flocks and herds behind. But go ahead and take your children.”

25–26 But Moses said, “You have to let us take our sacrificial animals and offerings with us so we can sacrifice them in worship to our GOD. Our livestock has to go with us with not a hoof left behind; they are part of the worship of our GOD. And we don’t know just what will be needed until we get there.”

27 But GOD kept Pharaoh stubborn as ever. He wouldn’t agree to release them.

28 Pharaoh said to Moses: “Get out of my sight! And watch your step. I don’t want to ever see you again. If I lay eyes on you again, you’re dead.”

29 Moses said, “Have it your way. You won’t see my face again.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt. 22 And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: 23 They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. 24 And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you. 25 And Moses said, Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the LORD our God. 26 Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the LORD our God; and we know not with what we must serve the LORD, until we come thither. 27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. 28 And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die. 29 And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database

 

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