In the initial stage of the plagues, Pharaoh seemed like a mighty foe. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to copy the first miracle, and ‘the score’ was tied one-to-one (Exod 7:22-23). In the second plague, Pharaoh’s magicians mimicked Aaron’s miracle of sending frogs out of the Nile and over the land. Pharaoh yet thought himself superior to Israel’s God (Exod 8:1-7; see Psalm 10). But when the score appeared to be tied two-to-two, Moses displayed the Lord’s supremacy by allowing Pharaoh to decide the time that the frogs would depart from Egypt. Thus, in an eerie sort of way, God showed Pharaoh that He is both mighty and personal; while Pharaoh’s magicians mocked Moses and Aaron by sending frogs out of the Nile, it was the Lord alone who would eliminate them—according to the word of Pharaoh.
While the first two plagues showed Pharaoh to be a formidable opponent, God used plagues three to six to make a distinction between Himself and Pharaoh—and correspondingly, Israel and Egypt. In the third plague (Exod 8:16-19) God showed His supremacy in that, for the first time, Pharaoh’s magicians were not able to match the miracle. The score was now three-to-two, and Pharaoh would never catch up. Here God’s distinction over Pharaoh was even stated by Pharaoh’s magicians: “This is the finger of God” (Exod 8:19a). The fourth plague (Exod 8:20-32) further manifested God’s supremacy over Pharaoh—and the land of Egypt. God showed the distinction between Israel and Egypt in that all the land, save Goshen, swarmed with flies (see Gen 47:5-6, 27). By the time of the fifth plague (Exod 9:1-7), the reader may grow accustomed to the distinctions God made between the Israelites and the Egyptians—and the death of Egyptian livestock further ‘introduced’ the God of the Hebrews to the Pharaoh of Egypt. In the sixth plague (Exod 9:8-12), the distinction was between the Lord’s messengers and Pharaoh’s magicians—the latter were covered with boils and the former were unaffected by the plague (Exod 9:10-11).
God revealed Himself further in plagues seven-through-nine. The record of the seventh plague specifically states both the power and grace of God. The Lord commanded Moses to tell the Pharaoh: “I have let you live for this purpose: to show you My power and to make My name known in all the earth” (Exod 9:16; see 5:2). Further, in this plague the Lord gave a specific warning so that people of Egypt could protect themselves and their livestock from the plague—this warning is a ‘gospel-like’ grace (Exod 9:18-20). The eighth plague (Exod 10:1-20) revealed that God was sending these wonders so that all would know and recognize Him as supreme over the king of Egypt, and His people Israel (Exod 10:1-2). The ninth plague (Exod 10:21-29) is memorable in that it foreshadowed the crucifixion and burial of Christ; a three-day darkness covered the land (see Luke 23:44-45).
The final verses of Exodus 10 are the concluding bracket to ideas introduced in Exodus 4. In both passages, the Lord claimed absolute sovereignty over the condition of Pharaoh’s heart. Before the first plague (Exod 4:21), after the ninth plague (Exod 10:27), and four other times in the story (Exod 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8), the author recorded that Pharaoh’s heart was in God’s hands.
God’s sovereignty over people and nature in Exod 7:14-10:35 provided Paul and John historical references for explaining God’s greatness to their audiences.
(1) In Rom 9:17, Paul cited Exod 9:16 to explain God’s sovereignty in election of the Gentiles. In Paul’s day, many more Gentiles than Jews were coming to faith in Christ. This ingathering of Gentiles seemed to contradict the flow of redemptive history, since in fact it was the Jews who received the promises and the Law (see Rom 3:1-7; 9:1-5). Paul proposed that, “It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom 9:6). Paul distinguished between national Israel and spiritual Israel—only the latter of whom are chosen in Christ for eternal salvation. While some considered this unjust, Paul employed the events of Exodus 7-10 to vindicate the sovereignty of God. In Rom 9:17, Paul cited the Scripture of Exod 9:16, where the Lord told Pharaoh that He let him live so that He might show His power and glory over the Egyptian king. Paul concluded that just as God glorified Himself in hardening Pharaoh, He glorified Himself in hardening Israel—until the full number of the Gentiles would be gathered in (Rom 11:25).
(2) Judgement scenes in the Revelation reflected the plagues the Lord sent upon Egypt. In the first two trumpet judgements (Rev 8:7-9), hail, fire, and blood came upon the earth, recalling the first and seventh plagues (Exod 7:14-25; 9:13-35). When the fifth trumpet sounded (Rev 9:1-12), powerful, horse-like locusts—like the locusts God sent on Egypt in the eighth plague (Exod 10:1-20)—arose out of the abyss to torment those that did not have God’s seal upon them. The two witnesses that John saw in Rev 11:1-14 had the ability to turn water to blood, echoing the work of Moses and Aaron in the first plague (Exod 7:14-25). When the fifth angel poured his bowl upon the earth (Rev 16:10-11), sores came upon the people just as sores came upon the Egyptians and their livestock in the sixth plague (Exod 9:8-12).