Nick continues his commentary from yesterday.
Following on from yesterday, in the fourth pair of signs that God presents to Egypt, Moses stands and sprinkles two handfuls of soot from a furnace towards heaven; it comes down as dust becoming crippling ‘boils breaking forth blains’ on all who are made from the dust of Egypt.
God calls Egypt the ‘iron furnace’ (Deuteronomy 4, 1 Kings 8). Furnaces are where substances are ‘tested’ and ‘proved’ by intense heat in the process of purification (interesting side point: the English words ‘pyro-‘ and ‘pure’ are related to the Biblical Greek for ‘fire’). Heat symbolises suffering; furnaces burn to destruction the impurities, leaving only that which withstands the heat of suffering … they are the places where suffering produces ‘endurance’, ‘character’, and ‘hope’ (Romans 5).
Soot results from incomplete burning (as opposed to ash, which results from complete burning) – incomplete burning implies an impure end result.
Suffering and blessing are given, hand-in-hand in this generation, to believer and non-believer alike, to different degrees in different seasons. God does so because He is ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). Blessings are given so that we can ‘taste’ what God’s being ‘good’ and ‘love’ means. Sufferings are given on the one hand so that we can ‘taste’ what the alternative is (so that with eyes opened by the Spirit, we can choose life instead of death, we can surrender to Christ rather than kicking against the word, and so that, having tasted, we may eat of him). On the other hand sufferings come so that we can grow in the intimacy with God that comes with living and walking in the Spirit, leaning on the Spirit and sharing with him our joys and our pains.
Moses casts the impure product of the ‘iron furnace’ of Egypt towards the heavens, and they are rejected as unclean (Leviticus 13). Moses (given to be ‘god to Pharaoh’) alone stands; the scribes are unable to stand before him.
Jesus is really cranking up the delineation between him and his people and the Pharaoh and his people.
The false god of Egypt exalts himself (v17)
But (v16) Pharaoh is raised up so that the God of the Hebrews might show His power and Name.
Aaron’s rod heralded most of the first signs. Most of the second half are heralded by the rod, hand, or hands of Moses. But, here, Jesus has identified his own hand as having been ‘put forth’ in all of the signs so far.
The second half of this pair of signs is unprecedented: ‘voices and … hail and fire catching itself in the midst of the hail, very grievous’ … lethal, in fact.
Psalm 78:49 (YLT) – “He sendeth on them the fury of His anger, Wrath, and indignation, and distress — A discharge of evil messengers”
Voices, hail, and fire seem to herald God’s judgement on the nations (e.g. Revelation 8:7, 11:18-19, and 16:21-17:1)
Egypt has been tested and found to be impure (remember Daniel 5:27?) – the judgement begins.
And yet, throughout God’s signs, each Egyptian witness to Jesus’ signs has been offered another opportunity to repent (literally ‘re-weigh’ the evidence before them) and join the God of the Hebrews. Here, in the plague of hail, we see two different responses from the Egyptians. Some among the servants of the Pharaoh ‘fear the word of God’ (v20), whilst some have not ‘set their heart unto the word of God’ (v21). This is the choice set before all who would endure the signs/judgements of God. The signs are joined to words and the great desire of the LORD is for everyone to heed the word.
God is patient and merciful and we see, from Exodus 12:38, that, despite all their previous unfaithfulness, every servant of the Pharaoh who feared the word of God and put their trust in him was saved ‘as a native’.