About the time that Pharaoh asked Moses for a blessing, John said at the mid-week meeting: “He should have thought of that nine plagues ago!”
“Take also your flocks and your herds and go, just as you have said. But you must also bless me,” (Exodus 12:32) he said. Gods don’t usually make this sort of request, and he was viewed as a god back then. Whether he believed it or not is another thing entirely, but he certainly knew he had a good gig going and didn’t do anything to mess it up. He was good at playing the role.
This is the same guy (John, not Pharaoh) that I had gotten into a routine of working with in the ministry—every Wednesday afternoon, usually. Generally we would ride together but then work separately. When we did work together, we would encourage each other with remarks like: “Try not to mess up this door like you did the last one.” He has a easy way about him, and people readily chat with him whether they agree or not. He’s non-threatening.
But Pharaoh, of course, was super-threatening. After the ninth plague he said to Moses: “Get out of my sight! Make sure that you do not try to see my face again, for on the day you see my face, you will die.” (10:28) When he called back Moses after the tenth plague, the latter could have said: “I thought you said you didn’t want to see this mug anymore,” but he didn’t. He was a good sport that way.
Thihi gave the Bible reading the week before last, and I loved the inflection and pausing he put into it—inflecting up into the object, and pausing briefly afterwards. “Go, serve Jehovah your God. But just who will be going?” Pharaoh wanted to know. “Then Moses said: ‘We will go with our young people...our old people...our sons...our daughters...our sheep...and our cattle”—inflection into each, and pause afterwards—all but saying, “and what are you going to do about it?”
Pharaoh blew a gasket at this and kept laying down terms, yielding a little after each plague. Like George Kennedy said of Cool Hand Luke, “He just kept coming at me, even though he had nothing!” The only thing that didn’t match with Pharaoh was that he wasn’t cool. Not even a dog will bark when we leave, Moses told him. My own dog goes livid at the window when someone has the nerve to walk past on the public street. They just keep on walking, but even that minor disturbance would not happen.
They’d leave with a lot of dough, too. By the time the plagues were done, Egyptians would be so sick of seeing them, and so desirous to keep them happy and moving, that they would load them down with goods. “Jehovah gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that they gave them what they asked for, and they plundered the Egyptians,” (Exodus 12:36) as though God had determined that they would be paid for their many years of labor. Nor did they leave alone, but a “vast mixed company” threw in their lot with them. (12:38) Maybe they included Pharaohs’ own servants, who had worked up the courage to urge him, “How long will this man continue to menace us? Send the men away so that they may serve Jehovah their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt has been ruined?” (10:7)
Thihi is coming along well himself. A Burmese man, initially with so-so English skills, I think the nature of his progress was missed by the one studying the Bible with him. “Where do you see yourself going with this?” he had asked Thihi, unfamiliar with teaching those of halting English and the slower pace it requires. As though the question was the biggest ‘Duh’ imaginable, he had answered that he wants to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
We have one of those congregations where Sunday afternoon service is not terribly popular (“It’s like pulling teeth!” Miriam said once, trying to get others to join her)—sometimes it would just be my wife and I. Soon Thihi began to be a regular companion with me, but he wasn’t speaking yet, nor was there any hurry to rush the event. I even thought of finding Burmese people in our area (where there is no Burmese group) calling on them with him in tow, and he could chime in at will, even cutting his teeth that way, but then Covid 19 hit and the physical ministry ended. I do see him on the Zoom meeting when the entire congregation meets for service experiences.
There was some talk about how Moses agreed not to show his face anymore to Pharoah. Wasn’t he rash to say that? What would he do when God said to go back with the next plague? It seemed to me that he had indeed been rash—not so much rash as chicken, but God got him out of a spot by announcing his next plague (the tenth) before he had left the room. But someone else uncovered a research note somewhere that said the whole thing was “parenthetical,” whatever that means. I don’t know—you be the judge:
Pharaoh said to him: “Get out of my sight! Make sure that you do not try to see my face again, for on the day you see my face, you will die.” To this Moses said: “Just as you have spoken, I will not try to see your face again.” Then Jehovah said to Moses: “One more plague I am going to bring upon Pharaoh and Egypt. After that he will send you away from here. When he does send you away, he will literally drive you out of here.” (Exodus 10:28-11:1)
When he did drive them out, it is summed up as: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on this night and strike every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from man to beast; and I will execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt.” Every one of those ten plagues struck at something that a god was supposed to be in charge of. The last eight plagues the “magic-practicing priests” were powerless in the face of. But of the first two, they were not powerless. They were able to replicate the plague.
“[Aaron] lifted up the rod and struck the water that was in the Nile River before the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, and all the water that was in the river was turned into blood... Nevertheless, the magic-practicing priests of Egypt did the same thing with their secret arts...” (7:20-22)
“Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs began to come up and to cover the land of Egypt. 7 However, the magic-practicing priests did the same thing by their secret arts, and they too made the frogs come up over the land of Egypt.” (8:6-7)
“Yeah, it’s just like Satan,” someone muttered at the mid-week meeting. “He can’t fix anything. He can only screw it up worse!”