An Onset of Plagues
(23) Then Israel came to Egypt. Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. (24) He (Yahweh) made his people very fruitful and made them stronger than their adversaries. (25) He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal deceitfully with his servants. (26) He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron whom he had chosen. (27) They performed his signs among them and wonders in the land of Ham. (28) He sent darkness and made it dark, for had they not rebelled against his words? (29) He turned their waters into blood and caused their fish to die. (30) Their land swarmed with frogs, even in the bedrooms of their kings.
In this segment of the psalm, the author turns from the life of Joseph to the series of plagues that Yahweh visited upon Egypt before delivering his people from bondage. Two important repetitions are found here. First, “the land of Ham” occurs twice to distinguish Israel, the offspring of Noah’s son, Shem, from the Egyptians who were descended from Shem’s brother, Ham (vss. 23 & 27). In the second repetition the psalmist uses the verb, “he sent,” (vss. 26 & 28). In the first instance Yahweh “sent” Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to deliver the message, “Let my people go” (vs. 26). The second use of “sent” refers to the plagues which Yahweh directed against the Egyptians (vs. 28).
Note that the first plague mentioned, darkness in the land, was not the first of the ten plagues chronologically (vs. 28). In the Exodus account, darkness came ninth, just before the Angel of Death killed all the firstborn of Egypt. Why is it mentioned first here? One possible answer is that the psalmist used the plague of darkness as a metonymy, a figure of speech in which one part stands for the whole. In other words, all ten plagues sent by God to punish the Egyptians were due to Pharaoh's constant refusals to obey his repeated commands to set the Israelites free. In other words, whoever refuses to heed Yahweh’s message remains trapped in spiritual darkness, a judgment vividly portrayed by the ninth plague.
I. Israel’s prosperity caused the Egyptians to fear and hate them. (23-25)
II. Yahweh delivered Israel by means of great signs and wonders. (26-30)
Because the Egyptians mistreated the Israelites, Yahweh sent a series of plagues to force them to free his covenant people from bondage.
The principle which proved true at the personal level for Joseph according to yesterday’s passage (vss.16-22) applied also at the national level for the people of Israel in today’s passage. Just as God had taken Jacob’s son to a place of captivity for the good of his family, so he allowed Jacob’s offspring to experience captivity for their own good. It was in the crucible of suffering in Egypt that the Israelites grew from a family of seventy into a great nation well over a million strong. They became so numerous and prosperous that the Egyptians came to envy and fear them.
Paul summarized what God was doing for Israel: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The most difficult part of this verse is the little phrase, “in all things.” Some problems are relatively easy for us to understand and accept. It is the painful and difficult things, the things that bring us grief and suffering, that cause us to struggle and doubt God’s love. When we cannot understand the divine purpose for our trials, we find it hard to believe that God is actually working through those very problems and discouragements to accomplish his will in our lives whether that be at a personal level, a family level, or even at a national level. At every stage of the process we must walk by faith and not by sight, trusting in what God has promised rather than allowing our frustrations to distract and divert us from the path he has set before us.