Within the fourth plague, it begins again with Moses meeting Pharaoh at the river. This is how the first plague commences. Here God begins something new. Now the children of Israel are being distinguished from the Egyptians. The Hebrew wording here is not “to make a distinction”, at least not in the strict English connotation of those words, but rather, “to make a ransom”. God tells Pharaoh that He shall “make a ransom” of Israel, and within that “ransom” is the distinction and deliverance of Israel from this plague. The obvious connotation from this is that if they’re delivered from the plague, they will also be delivered from Egypt.
It is here that we have a quite interesting dialogue. Pharaoh doesn’t seem to assert his authority over God this time. Outside of the fact that Pharaoh is the one who declares, “I will let them go”, you can’t seem to make out much of any notion that Pharaoh is denouncing God’s power, or yawning at such a thing. Whereas from the miracles performed before the first plague unto the previous plague, every time Pharaoh as been unimpressed and unburdened. Previously, the magicians claimed it was the finger of God to perform the third plague. Pharaoh wasn’t phased.
There is the reasoning back and forth, almost like a bartering. Pharaoh tells Moses to sacrifice in the land of Egypt, but Moses says that this will result in Israel being stoned. Many commentaries express that they don’t know why this would be the case. If we simply look at ancient Egyptian religion, we find that the lamb was a sacred animal. Moses knew that God required the lamb to be slaughtered, just like Abel knew before there was the giving of the Law. In the relationship of faith with God, there is something intuited and communicated to the inner man that allows one to know that it requires the sacrifice of the lamb, and not simply of a chicken, pig, or some other animal. Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the LAMB, and not the goat, bull, or deer.
This was a sacred animal to the Egyptians. Therefore, Moses knew they must leave to sacrifice it. I find it interesting, though, that later God will demand of Israel to sacrifice the Passover lamb in Egypt before they leave. Not only does He require this, but then also demands they put the blood on their doorposts for all of Egypt to see!
What begins as Pharaoh attempting to keep Israel within Egypt turns into him suggesting that they can leave, but not very far… Don’t venture three days out; just stay here in the region. This is not what God has said, and therefore there is no deal. The devil does this with us too. You can be a Christian; there is no problem with that. Just don’t start living in a righteous manner. Keep your drinking, your promiscuity, and other acts of the flesh, and you can call yourself whatever you want. When we refuse this, it turns into not going too far. Sure, live righteously. Tell people that sin is wrong, and don’t mince your words. Just don’t start to tell people that the mindsets that they have are wrong. Don’t start living by a different wisdom. Make sure that you keep your job and live by the conventional wisdom of the age. Go into debt, enslave yourself to your occupation and the bank, fill your life with so much that you have no time for prayer or Scripture reading, and then among all the piles of laundry and household chores, you can remind yourself that you’re doing fine because you’re going to church every Sunday and not doing the despicable things.
I just described to you the majority of conventional Christianity in the West.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because Pharaoh will harden his heart and not let you go. You have an advocate with the Father, who is not simply the one who cleanses you from sin and your sacrifice of atonement, but is your Moses who stretches forth His rod and declares, “Let my people go!” It is the rod of iron that Jesus holds. To His people, it is the rod of God, the very rod that brings comfort to the sheep. To Satan and his darkened kingdom, it is the rod of God, the very rod that shall smash in pieces all of his kingdom and all of the nations he has deceived.
This plague is significant because of the discourse that we find here. It’s significance is found in the reality of knowing that God is on our side, and as long as we won’t give up, neither will He. He will plague the darkened kingdom, even sending it into darkness, in order to bring you out into deliverance. To exodus Egypt in this kind of “spiritual” sense is to come out of sin, come out of the false mindsets and attitudes of the world, and to come face-to-face with the living God. It is in that wilderness that Israel heard the voice of God and received the marriage covenant. It is there that we hear our hearts being beckoned, and if you won’t harden your hearts today, as you did in the rebellion, you can enter into that rest.