In the movie “Young Lions” Marlon Brando plays a German during World War II. At the beginning of the movie, before the war broke out, he expresses his belief to an American woman that Hitler is changing things for the better; the economy is improving; the job market is breathing again; the people are waking up to a joy that had long been dormant. She, of course cannot understand. She hasn’t watched her family go hungry with hope dwindling by a thread. So, when the world is swept up into war, Brando’s character is a Nazi officer. And at first, he believes in what he is fighting for; the new Germany; a chance to thrive. But as the war continues, he becomes disillusioned with the whole thing. Near the end of the movie, Brando is stumbling despondently through a forest, where he is killed by an American soldier. The very thing he believed would be the salvation of Germany, ended up consuming, not only Germany, but much of Europe with madness. What is unshakeable in your life? Are you sure?
The ninth mighty act in Exodus 10:21-29 is a direct assault on what Egypt thought to be unshakeable. We are not told of a warning this time. This may have to do more with the author wanting to create a sense of urgency and impending doom, than the lack of an actual warning. Moses stretches out his hand toward the sky and a palpable darkness engulfs Egypt. It is a darkness that can be felt or maybe a darkness that causes groping. It will also be a calamitous darkness. The word “thick” means “dark, gloom, calamity” and it is often used in prophetic literature to refer to the Day of Yahweh or the Day of Judgment. Have you ever been in complete darkness; a darkness that feels heavy? How about three days of darkness? And this darkness is divine. The Egyptian lamps cannot push it back. But the lamps in the houses of the Israelites push the darkness right on out. Even if you want to think that this is a severe dust storm made possible by the destruction of crops in Egypt, that doesn’t explain how the dwelling places of the Israelites were spared. Darkness and dust storms don’t work that way. This is a Mighty Act of Yahweh.
And there is more going on here for the Egyptians. The Egyptians believed in many gods, of whom Pharaoh was one. But their unshakeable deity was the sun god. This passage is from The Book of the Dead: “‘I am he among the gods who cannot be repulsed.’ Who is he? He is Atum, who is in his sun disc.” An alternative version reads, “He is Re, when he arises on the eastern horizon of heaven.” The Egyptians believed that the eternally rising sun could not be destroyed. It was their unshakeable thing; the one thing in life they could rely upon. So, they deified the sun and named it Re or Atum, depending on the time frame. And for three days, Yahweh, the God of slaves, completely blocked out this god and any effect he might have. He shook their one unshakeable thing and it scared them silly.
We probably should envision Pharaoh trying to hold onto his pride. His world is tumbling apart around him. He sends for Moses and tells him to go work for Yahweh and to take every Israelite. But he will not let them take their livestock. This is a man who thought he was a god grasping for some semblance of control. Re is rendered ineffectual by a calamitous darkness; a darkness that feels heavy and oppressive. So, he will let the slaves win, but he will hold onto their animals. This seems to be surety. He may have to let them leave, but he will hold onto something to make sure they come back. Moses declines the offer. They will need the animals as sacrifices. They will not know what God requires until they get there, so not one hoof will be left behind. Is anyone fooled here? At this point does anyone really think they are going to go out and then come back? Pharaoh definitely doesn’t. He explodes with an angry, “Get out of my face! Watch yourself for if you see my face again, you will die!” Moses said, “You are absolutely right. I will never see your face again!” But Moses does see his face again. The servants of God never know everything and sometimes they make mistakes. Personally, I think Moses misspoke.
Yahweh took the one thing the Egyptians thought they could rely on and shook it to pieces. What do you stand on; what is your one thing? Is it politics? Some people pin all of their hopes on the right person getting into office. So, if the wrong person gets in, will all of our hopes run away? Is it the economy? And if the economy crashes? Maybe it is security. If you feel safe, everything else will fall into place or at least be manageable. Right? Do you feel safe? And isn’t safety an illusion? There is only one thing that is unshakeable. His name is Yahweh. Hope in him! Be his child and be unshakeable. Peace, Walter.