AFTER Moses and Aaron had spoken to the people of Israel the words which God had given them, they went to meet Pharaoh the king of Egypt. You remember that all the kings of Egypt bore the name of Pharaoh. Moses and Aaron did not at first ask Pharaoh to let the people go out of Egypt, never to return, but they said:
"Our God, the Lord God of Israel, has bidden us to go out, with all our people, a journey of three days into the wilderness, and there to worship him. And God speaks to you through us, saying, "Let my people go, that they may serve me."
But Pharaoh was very angry. He said, "What are you doing, you Moses and Aaron, to call your people away from their work? Go back to your tasks and leave your people alone. I know why the Israelites are talking about going out into the wilderness. It is because they have not work enough to keep them busy. I will give them more work to do."
The work of the Israelites, at that time, was mostly in making brick, and putting up the walls of buildings for the rulers of Egypt. In mixing the clay for the brick they used straw, chopped up fine, to hold the clay together. Pharaoh said:
"Let them make as many bricks as before; but give them no straw. Let the Israelites find their own straw for the brick making."
Of course this made their task all the harder, for it took much time to find the straw; and the Israelites were scattered all through the land finding straw and stubble, for use in making the brick; and yet they were called upon to bring as many brick each day as before. And when they could not do all their task they were cruelly beaten by the Egyptians. Many of the Israelites now became angry with Moses and Aaron, who, they thought, had brought more burden and trouble upon them. They said:
"May the Lord God judge you, and punish you! You promised to lead us out, and set us free; but you have only made our suffering the greater!"
Then Moses cried to the Lord, and the Lord said to him:
"Take Aaron, your brother, and go again to Pharaoh; and show him the signs that I gave you."
So they went in to Pharaoh, and again asked him in the Lord's name, to let the people go. And Pharaoh said:
"Who is the Lord? Why should I obey his commands? What sign can you show that God has sent you?"
Then Aaron threw down his rod, and it was turned into a snake. But there were wise men in Egypt who had heard of this; and they made ready a trick. They threw down their rods, and their rods became snakes, or seemed to. They may have been tame snakes, which they had hidden under their long garments, and then brought out, as if they had been rods.
But Aaron's rod, in the form of a snake, ran after them, and swallowed them all; and then it became a rod again in Aaron's hand. But King Pharaoh refused to obey God's voice.
Then Moses spoke to Aaron, by God's command: "Take your rod and wave it over the waters of Egypt, over the river Nile, and the canals, and the lakes."
Then Aaron did so. He lifted up the rod, and struck the water, in the sight of Pharaoh. And in a moment all the water turned to blood, and the fish in the river all died; and a terrible stench, a foul smell, arose over the land. And the people were in danger of dying. But in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, the water remained as it had been, and was not turned to blood. So God made a difference between Israel and Egypt.
The people of Egypt dug wells, to find water; and the wise men of Egypt brought some water to Pharaoh, and made it look as though they had turned it to blood. And Pharaoh would not listen, nor let the people go.
After seven days Moses took away the plague of blood, but he warned Pharaoh that another plague was coming, if he refused to obey. And as Pharaoh still would not obey, Aaron stretched forth his rod again, and then all the land was covered with frogs. Like a great army they ran over all the fields, and they even filled the houses. Pharaoh said:
"Pray to your God for me; ask him to take the frogs away, and I will let the people go."
Then Moses prayed; and God took away the frogs. They died everywhere; and the Egyptians heaped them up and buried them. But Pharaoh broke his promise, and would not let the people go.
Then, at God's command by Moses, Aaron lifted his rod again, and struck the dust; and everywhere the dust became alive with lice and fleas. But still Pharaoh would not hear, and God sent great swarms and clouds of flies all over the land, so that their houses were filled with them, and the sky was covered. But where the Israelites lived there were no lice, nor fleas, nor flies.
Then Pharaoh began to yield a little. He said:
"Why must you go out of the land to worship God? Worship him here in this land."
But Moses said, "When we worship the Lord, we must make an offering: and our offerings are of animals which the people of Egypt worship, oxen and sheep. It would make the Egyptians angry to see us offering a sacrifice of animals which they call gods."
"Well," said Pharaoh, "you may go; but do not go far away, and come back." But when Moses and Aaron had taken away the plague, Pharaoh broke his promise again, and still held the people as slaves.
Then another plague came. A terrible disease struck all the animals in Egypt, the horses and asses, the camels, the sheep, and the oxen; and they died by the thousand in a day, all over the land. But no plague came upon the flocks and herds of the Israelites.
But Pharaoh was still stubborn. He would not obey God's voice. Then Moses and Aaron gathered up in their hands, ashes from the furnace, and threw it up like a cloud into the air. And instantly boils began to break out on men and on beasts all through the land.
Still Pharaoh refused to obey; and then Moses stretched out his rod toward the sky. At once a terrible storm burst forth upon the land; all the more terrible because in that land rain scarcely ever falls. Sometimes there will not be even a shower of rain for years at a time. But now the black clouds rolled, the thunder sounded, the lightning flashed, and the rain poured down, and with the rain came hail, something that the Egyptians had never seen before. It struck all the crops growing in the field, and the fruits on the trees, and destroyed them.
Then again Pharaoh was frightened, and promised to let the people go; and again when God took away the hail at Moses' prayer, he broke his word, and would not let the Israelites leave the land.
Then after the hail came great clouds of locusts, which ate up every green thing that the hail had spared. And after the locusts came the plague of darkness. For three days there was thick darkness, no sun shining, nor moon, nor stars. But still Pharaoh would not let the people go. Pharaoh said to Moses:
"Get out of my sight. Let me never see your face again. If you come into my presence you shall be killed."
And Moses said, "It shall be as you say, I will see your face no more."
And God said to Moses, "There shall be one plague more, and then Pharaoh will be glad to let the people go. He will drive you out of the land. Make your people ready to go out of Egypt; your time here will soon be ended."