Tuesday 18th August 2020 The Plague of Darkness
Exodus 10: 21 – 29
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand towards heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived. Then Pharaoh summoned Moses, and said, ‘Go, worship the Lord. Only your flocks and your herds shall remain behind. Even your children may go with you.’ But Moses said, ‘You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt-offerings to sacrifice to the Lord our God. Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must choose some of them for the worship of the Lord our God, and we will not know what to use to worship the Lord until we arrive there.’ But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, ‘Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.’ Moses said, ‘Just as you say! I will never see your face again.’
Read the description of the three days of darkness and try and imagine how terrifying it would be to experience. CS Lewis captured something of that terror in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the ship sails into a cloud of utter darkness in which people’s worst nightmares become real.
The plagues are a story of struggle between two worlds: the brutal, anti-God slave-empire of Pharaoh and the world that God intended at creation (what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God). The darkness is a reversal of creation: light is God’s first creative act that rolls back the primordial chaos. The writer wants us to know that Pharaoh’s slave Empire is the great disruptor of creation. It is a world that can deliver only misery, despair and death. If Pharaoh is not willing to dismantle it voluntarily, it needs to die – it cannot be reformed or repaired.
We must not flinch from the picture of God in this story. As with the stories of the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God is presented as responding to challenges to divine sovereignty with “shock and awe” (remember Desert Storm?), which may be impressive and irresistible, but are brutal and bloodthirsty. And partisan!
But the story isn’t finished. In Jesus, God enters into our darkness as companion and liberator of all humanity. As Jesus hangs on Empire’s cross, darkness falls again for three hours. We humans have chosen to be godforsaken rather than receive the gift of the Kingdom. And Jesus cries out in bewildered terror, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” We discover on Easter Sunday that God has not abandoned Jesus, but is “in Christ, reconciling the world to himself”. Jesus’ resurrection is nothing less than the death of Empire and the birth of the New Creation!
You, O God, are Light,
And in you there is no darkness at all.
We are at home in darkness.
We expect it,
Are resigned to it,
Unsurprised when it eclipses light.
We befriend it, even as we fear it.
Yet there is nowhere your love will not go to be with us and save us.
Teach us to discover you in our darkness.
Show us how to live as Children of Light,
Because that is who you have made us to be.