On Parenthetical Statements and Swallowing Big Pills (Exodus 11:1–10)

Words (parenthesis) more words.

Parenthetical statements explain and clarify. Exodus 11:1–10 has an opening parenthetical statement (vv. 1–3) and a closing one (vv. 9–10). These two parenthetical statements hug the declaration of the tenth wonder as tightly as, well, parenthesis.

Following the ninth plague of darkness, Pharaoh calls for Moses and commands Israel to leave, but without their livestock. No deal. Pharaoh erupts and tells Moses to be heedful not to see him again lest he die. Moses retorts they indeed won’t see one another. What follows explains why Moses could say this with confidence. The parenthetical statement in vv. 1-3 takes us back before Moses appeared in Pharaoh’s court.

The LORD said to Moses, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely. Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry.” And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.

End the first parenthesis. Resume closing salvo against  Pharaoh. Moses declares the last of the wonders before Pharaoh (Exodus 11:8–9). Moses knew the end game from the beginning (Exodus 4:21–23). He knew multiple wonders were God’s want-to, not His have-to, and that the death of the firstborn would be the finale. Now he’s learned that God wishes to round things out at ten. God’s judgment is no mindless rage, but poetic justice. The emphasis, the stress, the accent of God’s poetry weighs on this, His glory.

The closing parenthesis (11:9–10) are just that, half, or the closing of a parenthesis. The first half came in 7:3–4 just before the first sign was done.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment.

Exodus 7:3–4 and 11:9–10 together form what Bible scholars call an inclusio. Think of them as a kind of verbal parenthesis, using similar language to mark off a large section. Note the similarity of the closing half to the opening.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

I have no fear of being as repetitive as the Bible. Medicine often is repetitive. We need radical healing in our souls. The total sovereignty of God is a big pill to swallow and we need to swallow the whole thing—daily. This is not a drug with a score down the middle so that you can cut it in half. The Bible isn’t perforated such that you can take a half-sovereign and pretend you’ve ingested the a whole. So again, and without trepidation, these multiple wonders are not a have-to because of Pharaoh’s hardness, Pharaoh is hard because multiple wonders are God’s want-to. In redemption God is totally sovereign. This sovereignty expresses both God’s justice and His grace without compromising either. By these mighty acts God makes distinction (Exodus 11:7). In the tenth wonder God will reveal how He can make this distinction. Both Israel and Egypt deserve this tenth wonder, but for His people, He provides a sacrifice. Distinction by sacrifice; this is the gospel of the sovereign Lord.

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