God demanded TOTAL obedience
After six plagues did moderate damage to Egypt, the Pharaoh’s heart remained hard so God announced more severe punishment to jolt him out of his defiance. To begin, God states He could have already wiped out all of Egypt. Instead, YHWH graciously kept the pagan nation alive and submitted Himself to a test of strength against their pantheon of gods. Just because things are going your way doesn’t equal God’s approval, sometimes it just equals God’s patience! God mercifully warned that everyone who fears YHWH, along with their animals, should seek shelter—those that don’t will die. Moses then brought a massive storm of rain, lightening and hail so heavy it crushed trees and killed everything without strong cover. This challenged Nut, goddess of the sky, who Egypt worshipped for water to nourish their crops. Seeing this power, the Pharaoh acknowledges his ‘sin’ (Heb. khaw-taw, ‘to miss/error’) and begs Moses to stop it. After he does, the Pharaoh changes his mind again so Moses brings locusts to cover the ground. They eat all the plants and shrubs, which confronted Osiris, the god of rebirth and vegetation. By again claiming that he has ‘sinned’, the Pharaoh asks Moses to remove the locusts. After God blows the locusts out, Pharaoh sees relief and refuses again. Then, God covers Egypt in a thick, stifling black ‘fog’ for three days. This was a direct threat to one of Egypt’s most revered gods—Amun-Re, the god of wind, sun, and warmth. In contrast, the settlement of Israelites in Goshen had sunlight and didn’t experience any of the plagues!
Pharaoh desired PARTIAL obedience
The Pharaoh knew he and his advisors were overmatched by Israel’s God yet they refused unconditional surrender. Despite the power he has seen, the Pharaoh agrees partially but threatens Moses if he takes the women and children. At first the Pharaoh wanted to bargain and only let the men go, then later everyone but without the animals as hostages. Moses tells him he will take their herds and there will be no compromise as the defeated have no authority to bargain. A hard heart leads to a calcified will, and delayed obedience leads to increased penalties (like car registration!). Partial obedience is acknowledgement of what should be done but a willful heart not to complete it. Obedience in part is disobedience in full!