Saturday 15th August 2020 The Plague of Hail
Exodus 9: 13 – 35
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. For this time I will send all my plagues upon you yourself, and upon your officials, and upon your people, so that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go. Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.”’ Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place. Those who did not regard the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the open field.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards heaven so that hail may fall on the whole land of Egypt, on humans and animals and all the plants of the field in the land of Egypt.’ Then Moses stretched out his staff towards heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth. And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the open field throughout all the land of Egypt, both human and animal; the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to the Lord! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.’ Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.’ (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they are late in coming up.) So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to the Lord; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down on the earth. But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.
There is a traditional invitation to prayer, said often by Orthodox Christians, that goes thus;
‘For favourable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth and for temperate seasons, let us pray to the Lord.’
Many of us pray, or are asked to pray, for good weather. Even those who might think ourselves too sophisticated to pray like this often catch ourselves doing it, or being asked to do it, and sometimes by those for whom the weather really matters.
It would be lovely if the sun shone for that day at the seaside or that afternoon set aside for gardening. It would be wonderful if the weather could be favourable for the wedding, garden party or graveside burial service. But sometimes what the weather is like is a matter of life and death, for whole communities. And in times when the earth’s weather seems to be changing, and when even the temperate UK is beset by storms, prayers for good weather become more serious and compelling. Before the forces of storm and drought, of flood or forest fire, we find our powerlessness, our defencelessness and vulnerability, even our dependence. To be battered by hail or wind, to have crops fail or houses flood, to find your skin burned and in danger, or the cliffs crumbling beneath your feet is to know that you are in need.
To learn to pray this, very traditional, prayer well is to recognise that what the weather does is something vital to our lives, to the lives of all with whom we share the earth, our common home. To pray it well is to pray for the good of all, and not just for ourselves. Prayed in common with all the people of God, it is not a selfish prayer for ‘a lovely day’, but a prayer for the thriving of all creation. It’s a prayer worth practising.
in all places,
for weather that sustains life,
that provides for a fruitful harvest
and creates a gentle world.
Let sun shine,
and wind blow,
as the earth needs
and your people pray,