According to Exodus, God sends ten plagues against Egypt. In between these plagues, the Lord tells Moses to warn Pharaoh of the impending afflictions upon his land. While it is tempting to focus solely on the plagues themselves, later biblical authors knew that God’s words to Pharaoh were just as important as the actions against Egypt. Jeremiah, for instance, repurposes the divine words in Egypt and directs them to the Israelites returning from Babylon. Whereas God’s words to Pharaoh spell trouble for Egypt, Jeremiah translates the same divine language into promises of prosperity for the people of Israel. Yet, in both Exodus and Jeremiah, Scripture highlights the same divine goal: bringing God’s captive people home.
Before the plague of locusts, God speaks to Pharaoh through Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long (עד מתי; ad matai) will you refuse to humble yourself before me…? If you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts across your border.” (Exodus 10:3-4). Before a previous plague, God declares, “Let my people go” (9:1) before afflicting Egypt’s livestock: “The Lord set a time, saying, ‘Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land (הדבר הזה בארץ; hadavar hazeh ba’aretz).’ And the Lord did this thing (הדבר הזה; hadavar hazeh) the next day” (9:5-6). In these instances, God’s words to Pharaoh presage Egypt’s destruction and Israel’s eventual exodus.
God’s temporal question to Pharaoh—“How long”—and the euphemistic reference to the plague—“this thing in the land”—reappear in Jeremiah; but instead of using this language to condemn Egypt, the prophet employs it to encourage Israel. Anticipating the chosen people’s return from exile, God asks through Jeremiah, “How long (עד מתי; ad matai) will you waver, faithless daughter? For the Lord has created a new [thing] in the land (חדשׁה בארץ; hadashah ba’aretz)…. Again they shall say this thing in the land (הדבר הזה בארץ; hadavar hazeh ba’aretz)… when I restore [them from] their captivity: ‘The Lord bless you!’” (Jer 31:22-23). Jeremiah draws on Exodus’ language of judgment against Egypt and turns it into a blessing for Israel. Though the original words warned of a plague, the prophetic context proclaims prosperity to God’s people–and in both instances, God’s words pave the way for Israel’s homecoming.