Warfare is not always solely military. Its goal(s) may not always be annihilation. Exodus 8 is about the progress of such a war.
The war had started with a setback after Pharaoh's first meeting (5:1) with the elderly brothers (7:7) Moses and Aaron, a setback summarized in 5:20-23.
We readers have already known the goal of the explicitly war-related actions of the brothers, the people, and God, at least from 3:20 on. Or have we? We can get one impression from Ex 3:8ff., but perhaps quite another from 5:2 and 7:17a. So chapter 8 begins with the opposition "dug in," that is, confident in their side (7:22-23). But they were digging more at this point -- literally (7:24).
This confidence on Pharaoh's part came because of a sense of parity which first shows in 7:11. It was not unanticipated, since the story of the setback has prepared us to understand that this was not a fake war.
People have a hard time understanding how if there's a God in a particular war, why that warfare of good and evil is not a fake war. "Isn't God orchestrating it?" people with and without belief in the existence of God ask.
Exodus 8 continues the description of the war that has setbacks, parity, and, as every soldier in wartime knows, odd stretches of time, in which there is nothing going on but what has already happened (7:25). But here in chapter 8 there are more indications of the genuineness of this war.
If the goal of the war is simply Ex 3:20, physical deliverance from Egypt, that's one thing. But if it's also Ex 3:21-22, an alteration within all of Egypt toward the Israelites, and the refutation of 5:9 with changes in the opinion of even Pharaoh from what he articulated in 5:2 -- then, the non-physical aspect of the war is also strategically important.
And that's what we progressively see in that line of description which begins with the startling example of parity, near-parity, or disintegrating parity in 7:11ff.
Chapter 8 continues that theme of the attempt at parity with an event that describes almost the very nature of what happens in conflicts of evil with God: conflict starts off looking like parity, as we saw in 7:11. Then it looks like the parity breaks down, 7:12. Then it looks, in 8:7, like the mimicry has gone wrong somehow, turning itself on its perpetrators, invoking more misery.
We could say that 8:8 describes a portion of this war that people in college call "RealPolitik," involving feigned diplomacy on the part of one side, to get an advantage. But on Moses' side, as part of the ideological, parallel goal, Moses engages honestly, saying what he says to Pharaoh about honor (8:9). (Pharaoh can have honor? which must sound shocking to sergeants.) In 8:10 it is very clear that this warfare is not just physical: this phase is explicitly for Pharaoh to "know that there is no one like the Lord our God." In 8:15 we see the proof that the diplomatic talk by Pharaoh was feigned or retracted.
In the next engagement (8:16-19), the suppliers to Pharaoh not only start believing that what Moses and Aaron do is superior, but that it is from God -- and they voice that belief (8:19). Another echo of the twin goals of this warfare. But Pharaoh is no Nebuchadnezzar: he doesn't change his mind.
In the rest of the chapter, the common warfare themes of pre-warning (by Moses; 8:23), attempt at partial settlement (by Pharaoh; 8:25), leniency (by Moses; 8:29); and retrenchment (by Pharaoh; 8:32) are described. Since this is warfare not only of physical goals, but of ideological goals, it makes some sense that it shares many aspects with other wars with these two aspects, throughout history. But why does GOD do all this? Couldn't God have set the Israelites running like Lot from Sodom and just nuked Egypt? putting up Pharaoh in the equivalent of Zoar? licking his wounds close by and admitting everything God wanted him to admit?
God has a tertiary goal. It is not just the physical goal of rescuing individuals, It is not just the spiritual goal of showing that there is none like Him. God has a third goal.
What is it? A nation? That might be a guess, from 3:8. To demonstrate faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, etc? That might also be a guess, from 6:4.
Beyond covenant. Identity. God says something to Moses that we haven't seen in the story of the Bible so far, and that, almost in passing, trumps all the above: He tells Moses -- to tell Pharaoh! -- something. "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, "Israel is my son, My firstborn. So I said to you, 'let My son go that he may serve Me'; but you have refused to let him go" (Ex 4:23).
In Exodus, God "wins" -- we're getting ahead of ourselves, only in chapter 8, but ... -- God wins, as the Hebrew language often describes it, "in" Israel his son.
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