But first you need to understand some of the context. Did you know that Moses didn’t actually say flat out, “Set my people free?” He kind of made it sound like it was just a temporary freedom. In God’s words, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 7:16, NKJV).
At first, Pharaoh was not interested in letting them go at all. He probably figured if he let them go into the desert to make some sacrifices, they’d never come back. Which was, of course, exactly what God wanted.
So God sent some bloody water and an abundance of frogs. The magicians of Pharaoh imitated God’s miracles, so Pharaoh probably dismissed the Lord’s work as magic. Then God sent lice, and the magicians had to admit, “This is the finger of God” (Exo. 8:19). But Pharaoh didn’t listen to them. Then God sent swarms of flies that corrupted the land (Exo. 8:24), and maybe at that point he decided that the LORD was a real God.
So he called Moses and Aaron over and offered Compromise #1. “Fine, you can go sacrifice to your God. But you don’t have to go anywhere. You can do that right here in Egypt.” (see Exo. 8:25).
But Moses countered, “We can’t do that. We’re sacrificing animals that are abominable to Egypt. No, we’ll go three days journey into the wilderness and sacrifice there” (see Exo. 8:26-27).
Pharaoh acquiesced, but only a little. “Fine. But don’t go too far away” (see. Exo. 8:28). Of course, we know he ended up changing his mind.
So the livestock of Egypt died, the people suffered from boils, and hail thundered from heaven. Pharaoh started to realize his mistake, but only a little.
“I have sinned this time,” he admitted to Moses (Exo. 9:27). But what about all the other times? And what about us? Do we, like Pharaoh, pridefully recognize only part of our sin?
Anyway, Pharaoh changed his mind again.
So God threatened to send locusts. Pharaoh’s servants were in despair, “Just let them go! Don’t you realize Egypt is destroyed?” (see Exo. 10:7).
So Pharaoh attempted Compromise #2. “Fine, you can go, but only the men can go. Everyone else has to stay right here” (see Exo. 10:10-11).
God didn’t accept that compromise, either. He sent the locusts, instead.
Again, Pharaoh admitted his sin. But he didn’t end up letting Israel go.
So God sent great darkness.
Pharaoh tried Compromise #3. “Fine, you can go. The whole family can go. But, you have to keep your animals here” (see Exo. 10:24).
But God would not accept the compromise. It was the last compromise Pharaoh would make. Shortly after, he lost his firstborn son. Stripped of all his glory, of everything he loved dear, Pharaoh finally bowed the knee. No more compromise. Only surrender.
“Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the LORD as you have said. Also, take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also” (Exo. 12:31-32).
Now, we know Pharaoh’s surrender didn’t last long. But the point is, God wanted surrender. He didn’t want compromise from Pharaoh, and He doesn’t want it from us. When He asks something of us, He expects surrender – full and complete.