Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The plague shall not be upon you to destroy you (Exod 11)

Before the final and most brutal of the plagues, we take a side trip into some instruction God gives to prepare for it. In many ways, the nine plagues that came before were just preparation for this one, which has great significance in the Bible as a whole, some of which is revealed in the next few chapters, and some of which is revealed in the New Testament (if you believe in the N.T., of course; most Jews would certainly not.)

Brief mention is made here of the plundering of the Egyptians, but I won't address it here since the SAB does not. Suffice it to say I will revisit it in the next chapter, and I already touched on the subject back in chapter 3.

So, to the main objection that the SAB brings up for this chapter: "These verses [11:4-6] clearly show that the mass murder of innocent children by God (see 12:29-30) was premeditated." This is an odd statement for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it's largely right on the mark. Pulling it apart from back to front, I first want to note that it would be theologically sound to say that everything God does is "premeditated". Since God is supposedly all-knowing, everything that He has done or ever will do was already planned before time itself even existed (as much as that's a meaningful thing to say, but you get the idea I'm sure). As far as "innocent children", that's a difficult issue to address, although I tried to in part in an earlier post. Aside from the issues talked about there, it might be noted that it may not necessarily be only children, whether that be a plus or minus. Then there is the most important issue, the key question of whether this truly qualifies as either "mass" or "murder".

A pastor friend of mine wrote a very good essay on this subject that I read years ago, and it's a shame it's not online, at least as far as I know, since he goes much more in to detail on this matter than I ever could. Although we do indeed see a lot of large groups of people being killed in various moments throughout the Bible, there are a few things we can note about these occurrences. First of all, God gives a warning. In this case, we have a series of nine incredible plagues that occur over the course of several months. The plagues are always predicted by Moses, explained to be the work of God, and do not have an effect on the Israelites. As a result of this, many of the people of Egypt are sitting up and taking notice of what's going on. While Pharaoh continues in a state of denial about God's will and God's power, many others aren't so stupid. As I said in my last post, it seems quite likely that people started doing what they could to avoid the plagues and save their crops and livestock, if possible.

This leads to the second point, which is that God always gives a way out. In this case, the way out is announced in the next chapter: put blood on your doorposts and God will spare your house. If you read these chapters carefully, you will see that God is not saying He's going to kill all of the Egyptians and spare all of the Israelites; He says He's going to kill those who refuse to follow His simple instructions and spare those who do follow them. To a Christian, this is a clear foreshadowing of the message of the Gospel: a person here was saved from the wrath on Egypt by the blood of a lamb's sacrifice, while in life, a person is saved from the wrath on sin by the blood of the "Lamb of God". To a Bible believer of any religious bent, however, this instruction has significance because it shows God is merciful enough to make an escape clause for His wrath. In every case throughout the Old Testament where large groups of people were destroyed either by plagues or an army due to the will of God, there was always a warning, and always a way far an individual to escape the fate of the group as a whole.

That being said, all the people of Egypt had to do to save themselves and their children was sprinkle some blood on their doors. I have little doubt that there were many people who did so. Imagine this allegory: You meet up with a man who claims to have a message from God to you. He says, "Get out of your house, or you will die." You'd be right to be skeptical. But suppose he said, "Tomorrow it will rain on your house, but not the house of your neighbors," and the next day a little cloud blew in and rained only on your house. The next day, the same thing happened with snow, then hail, then it was struck by lightning, then it was overrun with ants, then your power went out for no discernable reason, etc. Each time, the man said it would happen the next day, and it did, nine times. Then the man said, "Tomorrow, your house will be hit by a meteorite, and nothing will be left but a smoking crater. I suggest you get out." Would you get out? Would you get your family out? Your possessions? I sure would.

One might complain though that I am wrong, and it's illustrated by the phrase that the SAB points out for different reasons: "...the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." Surely this is saying that God wants to arbitrarily hurt the Egyptians and spare the Israelites, right? I don't think so. As I read the Bible, there is often a distinction made, and an important one, between a country and its people. God deals with them in different ways, and is much more forgiving towards individuals than a country in general. The "difference between the Egyptians and Israel" is not about individual people, but about differences in cultures, societies, and religious beliefs. Call it intolerant if you want, and I won't deny it, but God is saying that He will show favor on those that believe in Him, and not on those who do not. In the original Hebrew, there is no difference between the word used for "Egypt" and "the Egyptians" in this passage, and verse seven probably would have been translated differently if I'd been in charge of the KJV. But I'm not of course.

So last point the SAB makes is a very good one to take note of, as it's central to this idea. God actually wanted Pharaoh to say no to Moses?! What the heck? you might ask. The book of Exodus is about the beginning of the nation of Israel, and it's this nation that God has chosen to be his representatives on earth in a special way. Egypt and Israel lie at the joining point between three continents, perhaps the only continents that were settled by (relatively) modern civilizations. God is getting ready to set up Israel in its appointed place, and to start them off, He is using Egypt as an example for the other nations. Everyone in the Middle East will come to know of these plagues and what happened when a kingdom dared to try and stand in the way of God and His chosen people. The first nine plagues were Egypt's warning, but the tenth plague is a warning to the nations that would come into contact with the Israelites over the next forty-plus years as they moved out of Egypt and into Canaan.

God gave Egypt a warning, and a way out. The only thing Pharaoh had to give up was his pride.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

You seem to have ignored the parts of the bible where God hardened Pharaoh's heart so as to cause him NOT to do as he supposedly wanted, therefore allowing him to continue on with his planned course of action.

Also, wouldn't you think that if God REALLY wanted everyone to believe in him the proof would be undeniable instead of nonexistant?

Afterall, if there really was actual proof of God all of these "debates" would vanish.

Brucker said...

"You seem to have ignored the parts of the bible where God hardened Pharaoh's heart so as to cause him NOT to do as he supposedly wanted, therefore allowing him to continue on with his planned course of action."

Actually, I addressed that specifically in the second-to-last paragraph of the entry.

"Also, wouldn't you think that if God REALLY wanted everyone to believe in him the proof would be undeniable instead of nonexistant?"

Some people think it is undeniable. Some people think that anything is deniable, no matter how strong the evidence. Go figure.

"Afterall, if there really was actual proof of God all of these 'debates' would vanish."

I'm fascinated you think so. Perhaps you could give me an example of undeniable proof. Please post it here.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that I'd say your next to last paragraph actually addresses it, as in the specifics of Exodus 4:23. This verse appears to be quite clear in its meaning.

On the one hand you say that God offered "a way out" while on the other hand you claim he used Egypt as an example. I can go for the example part, however, the "way out" theory seems like another attempt to "clean up" those parts of the bible modern people could find distasteful.

I agree that some would claim nothing is undeniable, however, to reasonable people, there are things which would serve the purpose. Not to try to formulate an all inclusive listing, however, an appearence in front of a large skeptical crowd, complete with a few divine revelations would be a start. I've always had a problem with the theory that God only appears to those who believe since it runs contrary to the theory of God's love, mercy, and salvation, i.e. who would need the most "help" those who believe or those who disbelieve. Lastly, since God supposedly "wants" people to believe in him, it's hard to believe that he wouldn't want to supply proof. Afterall, who more than God would understand the human mind and its nature.

I do enjoy intelligent debate of religion.

Brucker said...

"I'm not sure that I'd say your next to last paragraph actually addresses it, as in the specifics of Exodus 4:23. This verse appears to be quite clear in its meaning."

I'm not sure I follow your point on Exodus 4:23.

"On the one hand you say that God offered 'a way out' while on the other hand you claim he used Egypt as an example. I can go for the example part, however, the 'way out' theory seems like another attempt to 'clean up' those parts of the bible modern people could find distasteful."

Why is there a problem? Pharaoh knew exactly what he needed to do to make God refrain from punishing him. How is that not a "way out"?

"I agree that some would claim nothing is undeniable, however, to reasonable people, there are things which would serve the purpose."

Do you think the world is full of reasonable people? Before you answer, consider that most people in the world believe there is a higher power of some sort. They also don't all believe in the same higher power.

"Not to try to formulate an all inclusive listing, however, an appearence in front of a large skeptical crowd, complete with a few divine revelations would be a start."

Some would say that's what happened in the Bible, repeatedly.

"I've always had a problem with the theory that God only appears to those who believe since it runs contrary to the theory of God's love, mercy, and salvation, i.e. who would need the most 'help' those who believe or those who disbelieve."

I see your point, and there may be something to it. Still, I do think there may be something to the idea as well that God doesn't want to force Himself on people.

A very flawed metaphor might be a guy who is told that his wife is cheating on him. He is offered photographic proof, but chooses not to look, because he's sure it cannot be true, and doesn't want it to be true. God's not going to shove the evidence in your face if you just don't want it.

"Lastly, since God supposedly 'wants' people to believe in him, it's hard to believe that he wouldn't want to supply proof. Afterall, who more than God would understand the human mind and its nature."

Why not supply ample evidence to warrant further investigation, rather than outright proof? That way, people can find God if they want to, and leave Him alone if they want to.

"I do enjoy intelligent debate of religion."

It's a pity there isn't much more of it about. I certainly don't think even my own writings are always of the highest standard, but I try to keep an open mind.

Anonymous said...

I may have left my point on Exodus rather vague and in my scribbling a few notes, made reference to the wrong chapter/verse. I'll try to clarify things below. Also, Having read through all of your different posts, I may be accidently replying on the wrong one. If so, I'm sorry.

Reading from the King James version Exodus chapter 10 verse 20 says:

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.

My point being that there was not any way out, at least as the above verse reads. Also, chapter 11 verse 10 repeats this.

Also, where you make the statement/assumption that Egyptians could save their first born by sprinkling their doors with blood, as the hebrews were instructed to do, seems to me to be reading into the bible something that is clearly not there.

Ignoring the question of God being right or wrong in this action for a moment, I'm interested in exactly and specifically what chapters/verses allowed for your earlier views.

Once again let me apologize for providing the wrong chapter/verse earlier. I didn't intend on adding any confusion.

Moving on with our point/counter point:

Yes, some would argue that long ago God appeared to many as written in the bible, however, since there are many ancient documents that tell of many other cultures Gods and the amazing things they did, that practically nobody considers anything other than fiction, I don't think that I would consider this proof. There are a ton of books on bigfoot, even foot prints and hair samples, but nobody considers that issue proven.

I think this also brings up another interesting question. Since in the bible God seemed to have no problem providing demonstrations and proof, to what I'd call a much less educated, less skeptical group of people, why so quite for the last several thousand years. Please don't give me examples citing personal experiences as that isn't what we're talking about. I'm talking burning bushes, pillars of fire, those type of things, not church services that look like rock concerts or TV faith healings, etc.

Moving on, I'd be interested in some examples of the "ample evidence" you refer to. I'd also good naturedly disagree that God wouldn't shove the evidence in your face based on his actions in the old testament at times.

Do I think the world is full of reasonable people, no, but I do think that there are quite a few. Saying that, I should probably attempt at least a small explanation of what reasonable means to me, at least in the context of religion:

I would define reasonable, emphasis on reason, as being able to look at an question, issue, problem, whatever, based on all the available information and without undue emotionas, make a judgement. Yes, this is rather simplistic I admit, however, we could argue of different qualification/circumstances for ever.

Fanatics aside, most people can and have, even the church, adjust their views when new reasonable information becomes available. People once thought heaven was farily close by, i.e. the tower of bable. No modern christian would ever make that claim and so, in a very small way, an adjustment has happened. It was once considered heretical to say that the earth WAS NOT the center of the universe, based primarialy on the biblical story of creation. Again, we see this change in view. I do honestly believe that if proof concerning God really existed, either way/for or against, a majority would be able to adjust their views without any significant problems and so I still believe that if proof of God were as evident as many would try to convince everyone of, the arguments and debates would have long vanished.

I look forward to your responses.

Steve Wells said...

Brucker: “First of all, God gives a warning. In this case, we have a series of nine incredible plagues that occur over the course of several months.”

Oh, I see. The Egyptian firstborn babies probably saw the lice miracle and said to themselves: “Damn! I better put some blood on my doorposts so that nasty Israelite god doesn’t kill me.” And if they didn’t heed his warning, well, it was their own damned fault.

Brucker: “If you read these chapters carefully, you will see that God is not saying He's going to kill all of the Egyptians and spare all of the Israelites; He says He's going to kill those who refuse to follow His simple instructions and spare those who do follow them.”

If you read these chapters honestly you will see that God is saying he’s going to kill all the Egyptian firstborn humans and animals. Here’s a direct quote from the god of Exodus: (11:6-7)

“About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.”

God planned to kill “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt”. He even repeats himself in the next chapter (12:12) saying: “I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast.”

God gave instruction to the Israelites (not to the Egyptians) to put blood on their doorposts to remind himself not to murder any Israelite children, and he is explicit about that as well.

(12:13) “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.”

And then he murdered all the Egyptian firstborn children and animals (12:29): “And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.”

God is proud of his mass murders, Brucker. Why are you ashamed by them?

Brucker said...

"Reading from the King James version Exodus chapter 10 verse 20 says:

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.

My point being that there was not any way out, at least as the above verse reads. Also, chapter 11 verse 10 repeats this."


Yes, but I think I addressed that somewhere in my blog, although it may not be satisfying to everyone, certainly. Ah, here it is.

"Also, where you make the statement/assumption that Egyptians could save their first born by sprinkling their doors with blood, as the hebrews were instructed to do, seems to me to be reading into the bible something that is clearly not there."

Okay, how do you read that verse then? If it's all about Israelites and Egyptians, why does God say he's looking for the blood mark?

"Yes, some would argue that long ago God appeared to many as written in the bible, however, since there are many ancient documents that tell of many other cultures Gods and the amazing things they did, that practically nobody considers anything other than fiction, I don't think that I would consider this proof."

I suppose it depends on what sort of documents you're talking about. The Gospels were written either by eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, or by people who knew eyewitnesses personally. They did this despite the fact that being identified with Christ tended to get them thrown out of the Temple, and in some cases got them killed. On the other hand, you have a book like The Iliad that, while excellent literature was written by a poet who was not there. I'd be more inclined to believe that some parts of the Bible such as the book of Genesis are akin to the latter, but not the Gospels, nor the book of Exodus.

"There are a ton of books on bigfoot, even foot prints and hair samples, but nobody considers that issue proven."

I don't consider the issue of the Bible proven either, if it were, then a lot more than one-third of the world would no doubt be Christians, or at least call themselves that. The amount of info we have on Bigfoot doesn't resolve the issue, no, but I think it points to the concept that there's something going on, even if it's an elaborate hoax.

"Since in the bible God seemed to have no problem providing demonstrations and proof...why so quite for the last several thousand years. Please don't give me examples citing personal experiences as that isn't what we're talking about. I'm talking burning bushes, pillars of fire, those type of things, not church services that look like rock concerts or TV faith healings, etc."

I don't think I understand your question, as I'm not sure I understand what the exact distinction between your two categories is. Personally, my favorite thing to point out to people as modern-day evidence of the God of the Bible's existence is that nation of Israel. Think about it. The nation was essentially destroyed a few decades after the New Testament was written, and nineteen centuries later, despite various attempts to exterminate the Jews, Israel returns as a powerful nation. The Hebrew language and nation, each essentially considered dead, are resurrected nearly two millenia after being wiped off the face of the earth. That's unprecedented in history! Despite the hatred of anti-semites and misunderstanding of many Christians, I don't believe God is done working with His Chosen People.

"I would define reasonable, emphasis on reason, as being able to look at an question, issue, problem, whatever, based on all the available information and without undue emotionas, make a judgement. Yes, this is rather simplistic I admit, however, we could argue of different qualification/circumstances for ever."

Seems reasonable. ; )

"People once thought heaven was farily close by, i.e. the tower of bable. No modern christian would ever make that claim and so, in a very small way, an adjustment has happened."

And Christians should be that way. In matters of understanding the physical world, Science should rule, not religion, because religion's purposes are oriented toward the spiritual world.

"It was once considered heretical to say that the earth WAS NOT the center of the universe, based primarialy on the biblical story of creation."

Which I've always thought strange, since the Bible does not say that in any place in any form. It's like the modern debate about evolution: does the Bible actually say that animals do not evolve, or are people reading in their own biases?

"I do honestly believe that if proof concerning God really existed, either way/for or against, a majority would be able to adjust their views without any significant problems and so I still believe that if proof of God were as evident as many would try to convince everyone of, the arguments and debates would have long vanished."

When Jesus died, He had about fifty followers. Today, He has about two billion. While this doesn't prove anything of course (I don't want to be accused of the old argumentum ad populam) it does show that an awful lot of people were convinced by something.

Brucker said...

"Oh, I see. The Egyptian firstborn babies probably saw the lice miracle and said to themselves: 'Damn! I better put some blood on my doorposts so that nasty Israelite god doesn’t kill me.' And if they didn’t heed his warning, well, it was their own damned fault."

No, more like their parents, obviously.

"If you read these chapters honestly you will see that God is saying he’s going to kill all the Egyptian firstborn humans and animals."

Yes, He is. How does that imply there is no warning and/or escape?

"God gave instruction to the Israelites (not to the Egyptians) to put blood on their doorposts to remind himself not to murder any Israelite children, and he is explicit about that as well."

So you think God would "forget" which house was a Jewish house or not? God is asking the people of the land to make a personal outward show of faith by marking their doorposts. Even if you want to take it in an oddly literal way that God wants to kill only non-Jews, you can look to the words of Paul, who said:

"For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

God is looking out for his people, whatever national background they may have. It may be that in the end, no Egyptians did what they had to do.

"God is proud of his mass murders, Brucker. Why are you ashamed by them?"

I'm not. I only question the terminology. If a group of people are standing on train tracks, and I warn them that the train is coming through (a train that is coming through because I ordered it to) and they refuse to move, am I guilty of murder when it crushes them? If you want to call it "murder" you have a right to free speech, and I have a right to find God's actions acceptable by my own understanding of the overall context.

Xenolan said...

"Oh, I see. The Egyptian firstborn babies probably saw the lice miracle and said to themselves: 'Damn! I better put some blood on my doorposts so that nasty Israelite god doesn’t kill me.' And if they didn’t heed his warning, well, it was their own damned fault."

No, more like their parents, obviously.


Then the "obvious" thing to do would have been to target the actual guilty party. If it's appropriate to apply punishment to the children of the guilty, then Andrea Yates pretty much took care of her own punishment, didn't she?

No matter how you slice it, God killed those who were totally unable to obey his commands, and spared many of those who were able, but unwilling.

laffer said...

Even if the Egyptians could be saved by smearing blood on their doors (which seems kinda silly to me in the first place.. I know it's a precursor to Jesus and all that but I find all this symbolism rather strange).. well, even if that is true, surely the babies and small children wouldn't have had a say in whether or not their parents smeared blood on their doors. So they didn't have a chance to avoid getting killed.