Monday, May 22, 2006

The LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues (Exod 7:14-10:29)

Okay, let me give an overview of the plagues before I hit on specific points. There are a number of different ways to look at the plagues, and it may be that all of them are right, actually. On face value, they are miracles that God enacted on the land of Egypt through Moses to show his power and punish Pharaoh and his people. Symbolically, it's been said that each of the plagues corresponds in some way to one of the pagan gods of Egypt, and is used by the God of Israel to mock the ancient Egyptian religion. Scientifically, it is possible to see the plagues as all being a series of events that logically follow from one another as unusual, but fully natural events. It's important to note that not all miracles need be something supernatural, simply highly unusual.

The other thing that is interesting about the first nine plagues is the thematic way in which they are presented. In many ways, they occur in three groups of three. The first, fourth and seventh plagues are announced to Pharaoh by Moses "in the morning" while the third, sixth, and ninth have no warning at all given to Pharaoh, and in the absence of that warning, also omit the phrase "Let my people go, that they may serve me..." which appears with all the others.

As far as being natural phenomena, what may be occurring is some extreme weather that is causing some strange occurrences. The fact that Moses knows ahead of time that these odd things are going to happen is what is key about it. The Nile floods, bringing an abundance of red silt, which makes the water appear to be blood-like. Seven days later, these polluted waters lead to the frogs of the Nile being driven out onto the land. After the frogs die, their piled up dead bodies bring lice (or perhaps "gnats"?). By this time, the flood waters would have receded, and pools of stagnant water near the river would breed flies. All of these flies may have carried the anthrax bacteria, which caused sickness of livestock, and later, boils on the skin of the Egyptians. By this time, several months would have passed, and it would be the season in which hail would fall, destroying some of the crops. The remaining crops would be eaten by locusts blown in from the east, and later the winds would shift, driving away the locusts, but bringing in sand storms which would plunge large areas of the country into darkness. Now some people would rather see these plagues as entirely supernatural, and indeed, they may have been, but this is one possible understanding of them.

So, let's look at specifics. The SAB essentially asks how the magicians are able to turn the Nile into blood when it's already turned. Well, I would assume, as most people seem to, that the magicians found some water elsewhere and turned that water into blood. Later, we see that the magicians can likewise create frogs. I have no idea as to how they were able to differentiate their frogs from Moses' frogs. Perhaps they pulled them out of hats like rabbits? That might explain why they were unable to replicate the gnats (lice?), as I imagine it's a hard trick to pull gnats out of a hat. At this point, as the SAB notes, the magicians give up trying.

In the midst of the plague of flies, we have one of a handful of exchanges between Moses and Pharaoh. Moses explains that the Israelites are commanded to go out into the wilderness to make some sacrifices, and at this point, Pharaoh says okay, but we find out that he's lying. (Later, during a similar exchange, Moses tells Pharaoh that he knows Pharaoh is lying, but will make the plague go away anyway.) The SAB poses the question, "Did God command the Israelites to make burnt offerings?" I think this is an odd question for two reasons. One, it seems to be hardly different from "Does God desire animal sacrifices?" which is posed elsewhere. Two, in the verse where it is first asked in the SAB, there is no mention of "burnt" offerings. The possibility of contradiction is probably well worth mentioning, as it's an important point for believers to note, in my opinion, but I think these are not two separate points. Anyway, I stand on my response to the other question here.

Now this is not the first time I've seen it pointed out that in the fifth plague, all the cattle die, then they die again later twice. Well, you've got to read carefully. Here, and more explicitly in verse 19, there is a warning given that any cattle left outside will die. Although it's certainly not made clear, one might safely assume that some people brought their cattle indoors to spare them. The phrase use here that "all the cattle of Egypt died" is intended not so much to be a statement of totality, but a contrast to "but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one." Oh, and if the SAB will keep this note, it might be considered to add the "Contradiction" icon, as I'm assuming that's the point.

The last note that seems to be worth responding to (I think I've addressed all the other major ones already) is the Absurdity icon labeling verse 10:5. I'd just like to point out that I recall as a kid reading "On the Banks of Plum Creek" (I think it was) by Laura Ingalls Wilder (you know, "Little House on the Prairie"?), in which Laura describes an event much like this that happened in her childhood right here in the Midwest. Severe plagues of locusts really do cover the ground almost completely. Here's a picture I found on Google from 2004.

At the end of the ninth plague, Pharaoh tells Moses to go away, never come before him again on pain of death. Moses points out truthfully that indeed, Pharaoh will never see him again.

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