Exodus 8:1-19, The Rest of the Story: 4. Deliverance (9/3/12)
Back when I was teaching Bethel, I got so many questions about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart that I finally wrote a little paper about it. Now that we’re getting to that topic in this email study, I put it on the website
Brief summary: Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and in any case it means “was stubborn.”
We’re not going to read about every single plague here. Fellow-reader Ginger J. is a little puzzled that the Egyptian wonder-workers were able to reproduce some of Moses’ earlier miracles. Well, have you ever watched David Copperfield? Stage magicians are able to work some really stunning effects, and it ain’t all camera angles, folks. Their tricks look incredibly convincing, but the important words there are “tricks” and “look.”
What is more interesting to me is that by the end of the third plague, the wonder-workers, which is the BBE’s translation of “magicians,” apparently were not able to make the frogs go away, and they weren’t able to produce insects at all. They even tell Pharaoh that he is dealing with the acts of God, but Pharaoh isn’t convinced.
Exodus 9:1-16, The Rest of the Story: 4. Deliverance (9/4/12)
Fellow-reader Larry L. finds it “fascinating that the Lord uses natural disasters for his plagues… He uses disasters that people understand.” I agree. Many of the plagues seem to be directed against specific Egyptian gods, most of whom were associated with specific natural phenomena. I mentioned the snake goddess and the Nile god, but I didn’t mention yesterday that there was also a frog goddess. Surprisingly enough, there doesn’t seem to have been an insect god, although there was a god of scarab beetles. There was also a god of deserts, storms, evil, and chaos, which may cover the insects, dust, and boils. No plague was associated with earthquakes or volcanoes – the Egyptians apparently had no gods for those, so what would have been the point?
So I think there are several purposes for the plagues. The principal reason was as a demonstration of God’s real power, a power that extended even over other gods. God makes this point in vs. 16 and in several other places. Who needed this demonstration? Both the children of Israel and the other nations. Obviously not the gods, since they weren’t real. But the Egyptians thought
they were real, and so did the Israelites. God always speaks to us in ways that we can understand.
A second big reason was to show the children of Israel that this powerful God who had chosen them would use power on their behalf. Granted, they did not especially appreciate this point until much later.
Exodus 10:1-29, The Rest of the Story: 4. Deliverance (9/5/12)
Pharaoh was stubborn, but not stupid. He didn’t want to let the Israelites go out into the desert, and he was stubborn about that. After several plagues showing the power of God, he was eventually ready to let the men go knowing that they had families and flocks to come back to. After a couple more plagues, he was even willing to let them take their families. But when Moses said that God wanted them to take their flocks as well, Pharaoh realized that they would have no reason to return, and he cut off the negotiations entirely.
Exodus 11:1-10, The Rest of the Story: 4. Deliverance (9/6/12)
Fellow-reader Nancy S. inquired about the only miracle I could think of that seems to defy the laws of physics. Joshua 10 reports that the sun and moon stood still at the command of Joshua while the Israelites defeated the Amorites. Apparently the written form of the story came to us later, because even Joshua 10:14 comments that “there hasn’t been a day like that before or since.” Do I detect the faintest note of skepticism there? Some days seem
longer than others, that’s for sure.
On the other hand, fellow-reader Ginger J. points out that Moses and Aaron were able to predict the coming of each plague, which contains an element of the miraculous in its own right.
The main thing to remember about miracles is what George Burns said in “Oh, God!”: “I don’t do miracles. They’re too flashy, and they upset the natural balance.” Of course, then he does a little miracle, making rain inside of John Denver’s car. Why? To build his faith. Miracles are by nature rare.
Normally they are a matter of balance
, not of the impossible, and often they are a matter of building faith and confidence in God. Occasionally you get good theology out of Hollywood, which may qualify as a miracle.
Exodus 14:8-18, 28-31, The Rest of the Story: 4. Deliverance (9/7/12)
Fellow-reader Rob E., like Larry L., is curious about whether the plagues could have been the result of natural phenomena, noting that every so often you see an article saying that science has documented real events that could well have been the Biblical plagues.
Well, I don’t drag this fact out very often, but I, too, have a Ph.D. in science, specifically in geology, with a specialty in paleontology and lots of hours in biology. Allowing for the fact the Moses and the other Biblical writers did not have Ph.D.s in science, I think they did an exceptionally fine job of recording what really happened. The fact that you can say, aha, here is a perfectly natural way that this thing could have happened probably means that that is exactly what
happened. Any other explanation gets needlessly complicated. However, the Bible is more interested in why
it happened, namely, to impress the children of Israel with God's power, and to force Pharaoh to let them go.
My husband, a clergyman, says that in many cases, a miracle doesn’t consist primarily of the event that happened, e.g., lots of frogs. Rather, the miracle consists primarily in the timing
of the event. Moses holds up his staff to demonstrate the power of God, and at that time
the waters recede and the Israelites escape.
My own feeling is that after creating the laws of physics and chemistry and the raw materials of biology and geology, God probably feels justified in using these laws and materials preferentially whenever he wants to work miracles. There are very few miracles in the Bible (I can think of one, off hand) that don’t seem to be in line with the ordinary laws of the universe. And why not? God wrote
the laws of the universe! The miracle is that God caused the plagues to happen at the precise time that they needed to happen to deliver the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh.
More of the Rest of the Story
Week 1. Beginning of Life As We Know It
Week 1. More on the Beginning of Life As We Know It
Week 2. God Builds a Nation – Abraham … But Not Lot
Week 2. God Builds a Nation – Isaac…But not Ishmael or the sons of Keturah
Week 2. God Builds a Nation – Jacob…But not Esau
Week 3. Joseph Preserves Two Nations
Week 4. Deliverance
Week 4. More on Deliverance
Week 5. New Commands and a New Covenant
Week 6. Wandering
Week 6. More on the Wandering
Week 7. The Battle Begins
Week 8. A Few Good Men...and Women
Week 9. The Faith of a Foreign Woman
Week 10. Standing Tall, Falling Hard
Week 11. From Shepherd to King
Week 12. The Trials of a King
Week 13. The King Who Had It All
Week 14. A Kingdom Torn in Two
Weeks 15 and 16. God's Messengers and The Beginning of the End
Week 17. The Kingdoms' Fall
Jeremiah, Prophet of the Exile
Story 19. The Return Home
in the Old Testament
Story 21. Rebuilding the Walls
Story 22. The Birth of the King
Story 23. Jesus’ Ministry Begins
Story 24. No Ordinary Man
Story 25. Jesus, the Son of God
Story 26. The Hour of Darkness
Story 27. The Resurrection
Story 28. New Beginnings
James, Brother of the Lord
John and Jude
Story 31. The End of Time
Copyright 2012 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.
The woodcut showing Egyptian frogs is from the Binns family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina L. Hunter.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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