Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 17: Exodus, Chapter 7 - 9

This continues my Bible commentary from Part 16. The entire series is available here, and all quotes are from the King James Bible, 1769 revision (for the modern spelling).

Chapter 7:
1 And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.

...

3 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.

4 But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.

5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.

OK, previously, we saw how God recruited a reluctant Moses, with his brother Aaron to do the talking, to be the Lord's instrument in delivering the Jews from Egypt.

But now, God is saying he will "harden Pharaoh's heart," so that the Pharaoh won't agree, until God has had a chance to show off (and kill a whole bunch of Egyptian children, as it turns out). Yeah, those Egyptians will certainly know who he is after that!

But for what purpose? God isn't trying to gain converts here. There's absolutely no indication of that. There's no missionary intent whatsoever. As I said, he's just trying to show off, to demonstrate that he's the most powerful god around. He wants the Egyptians to fear him, but not because he wants them to start worshiping him. Funny, isn't it?

This is the Jewish tribal god, their god and no one else's. Back in those days, he was one god among many. Indeed, I've heard speculation - even from Christians - that the ten plagues of Egypt were targeted attacks on specific Egyptian gods. God hardened the Pharaoh's heart so that he could do more damage to the Egyptian people, thus demonstrating that he was stronger than their other gods.

This was before even monotheism, let alone the Christian idea of a god who wants - demands - to be loved. This god demonstrates that he doesn't give a crap about the Egyptians, because he's not their god (and he doesn't want to be). Yet this is part of the Christian Bible, whose god is supposed to be far different from that.

Is it any wonder that Marcionism was so popular in early Christianity?
10 And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.

11 Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.

12 For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.

13 And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

Note that Moses and Aaron had tried to convince the Pharaoh in Chapter 6, but without success. So now God is going to demonstrate his magic.

Is their first attempt a bust? Sure, Aaron's rod becomes a serpent, but that's no big deal. Everyone can do that - the other wise men, the other sorcerers, the other magicians. But no, Aaron's serpent is the biggest. His serpent eats all those other serpents, thus demonstrating that his god is the strongest.

This is, after all, Jewish mythology, so of course their god is going to be stronger than all those other gods. What else would you expect? There's absolutely nothing surprising about that. The surprising part is that all those other people - who worship different gods - can do this magic, too. Aaron isn't demonstrating that his god is the only god, but just that his god is the strongest.

And God hardens the Pharaoh's heart, so he won't listen. This becomes a pattern.
19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

...

21 And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

22 And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.

So God ups the ante, turning the waters of Egypt into blood. But again, the Egyptian magicians can do the same thing ("And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments..."). This time, there's no indication that God's power is even any stronger than theirs. That's a bit surprising. But, either way, the Pharaoh's heart is once again hardened.

Chapter 8:
5 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt.

6 And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.

7 And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.

Again, it's the same thing. This time, it's a plague of frogs, but the other magicians can duplicate that one, too. So far, there's been nothing special about God's tricks, and only once has God even demonstrated that he's the strongest.

Still, the Pharaoh doesn't want all those frogs everywhere, so if Moses and Aaron can get rid of them, he'll let the Jews go.
15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

... Or maybe not.
16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.

...

18 And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast.

19 Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

Finally, the other magicians fail to match one of God's tricks. They can't bring forth lice. (Really? I'll bet they all had lice anyway. A far better trick - from either side - would have been to eliminate lice from Egypt.)

But the Pharaoh's heart has been hardened, so he still won't listen.
20 And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me.

21 Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are.

22 And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth.

So now it's swarms of flies, but this time, the Jews aren't affected by it. Only the Egyptians. (Apparently, when the water turned to blood and there were plagues of frogs and lice, God's people suffered just as much as everyone else!)
25 And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land.

26 And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?

27 We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, as he shall command us.

28 And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: intreat for me.

Again, the Pharaoh agrees to let them go (and again, he changes his mind, after they get rid of the flies).

Remember, Moses is lying here. He claims they need to go three days into the wilderness, but that's so they can escape entirely. Obviously, they don't intend to return.

At first, the Pharaoh tries to get them to do the sacrifice locally, but Moses has a reply for that, too: the Egyptians will be upset if they see it. Note that these are blood sacrifices. The god of the Old Testament loves the smell of burning flesh. And remember, in Genesis, how shepherds were an 'abomination' to the Egyptians? This seems to be similar.

As an aside, do you wonder how much God loves burning flesh? Here's a quote from Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity (1976), referring to Jewish practices in the Temple of Jerusalem:
But the God of the Jews was still alive and roaring in his Temple, demanding blood... (N)othing could hide the essential business of the Temple, which was the ritual slaughter, consumption and combustion of sacrificial cattle on a gigantic scale. The place was as vast as a small city. There were literally thousands of priests, attendants, temple-soldiers and minions. To the unprepared visitor, the dignity and charity of Jewish diaspora life... was quite lost amid the smoke of the pyres, the bellows of terrified beasts, the sluices of blood, the abattoir stench, the unconcealed and unconcealable machinery of tribal religion inflated by modern wealth to an industrial scale. (p. 13-14)

That might indeed be an 'abomination' to Egyptians, especially poor Egyptians. (Remember that Joseph's family had been given the best land in Egypt, and the Jews had prospered from that.) If nothing else, it's a horrendous waste of food.
31 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one.

32 And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.

Not one fly left in Egypt? Wow! That might be the most unbelievable thing we've read yet. Heh, heh.

But the Pharaoh changes his mind again. (This time, it says that the "Pharaoh hardened his heart," instead of making it clear that God is doing that to him. Either way, he's being incredibly stubborn, don't you think? There's a reason for that.)

Chapter 9:
3 Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.

...

6 And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.

7 And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

The fifth plague kills all of the cattle in Egypt (and the horses, asses, camels, oxen, and sheep, apparently), excepting only those owned by the Hebrews. But still, "the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go."
10 And they took ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast.

11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians.

12 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.

Then it's sores breaking out on people, as well as beasts, but still God hardens the heart of Pharaoh. What's the point of all this tragedy?
14 For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth.

15 For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth.

16 And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.

Well, it seems pretty clear, doesn't it? God is doing this to show off: "that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth... for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth."

Again, this is not to get the Egyptians to worship him. This is not to change their existing religion. This is not to get them to abandon their old gods. Yahweh has absolutely no interest in that. The Egyptians aren't his chosen people. He's made a covenant with the Jews, and he has zero interest in doing the same with anyone else. He's their god, and that's all.

This is just to show his power. That's literally what it says here. Whether God is taking on a succession of different Egyptian gods or not, in these ten plagues, is not even particularly important. His reason for doing this - and his reason for hardening the heart of the Pharaoh, so the Egyptian leader won't give in earlier - is just so God can demonstrate what he can do to people he dislikes.

Again, this is the Christian Bible I'm reading, and this is supposed to be the Christian God. But it sure doesn't sound like it, does it? At least, it doesn't sound like the kind of god they say they worship today. So what happened? Did God repent of this Old Testament stuff? Did he finally get religion? :)
18 Behold, to morrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now.

19 Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.

20 He that feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses:

21 And he that regarded not the word of the LORD left his servants and his cattle in the field.

Um,... but note that there weren't supposed to be any cattle left in Egypt - not belonging to the Egyptians, at least. After all, Chapter 6 said "all the cattle of Egypt died" during the fifth plague. So how can they die again now?
23 And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.

24 So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.

25 And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.

26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail.

So, has the Pharaoh finally learned his lesson?
27 And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.

28 Intreat the LORD (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.

...

34 And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.

35 And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as the LORD had spoken by Moses.

These are the ten plagues of Egypt, so we're not done yet, huh? Forget about that magic trick with the staff. (After all, every Egyptian magician could do that.) God has turned all of Egypt's water into blood, then plagued the land with frogs, lice, and flies, livestock diseases, boils, and hail, but it's still not enough.

Well, it's enough for this post, I guess. But remember, right from the start, God has said that he's the one keeping the Pharaoh so intransigent about this. It's God who is deliberately hardening the Pharaoh's heart, apparently so he can keep inflicting these disasters on the Egyptian people.

And why does he do that? It's simply because he wants to demonstrate his power - not for any particular reason, not to encourage them to change gods or anything, but just to show them how tough he is. Nice guy, huh?

___
Note: Links to this entire series are here.

4 comments:

Chimeradave said...

Did God find religion? LOL!

Your interpretation of the Bible is so interesting because these stories are so familiar to me, but you look at them in a completely different way.

I wonder what a Pastor would say about Moses and Pharaoh. Monotheism says that God is and was the ONLY God. So how would they explain that the court magicians could repeat so many of these tricks. I guess they'd say it was the Devil and that God did all of this because it was some sort of Spiritual Warfare. But if that's the case IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE. Right?

But like we discussed the Devil hadn't been invented yet, so....it's kind of difficult to talk about. :)

Anthony G Williams said...

Thanks for these posts, Bill. I've bookmarked them for future reference.

WCG said...

John, I was familiar with many of these stories through popular culture, but I'd never actually read them before. So I'm reading them closely now, trying to pay more attention than I probably would otherwise, and then simply commenting on what the stories actually say.

Frankly, it's been a lot more interesting than I expected. I'm enjoying this.

When it comes to monotheism, I think it all boils down to what you define as a "god." After all, gods never used to be all-powerful and all-knowing. Sure, they were far more powerful than ordinary people, but so were human kings.

And the gods tended to behave like human royalty, too. They got angry, and jealous, and horny. They were capricious, and greedy, and petty. And there were little gods, as well as big, powerful gods.

With monotheism, we've got one all-powerful, all-knowing "God," but that doesn't necessarily mean all those little gods have gone away. Satan, for example, is still the god of the underworld, isn't he? They just call him a "fallen angel," rather than a god.

And there are plenty of other supernatural creatures in Christianity - angels, devils, demons, saints, etc. - plus there's Jesus and Mary (in the Catholic Church, at least) and the "Holy Spirit." In the old times, these might have been considered gods or demigods themselves.

So Christians might read this part of the Bible and see pretty much the same thing I do, but they'd just think that 'God' was battling 'demons,' rather than other gods. They weren't really gods, you see. Of course, the only real difference is what label you put on them.

WCG said...

Thanks, Tony. But note that I'm no expert. I'm just commenting as an ordinary layman who's assuming that the Bible means what it actually says.