Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The River of Blood (Exodus Chapter 7)

Continuing with our study of the Book of Exodus, Chapter Seven begins the plagues on Egypt. The plagues do increasing damage as they go on. They start off as nuisances and end in a devastating event which affects every family in Egypt.

In verse 7, scripture says that Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty three. The Navarre Bible Commentary, being Catholic and progressive and hip, says that the ages given for Moses and Aaron are probably more symbolic than real. Professor Davis, being a Conservative Evangelical Protestant, takes the ages given for Moses and Aaron absolutely literally. It is certainly possible that God may have graced Moses and Aaron with vigorous strength deep into their old age. It is also possible that the Biblical 80 may mean 50. We don’t know. But one way or another, Moses and Aaron were old guys. Old guys rule!

First, to show God’s power, Aaron casts down his rod which becomes a serpent. Pharaoh calls his magicians who also turn a rod into a snake, but Aaron’s snake eats the snake charmers’ snake. The Navarre Bible Commentary says that magical rites and snake charmers were held in high regard in Egypt. I can’t help thinking that we seem to have a lot of snake charmers and magicians around nowadays. The Church Fathers saw Aaron’s rod as a pre-figuring of the cross of Christ, since from its wood comes the “power and wisdom of God.” Jewish tradition named two of Pharaoh’s magicians Jannes and Jambres. Saint Paul quotes this tradition in his second letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:8).

In any event, since the Egyptian priests can do the same stuff Moses and Aaron do, Pharaoh is not impressed. How can the Egyptian priests do the same stuff the prophets of the true God do? Once again, Professor Davis, being a fundamentalist, has a fundamentalist answer: Satan and evil spirits can mimic the miracles of God.

Next, God commands Moses to have Aaron stick his rod into the Nile which causes all the water in Egypt to be turned into blood. Pharaoh again calls his priests who are able to mimic the miracle through what the Bible calls “their secret arts.” Both commentaries which I am using go on at some length about whether it was really blood or just excessive deposits of mud which killed the fish and caused a stench and caused the water to be undrinkable. Professor Davis is worth quoting in full:

There are really only three possible ways of approaching the phenomenon of the ten plagues as recorded in the Book of Exodus. One is to dismiss all of the literature of Exodus as being purely fanciful myth and having no foundation in reality whatsoever. . . . A second viewpoint would be that these were merely natural occurrences that were given theological interpretation by Moses. It is generally conceded by liberal-critical scholars who have adopted this viewpoint that the plagues were perhaps more intense than normal, but that there was nothing miraculous about their appearance or disappearance. . . . The third approach to the plagues is that these were separate miracles.” (John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, p. 94).

Professor Davis then begins an extensive discussion of the fact that the plagues represent the God of Israel’s judgment on the gods of Egypt. Since Pharaoh was considered in a literal sense to be one of the gods, when Pharaoh cannot protect the people of Egypt this shows God’s judgment on the entire Egyptian religion.

The Egyptians were just about the most polytheistic people known from the ancient world. Even to this day we are not completely sure of the total number of gods which they worshipped. . . . Almost all living creatures, whatever their habitat, and even inanimate objects became the embodiment of some deity. The Egyptians considered sacred the lion, the ox, the ram, the wolf, the dog, the cat, the ibis, the vulture, the falcon, the hippopotamus, the crocodile, the cobra, the dolphin, different varieties of fish, trees, and small animals including the frog, scarab, locust and other insects. In addition to these there were anthropomorphic gods; that is, men in the prime of life such a Amun, Atum, or Osiris. (Davis, p. 94-95).

The Nile itself was considered holy. In a very real sense, the Nile River was the source of life for ancient Egypt. If the Nile stopped rising and stopped having fresh water, Egypt was doomed. Professor Davis discusses that Egyptian theology revolved around the waters of the Nile:

It was appropriate that the first of the plagues should be directed against the Nile River itself, the very lifeline of Egypt and the center of many of its religious ideas. The Nile was considered sacred by the Egyptians. Many of their gods were associated either directly or indirectly with this river and its productivity. . . .One of the greatest gods revered in Egypt was the god Osiris who was the god of the underworld. The Egyptians believed that the river Nile was his bloodstream. In the light of this latter expression, it is appropriate indeed that the Lord should turn the Nile to blood! (Davis, p. 102).

In verse 25 we read that the plague of blood lasted for seven days. Remember, in scripture, seven is the mystical number of completion. Professor Davis sums up the plague of the River of Blood very eloquently:

The first plague brought upon Egypt eloquently revealed the power of God and the impotence of Egyptian deities. For the Egyptian who sought water for his cattle and for himself, it would have meant an exercise in deep frustration and despair. For the very religious Egyptian who faithfully sought the guidance and protection of the various deities associated with the Nile it must have raised serious questions about the unqualified powers of such deities. To the Israelites who witnessed this event, it was a reminder of the awesome power of the God who had chosen them and had blessed them. To us who are alive today the witness the idolatry of this present generation, this miracle is a reminder of the tremendous power of a God who will not only bring blessing upon those who are faithful to Him, but will, with equal power, bring judgment and humiliation upon those who lift up their hand in rebellion.
(Davis, p. 103 - 104).

COMING SOON: The Finger of God (Exodus 8).

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