Thursday, March 31, 2011

When the Gods Were Silent (Exodus 9 - 10)

PRAYER BEFORE STUDYING SCRIPTURE: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth.

Chapters Nine and Ten narrate the fifth through ninth plagues on Egypt.

Fifth Plague: The Plague on Livestock

Now God sends a deadly sickness to infect the cattle of the Egyptians. Only the Egyptian cattle die, the Hebrew herds in the land of Goshen are unaffected.

Professor Davis says “Such a plague would have had grave economic consequences in the land of Egypt. Oxen were depended on for heavy labor in agriculture. Camels, asses and horses were used largely for transportation. Cattle not only provided milk but were very much an integral part of worship in the land of Egypt. . . “ (John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, p.121).

Professor Davis’ thesis is that each of the plagues represents the judgment of the True God on the gods of the Egyptians:

“The religious implications of this plague are most interesting and instructive. A large number of bulls and cows were considered sacred in Egypt. In the central area of the Delta, four provinces chose as their emblems various types of bulls and cows. . . . The Apis bull was considered the sacred animal of the god Ptah . . . (Davis, p. 121

“Another deity whose worship would have been affected by the impact of this plague was Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and joy represented by the cow. . . . This goddess is often depicted as a cow suckling the king, giving him divine nourishment. In upper Egypt the goddess appears as a woman with the head of a cow. . . . Another deity associated with the effects of the plague would be Mnevis, a sacred bull venerated at Heliopolis and associated with the god Ra.” (Davis, p. 122 - 123).

But again Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he will not let the people go.

Sixth Plague: Boils

Now the Lord has Moses and Aaron spread ashes everywhere. “And it shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 9: 9). Again Pharaoh calls for the Egyptian priests or as the Bible calls them “magicians.” But the priests of Egypt are infected by boils and can do nothing “And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians.” (Exodus 9: 11).

“This plague, like the previous ones, most assuredly had theological implications for the Egyptians. While it did not bring death, it was serious and painful enough to cause many to seek relief from many of the Egyptian deities charged with the responsibility of healing.” (Davis, p. 124.).

Seventh Plague: Burning Hail

This is one of my favorite plagues on Egypt. In Cecil B. DeMille’s movie The Ten Commandments the burning hail was achieved by throwing popcorn down on Yul Brenner and then adding the fire in the shot photographically later. (Yes there was a way to do special effects before CGI!).

The Navarre Bible Commentary says that “In the Bible a storm accompanied by hail, thunder and lightning is a sign that God is making himself manifest . . .; this theophany is meant to show that there is none greater than God (vv. 14-16). St. Paul refers to this passage of Exodus (cf. Rom. 9:17), pointing out that the pharaoh himself had an important role in God’s designs: his blindness made God’s power and wisdom plainer to see.” (The Navarre Bible: The Pentateuch, p. 280).

Now Pharaoh is actually scared. “Then Pharaoh sent, and called Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Entreat the LORD; for there has been enough of this thunder and hail; I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.”(Exodus 9: 27-28).

Again Moses upholds his side of the bargain and prays and asks God to lift the plague. Again Pharaoh reneges on his promise. “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go; as the LORD had spoken through Moses.”(Exodus 9: 34-25).

Again Professor Davis expounds on the theological implications of the plague: “What would the worshipers of Nut have thought when they looked skyward not to see the blessings of the sun and warmth, but the tragedy of storm and violence. Nut was the sky goddess. It was from her domain that this tragedy originated. One reflects upon the responsibilities of both Isis and Seth who also had responsibilities related to agricultural crops. The black and burned fields of flax were a silent testimony to the impotence and incapability of wooden and stone deities. They indeed had ears but did not hear. The destruction of the crop of flax is also significant since it was flax which provided the linen for the garments of the priests throughout the land of Egypt.” (Davis, p. 128).

Eighth Plague: Locusts

Professor Davis gives us a good description of the devastation which can be caused by a swarm of locusts: “Locust plagues were very much feared in ancient Egypt, so much so that the peasants were in the habit of praying to a locust god.” (Davis, p. 128).

“A locust is capable of eating its own weight daily. One square mile of a swarm will normally contain from 100,000,000 to 200,000,000 of the creatures. . . .Swarms covering more than 400 square miles have been recorded. Even with modern technology the locust is still a serious problem. Massive numbers of them still breed and move with devastation over parts of South Africa.” (Davis, p. 129 -130).

Now Pharaoh wants to bargain. He will let the men go and sacrifice to the Lord but the Hebrew women and children must remain behind as insurance to guarantee their return. Again Moses rejects any compromise.

Ninth Plague: Darkness

The Book of Wisdom interprets the plague of darkness as a sign of the terrible abandonment of man by God. (Wisdom 17:1 - 18:4). “For their enemies deserved to be deprived of light and imprisoned in darkness, those who had kept thy sons imprisoned, through whom the imperishable light of the law was to be given to the world.” (Wisdom 18: 4).

According to Professor Davis, the plague of darkness struck at the heart of the Egyptian pantheon: “In the light of Egyptian theology and practice, this plague was very significant. To a large degree it struck at the very heart of Egyptian worship and humbled one of Egypt’s greatest gods. The sun god Ra was considered one of the great blessings in the land of Egypt. His faithfulness in providing the warmth and light of sun day after day without fail caused them to express great joy over the faithfulness of this deity.” (Davis p. 133 - 134).

Again, Pharaoh wants to make a deal. The women and children can go but the Hebrew herds and flocks have to stay. Again, Moses says no deal. Now Pharaoh throws Moses out and tells him that he never wants to see him again. The stage is now set for the final and most devastating of the ten plagues.

PRAYER AFTER STUDYING SCRIPTURE: O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Yul Brenner & Ann Baxter as Pharaoh and his Queen.

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