This week I read the beginning of Exodus – the stories of Moses and Pharaoh and the plagues. I guess it makes for an interesting read, and probably most people know the stories because it’s a fun one to teach in primary schools.
The bits I found interesting were:
End of chapter 2, when it’s saying what a rough time the Israelites were having, and it says, “and God knew.” We tend to forget that, when things are going particularly badly, we assume God doesn’t know. But this shows that even if he’s not actually doing anything obvious, there is still a plan, we’re just not privy to it.
There’s a bit in chapter 3, where God says he knows Pharaoh won’t let the people go unless he’s forced. This balances later chapters, where it says “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” – which makes it look as if Pharaoh had no choice. But he did, and God knew what that choice was beforehand.
In chapter 4, Moses is told to throw his staff on the floor, watch it turn into a snake, and then pick it up by the tail. The tail bit is important – even I know that you pick up a snake by the head so it can’t bite you. (Well, actually, I think it’s best to NOT pick up a snake at all, but you get my point.) This was a relatively small test for Moses, to show he could trust God. I think God does that today too – he gives us small challenges, before he gives us big things to cope with. God takes us slowly.
However, Moses still doesn’t trust he can do the talking (big lack of self-confidence going on here, which also shows he thinks he can mess up what God has planned, which people never can.) God is angry, but also kind, and lets him take his brother. This bit reminds me of my boys, because they’re very good friends and I think if one had to do something scary, he’d want to take his brother along for support too. I like when we see the ‘human bits’ of the Bible. Moses’ brother was 3 years older, so presumably was born before all the ‘killing of the baby boys in Egypt’ bit.
Then we get to the plagues. The bit I’m not sure about is that, the first couple of plagues (water turned to blood, frogs appearing), the Egyptian magicians could also do. We skipped that in Sunday School when I was a child. What does it mean? Is this ‘proof’ that there are effective evil forces in the world, or that ‘magic’ is real? Not sure what I think about that (if you have a view, write it below!)
One really interesting/funny bit is after there are frogs everywhere (most unpleasant) and Moses tells Pharaoh he can ask God to get rid of them (so presumably the magicians could only produce frogs, they couldn’t then make them disappear). Pharaoh says, “Tomorrow”. Why would he say that? Did he fancy another night with the frogs?! I can think of two reasons.
Firstly, he wanted to see for a bit longer if they would go naturally. Perhaps Moses was tricking him and knew the frogs were about to disappear, so he thought, wait until tomorrow, see if I really need God’s help. I guess people do that today too – they have a problem (probably not frogs, more likely to be an illness or relationship problem) and they think, I’ll wait a bit first, see if it gets better on its own before I ask for help (especially God’s help).
The other reason is simply procrastination. Which again, people do today. They plan, at some point, to think about God, and what accepting him might involve, but not today. They’ll think about it tomorrow.
There does feel like there’s a natural order to the plagues. First, the river turned to blood. That would cause all the frogs to leave it. Then the frogs die, the land stinks, and lots of gnats appear. Then bigger flies came (perhaps they ate the gnats), which wouldn’t be very hygienic, so all the animals dying might be expected. Lots of dead animals wouldn’t make for a great environment, so then people developed skin problems. The hail storm wouldn’t be a result of that, but the hail might well have driven locusts from surrounding places to Egypt looking for food. Then there’s darkness, and finally death, which cannot be explained naturally. But the fact that some can, I think, shows that God sometimes works through the natural order of the world. If God created the world (through evolution or in 7 days, whichever you believe) then he must have instigated the laws of physics/nature that we see today. So it makes sense for him to use those.
My last thought on the story is when the Israelites leave Egypt, they take all their herds and flocks. Flocks. What are these – ducks? Geese? Chickens? I know about herding ducks and chickens. It’s very slow, and they’re likely to run off in all directions. It says they were “on foot”. This was not a quick exit….
I have read lots more – I’m at Exodus 29 now, but to comment on anything more will make these posts more like essays. I’ll continue to write comments as I read, and post them each week – even if my own reading has moved on. I’ll let you know at the end where I’m actually up to. Which will work quite well as I’m guessing some books will simply be endured, with nothing to say at all!
Thanks for reading. I’ll let you know what I discover next.