August 2, 2015: What does it take for you to believe in God?

Posted on : Jul 30th, 2015 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

This Sunday we experience five more plagues: Flies, the Death of Livestock, Boils, Hail and yes, Locusts! With the three from last Sunday: Water into Blood; Frogs and Gnats, that’s almost all of them. While there really isn’t any hierarchy in the ordering of these plagues, each one seems to be a bit more intense than the previous one.

I once heard an Egyptian woman speak about this passage. She said, “You know, throughout most of Egypt’s history, the Pharaohs were good to the people. But no one ever mentions the good Pharaohs, just the bad ones. I get so tired of hearing Christians put down the Egyptians just because of one hard-headed Pharaoh.”

Well, actually there were two or more hard-headed Pharaohs, and the one who is running the country during the plagues is one of the hardest hard-headed ones of the whole bunch. However, this woman’s words got me thinking about these stories.

Some Bible scholars have suggested that perhaps the plagues didn’t happen one right after the other, as suggested in scripture. They could have been a compilation of events that happened over a number of years and got “lumped together” in the story-telling. As we in the progressive Christian community say, The question is not, “Is the story is true?” It’s, “What is the truth in the story?”

Whatever is going on here, somebody is (or somebodies are,) hard-headed. And, hard-hearted! There is an awful lot of pain and suffering inflicted on folks in these stories, pain and suffering which to me appears, to be avoidable. I mean, really, does it take 10 plagues to get it? For goodness sake, just let the people go and get on with it!

But then again, when you look at how long it took us in the U.S. to end slavery, not to mention the institutional racism that still hangs on from that, it is kind of silly for me to think Pharaoh was going to let the folks go without a good fight. And yet, as hard-headed and hard-hearted as Pharaoh was, there is also something else going on in this story, something that I think we often miss. This story isn’t just about Pharaoh and God duking it out. Remember that one sentence that God tells Moses and Aaron before they go to Pharaoh? It’s the one where God says, “I, for my part, will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will show many signs and omens in Egypt.”

So, if God is hardening Pharaoh’s heart, what’s the point? Could it be that the meaning of this story is not intended to focus on the Egyptians, but rather on the Hebrew people, the covenant community of God’s people? What does it take for them to believe in God – to believe in a God whose call is to set people free and offer them a new life? Likewise, “What does it take for you and me to believe in this same God?” How many plagues do we have to live through before we believe?

More on that on Sunday.

Blessings!

Dan

 

 ~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Exodus 9 -10

(The seventh and eighth plagues, edited)

The Fourth Plague: Flies

The Fifth Plague: Livestock Diseased

The Sixth Plague: Boils

 

The Seventh Plague: Thunder and Hail

Then God said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, and say to him, You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go. Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt. Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.”

Then Moses stretched out his staff towards heaven, and God sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth. And God rained hail on the land of Egypt; there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the open field throughout all the land of Egypt, both human and animal; the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned; your God is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to your God! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.’

So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to God; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down on the earth. But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go, just as God had spoken through Moses.

The Eighth Plague: Locusts

Then God said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them—so that you may know that I am your God.’

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, and said to him, ‘Thus says the God of the Hebrews, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. For if you refuse to let my people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They shall devour the last remnant left you after the hail, and they shall devour every tree of yours that grows in the field. They shall fill your houses, and the houses of all your officials and of all the Egyptians—something that neither your parents nor your grandparents have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.” ’

Pharaoh’s officials said to him, ‘How long shall this fellow be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship their God; do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?’ So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, and he said to them, ‘Go, worship your God!

But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go.

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