August 9, 2015: Plagued by Plagues

Posted on : Aug 6th, 2015 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Here is my frustration with this Sunday’s story of the 9th and 10th plagues (Darkness and Death): What is intended as good is also undeniably evil. The story of the 10th plague – the death of the first born of all the Egyptians is horrendous to the Egyptians while at the same time being the most profound example of God’s intervention and liberation of the Hebrew peoples. In fact, this story is so important in Israel’s history, that it is told and retold every year in the celebration of Passover.

Here’s a good summary of this story from Wikipedia:

The Plagues of Egypt, also called the ten plagues or the biblical plagues, were ten calamities that, according to the biblical Book of Exodus, the God of Israel inflicted upon Egypt to persuade the Pharaoh to release the ill-treated Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh capitulated after the tenth plague, triggering the Exodus of the Hebrew people.

The plagues served to contrast the power of the God of Israel with the Egyptian gods, invalidating them. According to Exodus 12:12, all the gods of Egypt would be judged through the tenth and final plague: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am your God, the God of the Hebrew people.”

The reason for the plagues appears to be twofold: to answer Pharaoh’s taunt “Who [is] this god, that I should obey your God’s voice to let Israel go?”, and to indelibly impress the Israelites with God’s power as an object lesson for all time, which was also meant to become known “throughout the world”.

According to the [Hebrew Scriptures], God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so Pharaoh would be strong enough to persist in his unwillingness to release the people, so that God could manifest God’s great power and cause God’s power to be declared among the nations, so that other people would discuss it for generations afterward. In this view, the plagues were punishment for the Egyptians’ long abuse of the Israelites, as well as proof that the gods of Egypt were powerless by comparison.

In its context, this story is a great story of liberation. Finally, Pharaoh “Let my people go!” All who have been oppressed live for that day of liberation, the day when we/they are set free. But in this story, that freedom comes with an awful price. Even today this story causes horrible conflict between Jews, Christians and Muslims. Our Jewish/Christian sacred text has God intentionally and purposefully massacring a generation of people.

Many people today can’t understand how ISIS and Al Qaeda can be so violent and militant and still claim to be religious. Many people who don’t understand that all sacred text is set in an historical context are shocked to find that some militant groups use sacred text to justify barbarous behavior. How can one religion’s liberation bring about the death and destruction of another?

If that is not confusing and frustrating enough, here’s another problematic issue: there is not one bit of historical evidence to support the claim that the first born (and only the first born) of all of the Egyptian people died in a plague. Hmm…

So what does this story mean, both in its historical and biblical context and for us today as a people of faith? We’ll look at these questions and more on Sunday.




~ This Sunday’s Scriptures ~

Exodus 11-13

The 9th plague: Darkness

Exodus 11: 21-29: Then God said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand towards heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived. Then Pharaoh summoned Moses, and said, ‘Go, worship your God. Only your flocks and your herds shall remain behind. Even your children may go with you.’ But Moses said, ‘You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt-offerings to sacrifice to our God. Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must choose some of them for the worship of our God, and we will not know what to use to worship our God until we arrive there.’ But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, ‘Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.’ Moses said, ‘Just as you say! I will never see your face again.’


The 10th plague: Death

Exodus 12 (edited): God said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you…It is the Passover of God. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Holy One. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to your God; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance.

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. For our God will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when God sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, God will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. The Israelites went and did just as God had commanded Moses and Aaron.

At midnight God struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, ‘Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship your God, as you said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!’

All the Israelites did just as God had commanded Moses and Aaron. That very day God brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, company by company.

(For the complete story, click here

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