Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: I hate it when that happens

As we continue with the plagues, keep in mind that the Torah as it now exists was published in the 5th Century BCE, long after these events supposedly occurred, and that the Egyptian captivity is entirely mythical. The composition of the various elements of the Torah happened over the preceding 200 years or so. Psalm 78 recounts this mythical history but lists only 6 plagues. Psalm 105 lists 7 plagues, in a different order. Apparently someone decided to insert 3 more to make 10, but who knows why?
[a]Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will come up on you and your people and all your officials.’”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’”
It's mysterious that God needs Aaron to use his staff in order to make this happen. God can't just do it himself.
So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.
Again, the point of this seems to be that the magicians are trying to show that God is nothing special, they can do it too. But it's hard to see how they could have demonstrated this since the frogs were already there. Also, evidently, they couldn't make it stop. For my part, I will say that this is a pretty lame plague. It might be annoying, but some people might find it amusing, or even nutritious. (I'm sure the French weren't the first people ever to eat frogs.) 
Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.”
Moses said to Pharaoh, “I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.”
10 “Tomorrow,” Pharaoh said.
Why does Pharaoh want to wait until tomorrow, if the frogs are really so awful?
Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God. 11 The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people; they will remain only in the Nile.”
12 After Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh, Moses cried out to the Lord about the frogs he had brought on Pharaoh. 13 And the Lord did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields. 14 They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.

16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.” 17 They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats. 18 But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not.
The Hebrew word is not specific. KJV translates this as lice, but it could be any small arthropod. In any case, this is the first miracle the magicians can't duplicate. Apparently gnats or lice are harder to make than frogs.
Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said.
20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them.
22 “‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction[b] between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’”
God is moving on to a new phase with the plagues, now demarcating Goshen and the Hebrews so they will not be affected. Unfortunately this does create a contradiction with a later event which is the central event in the Jewish liturgical calendar. Oh well.
24 And the Lord did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.
25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.”
26 But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.”
28 Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.”
29 Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.”
30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, 31 and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.


  1. Exodus 8:1 In Hebrew texts 8:1-4 is numbered 7:26-29, and 8:5-32 is numbered 8:1-28.
  2. Exodus 8:23 Septuagint and Vulgate; Hebrew will put a deliverance


Don Quixote said...

Maybe 10 is considered a magical number and we have to get to 10 somehow. Gematria ...

Cervantes said...

I was wondering about that myself. Actually usually you see seven and three as the mystic numbers. I'm pretty sure they didn't use a base 10 numbering system then. However you will notice that the first nine plagues are in groups of three. First God shows that he's powerful, which is accomplished when the lice stump the magicians. Then he does bad shit to the Egyptians but spares the Hebrews. Then the plagues get seriously awesome, show that he's the great God of all. (Remember that we aren't monotheistic yet, Jehovah is doing this to show up the competition.) Then he murders all the first born, proving that he'll stop at absolutely nothing. At least that's how I see it.

Don Quixote said...

Numbers are extremely important to many people. From my understanding, J.S. Bach belonged to a numerological society and played with numbers even when, musically, he didn't need to do so. Perhaps some authors of the Torah also incorporated certain "magic" numbers into texts.