Saturday 28 March 2015

Bible Book:

“Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt.” (vv. 20-21)

Exodus 7:8-24 Saturday 28 March 2015

Psalm: Psalm 134


The book of Exodus begins with the important words, "Now therearose a new king in Egypt who did not know Joseph" (Exodus1:8). The reference to Joseph points back to Genesis chapters37-50, which explain the rise of Joseph to prominence in Egypt andthe subsequent migration of the sons of Jacob (the Israelites) withtheir families into Egypt. These migrants are referred to as theIsraelites or Hebrews. The new Pharaoh (king) notices that theIsraelites are plentiful and worries that they will soon outnumberhis own people. The historical irony within the story of Pharaoh'sprejudice is that he likely came from an invading people who werenot native to Egypt. The chapters that follow unfold the richlydetailed stories of Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites. Thisstory includes confrontations in which Moses tells Pharaoh, "Thussays the LORD, 'Let my people go.'" (eg Exodus8:1). These prophetic encounters include signs and plagues, andthe significant event of the Passover.

Read without the context of the whole Exodus narrative, today'spassage makes for unusual reading. It is contains the stories ofthe first two signs that Moses and Aaron perform in an effort toconvince the king to release the Hebrew slaves. It is important tounderstand the sense that a sign points to otherworldly power.Perhaps the king, who has his own sorcerers, expects that a personclaiming to express a divine command will perform some wonder orsign to prove the power of his god. In the first sign (verses8-13), the rod wielded by Aaron becomes a snake. The sorcerersperform something similar, but the text indicates it is by theirtrickery as opposed to divine power. The sign concludes with thehardening of Pharaoh's heart and his refusal to listen to Moses andAaron.

In the second sign, Moses and Aaron use the staff to turn theRiver Nile into blood, or at least a thick red substance, thatkills the fish and life within it. Numerous explanations areoffered by scholars for this sign as indicating a natural disasterwith natural origins. For example, the red algae might alter theappearance of the Nile, or the washing down of red clay soil fromstreams that fed into the river. The impact of the story on thepeople gets lost in these attempts to explain it away. The Nile andits tributaries gave life to Egypt. The people are left withouttheir staple diet of fish and must scrounge around the banks of theriver hoping to find water untainted by or filtered from the thickred substance. Again, there is the pattern of Pharaoh's hardenedheart and his refusal to listen.

Some may find the stories of the signs and plagues morallyproblematic. Turning the River Nile to blood has consequences forthe people of Egypt. They suffer as a result. The implication isthat God is afflicting Egypt with these disasters as punishment ofPharaoh's refusal to release the Hebrews. Pharaoh's refusal tolisten to Moses and Aaron and to see the signs they produce asevidence of God's power is the result of his hard heartedness. Thesigns of divine power, however, bring suffering to people in Egyptwho were likely powerless and poor.

To Ponder

  • How helpful is it to read a text like Exodus 7 without readingthe whole of the Exodus story?
  • How might the story of Pharaoh's harshness toward theIsraelites affect your thinking about the issue of immigration andthe government's treatment of immigrants in our own society?
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