Wednesday, March 18, 2009

EXODUS: Chapters 7 & 8

Chapter 7
Summary:God tells Moses to tell Aaron everything that he (God) had said, and to have Aaron demand to the Pharaoh that the people of Israel be let go. However, God tells him that he will make the Pharaoh refuse, and will retaliate with many miracles throughout Egypt. Further, God explains that even then the Pharaoh won't listen, so he will crush Egypt with a final catastrophe and lead his people out, proving to the Egyptian people that he is indeed God with his mighty power. God finally tells Moses that the Pharaoh will ask to see a miracle to prove they have been sent by God, and tells Moses to have Aaron throw down his rod, which will become a snake.

The chapter then notes that Moses is eighty years old and Aaron eighty three years old at the time they confront the Pharaoh. When Moses and Aaron see the Pharaoh they do as God had told them and Aaron throws down his staff which, becomes a snake. The Pharaoh however, calls out his sorcerers and they manage to replicate the same thing with their magic arts. The sorcerers' rods became snakes as well, but Aaron's snake devours their snakes. The Pharaoh remained unconvinced and refused to let the people go.

God now instructed Moses to meet with the Pharaoh in the morning as he heads down the river. He instructs Moses to again demand that the Pharaoh let the people of Israel go, and that when he doesn't listen, Aaron is to hit the river with his rod, turning it to blood.

Moses and Aaron do what they were told to do, and as the Pharaoh and his officials watched, Aaron turned the Nile to blood when he touched his rod to the surface. The fish all died and the water became undrinkable. However, again, the Egyptian sorcerers were able to replicate this miracle with their magic proving that they could turn water into blood too, therefore the Pharaoh refused to listen to Moses and Aaron. The Egyptian people were left to dig wells for their drinking water as they couldn't drink from the river.
Thoughts:The first disturbing thing we find in this chapter is that God isn't happy with simply getting his way - taking his people out of Egypt - but he's also going to make the entire nation of Egypt pay for the Pharaoh's rule of placing the Israelis into slavery. Not only that, but he's going to use his powers to ensure that the Pharaoh plays along and keeps saying "no" to Moses' pleas so that God can justify the cruel acts of his vengeance.

For a deity who is often described as merciful and compassionate by his followers, it's difficult to see any level of mercy or compassion by God as described here. He allegedly (and supposedly) has the power to take his people out of Egypt without bloodshed, destruction, and the likely deaths of many innocent civilians, yet chooses to make things as difficult as he can - by using his powers to coerce the Pharaoh not to allow the Israelis to leave so that he can exact brutal vengeance against the entire nation of Egypt.

Instead of compassion we have ruthlessness and vengeance, and instead of mercy we have anger and cruelty. It begins to make one start to reference Abram's "Marx Bros." routine from Genesis: Chapter 18 as to whether there could possibly be 50, 40, 30, or even just one single righteous person in the whole land of Egypt that God is about to destroy. Honestly, God's approach just seems senseless and unnecessarily destructive.

God now tells Moses and Aaron that they're going to have to produce some miracles to get the Pharaoh to take them seriously, and he proposes first the old-standby of throwing the staff to the floor and turning it into a snake trick. However, when Aaron pulls this trusty trick out in front of the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh summons his sorcerers and they were apparently able to replicate this trick with their magic.

Alright, now for the sake of argument let's grant that:
  • We have some sort of deity here who is supernatural and possesses the power to do supernatural events (which for the sake of our argument, we'll call miracles) and can allow mortal men to also perform these said miracles.
  • We now have human beings, who are not supernatural, performing these same tasks without the aide of a supernatural deity - as only one God supposedly exists - by the aid of "magic", which we will have to either define as the ability to defy natural physics, or take its modern meaning of being an illusion.
  • Both Aaron (by God's miracle) and the "sorcerers" (by "magic") accomplish the same task - they throw down an ordinary staff to the ground, and upon hitting the ground it becomes a snake.
We can only come to a few conclusions as to how the sorcerers pulled this off, either:
  • A supernatural magical power does exist that humans can master - extremely unlikely and has yet to be proven.
  • The ancient Egyptians somehow were good enough illusionists like our contemporary illusionists, such as David Copperfield and Chris Angel - extremely unlikely, as I'm sure we would be seeing this trick performed throughout time over and over again.
  • God himself caused the sorcerers to perform these miracles - within the context of our story, possibly.
  • Satan (which we have yet to cover) apparently helped the sorcerers perform some sort of anti-miracle.
It would seem likely that if either God or Satan were involved here, the bible would opt to mention it, so we're left with trying to debate whether to believe in the merit of "magic". Within our modern world, we know that there is no such thing as real magic. There isn't a single person who can demonstrate "magical power" under the scrutiny of a laboratory environment, there never has been, and most likely never will be.

Which leaves us left with having to believe that the ancient Egyptians rivaled our modern and contemporary illusionists. I have an extremely tough time buying into this line of thought.

Back to our story, for good measure - and making a great allegorical point - Aaron's snake swallows up the snakes of the sorcerers, implying that Aaron's magical miracle is superior to the sorcerers' magical snakes. We're also going to have to infer that Aaron's snake must have magically/miraculously swallowed the sorcerers snakes in a hurry unlike the slow process how real snakes eat. Even though we are not told how many sorcerers and snakes are in our story, a real snake swallowing even two other snakes, that we'll assume are probably around 6 feet in length, as such would be the average staff, rod, or walking stick - would take a considerable amount of time, which I wouldn't see the remaining snake sticking around for, or the sorcerers allowing to happen.

The next day God has Aaron try out his next fancy magic trick of turning the Nile River from water to blood, with the added effect of poisoning the Egyptian water supply, and killing off all life in the river. Apparently the sorcerers are hip to this trick too and the Pharaoh is not impressed with Aaron's magic show. The chapter closes out with the Egyptian people having to dig wells to get fresh water.
Chapter 8
Summary:The following week God tells Moses to again demand that the Pharaoh to let the people go, and to tell him that if he refused, he would send vast hordes of frogs across the land. So upon meeting with the Pharaoh once again, God had Aaron point his magic rod towards the rivers, streams, and pools and frogs began to cover the nation, and again the sorcerers were able to conjure up frogs themselves too.

However the Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron begging them to remove frogs and making a promise that he would allow the people to have their pilgrimage. Moses then prayed to God to remove the frogs, and the next day dead frogs covered the countryside. The Pharaoh however reneged on his promise and refuses to let the people of Israel go.

God now tells Moses to have Aaron strike the dust on the ground with his magic staff, and as he did the dust became lice and created a massive infestation. The magicians tried to do the same thing with their magic, but this time they failed. The sorcerers claimed that this had to be the work of God, but the Pharaoh refused to listen to them.

At God's instruction, Moses and Aaron met up with the Pharaoh while he bathed in the river, telling him again that God was demanding that his people be allowed to go and worship him. They explain that if he does not let the people go, God will infest the land of Egypt with flies - with the exception of the land of Goshen, as God wished to make a distinction between his people and the people of Egypt.

After God unleashed the flies upon all of Egypt, the Pharaoh hastily summoned Aaron and Moses. He tells them that they can have their sacrifice to God, but to do it there in Egypt, not in the wilderness. Moses tells the Pharaoh this will not do, furthering that the Egyptian's hate the Hebrew sacrifices and if they were done before their eyes, that the Egyptians would kill them for it. The Pharaoh reluctantly gives permission, but warns Moses to not go too far away.

Moses then tells the Pharaoh that God will make the flies disappear, but sternly warns the Pharaoh to not change his mind again about allowing the Israelis to go. However, once the flies were gone, the Pharaoh refused to let the people of Israel go.
Thoughts:When the Pharaoh still refuses to let the people of Israel go on their little journey to the wilderness, God has Aaron wave his magic wand at the rivers and streams which creates an armada of frogs across the Egyptian countryside.

Even though the Egyptian sorcerers can somehow perform this same magic trick, the Pharaoh wants these frogs removed immediately and promises Moses and Aaron that he'll let the Israelis go on their little picnic in the wilderness if they just get rid of all the frogs. So Moses asks God to kill the frogs, and the next day Egypt is filled with dead frog carcasses - creating an awful stench amongst the land. The Pharaoh (whether because of the awful smell, or because he's just a mean bastard) changes his mind, however, once the frogs are all dead.

So God's next plan is to infest Egypt with a lice infestation, again having Aaron wave his mighty magic rod at some dust on the ground to magically change it into lice. This time the sorcerers can't seem to manage to replicate Aaron's trick, and tell the Pharaoh that this has to be the work of God.

This strikes me as odd, as if we are to believe that "magic" is a real phenomenon in Egypt like the bible implies, why are the sorcerers so sure that this trick is a Godly miracle, instead of perhaps conceding that maybe Aaron is just a better magician/sorcerer/wizard than the Egyptians? Also to revisit my thoughts and possible explanations for the sorcerers' "magic powers" that I brought up in Chapter 7, I would think this would rule out Satan and/or demonic forces as the source of their "magical powers", as I can't see how Satan/demons would have no problem forming snakes out of staffs, blood out of water, and conjuring frogs while somehow having a problem conjuring lice out of a pile of dust.

Even if we take the notion of God and his supernatural powers out of the equation, there are just too many holes in the the credibility that the Egyptians mastered any kind of "magical powers". I just don't see any reasonable explanation or evidence for the sorcerers' "magical powers", and to me just furthers the explanation that the bible was written by men of the bronze-age who believed that people could and did wield "magical powers" and not by a deity who claims to be the one and only deity, and would and should know the limitations of man's ability within the laws of physics.

Back to our story, neither the sorcerers' claim that this must have been an act of God nor the lice infestation convinces the Pharaoh to let the Israelis go, so this time God conjures up a swarm of flies to infest Egypt. Only this time he spares the land of Goshen to make it evident that his people are better than those people - meaning the Pharaoh's people, the lowly people of Egypt.

This time the Pharaoh seems to want to allow the Israelis to have their little picnic, but insists that they do it here in Egypt and not out in the wilderness, to which Moses replies to him saying that it isn't part of God's deal. He adds that the Egyptian people hate their sacrifices (which should be understandable, if it's anything like the animal sacrifices that we will be hearing about in the later chapters) and if they did in fact see them perform their sacrifice, that the Egyptians would slay them for doing so.

So, the Pharaoh relents but tells them not to go to far - that is until God makes the flies go away and the Pharaoh changes his mind about letting them go.

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