Reading through the Bible: day 32

Exodus 6:28 – Chapter 10

Gustave Doré, The murrain of beasts

The famous ten plagues, or at least the first nine of them. Which raise a few questions, the first of which is: are these entirely supernatural events, or are they a chain reaction of natural events and the only miracle is that Moses was astute enough to predict them. The natural event idea is based on the silting of the river Nile, which would give it the appearance of blood. This can’t have been entirely disturbing to the Egyptians since rivers do silt up from time to time, and of course silted water and blood are quite distinct, so I’m not a huge fan of this explanation.

What water

What seems quite obvious when pointed out, yet is never a question I’ve heard in Bible study, is what water did the sorcerers of Egypt turn into blood. God started with the Nile, so it isn’t likely that. It is possible that prior to God moving on to all other water, the sorcerers turned a bucket of water into blood, and this is simply an example of the text being thematically rather than chronologically arranged.

And the livestock died, and died, and died

The livestock all died in the fifth plague, or so we are led to believe. They also then run the risk of being killed by the hail in Exodus 9:19, and then in the plague of the death of the firstborn they die again. The answer here is in Exodus 9:3

“Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.”(KJV – emphasis added)

So it is possible that some animals where left in just in case the plague happened, and thus survived. Likewise all those kept in during the hail would also not have died and firstborn offspring would then still have been available for the final plague.

The problem is, that Exodus 9:6 says, quite clearly that “all of the livestock of Egypt died.” (NKJV) This may have simply been an act of hyperbole on the part of the author to contrast it to the fact that none of the livestock of Israel died. This does seem more likely since the initial plague seemed to have a filter on it.

And now the big question…

Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart

According to Exodus 4:21; 7:3,13; 9:12; 10:1,20,27, and later 11:10; 14:4,8,18, God did it. This brings up all sorts of questions about pre-destinationand the cruelty of God deciding that for the purpose of showing of for those he’s chosen, he’ll just make canon fodder to toss in Hell later for doing exactly what he wanted them to. I don’t believe in pre-destination, but am somewhat of a determinist. I do believe that genetics and upbringing can influence how you make decisions, but that God hasn’t decided for you, and thus you still exercise your own free will.

Then we have Exodus 8:15,32; 9:34 and later 1 Samuel 6:6 saying Pharoah did it. The big question is: could it have been both, or is there a contradiction?

Well, it is possible it was both. Pharaoh was a product of Egypt’s royal family and had a pre-disposition to seeing magic tricks, and believing he was a god. It’s likely that God’s actions were rejected by him as cheap tricks (maybe Moses was just a better magician than he was used to, he thought), and the more God acted, the more stubborn he became. He chose to reject the signs by God, and thus hardened his own heart. God continued with the plagues, thus contributing to the stubborness, or hardening the Pharoah’s heart.
This is actually perfectly reasonable, if we look at an analogy: I’ve heard parents and teachers (not only my own) telling children they make them angry. Nobody believes children have some magical powers to influence adults emotions, but their actions can contribute to adults getting angry. Some adults, whether genetically or through experience respond better than others. These adults, we could say, have better anger management skills. Thus the disposition of the adult actually also contributes to them getting angry, so they must also take some responsibility for getting angry. Thus children and adults both, “make adults angry.” There is no contradiction here.

What are your thoughts? I’m particularly interested in the pre-destination issue, if anyone wishes to comment on that, or anything else.


Please give the reading through the Bible page a look if you haven’t already, there are some background posts and the index to this reading plan. Share it with others who you think can benefit from Reading the Bible.

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