A Plaguing Thought

“And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21 NRS).

Earlier this week, I was nosing around in Exodus and I began to wonder about the plagues upon Egypt.  They are one of the scripture elements we think of casually, but often do not wrestle with and internalize.  When you read the text of Exodus and really think about what the Egyptians had to suffer through, you realize how disgusting, unsanitary, creepy, and horrific those ten plagues were.  This is a picture of a swarm of locusts in Mexico:

(Image courtesy of news.nationalgeographic.com)

Oh that just makes my skin crawl!  For informational sake, let’s review what the ten plagues were:

1. The water of the Nile River turns to blood so that the fish die, the water stinks, and no one can get fresh drinking water from the river.

2. Frogs come up from the river (that was already gross from the blood) and are everywhere, in your bed, in your kitchen, every inch of the country.

3. Gnats covering every human and animal.

4. Flies, which ruin the land, covering the people and filling their houses.

5. Deadly pestilence upon the livestock which causes all the horses, donkeys, camels, herds and flocks to die leaving the Egyptians with no work animals and no food animals for slaughter, all lying around rotting in the hot sun.

6. Festering boils on all the humans and the animals (whatever is left).

7. Hail, so heavy that it destroys anything not under shelter and kills anything it touches, accompanied by thunder and fire.

8. Locusts that will consume anything that could have possibly survived the hail.

9. Darkness that covers Egypt for three days, so black that they could not see one another.

10. The Lord struck down and killed all the first born humans and animals that had managed to survive the first nine plagues.

It’s probably a miracle that there was an Egypt left after all that.  Plague after plague leaving death and decay in its wake.  The crops are destroyed, the land scorched.  The animals are either dead or diseased.  Humans are dead, diseased, or deranged after witnessing all this.  There’s rotting corpses and decomposing insects.  Sounds like a horror movie rather than the romanticized account put forth in The Ten Commandments (1956) by Cecile B. DeMille.  These plagues weren’t thought up by science fiction or thriller authors like Stephen King; this was God’s plan, his conception of how God’s people would be freed from bondage in Egypt.  Just one or two of those plagues would be enough for me to let the Hebrews go, but the Egyptians will suffer through all ten.

Try to imagine what it would have been like.  Imagine the smell of the river, worse than any butcher shop, cooking in the hot sun.  Imagine the feel of boils covering your flesh and burning pain without relief.  Consider the image of flies filling your house like a thick cloud, landing on your furniture and on you.  Lest we forget the sound, the buzzing of swarms of locusts and the crunching that emanates as they eat the last of the crops.  As if you wouldn’t smell it, just the knowledge that there are large, dead animals in the countryside, in the streets, right outside your door.  Blinding darkness descends and you can’t see anything, but you know what has come before.  Now your sense of hearing and smell is heightened and you feel things crawling on your skin even when there’s nothing there because you remember the gnats, the flies, the frogs, and the locusts.  Just when your mind might break from the strain and stress of the last nine plagues, you lose someone near and dear to you.  Maybe it’s a son, perhaps your father.  The first born of your house never wakes up the next morning, struck down by the Lord of the Hebrews.

Despite all of this, the Hebrews are spared, living apart, ghettoized in Goshen.  Their houses are clean and their streets are barren of the presence of carcasses.  Their livestock are alive and well, as are their first born.  Their skin never felt the agony of festering boils and their crops stand tall in a country otherwise ravaged by fiery hail.  But they are not free.  They remain in bondage, enslaved to a foreign people who have forgotten Joseph and the God whom he worshiped.  By the morning after the tenth plague, they have gained but one thing: the Passover tradition.  “Passover is for Jews,” you might say, but should Christians forget that Jesus Christ was a Jew?  He held Passover sacred.  It was about salvation at the hand of God; all that the Lord was willing to do for his people.  Promises remembered, promises kept.  So it was on that sacred occasion when his people celebrated the night the Lord passed over the people of Israel, Jesus took the Passover meal and transformed it.  He took unleavened bread and broke it.  He took the cup and blessed it.  Christ linked the willingness of God to use divine power and authority to bring salvation to his people on Passover and revealed to the Christian Church not yet materialized that once more God was willing and able to bring salvation, not just to the people of the covenant, but to all people.

Almighty God,
You wield power the likes of which no one can comprehend.
The plagues upon Egypt were a tangible reminder,
Not just for your people, but for those who held them in bondage.
Help us to remember how mighty you are,
And that your might is matched by your mercy.
You offer us salvation in Christ Jesus.
As easy as it is to take bread from the dinner table,
We can reach out and receive the gift of Grace,
Which was bought by the blood of the Lamb.
By blood we are born.
By our life’s blood we live.
By the blood of the cross we are cleansed.
Thanks be to you, Lord.
Your salvation is more precious than any earthly treasure.


One response »

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