Friday, May 29, 2009

One More Game...

Acting in true beast-like fashion, we've seen in a four part study series how God has devastated the Egyptians through the ten plagues preceding the Exodus. To what degree? Let's quickly recap:

From Part 1, all of the fish in Egypt are dead, the country reeks of the dead fish, blood, and piles of dead frogs; stored foodstuffs may be spoiled and infections may have spread due to millions of flies which were once there; the Nile River and all water reservoirs are possibly still full of blood; and gnats/lice are possibly still attacking everyone. (The blood plague and gnat/lice plague were not implicitly or explicitly rescinded.) From Part 2, the country reeks of livestock which are all dead (some of which were killed twice!); the country reeks of wild animals which are all dead because they had no shelter during the hailstorm; all of the crops except the wheat and spelt were destroyed and the trees were stripped of their leaves; many non-Israelite slaves lay dead in the fields; and any animal or man still alive is possibly still covered in festering boils. (The boil plague was not implicitly or explicitly rescinded.) From Part 3, no plant, tree, or fruit was left; and people were likely weak and bruised from stumbling around in complete darkness for three days. From Part 4, all firstborn males and livestock (a third time!) were killed; their wealth was plundered; and their six hundred thousand plus slave labor force has left.

So, to what degree were the Egyptians devastated? The word “utterly” comes to mind. But God isn't done with the Egyptians yet.

One More Game...
In summary, the ten plagues of the Exodus have left the Egyptians without livestock, without food, possibly requiring the entire remaining population to dig for drinkable water next to the Nile, plundered, without an estimated 1/4-1/6 of their population (the firstborn males), possibly physically injured, scarred, and diseased, and with a country permeated by the stench of rotting dead carcasses. Plus, the huge slave labor pool they depended on for centuries has instantaneously left the empire. The Egyptian empire is set to crumble even further to a mere remnant of its former glory. In fact, it's hard to imagine much of an empire at all surviving that kind of pummeling. (Isn't it amazing that you find no evidence of this devastation in history?) But God still has one more game to play with the Egyptians...

This time we study Exodus 14. God tells the Israelites to wander around to confuse the Egyptians. Then in Exodus 14:4, we see this:
"And I (God) will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue [the Israelites]. But I will gain glory for Myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD." So the Israelites did this. NIV
It seems that the Egyptians had no intention of following the Israelites. They were too busy licking there wounds. After all, why would they want the Israelites back after their God had just thrashed their nation? It takes God's tweaking of free will once again to make the Egyptians chase the Israelites. Apparently, God didn't get enough glory from devastating the Egyptian nation. And for some reason, despite the Egyptian magicians acknowledging that it was God who was plaguing them (Exodus 8:19), despite the fact that the Pharaoh asked Moses to pray to God to stop plagues at least four times (Exodus 8:8, 8:28, 9:28, and 10:17), and despite His display miraculous wrath of plagues, God still doesn't think that the Egyptians realize that God is God. In such an aftermath, how could that be?

As the story progresses, we see how the Pharaoh's entire army pursued the Israelites, including “all Pharaoh's horses and chariots, horsemen and troops” (Exodus 14:9). Now, as you may remember, God killed all of the Egyptian horses in the Fifth Plague (Plague on Livestock), killed some of them again in the Seventh Plague (Plague of Hail), and killed some of them a third time in the Tenth Plague (Plague on Firstborn). So where exactly did these horses come from?

Moving on, the Israelites panic and complain to Moses when they see the Egyptians coming. Moses tells them that God will fight for them, and they “need only be to still” (Exodus 14:14). God asks Moses why is he calling out to Him, and tells him to tell the Israelites to keep moving (Exodus 14:15). So much for needing only to be still. But what I find even more strange is that God is questioning Moses for seeking God's help. Moses clearly did not know what the whole plan was, so wouldn't it be natural to ask for guidance and/or help, and wouldn't God want to be the source of that for Moses?

When the Israelites reach the sea, Moses stretches his hand over the sea (the Red Sea, or Sea of Reads per Exodus 15:4), thereby beginning one of the most iconic scenes of the Old Testament. God drives back the sea with a strong wind all night long while the Israelites crossed the then-dry sea bed (Exodus 14:21-22). This is again one of those strange blends of miracles and natural forces which God seems to be quite fond of. It would have been even more impressive and miraculous if the sea simply parted. Instead we are to imagine that something like a hurricane-force wind, or stronger, blew a dry pathway through the water without blowing the Israelites (or there belongings) along with it. Through this chosen path, the parting of the sea seems more like a half-baked story element with faulty realism instead of an unfathomable miracle.

Wrapping things up, with the Israelites on the other side of the sea and, with God's help, the entire Egyptian army stuck in the middle of the dry-sea-bed path, God has Moses stretch out his hand. This frees the waters of the sea, drowning the entire Egyptian army (Exodus 14:23-28).

On top of agony, loss, and devastation of the Egyptian nation through the plagues, we add to it the complete annihilation of its army, including the loss of its best weaponry. The nation is now defenseless and ripe for plundering of whatever is left. This ends God's final game with the Egyptians, at least for now. Again, we ask how is it possible that the Egyptian nation survived this onslaught? If all of this really occurred, it is truly a miracle that there is no historical evidence beyond the record in the Bible.

The best question to ask may instead be this: How is it possible that the Egyptians didn't convert to worshiping God? In God's own words, He was trying to make sure that the Egyptians knew that He was God. Their own gods offered no protection throughout this ordeal. If anyone should have had a true fear of God at that point, it would be the Egyptians. They may have hated Him for what He had done, but they would have had to respect His omnipotence. Out of fear of what else God might do to them, I would have expected a nearly unanimous conversion and attempt to reconcile with God. Again there is no historical record (not even in the Bible this time) of such a massive repentant conversion.

So it would appear as though God failed in His mission to make the Egyptians understand that God was God. Either that, or this should have been a big wake-up call to God; that perhaps fear is not what you should be instilling in people when you want them to worship and love you.

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