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 (The blood plague and gnat/lice plague were not implicitly or explicitly rescinded.)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 (The boil plague was not implicitly or explicitly rescinded.)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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Passover Jesus

In the Lord's Prayer, there is a verse that says God's “will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). If you take it out of context, you could expand that verse into a reference to a certain amount of parallelism between what happens in Heaven and what happens on earth. This out-of-context interpretation does have some accuracy.

When you look at Hebrews 8:1-5, it explains how Jesus is a high priest similar to mortal high priests and how the Tabernacle which God had instructed Moses to build (in excruciating detail through eight chapters starting with Exodus 24) was a “copy and shadow” of the true Tabernacle in Heaven.

The first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, a.k.a. the Pentateuch and the Law, were also supposed to be a shadow of the good things yet to come (Hebrews 10:1). Somewhat paradoxically, Colossians 2:16-17 claims that the reality behind the Law's shadow already exists in Jesus.

James 1:17 tells us that God does not change “like shifting shadows”. Excuse the pun, but this puts shadows in a bad light. ;-)

In this study, we'll take a close look at one of these shadows of prophesy in the Law, the Passover, to determine the form they take. Are they accurate in excruciating detail like the Tabernacle, or will we find them shifty and unreliable?

Passover Jesus
Many Christian theologians believe the story of Passover to be a veiled prophesy, a shadow, of what was to come through Jesus. This is not a new idea. The New Testament authors themselves recorded this shadowing in several references. So what did this shadow reveal? How does the Passover's shadow stack up against the reported reality of Jesus? Let's take a look at the facts.

Old Testament New Testament
What is sacrificed? male lamb or kid (young goat) (Exodus 12:3) Jesus, the “Lamb of God” (1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19, John 1:29, John 1:36, Revelation 5:6, Revelation 7:10, Revelation 7:15)
How many? only as many as were needed (Exodus 12:4) only Jesus
How old is the sacrifice? 1 year old (roughly the human equivalent of a pre-teen or teenager, sexually mature) (Exodus 12:5) 31 or 33 years old (close to the end of the average lifespan at that time) (Luke 3:23 + Matthew, Mark, and Luke suggest one year while John's Gospel suggests three years by reference to three different Passovers.)
Qualifications? without physical defects (Exodus 12:5) without sin (Hebrews 4:15)
What day is it selected? the 10th day of the first month (Exodus 12:2) Before human time/the 12th day/the 14th day/the 13th day (John 1:1 + 1:14/Matthew 26:2, Mark 14:1/Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-14, Luke 22:7-8/John 18:28)
What to do until the sacrifice? take care of it (Exodus 12:6) Put on trial, mocked, and beaten (Matthew 26+27, Mark 14+15, Luke 22+23, John 18+19)
What day is it sacrificed? the 14th day of the first month (Exodus 12:6) It's hard to tell for sure given all of the things that happen after Jesus is taken into custody and the fact that it happens one day earlier in John's Gospel, so I guess sometime from the 13th day to the 15th day.
What time? twilight, nightfall, the official Jewish beginning of a new day, ~6 P.M. (Exodus 12:6) from crucifixion to death, ~9 A.M. to ~3 P.M. (Mark 15:25 + 15:34)
Where should it be slaughtered? in your home, forbidden to go outside (Exodus 12:46) on a crucifix on a hill outside (Matthew 27:32-33, Mark 15:21-22, Luke 23:26, John 19:17)
Preparation for eating the flesh? roasted whole over the fire (Exodus 12:8) none
How do you eat the flesh? quickly, dressed like you are ready to go somewhere (Exodus 12:11) You don't eat Jesus, but symbolically you eat his flesh in the form of unleavened bread. (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, John 6:51-53, 1 Corinthians 11:24)
And the bones? not one broken (Exodus 12:46) not one broken (John 19:36)
What to do with the blood? put it on the door frames of your house (Exodus 12:7) Nothing. However, symbolically you drink it in the form of wine as part of the New Covenant. (Matthew 26:27-29, Mark 14:23-25, Luke 22:17-18, John 6:53, 1 Corinthians 11:25)
What do you do with leftovers? burn them by morning (Exodus 12:10) lay them wrapped up in a tomb with spices and perfume (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-55, John 19:38-42)
Purpose of the blood? to serve as a visual indicator so that God would not kill the Israelites' firstborn sons. (Exodus 12:13) to redeem, purify, and purge all sin guilt from believers (1 Peter 1:18-19, Hebrews 10:18-21, Hebrews 13:12, 1 John 1:7)

So of the fifteen specific characteristics given by God with regard to the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, two match Jesus' Passion, another four are possible matches mostly through symbolism, while nine others are in direct conflict with Jesus' story. The Passover, as far as being a shadow of things to come (Hebrews 10:1), with its many contrasts to Jesus' Passion stands in stark contrast to the exacting shadow which God provided through the implementation of the Tabernacle (Hebrews 8:5).

For insight, let's turn to God's Word. When you read Exodus 12, you find that the lamb's blood was important, but not quite as important as yeast, or rather avoiding yeast. What is to be celebrated for generations to come is not the Feast of the Blood of Salvation, but rather the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14-20). The lamb is eaten the first night, and that's it. Unleavened bread must be eaten for seven days during this feast. Anyone who ate yeast during this feast had to be cut off from Israel, but there is no punishment for those people which do not sacrifice a lamb. This was to commemorate the fact that the Israelites were brought so quickly out of Egypt that they didn't have time to add yeast to their bread (Exodus 12:39). It is clear where God's main focus is with regard to the memory of this event, and the lamb's blood – the pinnacle of Christian theology – plays only a minor role.

(As someone who has made wine, I find it very ironic that wine was used by Jesus during His passover dinner. You see, wine is made with yeast, and given the filtration systems which existed back in those days, it was pretty much guaranteed to have traces of yeast in it at the time of consumption. Doh!)

So what does this mean? Only God knows for sure. ;-) As I continue my studies, I continue to find that the prophesies which are associated with Jesus only partially apply, typically best fit when taken out of their original context, and often require interpretation through a symbolic meaning. This is good example of all three concepts.

This may be evidence of enhancement of a still-somewhat-fluent story of Jesus which existed in the very early years of the church. The early evangelists may have inserted anecdotal details into Jesus' story with ties to particular snippets in the Tanakh to better solidify scriptural support of Jesus. They could tell part of Jesus' story, turn to a book in their traveling Tanakh and read off one sentence, and thereby reveal the connection. They could keep on going, repeating the cycle, until their prospects were converted.

If so, their target audience would have been those which did not have their own Tanakhs to perform contextual fact checking, because such a check would have revealed the many non-congruent details. Perhaps this is why the pharisees are condemned so much in Jesus' story, because they would have known the truth of God's word.

On the other hand, maybe God did just this kind of stuff on purpose to confuse the wise...(1 Corinthians 1:19)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Exodus Plagues Part 4: Holy Massacre of the Firstborns

God is in the process of liberating the Israelites, but He has some judgement to attend to first. We now come to the fourth and final study of the Exodus Plagues. In Part 1, we saw God prove that He was almighty by (eventually) making plagues which could not be copied by the Egyptian magicians. In Part 2, we watched God kill all of the Egyptian livestock, afflict innocent animals with festering boils, and then kill some of the Egyptian livestock again. In Part 3, we learned that, through these plagues, God wants to portray himself as almighty and willing to bend justice and torture nations for the sake of making a name for Himself.

Welcome to the concluding study of God's prideful smiting of the Egyptians through the plagues of the Exodus.

Exodus Plagues Part 4: Holy Massacre of the Firstborns
Naturally, the final part of our study picks up right where Part 3 left off, covering Exodus 11 and 12. The appeals for Pharaoh to let the Israelites go worship are over, and it's time for the final blow to liberate the Israelites. But before we dive in, let's take just a moment to examine what God's original Plan was.

If you take a moment to read through Exodus 3:16-22, you'll find some rather interesting material; interesting in the sense that God's original Plan didn't match up with what was carried out. In verse 18, you'll see how it was supposed to be Moses and the Israelite elders confronting Pharaoh as opposed to just Moses and Aaron. In verses 19 and 20, you'll see that God knew that the Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go unless a “mighty hand” influenced him to do so, and so God will strike the Egyptians to make that happen. However, what we've seen so far is that God is using His mighty hand to prevent the Pharaoh from letting the Israelites go, and doing so to be justified in punishing the Egyptians!

Stepping back to Exodus 4:21-23, you'll see that Moses was only supposed to perform the signs that God had just given him in Exodus 4:1-9 (staff to snake, skin disease, and water to blood) in front of the Pharaoh, then God was going to harden the Pharaoh's heart, and then God was going to kill the Pharaoh's firstborn son. But as we've seen, Moses (actually Aaron) performed the staff to snake sign, the skin disease sign was dropped altogether, the water to blood sign was turned into a full scale plague, and eight more plagues were added before the Pharaoh's son would be killed.

By the time you get to Exodus 7:1-5, you realize that the story was clearly evolving in the process of telling it. It's as though God, or the author, was getting more and more excited about the possibility of thrashing the Egyptians. By the time that the ninth plague rolled around, God knew that simply killing the Pharaoh's son alone would be anticlimactic. God needed to expand the scope to be on par with the other plagues...

The Tenth Plague - The Plague on the Firstborns (Exodus 11-12): Presumably before Moses left the Pharaoh's presence after the plague of darkness, Moses reveals to the Pharaoh that God will bring one last plague to Egypt in Exodus 11:4-8. The most interesting lines I find are Exodus 11:5-6:
“Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.” NIV
Three things to note: 1) God is going to punish the non-Israelite slaves as well, even though they had no part in oppressing the Israelites and were probably there against their will. 2) All of the firstborn cattle are going to be killed, even though all of them were already killed in the fifth plague, and some of them were re-killed in the seventh plague. 3) The cries of distress are going to be worse than they ever will be again. That's particularly interesting when you consider what horrible stuff is supposedly still yet to happen during the Tribulation according to the book of Revelation.

Most people are vaguely familiar with what happens in Exodus 12:1-30. The Israelites are instructed to paint blood on their door frames, then, during God's massacre of the firstborns, God will “pass over” those houses, not killing anyone in a house with a blood-painted door frame. Most people believe it is to be lamb's blood, and often tie in Jesus' sacrifice (as the lamb of God) as an event foreshadowed by this event. If you look at the details, it could have been either lamb or goat blood.

So when were they to paint this blood on the door frames? That's a good question. We see in Exodus 11:4 that God would be committing the massacre about midnight. Then we see in Exodus 12:3-5 that the Israelites need to select their sacrificial lambs or goats on the tenth day of the month and slaughter them on the twilight of the fourteenth day of the month. Just to keep you on track, the fourteenth day of the month (which begins at nightfall by Jewish tradition) is the day when God will kill all of the firstborns per Exodus 12:12-13. It seems that there will be a three-to-four day reprieve before God will massacre the firstborns, right? No. In Exodus 12:21-22, you see that Moses tells the Israelites to select and slaughter their lambs and goats that same day, and Exodus 12:29 seems to suggest the massacre was the same day as well.

I think the reason for the confusion here is, as one of my college professors used to say in jest, “blatantly obvious to the most casual observer”. When you read Exodus 12, you see that the author stumbles along, weaving information about the future celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread into the story which sets the stage for that Feast. Had the author simply told the whole plague of the firstborns story first and then relayed the Feast information, that author probably wouldn't have made this blunder. So much for Biblical infallibility. Again.

Some critics may attack the need for the Israelites to paint blood on their door frames in order for God to recognize the Israelites and spare them from this plague. While the argument does have some merit, I think I will actually side with God on this one. When you look at the fourth through the ninth plagues, it is obvious that God knows where the Israelites were.

God is moving to free all of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and to bring them into the promised land, but so far God hasn't asked all of the Israelites if they actually wanted to go there. So this blood painting is a sort of confirmation that all of the Israelites are willing to follow through with God's Plans.

This seems to be a common Biblical theme too: You have a choice to follow God, but if you choose not to, the results will be catastrophic. It's like having freewill with a gun held to your head, or in this case your firstborn son's head. Don't make any bad moves. Oh, and remember, God loves you! :-)

(Note that, to some degree, this divine recompense should be expected with God acting as judge, just like a criminal is subject to the law. A full discussion of the integrity of God's justice, judgement, and mercy will need to wait for another time.)

Finally, in Exodus 12:31-39 we see the actual Exodus. During the same night as the plague, the Israelites leave Egypt. (So much for not leaving their houses until daylight, as per Exodus 12:22!) On their way out, the Egyptians gave the Israelites gold, silver, and clothing, because God had controlled the Egyptians' freewill too. Included in the Exodus were about 600,000 Israelite men, as well as their wives and their children, plus all of their livestock.

That's it for the series on the Exodus plagues. We've seen how God mercilessly afflicted the Egyptians with devastating plagues just to make a name for Himself. He did not allow for remorse or repent from the Egyptians. He did not provide a way for the Egyptians to reconcile themselves with God. As opposed to showing Himself to be a God who is not wanting anyone to perish but wanting everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), God actively hardened the Pharaoh's heart so that the Pharaoh would sin to justify His mighty wrath, which ultimately caused people to perish in their sins and prohibited repentance. In His own words, this is how God wants to be known to the future generations of the Israelites.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Exodus Plagues Part 3: God's Calling Card

The time has come to redeem the Israelites (by liberating them from slavery) and to judge the Egyptians. In the Exodus Plagues Part 1, we saw God prove that He was almighty by (eventually) making plagues which could not be copied by the Egyptian magicians. In the Exodus Plagues Part 2, we watched God kill all of the Egyptian livestock, afflict innocent animals with festering boils, and then kill some of the Egyptian livestock again.

The reason for this judgement against the Egyptians? The Pharaoh would not the Israelites go worship God in the desert for three days. The reason the Pharaoh wouldn't let the Israelites go? God was controlling the Pharaoh's freewill to make him refuse the request. Somehow, that is counted as sin, and so God is punishing the Pharaoh, and the entire Egyptian nation. Go figure.

Join me now as we continue studying God's prideful smiting of the Egyptians through the plagues of the Exodus.

Exodus Plagues Part 3: God's Calling Card
Part 3 of our study picks up right where Part 2 left off, covering Exodus 10. Just like before, the Pharaoh still will not let the Israelites go to worship God in the desert for three days, so God is still continuing to bestow plagues upon Egypt.

The Eighth Plague - The Plague of Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20): The first two verses show you God's true nature. God tells Moses that He hardened the hearts of the Pharaoh and his officials to justify the plagues against the Egyptians. Why? So that stories could be told to later generations about how harshly God treated the Egyptians and to prove that He is God. This is God's image, His nature, His chosen self representation, His calling card. God wants to be known as an omnipotent deity who will mercilessly torture an entire nation of people in order to make a name for Himself. Be sure to tell your kids that! :-)

Moving on, God tells Moses to ask the Pharaoh how long will he refuse to humble himself before God. That's pretty ironic because God just claimed that it was because of God's own tinkering that the Pharaoh would not let the people go. When you read this, you have to wonder just what kind of God would be amused by directing this tragic play. Anyway, Moses is to tell the Pharaoh that if he doesn't let Israelites go, God will bring a plague of locusts.

The Pharaoh refuses the request, so God has Moses stretch out his hand to initiate the locust plague. Overnight, an east wind blows in so many locust that they blacken the ground and fill the Egyptians' houses. The locusts devour the remnant of the plants and the plant-based-food which was left behind by the plague of hail.

The Pharaoh agrees to let the male Israelites go worship in order for Moses to pray to stop the locust plague. Moses prays, and so a strong west wind carries the locusts into the Red Sea. Once again, God hardened the Pharaoh's heart and he refused to let the Israelites go to worship.

The Ninth Plague - The Plague of Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29): In like manner to both the third and the sixth plague, God inflicts the plague of darkness without a pretense of another request to worship. It makes me wonder if this was supposed to be some plot device based on a three-strikes-and-you're-out philosophy. With the ninth plague, we are seeing the third strike of the third set of strikes. That sets the stage perfectly for the grand-finale tenth plague.

The way in which the plague of darkness is described suggests that no light whatsoever was seen in Egypt for three days except for where the Israelites lived in Goshen. The neat thing about this plague is that it had to be completely supernatural. Consider that not even torches could provide light and that light was not able to penetrate by reflection or radiation from Goshen and the rest of the land surrounding Egypt. From the outside, it would have appeared as though an opaque black curtain surrounded the Egyptians. It's really interesting to ponder. It would have been easier to just blind all the Egyptians for three days, which is essentially the effect of this darkness, but no deity except the one true God could pull off complete control of the physical laws of nature like this.

I've been asked before what it would take for me to believe in a god. I think that seeing this kind of control universe control would do it! :-) Of course, then there would need to be something else to prove that such a god was actually the God of the Bible...

Anyway, after stumbling around in complete darkness for three days; getting bruised up, stubbing toes, groping for any possible food (if any still existed) and water (if there was any around that was not still blood), and finding “safe” places to relieve oneself of bodily waste, the Pharaoh summons Moses and is ready to let the Israelites go to worship God. However, God still wasn't ready to let that happen, so He hardened the Pharaoh's heart yet again. In the final scene, the Pharaoh threatens to kill Moses when he next sees Moses, and Moses tells the Pharaoh that he will not appear before the Pharaoh again.

That's it for Part 3 of this four part series on the Exodus plagues. We've seen how God is afflicting the Egyptians with plagues for His tyrannical reasons; to make a name for Himself and to prove that He is a power to be feared. There is no implication that God is love at all. In Part 4 of the study, we will see the dispensation of the final plague and the beginning of the actual Exodus.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Exodus Plagues Part 2: Killing a Dead Horse

In the Exodus Plagues Part 1, we saw God unleash four plagues against the Egyptians. The Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate the first two plagues, but realized that the plagues were coming from God when they couldn't duplicate the third plague. The reason for this judgement against the Egyptians was because the Pharaoh would not the Israelites go worship in the desert for three days. However, even if Pharaoh had wanted to let the Israelites go, God was going to control the Pharaoh's freewill and make him refuse the request, presumably to justify the continued punishment of the Egyptians. It's not until the fourth plague that God decides to spare the Israelites from the effects of the plagues.

Join me now as we continue studying God's miraculous signs of judgement against the Egyptians and we answer the question: How many times can you kill a horse?

Exodus Plagues Part 2: Killing a Dead Horse
Part 2 of our study picks up right where Part 1 left off, covering Exodus 9. The Pharaoh will not let the Israelites go to worship God in the desert for three days, so God is continuing to bestow plagues upon Egypt.

The Fifth Plague - The Plague on Livestock (Exodus 9:1-7): God tells Moses to tell the Pharaoh that if he will not let the Israelites go to worship, God will kill all of the livestock in Egypt except for those livestock belonging to the Israelites. Livestock included were horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats.

(At this point in time, one must wonder just how much livestock the Egyptians own because, as we learned in Genesis 46:34, shepherds are detestable to Egyptians.)

Implicitly, the Pharaoh refuses, and so God kills all of the non-Israelite livestock in Egypt. The Pharaoh investigates the still-living Israelite livestock, but still doesn't yield to the worship request.

The Sixth Plague - The Plague of Boils (Exodus 9:8-12): In like manner to third plague, the gnat/lice plague, God inflicts the plague of boils without a pretense of another request to worship. God does so by having Moses toss soot into the air in front of Pharaoh. At that moment, festering boils broke out on the Egyptians and on animals. Presumably the Israelites were not affected, but it doesn't state this.

I find it particularly interesting that animals were afflicted with this plague. In the previous plague, all of the livestock, or in other words, all of the economically useful animals which the Egyptians owned were killed. So the only animals afflicted by this plague would be wild animals and pets. These animals were completely innocent and by no means enabled the Egyptians to oppress the Israelites, and yet God chooses to torture them with painful boils. Is that justice? Is that love? Don't get me wrong. I'm not a big animal rights guy, but making innocent animals suffer pointlessly just seems wrong to me.

One more interesting point in this plague story: In verse 12 we see the first explicit declaration that God hardened Pharaohs heart. Up until now, defenders of the faith could have put together a case that it was really just Pharaoh that would not let the Israelites go, and that God was innocent of the matter and justified in His punishment of the Pharaoh. But now, God has explicitly overridden the Pharaoh's freewill. The blood is on God's hands.

Furthermore, a phrase is used saying that this happened the way God had told Moses it would happen. This similar phrase was used in many of the previous plagues when the Pharaoh's heart hardened, implicitly stating that God was involved in controlling the Pharaoh then as well.

The Seventh Plague – The Plague of Hail (Exodus 9:13-35): God gives a message to Moses for the Pharaoh. Essentially, the message is that if the Pharaoh will not let the Israelites go worship, God will send the full force of His plagues against the Egyptians; that God could have completely eliminated the Egyptians, but God chose to put the Pharaoh in this position so that God could show His power and make a name for Himself in all of the world; and that because the Pharaoh will not let the Israelites go, God will send the worst hailstorm in Egyptian history, with fury such that it will kill everything outside of shelter.

This is an odd proclamation because, yet again, God is saying that the reason why the Egyptians will be punished is because the Pharaoh will not let the Israelites go worship. In God's own words, God is not providing vengeance for the mistreatment of the Israelites as Egyptian slaves. Instead, God's punishment is only due to the refusal of the worship request. But as we (and Moses, Aaron, and possibly the Israelite elders) know, God is altering the Pharaoh's freewill to make him refuse the request. So ultimately, God is simply torturing the Egyptians because He wants to torture them.

Progressing on, we see in Exodus 9:20-21 that some of the Pharaoh's officials heeded this warning and brought in their slaves and livestock from the field, while others didn't. This prompts the question: does that mean that some of the Pharaoh's officials moved their already-dead livestock under shelter? (As we learned earlier, all of the Egyptian livestock were killed in the fifth plague.) The answer is no. Somehow the horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats must have been resurrected, because we find in Exodus 9:25 that any of these animals which were still out in the field were killed by the hailstorm. Unbelievable. Apparently, you can kill a horse more than once.

The Pharaoh claims that he had sinned, and then got Moses to pray to stop the hailstorm plague. Then the Pharaoh “sinned again” (Exodus 9:34) and refused to let the Israelites go worship. Just to be clear, in Exodus 10:1 God takes credit for making the Pharaoh refuse the request again. This makes for an interesting conundrum, because to sin is defined as going against the will of God, and yet God's will was making the Pharaoh refuse the request. So how is that exactly sin?

That's it for Part 2 of this four part series on the Exodus plagues. We've seen how God tortured innocent animals and seems to have lost track of His killings, which results in God killing Egyptian livestock twice. (Just for good measure, God will kill the firstborn livestock a third time in Part 4.) In Part 3 of the study, we will find out how God chooses to represent Himself.