Yahweh’s mighty Plagues or Why whacking People with Sticks is the Best Way to Change Their Minds.
Exodus, chapters 5 -5 10
Here we are at the plagues of Egypt, the dreaded scourges that God used on the Egyptians to force them to free the Israelites. Terrible plagues they were, hitting guilty and innocent alike, smiting the entirety of Egypt until the Pharaoh relented, or to be more accurate, until God allowed him to relent. Why? I can’t say, but those who have followed along know that God had nailed the Pharaoh’s decision-making ability to a tree and stretched and pulled both the Egyptians and the Hebrews like taffy until hundreds or thousands had perished. Throughout the plagues, he pulls this double cross on humanity, raining hell on the land and the people while forcing the Pharaoh to be stubborn about letting the Hebrews go.
The plagues themselves are interesting as they alternate between curiously ineffectual and cruelly genocidal. They are worth reading through if only for a solid picture of ancient ideas of morality and power and, of course, revenge. Viewed with a modern lens, however, they aren’t as awesome and righteous as your Sunday School teacher built them up to be. To me, they seem tarnished and sordid, squalid and cruel. What seems righteous to ancient eyes seem less so to my own. So let’s go through them one by one and see what sense they make in today’s light.
First, Turning the rivers to blood.
Moses and Aaron did as the LORD had commanded. Aaron raised his staff and struck the waters of the river in full view of Pharaoh and his servants, and all the water of the river was changed into blood. The fish in the river died, and the river itself became so polluted that the Egyptians could not drink its water. There was blood throughout the land of Egypt.
“All the water of the river was changed to blood.” Can you imagine he ecological devastation that would result from the entire Nile and all other sources of fresh water being turned to real living blood? Rotting clots the size of sandbars would slowly ooze through streams of semi-liquid plasma, rotting fish floating atop mounds of decaying blood cells. Mmm! Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? Think about this. On an average day, the Nile releases 300,000,000 cubic meters of water into the sea. That’s a third of a cubic kilometer of oozing animal fluid rotting rapidly in the sun, and this is only the flow for a single day. The Bible states that this occurred throughout the land of Egypt so one could easily make the case that there was 20 times this amount of transformed blood. That’s around ten trillion tons of bio-waste. If you killed every person on the planet and piled them in a single heap, that heap would only be one-tenth the weight of this bloody Nile. Dispute the numbers if you wish, but if you take the Bible as literal inerrant truth, you will have a hell of a time bringing them down to anything rational or reasonable or right.
Of all the plagues, this is really of the worst. It would result in the nearly complete destruction of the river ecology of Egypt, and remember in Egypt, the Nile is the ecology. Trillions of tons of bio-waste would rapidly decay resulting in a breeding ground of bacteria of unheard of size greatly endangering anyone living in the area. As the glut decayed, the stench alone would carry for hundreds of miles. A catastrophe like this puts the Exxon Valdez disaster in the same category as knocking over your morning coffee. Exodus makes no mention of God cleaning it up and claims that the Egyptians had to dig new wells to get water, so years would have to pass for the river to run truly clean again. However seven days later, Moses calls forth the plague of frogs… From the very same river and pools… Yeah, I know, WTF!
Second, Plague of frogs. After annihilating all but microbial life in the Nile with the Great Flood of Blood, Moses/Aaron/Yahweh calls a vast group of toothless amphibians to terrorize the Egyptians. The great phallic staff was held over the rivers and streams and pools and frogs poured forth to get everywhere Egyptians didn’t want frogs to get. Open the bread box for lunch and there are frogs. Pour the breakfast cereal and, yep, frogs. Reach across the bed at three AM for a little loving and place you hand squarely on a cold fat frog. The horror! Oh, the humanity!
In retrospect, I’m not sure why we wasted all that time and money during World War 2 and the cold war developing nuclear weapons when we would have been further ahead if we had only developed the F-bomb. We could have built them in different capacities from the ten kilo-tadpole for purely tactical considerations all the way up to a monster 100 mega-tadpole missile for Moscow itself. Those god-forsaken commies would have had to contend with the ever widening frog gap. They wouldn’t have stood a chance.
Pointing out the absurdity of using these “weapons” is about all I can do here. I mean, frogs? Really? The third and fourth plagues are too similar to go into much, simply gnats and flies. After turning your vital lifeline into a massive blood clot, sending a few amphibians and biting insects seems rather like a reprieve. Thank you God, may I have another?
The next plagues begin to get a bit more serious. With the fifth, pestilence, Yahweh afflicted every beast with a disease which killed them all, all the Egyptian beasts anyway.
And on the next day the LORD did so. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one beast belonging to the Israelites.
This may sound plausible for ancient warfare, but it’s odd for the very next plague is boils, festering sores on man and beast. Did you catch that “beast” part? If all the beasts of the Egyptians are dead, how do they get boils? Seems to be a direct contradiction. Are they dead or aren’t they? Ah, it gets worse, or better depending on the side you’re rooting for. The seventh plague is hail, huge pelting balls of ice that kill anything that has not taken shelter. Any man or beast in the fields is hammered to death by Yahweh’s cold, hard retribution. Strange! If all the Egyptian livestock is dead, then why does the Moses say this to the Egyptians.
“Will you still block the way for my people by refusing to let them go? I warn you, then, tomorrow at this hour I will rain down such fierce hail as there has never been in Egypt from the day the nation was founded up to the present. Therefore, order all your livestock and whatever else you have in the open fields to be brought to a place of safety. Whatever man or beast remains in the fields and is not brought to shelter shall die when the hail comes upon them.” Some of Pharaoh’s servants feared the warning of the LORD and hurried their servants and livestock off to shelter. Others, however, did not take the warning of the LORD to heart and left their servants and livestock in the fields.
WTF? What livestock? Did he raise them from the dead? Were zombie cows roaming Egyptian pastures? I must admit that would jack up the cool factor considerably, but how else does one kill something twice? Can anyone explain to me how this is not a direct contradiction of biblical literalism?
The eighth plague is my personal favorite. After killing all the animals by disease and then pestering those same dead animals with boils and then killing them one more time with hail, God gives the Egyptians locusts to contend with. Yep, bugs again. Locusts cover the ground and devour every food plant that wasn’t beaten into a pulp by the hail. Looks like famine’s lurking in Egypt’s future again.
As the final whacking before bringing out the truly big guns, the Lord of Genocide decides the cover the land in darkness for three days to persuade the Pharaoh to let his people go. Yeah, that would be the same Pharaoh he will not allow to be convinced. I understand that this is confusing and I feel your pain. My own head aches, but not for the foolishness of it all. I ache for the injustice.
To simplify let’s reiterate here. First came blood clot that ate Egypt. Then came the damned horny toads rapidly followed by a curse of flying insects, gnats then flies. Pestilence followed, killing all the livestock. Then boils formed on the asses the Egyptians and their dead beasties. Next came the hail which killed any Egyptian and their previously deceased livestock who were caught in the open. As a final blow to Egypt’s food production ability, Locusts rapidly devoured any food that survived the other plagues. To top off the “Miracles of the Lord”, darkness covered the land. That’s it, nine plagues. There are ten but I’m saving the final one for a post all of its own, it being so heinous as to warrant a separate rant.
A pattern runs through these events. During most of the plagues, Moses warns him, but the Pharaoh doesn’t listen. The plague then strikes. At first, as with the staff to snakes trick, the Egyptian magicians can imitate God’s magic. As an aside, one does have to wonder where this other magic comes from. Other Gods? More polytheistic roots? Anyway, the Pharaoh then relents and says he will let them go only to have God make him stubborn again when it passes. This pattern repeats with only small variations throughout. I strongly urge you to read this entire section for yourselves from Exodus chapter 5 to chapter 10. It is fascinating if disturbing. Viewed from a rational perspective, one cannot fail to come to the conclusion that Yahweh is a psychopath intent on arranging incidences to rationalize his need for violence and blood. God’s ways aren’t mysterious here. They’re goddamned insane. This God is nothing more than a hyper-inflated Hannibal Lecter. Viewed even more rationally, one easily comes to the conclusion that God simply doesn’t exist.
Let’s just assume he’s real and ask ourselves some questions. If an all powerful God was truly interested in setting the Hebrews free, there must be a nearly infinite number of better ways to do it. I mean, were I an all powerful God who wanted to free my people, I’d just have Archangel Scotty beam them aboard the Good Ship Paradise. No muss. No fuss. Justice is done. But God definitely likes a bit-o-fuss, doesn’t he? In fact, by all the evidence, fuss is what it’s all about.
Let’s stick with the me being God analogy (Truth be told I rather like it.) Let just say I needed to give an object lesson to Egypt so they would know my power and worship me. Why this would acceptable under any circumstances is another matter we will discuss at length in future posts, but for now let us assume this is actually righteous instead of atrocious. We also need to excise all those parts where God makes the Pharaoh stubborn. Face it! That’s just goddamned (pun intended) stupid, not to mention incredibly unfair. Let’s assume the great God Bundy, that’s me, doesn’t do crap like this. But even with all these moral givens, why in the shit would I think it necessary to torture the entire population instead hitting the person who actually makes the decisions? With me in charge, this entire affair could have been solved in about six minutes with minimal suffering of the innocent. My Moses would tell the Pharaoh that if he doesn’t let the Hebrews go, I will turn him inside out… slowly. He may actually listen to this warning, but even if he doesn’t, you could be damned sure that Tutankhamun Dumb-Shit-the-SECOND would pay rapt attention to my demands as he stands near the bloody gore of his predecessor. I mean WTF! Let’s use some real power, and, hey, here’s an idea, let’s actually target the guilty. The genocidal shotguns that Yahweh prefers are so unnecessary.
If there were a perfectly just and merciful god, there would be no horrors in the world. If there were a just yet violent God, rapist’s genitals would burst into flame, child molesters would explode, and murderers would be swallowed by the ground for a slow suffocation. Now if God is both violent and shit-assed crazy, the world would be pretty much like the Bible says it is. And what a wonderful world it would be, huh?
Ask yourself, which world would you choose?
How about a God-forsaken one?
Yeah Baby! You know what I like!