One of my frequent haunts is the Religion section of the Huffington Post. While wandering through one Sunday morning I came across this entitled, “Parshat Vaera: The Weekly Torah Portion Explained”. Excellent! Perhaps he will “explain” the Plagues Yahweh leveled on Egypt. Indeed both Jew and Gentile “celebrate” the Exodus of the Children of Israel from slavery (if indeed they were ever slaves, historically speaking) in Egypt. I think that is awesome! No one, no people, no ethic group should be enslaved. However, along with the end of their supposed slavery there are other aspects of the “event” to be considered. The author of the article rehearses the events that precipitation the Jews into the desert and set them on the path of the Exodus and their eventual destination, “The Promised Land”. That is yet another story. I was disappointed the author of the article, a Rabbi, didn’t actually “explain” anything, so I decided I’d take a crack at it. My text comes from The Jewish Study Bible”.
I’m reposting my comments from Facebook. So, these are just comments on the text as I re-read it. I didn’t cite the Biblical referrences because it was Facebook so I encourage you to read the chapters yourself.
“Celebrating the plagues on Egypt. Please note that while Pharoah had the power to release the Israelites the plagues god sent were aimed at all the people of Egypt. God brought incredible suffering on all the people of Egypt none of whom could do anything to free the Israelites. No doubt there was misery and death to thousands. Then there was the final plague where god took the lives of all the first-born CHILDREN in Egypt. Assuming this actually happened (and there is NO historical evidence it did) god’s actions attributed here are HEINOUS. It’s like trying to get you teacher to give you more recess by taking a baseball bat to the other students in your class.”
“What’s more it says that god hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Why? So he could wreak even more havoc. God says “I will stiffen his (Pharoah’s) heart so he will not let the people go”. Even before the Moses even goes to Pharoah, god intends to take the plagues to the end and kill the first-born of Egypt. He tells Moses as much before Moses even goes to Egypt. God wanted to show how powerful he was and wanted to secure the worship of the Israelites.”
“I fail to see how anyone who truly, genuinely believes this is actually a real historical event resulting in the suffering and deaths of thousands of people at the hand of god while he simultaneously prevents from occurring the one condition he has set to end the suffering, could possible be okay with it.”
“Then there is the apparent lie god tells Moses to tell. He tells Moses to ask Pharoah to allow the Israelites to go three days into the desert to worship their god lest their god bring pestilence of the sword upon them. However, it is clear from the conversation at the burning bush and in conversations later that god intends to free the Israelites from Egypt not simply to give them a three-day Holy Day in the desert. So it would appear god tells Moses to lie in order to mislead Pharoah as to his real intentions.”
“Then there is the very strange incident. As Moses is on his way to do exactly what god has told him to do in Exodus 4:24, the text says the “Lord encountered him and sought to kill him”. Say WHAT!!?? Zipporah Moses’ wife had to do an emergency circumcision on their son with a flint knife in order to get god to back off. She takes the bloody foreskin and touches someones legs with it. It’s a bit unclear who. One would assume it was Moses’ legs and not god’s legs but it’s already a weird story so who knows.”
Throughout the narrative the writer of the Biblical account (or writers) repeatedly says that God hardened Pharoah’s heart. Not only does God tell Moses ahead of time that is what he will do, it is repeated over and over, often from God’s own words. So, from the very beginning God intended to punish Pharoah for doing what HE, God was in fact PREVENTING HIM FROM DOING, letting the Israelites go. God is said, IN THE VERY TEXT ITSELF, to be motivated to do this to show his power so everyone, the Israelites and indeed the rest of the people of Canaan and the surrounding region will see what a BADASS he really is. Basically, they are his puppets and he can make them do whatever he wants, not permit them but MAKES THEM, then curse and punish them for doing it. What’s more as Pharoah appears to be softening, attempting to offer alternatives to Moses, God demands Pharoah allow them all with their livestock to go into the desert. When Pharoah finally say okay, the rules change. Now Pharoah has to also provide the animals for the bogus sacrifice they claim God is requiring them to make.
As I mentioned above, it was not just Pharoah God punished. It was not simply the officials of Egypt or the courtiers, it was ALL THE PEOPLE Egypt from the greatest to the least, even the fellow slaves who were supposedly suffering like the Jews. Children were not exempt either, they suffered and died along with the adults. No doubt the “Divine Command Theorist” will justify this by saying it was a mercy. After all, what would they do without their parents; don’t they actually go to heaven straight away? Is that not a mercy? It hardly justifies the suffering and the death and carnage or the “bully-esque” actions of God. Even arguing within the box there is little theological justification for that “doctrine” it is just a speculation offered to attempt to cover God’s heinous actions.
For those of you who are animal lovers, God did not spare the animals and livestock who also suffered and died all over the land of Eqypt.
Not only does God tell Moses to lie repeatedly regarding the intentions of the Israelites or the requirements God has laid on them, he also instructs them to lie regarding the “gold and silver” they take from the Egyptians. God gives the Jews favor in the eyes of they Egyptian neighbors similar to his hardening Pharoah’s heart he softens the hearts of the common Egyptians. He then tells Moses to tell the Jews to ask to “borrow” gold and silver. Of course God knows and Moses knows and the Israelites know they are not going to “borrow” anything. They are taking it never to return it. So, they will “despoil” as though it were a battle, the Egyptians. It is not the “oppressors” in particular who are so robbed. It is just their neighbors.
For centuries these actions have not only been accepted but actually lauded by believers both Jew and Gentile. I suppose if you subscribe to the notion that God because he is at least MORE powerful, if not ALL POWERFUL, can do whatever he chooses and whatever he chooses is morally justified, then you can sleep at night erected churches and gather congregations to worship this God. Obviously if this God DOES exist, what is true is true whether you like it or not but I’d say we are all, believer and unbeliever alike, in deep doo doo in absolute subjection to a God who basically will do whatever he chooses to do and then slap you down like he did Job when you question whether perhaps he’s not following his own rules and play the “mystery card”. How do you know what he calls “love” is what you consider love and will not either change or perhaps have hidden consequences you will only find out later. Although supposedly we are made in the image of God and derive our love, compassion, kindness and sense of justice and equity from that image, we cannot count on those sensibilities actually accurately reflecting how we might be treated by the one who is supposed to be their author.
The problem is that most believers either are not aware of these things, ignore them or gloss over them. Like the church before Luther and the printing press, they rely on the clergy to read the parts of the Bible that are important, to interpret those parts for them and to ignore the part that are too “difficult”. They aren’t supposed to ask questions or are led to believe there are deep and significant theological answers that only pastors and professor can answer. They defend these things when they are brought to their attention with the mantra “I just have faith” or “I’m just a simply believer” and spit in the face of the protestant movement that gave birth to their denominations.
What’s more, this is only the beginning. This is not even the tip of the iceberg, it’s the ripple in the water above the tip. It is my conviction that when most people read these accounts in some manner they do not put them in the same class as “real” events. If such events as these happened to day at the hands of a dictator people would be outraged, horrified and sick with grief. If they REALLY believed it they would abandon their religion. As it is it is “buffered” by “holiness” and by the impersonal distance of time and space as well as familiarity.
There is more to come! I’ll close with the first quote the author of the article cites. God say to Moses, “I am Mercy”. Not in my book!