In 1967, when I was ten, my mom enrolled me in the two-week Vacation Bible School at our hometown Methodist church in Vandalia, Illinois. We weren’t yet Methodists but we had friends who were members of that congregation. I remember that we studied Moses and the Exodus. The Six Day War was happening, and so it was timely that our VBS teachers took us on a field trip to a synagogue. In rural Illinois, the closest temple was a half-hour away: Temple Solomon in Centralia, Illinois. Although I don’t remember much about the visit, that field trip planted in me a seed of interest in interfaith understanding as well as Old Testament scripture.
If we think of anything in the Bible as having “biblical proportions,” the plagues of Egypt are surely among the first things we remember.
It would be better to call the plagues “signs and wonders” of God’s power, since not all of them have to do with illness. The signs are blood, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, hail and thunder, locusts, darkness, and the death of the first born.
One of my favorite books for Bible study, The Torah: A Modern Commentary, indicates that Jewish tradition has grouped the signs in different ways. (1) Grouped 4-4-1-1, the signs appear as nuisances, then serious attacks, then one of terror, and the last is death.
They can also be grouped 2-2-2-2-2. The first two deal with the Nile, the next two deal with insects, the next two deal with disease, the next two deal with crops, and the last two deal with darkness and death.
Another, popular Jewish tradition, is to group them as 3-3-3-1. In each group of three, Moses meets Pharaoh out in the open, then Moses meets Pharaoh with a warning, and then the third plague has no previous warning.
The Torah commentator also indicates that the stories give no indication how much time passes for all the plagues, although one year is traditional.
We’ve met other Pharaohs in the biblical stories. Abram and Sarai met Pharaoh during a time of famine (Genesis 12:10-20). The story of Joseph and Pharaoh is famous (Genesis 41). Still another Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites and ordered the murder of their baby boys (Exodus 1:8-22).
1.Do you remember the first time you learned about Moses and Pharaoh? If so, what was the circumstance?
2.Do you find Egyptian history interesting? Have you visited Egyptian exhibitions in museums? My wife Beth, for instance, waited in line to see the traveling “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibition during the late 1970s.