God doesn’t pull any punches in Exodus 9. If anything, between the livestock-slaying pestilence, the flesh sores, and the hailstorm, he ups the ante. And as I read about God wrecking shop on the Egyptians’ animals, skin, and crops, I couldn’t help thinking, “This is not going to go over well with some people.” The Shortpacked comic in which David Willis, by way of The Prince of Egypt, goes for the throat of the God of the Exodus narrative springs readily to mind. I can’t hope to resolve every difficulty with Exodus in a single post, but perhaps I can shed light on a few issues and offer answers to some questions. You know what? This one’s for the skeptics. This one’s for the skeptic in you and the skeptic in me. Let’s do it.
What’s your favorite plague of Egypt? I remember in third grade, mine was the frogs. All the other plagues seemed utterly undesirable, but the prospect of having multitudes of frogs absolutely everywhere all the time sounded awesome, because I was an eight-year-old boy.
I hope you’re ready for some plagues, because today we’ve got plagues. Well, one plague. Don’t worry, there are more later.
Houston, we have a problem. I was all set to examine how God answers Moses’ questions and frustrations from our passage yesterday, make a point about how he doesn’t get angry with him this time, dig into the content of his response, but almost immediately I encountered complications. As God appeals to his history with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to underscore his commitment to their descendants, he makes a claim that is, prima facie, hog-bonkers.
Moses probably didn’t expect Pharaoh to release the Israelites without some resistance. But I don’t think he expected Pharaoh to make things worse.
You ever go into a job interview, a meeting with a doctor, a Q&A session following a lecture, and then afterwards come up with all sorts of questions you wish you’d thought to ask? Moses certainly didn’t. God kinda jumped him with the burning-bush meeting here, but he’s got so many questions and issues that the conversation extends into a second chapter. Say what you will about Moses, but the man can raise a concern.
Today’s chapter features the first half of a conversation with God that will turn Moses around and send him back to Egypt. It features a miraculous flaming bush that burns for far longer than a bush has any right to, and which emits God’s voice. It features Moses’ commission to bring the people of Israel back to the land that is their birthright. It features God’s holiness and compassion in equal measure. And, famously, it features God formally giving his name, the tetragrammaton YHWH. But the event raises a question: why the crud does Moses need to be told God’s name?