Posts Tagged ‘Plagues’

Subtle Contradictions in Scripture (How long did the Exodus plagues take?)

February 17, 2010

Do the plagues contradict each other?

Reference: Exodus 9


How long was the period of time of the different plagues? It seems that it must have been many years because in one plague God killed all the livestock and then later the livestock had boils.


It is difficult to tell exactly how long the Exodus Plagues took.  Thankfully it’s not important at all.  Some students of the Bible might like to go through and count  days, weeks, tomorrows, etc. that are mentioned in Exodus 7 through 11 (e.g. Exodus 7:25).  This rough calculation ends up somewhere in the vicinity of 2 weeks to a month.  But this doesn’t account for larger (unmentioned) time spans that could have occurred between other plagues.  We cannot comment on things that scripture leaves unsaid.   The fact is that the author of Exodus does not tell us how long the process took.  Probably because it doesn’t matter.

But what do we do with the apparent contradiction in this chapter?

In chapter 9, it says that all the livestock of the Egyptians were killed (Exodus 9:6), but later in the same chapter we see that livestock of the Egyptians were subject to other plagues.  The following plague of the boils stuck the “animals” in the land.  It does not say “livestock”, in fact it is a completely different word in the original Hebrew.  Livestock refers to the animals raised for human use.  Animals is a broader term that encompasses all animals.  Thus, we don’t need to jump to the conclusion that livestock had repopulated Egypt in time to be struck with boils.  However, in the subsequent plague, the plague of hail, it alludes to the fact that the Egyptian livestock were subject to the horrible hail storm.  Also, in chapter 14 Pharaoh and his army chase after the Israelites on their horses, so clearly there were livestock still alive in Egypt.  How could there be livestock if they had all been killed in the fifth plague?  What explanation could there be for that?

Well, I could be a smart-alek and point out that God said back in verse 3 of chapter 9 that he would strike down the livestock ‘in the field’. Thus, those livestock that were not outside would not have been affected by the plague against the livestock.  That answer doesn’t sit well with me though.  We should never overlook words and details in scripture, but we should only give them the weight that their communicative intent warrants.   Proof-texting and word-for-word literalizing does the meaning of the text a disservice.  When interpreting scripture, we need to continually ask the question “what is this passage trying to communicate?”.   Exodus is not a historical document like we understand historical documents today.  Thus, even when we read in scripture what we would call contradictions, it does not diminish its truth or its weight for our lives.

This passage is not trying to communicate the subtleties of the plagues, it IS trying to communicate the power of God, the rescue of God, and the glory of God.  We also see the significance of what it means for the will of a man (Pharaoh) to contend with the will of God.  This is a significant theme throughout scripture, and here we see that although God gives us free will, ultimately God will not contend with our disobedience, and he will accomplish his perfect providential will.  In this case, part of that providential will was releasing his people from captivity.  The amount of time that the plagues took, or the appearance of what we might call a contradiction does not change what this passage was meant to say.

Were Pharaoh’s magicians able to perform real magic?

February 17, 2010

The Plague of Blood: Did the magicians really do these things too?

Reference: Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7


In Exodus 7:10+ how can that act of going ‘One On One’ with Moses’ miracles such as the staff turning into a serpent or the staff turning the water to blood, etc… be explained? This wasn’t just 3 Card Monte or slight of the hand tricks. These were huge events that took place.  Yet Pharaoh’s magicians were able to perform them as well.

2 Possible Answers:

Logically there are only two options concerning the magic.  Either these guys were the ancient Egyptian equivalent of David Blane or they had X-men powers.  Either way though, the message communicated stays the same.

Option 1. The magic was a trick:  It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that these men were simply performing amazing tricks.  They may have been students of nature who knew how to manipulate animal behavior for the sake of control or appearance.  Or perhaps they may have been very good at selling people on their tricks.  In the passages listed above it says that Moses performed the action first.  In the plague of blood, the entire Nile River turned to blood by the hand of God first.  So how could the magicians have turned the Nile to blood if it was already turned to blood.  It doesn’t say that they did, it only says that following the actions of Moses and Aaron the magicians turned some nondescript water into blood.  This certainly could have been a trick.  But turning the Nile into blood is nothing short of a horrific sign of God.  Likewise, Aaron and Moses first caused frogs to come up and cover the land.  How then could the magicians prove that they did anything if the land was already covered with frogs.   This again could have been a trick, or a manipulation of Pharaoh, who is the key antagonist in this contest.

Option 2. The magic was real: The only other option is that the Magic was indeed real.  We know from scripture that the world we live in is one in which there is a real spiritual battle going on all around us.  God is the great God of power, but his kingdom on earth was usurped by Satan back in Genesis 3.  That means there are spiritual forces, with unexplainable spiritual powers in this world.  Paul dealt with this in Acts, Jesus confronted it often in the Gospels.  Thus, it is also perfectly logical and within Biblical precedent to arrive at the conclusion that Pharaoh’s magicians, by some type of ancient divination had tapped into a source of power other than God (a practice explicitly forbidden by God Deuteronomy 18:10; Leviticus 19:26).  All this to say, some other spiritual power could have been allowing them to perform real magic.

One Possible Interpretation

Whichever option one ascribes to above, they must still arrive at the same conclusion, and the main point of these passages.  Namely, Pharaoh’s heart hardens and God wins the contest.  Whether this was real magic or well-disguised tricks, Pharaoh’s heart became hard because of them.  Or, as I conclude in a previous blog post, Pharaoh’s heart was already hard.  Thus, even if they were only tricks they still wouldn’t have had to be very impressive to make Pharaoh deny God’s request to “Let my people go!”  But the most important conclusion is that God wins.  Every time that the magicians of Pharaoh try to challenge the mighty hand of God they fall short until they themselves agree that this is “The finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).  But still Pharaoh would not believe until the most horrific plague of all, the death of the first-borns, in which Pharaoh lost his own son.  Awful as this was, it served as a potent sign of God’s power, and his mercy, for it was in this final plague that God would “passover” the Israelites and spare them from his wrath.  The Israelites shed the blood of lambs and marked their homes so that God would, pass them by.  This is one of the most powerful moments of mercy and of foreshadowing toward Jesus, who would be the Passover Lamb for all of us.  Again, we see a reminder of one of the most important truths of this passage and all of scripture, God wins!