Plagues in Egypt Frogs were everywhere and Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron.

Day 34 (Feb. 3): Plagues of water to blood, frogs, gnats, livestock, boils, hail

Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Exodus 7:14-9:35
(1446 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Exodus 7:15): Is there any significance in why God chose a staff to demonstrate his power?

A. The staff would have been a powerful symbol of God’s power.  Shepherds such as Moses would have been given a staff in a ceremony when he entered the vocation: this staff was his life.  Not only was it used for obvious things like bringing back sheep and support when a shepherd walked, but it was probably used to fight animals and kill snakes.  Shepherds, still to this day, mark their staffs with various indentations and words, to form something like a personal journal.  So the staff represented the vocation.  God had then ordered Moses to change his vocation, but to keep the symbol of it, and apply it to his new purposes.  This is not the last time in the OT that a staff will play a central role as a conduit of God’s power.

Q. (8:18): Any particular reason why Pharaoh’s magicians couldn’t duplicate this plague?

A. I don’t know if there is something specific about the plague of gnats (some other versions render this lice or mosquitos, it is hard to tell the exact word the writer meant).  But there is an important shift in the narrative.  For the first two plagues, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to “match” the plague (by whatever means they did so as we discussed yesterday), and so Pharaoh could consider himself and his gods to have “not been beaten” by the Hebrew’s God, since his men could do it too.  But after this plague, he loses that excuse, and is forced to take personal responsibility for his actions for not letting the people go.  I think the magicians failure is all about God escalating the pressure on the king.

Q. I saw a TV documentary that showed how the plagues can be backed up scientifically.  So, is it OK to say that scientifically the plagues could have happened or do we just say that it was an act of God.  God did create science.

A. I’ve heard this as well.  One thing I read mentioned that all of the events that take place (even the darkness) are part of the normal cycle of life in Egypt.  Just as a couple of examples, silt that flowed up the Nile from Ethiopia can turn the river a shade of red- and cause a growth of a red algae that can kill fish and make the water undrinkable.  If this happened, then animals such as frogs (the second plague) would have left the water and relocated to other areas.  The insects (3 and 4) would not have been eaten by the frogs, and could have reached high levels of growth without the predation.  The flies could have spread bacteria and diseases to the livestock and boils to the people (5 and 6).  You get the idea.  Even the more powerful plagues were part of the ecosystem of Egypt: thunder and hailstorms, locusts, and giant sandstorms (called khamsin) that could stir up so much dust, they could block the sun.

Two other things are worth mentioning here: the clear implication of the text is that God is bringing these events about, even if He is using naturally occurring phenomenon to do so.  While it can be interesting to speculate about the “natural” origins of these plagues, to do so is ultimately to miss the point: God is demonstrating His power in Egypt in order to free His people.

The other side of the coin that frequently goes unmentioned in discussions such as this one is the association between natural parts of the Egyptian ecosystem and the gods that they worshipped.  Several of the plagues target particular Egyptian deities, and the events that take place would have been a way of the Hebrew God proving His superiority over these false Egyptian gods.  One goddess, Hapi, was the goddess of the Nile, who was revered as giving life to Egypt.  The water to blood plague would have been seen as a clear defeat of this goddess.  Other gods and goddesses were seen as animals, including frogs (plague 2) and livestock (cows, goats, etc., that died in plague 5).  One of the most powerful gods in Egypt was Ra, the god of the sun. The darkness of the second to last plague (i.e. the blocking of the sun) would have been a clear insult to his power.  So while there are natural phenomena that would have been a part of this story, there is certainly religious significance to the story as well, as the God of the Hebrews showed His power over the natural world and the deities of Egyptian worship.

Q. Just a study note.  Is there any difference between Israelites, Hebrew and Jews?

A. In the language of the Bible, no.  These terms can be used interchangeably.  While the origin of the word Hebrew is the least clear of the three (it’s the oldest), the others are fairly straightforward.  The word Hebrew appears to be from Genesis 10:21 and 25, where a son of Shem (Noah’s son) is named Eber.  (Incidentally, the name Semite comes from being descended from Noah’s son Shem).  Abraham is called a Hebrew in Gen 14.

Jacob is renamed Israel (wrestles with God) in his story from Genesis, and therefore people from his line would be called Israelites.

The word Jew comes from a more specific and later subset of the Israelites: the descendants of the tribe of Judah (and Benjamin).  These two tribes, along with Levites, are the Israelites who survive in the Southern Kingdom after most of the other tribes are wiped out in the story recorded in 1 and 2 Kings.  That’s why Jew is the most recent of the three terms.

Hope that helps!

For further reading: Did the plagues really happen? https://evidence-for-thebible.com/archeological-evidence-for-the-bible/archeological-evidence-for-the-plagues-in-egypt/

Shop: Various sources support the Bible’s account of the 10 Plagues of Ancient Egypt.  The Bible gives us Truth!  https://livinlight.org/product/truth-pepper/

Tomorrow’s reading: Exodus 10-12

J Jacob leaves Laban, taking Rachel, Leah, their herds and belongings and returns to his home in Canaan. Courtesy: Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Day 11 (Jan. 11): Jacob leaves Laban, Laban follows Jacob, Jacob and Laban make covenant

Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Genesis 30:25-31:55
(1916-1908 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

O. (30:30): Jacob gets it.  Remember how God told Abraham that He was his protector?  Here, Jacob is telling Laban that God has blessed Laban with good fortune, all through the hard work of Jacob.  Jacob gives the glory to God.  In Gen. 15:1, God tells Abram (Abraham) that He will protect him and “your reward will be great.”  Look at this story where Laban deceives Jacob again, yet God is with Jacob and helps him succeed — his reward.

O. (30:35): I just realized that Rebekah deceived her husband, the nearly blind Isaac, into thinking Jacob was Esau, resulting in Esau losing his blessing.  Here, Rebekah’s brother, Laban, tricks Jacob by taking the speckled goats and the black sheep.  Deception must run in their family.  Jacob is related too.  He seems to be the ultimate outwitter, (31:20) but has learned to use his gift wisely with the God’s guidance.

O. (31:3): God keeps His promises.  In Gen. 28:15, God said He would be with Jacob.  In 28:21, Jacob says that if God returns him safely to his father’s home, He will be his God.  Jacob and God have built a strong trust, like God did with his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham.  The legacy has been established.

O. (31:12): Jacob has basically been a slave to Laban, but God was watching how poorly Laban treated him.  We can apply this to our own lives.  When you don’t understand why you are going through a difficult time, God is paying attention. And if you stay loyal to Him, He will reward you.

Q. (31:19): Why did Rachel take the idols from Laban’s house?

A. There’s a few theories since the story doesn’t explicitly tell us.  One of the theories is that Rachel is getting back at her dad for mistreating her, which the text seems to support by saying that they felt their father denied them an inheritance.  Another theory is that she didn’t want her father to continue in idolatry (which I confess I don’t see much support for).  One other idea is that she didn’t believe in Jacob’s god, and was trying to steal the source of her father’s power and influence.

Q. (31:26): OK, what’s up with Laban?  He is so two-faced, he almost seems schizophrenic.  He is horribly unfair to Jacob and then asked Jacob why He snuck away.  He bargained away his daughters, then asked why Jacob dragged his daughters away like prisoners of war.  In 31:43, Laban is still delusional.  He thinks the flocks are his even after Jacob explained that the flocks grew because God blessed him.  Then in 31:48, when he makes a covenant with Jacob, he says God will be the witness if Jacob mistreats his daughters.  How can he say this when he is the ultimate abuser?  And, does he think God will truly respect him, given his treatment of Jacob and worshipping other gods?

A. I think you’ve summed it up well.  Laban is an odd character and this is a very weird story.  I honestly don’t know a lot about Laban and his motivations (he’s not a well studied character).  One thing he does do, whether he believes in the God of Jacob or not, is call this god as a witness in the covenant between himself and Jacob.  In addition to the aspects of covenant ceremony we have already discussed, another important aspect would be witnesses to the ceremony itself, who would have been responsible for its enforcement.  So what Laban is wisely doing here is calling on Jacob’s God to keep Jacob honest.

Q. (31:36):  This is the first time that I can remember that one of God’s chosen has lashed out at someone.  Most of the stories so far show how God’s power settles an argument.  Disagreements always make me question if I am supposed to speak up or let God do my fighting for me.

A. As we discussed yesterday, it is our duty as Christians to be at peace with those around us, so resorting to this type of outburst (or even to violence) is not in keeping with the heart of the Christian message.  But we must, reasonably, be willing to speak up for God when we feel that the character of God is being challenged.  Ultimately, I believe that we are called to listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and be wise when it comes to the times to speak (or yell I guess) and the times to be silent.

Q. (31:39): I know many of the Bible’s characters stories foreshadow our Savior, Jesus Christ.  When Jacob said He owned the responsibility for Laban’s sheep:  If one was missing, from no fault of Jacob, Jacob would have to pay for it.  Is this foreshadowing Jesus taking the punishment for our sins?

A. Certainly Jacob’s role as shepherd and protector of the sheep is in keeping with our understanding of the way Jesus spoke about himself as Good Shepherd (John 10).  And while I am not especially familiar with this particular instance of foreshadowing, you could certainly make the argument that Jacob’s actions symbolically match the way that Jesus took the “payment” for those that he considered His sheep.

O.  I joined Bible Study Fellowship (there are groups all over the nation and in many other countries) this week, which is a great study!  The speaker talked about false promises and how we set our kids up for false hope.  God tells absolutes like, “you will be the father of many nations,” “I’ll be with you,” and that He’ll give them a certain land.  God doesn’t’ say, “if we have time,” or “if we can afford it” or “we’ll have to wait and see.”  Telling kids something may or may not happen, gives them something to hope for. Of course, I’m the master of saying “we’ll have to see.”  I always thought that was a great response to the many requests of young children.  I tested this new way of answering my daughter when she asked to get a pedicure with me.  Instead of telling her, “we need to watch our money” or something valid like that, I told her that we definitely would do it.  I don’t know when, but I know we will get a pedicure together again in the near future.  Instead of hanging her head from a vague answer, she held her head up and smiled.

Book recommendation: Speaking of children, I bought my daughter a devotional book for Christmas, 365 Bedtime Devos for Little Girls.  It has a one-page reading every day.  It is fabulous.  It opens up conversation.  One “virtue” is presented, then you can tell about how that virtue has applied to your life.  Then she offers up and creates a scenario for the virtue also.  It is a real conversation starter.  (Update: unfortunately, this book is out of print.  I did see it on ebay.  However, there are numerous other devotional books with which you can engage your child practicing virtues.

For further study
— Check out this list of covenants of the Bible: https://www.gcu.edu/blog/theology-ministry/theology-thursday-what-are-biblical-covenants
— God’s role in supporting Jacob in the midst of Laban’s deception: https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/19697/Labans-Deception-Jacob.htm

Shop: Life is hard, but if you follow God, your cup will overflow with joy! https://livinlight.org/product/overflow-t-shirt-2/

Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 32:1-35:27