Thursday, January 20, 2011
"This Is The Finger Of God": True Power and its Immitation
First, are the Pharaoh's magicians stupid? Seriously... Aaron's staff is turned into a snake, so the magicians do the same to show they have the same power as Moses' and Aaron's god. Okay, pretty cool trick, granted. But the first plague is a bit more severe, Aaron stretches his staff over the waters of Egypt, and they turn to blood. The magicians, not wanting to be shown up, also turn some of Egypt's water to blood. Think about that for a moment. It seems to me that if the magicians wanted to show their power they would have turned the blood back to water. "Plague our land? We'll show you. We'll plague our land too!!!" doesn't seem like a wise response, at least to me. Then the second plague arrives. Frogs rush out of the Nile, infesting homes, hopping in bed, swimming in the stored water. "That's not impressive," the magicians say, and they summon more frogs. Why not get rid of the frogs? When all those frogs died, Exodus says the whole land stank. Well duh, the magicians made it worse. The third plague, turning dust into gnats, stumps the magicians. They can't copy the plague. "This is the finger of God," they exclaim, but again, from the outside looking in, I have to scratch my head and ask, "Why would you want to copy that?" The magicians might have power, but they don't seem to be all that bright about using it.
The second thing that stood out to me from today's reading was Aaron. It's Aaron's staff that is turned into a snake. It is Aaron who stretches that same staff over the Nile, turning the water to blood. It is Aaron who stretches his hand over the waters of Egypt a second time to call the frogs forth. It is Aaron who strikes the dust on the ground with his staff, turning that dust into a swarm of gnats. Technically, I knew this before, but it's hard to filter out all the movies and pictures that have Moses doing all this. Here's my question: why is it important for Aaron to do all this? Aaron was sent to be Moses' mouth, but Moses could have been doing everything else. Why did God tell Moses to tell Aaron to perform all the signs?
I don't know if I have a good answer for that, but here's what I'm thinking as of now. This contest between God on one side, and the Pharaoh and his magicians on the other, is really a dispute over where power truly lies. Pharaoh thinks power lies with himself, his magicians simply being a reflection of his power, but things are different with Moses. Moses isn't battling the Pharaoh; God is. I'm wondering if this isn't just important for the Pharaoh to know, but also for Moses and Aaron to know. By having Aaron perform the miracles, Moses knows the power God shows has nothing to do with himself. Aaron would certainly know the same. By performing the miracles as he does, God sets up a system of humility among his new chosen leaders of the Hebrews. Moses and Aaron, once the Hebrews were freed and became a people of their own, would be very different leaders then the ones the Hebrews had become accustomed to. There's little room for arrogance or narcissism when you know you're really not doing anything.
One last idea of note: God has a sense of irony. The sixth plague is the plague of boils. It begins when Moses throws a handful of soot into the air, which spreads throughout the Egyptian lands causing the boils. Here's the irony. Where does God tell Moses to get the soot? From the kiln. And what do you make in a kiln? Bricks. God takes the one sign of Pharaoh's abuse and makes it a source of justice. That's irony.
Stopping point: Exodus 9