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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Exodus - Let My People Go

3: What if… God uses nature to perform miracles?

How much do you know all about Moses and the burning bush? Try these questions:
Was Moses always the obedient servant of God? See Exodus 4:25. He didn’t circumcise his sons.
Why does God have such a cryptic name? See Exodus 3:6,14-16. Sinai is God’s mountain, but if Jethro called it that, it was probably the mountain of a different god. God introduces himself to Moses through the history of his relationship with his people.
Why is Moses afraid? He’s been living among people of a different religion, and probably following different traditions. He may have assumed God had forgotten about him.
What does God ask? In Exodus 3:18 God tells Moses to speak to Pharaoh, but not to day “Let my people go forever.” Instead God asks, through Moses, “Let them travel 3 days journey.” Three days out, plus one to worship, plus three days back is seven days, just long enough to for them to cross the peninsula into Midian where Pharaoh can’t chase them. (Nine days would be enough to travel to Jethro’s house where Moses used to live.)
Is God asking Moses to lie? Clearly God does plan to set his people free. Equally clearly, Pharaoh will never agree (Exodus 3:19-20). Perhaps we are sometimes allowed to, or even called to lie.
Is God asking the physically impossible? They’ll need food and money for the journey, but God will provide through the Egyptians. (Exodus 3:21-22)
Is God asking the humanly impossible? Moses won’t be able to persuade Pharaoh, but God will provide the power he needs to persuade him. (Exodus 4:2-5)
Is God asking the individually impossible? Moses says he can’t speak, but God will provide a companion and speaker in his brother. (Exodus 4:10-16)

What if… God really cares?
1. Exodus 3:1-15 God has a history with his people. God is consistent.
2. God loves his people and hears their cry. God listens.
3. God chooses and works through individual people. God can work through us too.

What if… God really plans?
1. Exodus 3:16-22 The Promised Land is still theirs. God’s plan doesn’t change.
2. A request to leave for three days journey, plus one day to worship, plus three days back provides protection from pursuit. God’s plan doesn’t ignore human action.
3. The Egyptians give gold and jewelry to the Israelites. God’s plan doesn’t ignore human need.

What if… God uses real events and real people?
1. Exodus 4:1-17, 6:28-7:24 There is a type of snake that becomes rigid like a staff if held correctly—a magic trick that the Egyptians would have known. Moses’ leprous hand may also have a natural explanations that we don’t know yet. God made and uses nature.
2. God gives Moses power and a voice – the same attributes that Moses has seen influence the Pharaoh when he was growing up. But the power is in his staff and the voice is in his brother. Not in my strength but in God’s.
3. Signs and wonders are still God’s tools, not ours, and they accomplish God’s will in God’s timing: see Exodus 5:20-23. Things get worse before they get better.
4. Many commentators add that Moses’ leadership at such an advanced age is another miracle. The Bible says he was 80 years old, and his brother 3 years older (hence not one of the murdered Hebrew babies). But 80 could aos mean the same as two generations (two times 40), which would be around 50. God can use us at any age.

What if… the Ten Plagues of Egypt have natural explanations?
See Colin J Humphey’s book, The Miracles of Exodus, for more and better analysis of the ten plagues:
1. Exodus 7:20-24. Water turned to Blood: The River Nile rises from June to September, then floods due to runoff from the mountains. Annual flooding provides nutrients to the soil, making the river appear like blood, but not killing fish. Red tides of harmful algae are unlikely in the fresh water of the Nile, but Rameses is on the delta where salt and fresh water mix. The first plague might be caused by a combination of flood-water and algae, sometime before September.
2. Exodus 7:25-8:14. Frogs: The frog population reaches its maximum in September/October. Dead fish and polluted water would send the frogs out in search of light and heat. Lack of water would kill them—and make them stink.
3. Exodus 8:16-19. Gnats: Magicians couldn’t copy this event. Midges, prevalent in October/November, would feed on decaying frogs and fish, and might carry the illness that kills livestock in the fifth plague. No frogs were left to eat them.
4. Exodus 8:20-24. Flies: These might have been stable flies, which swarm and bite, leaving open wounds, easily infected. They breed very fast, but might not have lived in the hill country of Goshen.
5. Exodus 9:1-7. Death of Livestock: Camels were used for milk at this time. The Bible’s list only includes hoofed animals and there are various possible viruses, spread by midges, that would attack these. Goshen is spared again – no hoofed animals and no midges perhaps?
6. Exodus 9:8-12. Plague of Boils: See also Deuteronomy 28:27,35. The boils spread from the bottom of the legs suggesting insect bites, from stable flies.
7. Exodus 9:13-35. Hail: In October 1997 a violent hailstorm in Jordan injured more than 60 people, damaged cars and buildings and left a layer of hail more than 3 feet thick. The grains mentioned in the Bible are consistent with Egyptian agriculture (an eye-witness account perhaps), with the hailstorm taking taken place in February/March. See Exodus 9:19-21 God cares even for his enemies.
8. Exodus 10:1-20. Locusts: On June 19th 2001 10,000 locusts per 10 sq feet descended on a province of China. Damp soil after the hailstorm would attract them and allow them to breed prolifically. The Bible even mentions the wind that would bring the locusts to the land--God using nature to bring them.
9. Exodus 10:21-23. Darkness: Darkness that can be felt sounds like a dust storm, common in Egypt in spring, and made worse due to locusts, flies, red earth, etc.
10. Exodus 10:21-12:13, 12:29. Death of the Firstborn: Sickness on such a large scale might be expected to kill much greater numbers than “just” the 1st born. The fact that the Egyptians give jewelry to the Israelites suggests they might have hoped to appease the Israelite God. Meanwhile perhaps they were preparing their own ceremonies to appease their own gods. If so, firstborn sons and animals would figure prominently and might have been fed infected grain. The deaths might have been due to mycotoxins in locust feces, growing on damp grain with bad air circulation due to the dust storm.

A natural explanation for the plagues doesn’t preclude God’s having caused them. Only God, who creates and controls nature, could engineer or predict circumstances such that all these things would occur at precisely the right times.

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