Burning Bushes and Plagues of Frogs1. How old was Moses when he returned to Egypt?
2. Where was the burning bush?
3. Can bushes burn without burning away?
4. Can sticks turn into snakes?
5. What did Moses and Aaron ask the Pharaoh to do?
6. What have red rivers, dead fish, and plagues of frogs got in common with each other?
7. Which plague was the first that the Egyptian magicians failed to copy?
8. Did God try to help the Egyptians at all?
9. Did the Egyptians try to help the Israelites at all?
10. If the Israelites fled across the Sinai peninsula, how long would it take to escape Egypt?
The Bible says Moses was grown up (Ex 2:11) when he fled from Egypt and 80 (7:7) when he returned. A generation was about 25 years though it might be “estimated” at 40—a generic big number. 80 years could represent two generations, making Moses about 50 and Aaron 53. (When the Israelites are spend 40 years in the desert, 40 years is described as the same as "a generation": Num 32:13)
Moses lived with his father-in-law, called Jethro or Reuel (one is probably the tribal name). Modern tribes still keep sheep and goats, and take them across the desert to the mountains during summer. The mountains are cooler, and the grass is lush, growing as it does on volcanic remains. So when Moses went to the far side of the desert, he could have been heading east into Arabia. There he came to a Holy Mountain, Sinai, also called Horeb. Sinai may come from the name of the Midianite moon god, Sin. (There’s no record that the Sinai peninsula contained a mountain called Sinai back then, only that the whole peninsula belonging to Egypt. But there are Arabian traditions of Moses having traveled east.)
While the Bible doesn’t say the mountain was a volcano, holy mountains often were volcanic, called holy for obvious reasons. And bushes on volcanic mountains, particularly acacia bushes, particularly at the beginning of volcanic action, can burn to charcoal while maintaining their shape, thus not burning away. Moses hears the voice of God in the burning bush and asks who it is, maybe wanting to confirm whether this is a Midianite god or his own God. God answers, saying “I am” and sends Moses back to Egypt to rescue his people, providing Aaron as a mouthpiece since Moses claims to be afraid.
Moses and Aaron ask the Pharaoh to let God’s people go into the desert, worship and return (Ex 3:18, 8:27), a seven day journey. Seven days’ travel along the desert road would get them to the Gulf of Aqaba and the safety of Midian, where Moses had been living. (So, does God sometimes ask us to lie? Interesting.) Pharaoh refuses, of course, even when the God-given staff turns into a snake—a trick that the magicians already know (done with a particular hold on a particular type of snake: Ex 7:11). The Nile flowing red is a known phenomenon, occurring in late summer, but the fish don’t usually die (7:21)—perhaps the red flood coincided with a poisonous red tide from the ocean? Frog populations would reach their maximum soon afterwards, and dead fish and polluted water would send them thronging away from the river and into homes, where they would die (8:14), encouraging tiny flies (8:16)—the first plague the magicians couldn’t copy. These are probably the flies that carried illnesses deadly to livestock in the 5th plague. Larger flies would also breed more copiously in the absence of frogs, causing the boils of the 6th plague, though they probably wouldn’t spread to the hill-country of Goshen (8:22). The 7th plague, of hail, most likely took place in February or March (deduced from the grains mentioned in the Bible) and God warned the Egyptians to protect their animals (9:20), leaving the earth damp and ripe for the breeding of locusts. Then all the chewed up crops would have worsened the spring dust-storms bringing the 9th plague—darkness. Even the 10th plague can be given a "natural" explanation (though the timing is supernatural)—the storing of damp crops with locust feces and poor air circulation (dust storm) causing infection in the top layer, used to feed the first-born. After this plague, Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go, and the Egyptians load them with treasures (12:36) to appease their God (and buy water in the desert perhaps).