The Ancient Bible’s Clues

Egypt’s 10 Plagues

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

No other religion can validate its claim of Divine Origin, except Biblical adherents, for no other religion claims mass witnesses of a divine event. Revelation at Sinai remains the singular event where masses witnessed a supernatural phenomenon: a voice emanating from fire. All other religions demand belief, for they possess no such event, or they claim few witnesses, which can be conspiracy. But conspiracy cannot occur with millions, for conspiracy requires motive, and masses cannot share a common motive. All Bible’s statements share vital concepts. Nothing is extraneous, and all verses are formulated with divine precision; one does not simply read the Bible like a novel. God didn’t write it that way. Rather, He wrote the Bible with codes that can be unraveled only after years of tutelage under wise Rabbis. Therefore, we must patiently study until we are enamored by the hidden lessons we fortunately unveil. 

The first six plagues were unavoidable: God decreed blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, the deaths of the herds and boils, and Egypt could do nothing but endure their devastating onslaught. But regarding the seventh plague of hail, God offered the Egyptians an escape hatch:

[God said to Pharaoh], “…This time tomorrow I will rain down a very heavy hail, such as has not been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Therefore, order your livestock and everything you have in the open to be brought under shelter; every man and beast that is found outside, not having been brought indoors, shall perish when the hail comes down upon them!’”  Those among Pharaoh’s courtiers who feared the Lord’s word fled their slaves and livestock indoors; but those who paid no regard to the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field. (Exod. 9:18-21)

The hail was very heavy—fire flashing in the midst of the hail—such as had not fallen on the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. (Exod. 9:24)

What was the intent in this seventh plague’s deviation, allowing Egypt to avoid the hail’s damage? What is God’s intent in sharing that Pharaoh’s “servants” (not the Egyptians) feared God and sought refuge? We are not told that they successfully shielded their servants and animals, but that they “feared God.” Torah focusses on their attitude, not their salvation. 

The following plague of locusts again records Pharaoh’s servants’ response: 

Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him, “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go to worship the Lord their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is destroyed?” (Exod. 10:7)

Why are Pharaoh’s servant’s reactions recorded twice? They fled their slaves and animals from hail and they warned Pharaoh of the locusts’ destruction of Egypt. 

The plagues had a specific design, and were not intended to simply destroy. God wished to strip Pharaoh’s many layers of security. God allowed his servants to avoid hail, and the focus is not on their success in protecting their possessions, but as Torah says, the focus is that, “they feared God.” Of what relevance is this? It is of great relevance…to Pharaoh. For Pharaoh thereby witnessed his servant defecting him and favoring God. Thereafter, during the plague of locusts, Pharaoh’s servants definitively warn Pharaoh that, “Egypt is destroyed.”  Again, his servants favored God over Pharaoh.

Through hail and locusts, Pharaoh experienced the progressive insubordination of his servants. This layer of security Pharaoh enjoyed until now—his dominion—was another line of resistance God obliterated in His plan to eliminate Egypt’s idolatrous values as upheld by Pharaoh. Not only did God destroy objective matters such as Egypt’s Nile god through blood and frogs, and reduce animal worship through Egypt’s deified animals attacking them, but God addressed Egypt’s ruler’s internal psychological workings by allowing his servants to defect his authority. Removing this security, Pharaoh could more readily accept God’s true reign. 

Another layer of security was also removed. Torah says, “I will rain down a very heavy hail, such as has not been in Egypt  from the day it was founded until now” (Ibid. 9:18), and, “such hail as had not fallen on the land of Egypt since it had become a nation” (Ibid. 9:24). Both, the land of Egypt and the nation of Egypt were undermined by hail. The people and the land never experienced such catastrophe. But why does God wish to undermine the “people” and the “land”?  It is because in one’s national identity as a people, and in one’s identification with one’s land, do people find some sense of collective identity and thereby, “value.” This value intends to defend one against another, namely, God. 

It is the very value invested in the masses that cultures are formed and sustained. A human being is deceived that in numbers, there is truth. But from the popularity of idolatry, this notion is refuted. People also find a certain security in their history of living on a certain parcel of soil. Man attributes a false sense of worth due to millennia of ancestors dwelling on the same location. “This is our land.” This too is a worthless value, as what value is there to “where” one lives? The only value is what one believes as truth and how he lives his life. Where one lives, and for how long he and his ancestors lived there, does not contribute anything to a person’s worth, which is truly gauged by his internal intellectual and moral compass, not his external zip code. 

Now, God’s message that this hail is unparalleled by any previous storm from “before” the people’s existence and the land was occupied, awakens one to that prior era where Egypt and her people had not yet existed. This transient nature of the land and of the people eliminated the value that an Egyptian placed on either, paving the way to recognize God. The land and the people were no longer viewed as a force with which God must recon.

A third idea is learned from boils, the sixth plague:

And the astrologers could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boils were on the astrologers and all of Egypt (Exodus 9:11).

Boils—a malady of the skin, not bones or muscles—do not affect posture. And, of what relevance are the boils on “all of Egypt?”  Why mention that “all Egyptians” had boils, if the verse's message concerns only the astrologers' inability to stand? Furthermore, of what significance is the astrologers' inability to stand before Moses, as opposed to standing before Pharaoh or others? And if they truly could not stand, let them sit! But “standing before someone” has another meaning…

The astrologers (in their sustained deceit of Pharaoh) “attempted” to reproduce the plagues (knowing they could not), only to expose their lie. When they could not reproduce the plague of lice, they hid their incapability behind the lying claim, “…it is the finger of God” (Exod. 8:15). It is significant that God records their feeble attempts. So significant, that it appears from the very few words concerning the plague of boils, that the objective of this plague was precisely to disarm their claims of superiority of astrology and magic. Torah verses are selective in their messages, not merely recounting every single historical occurrence. Our verse teaches that boils purposefully targeted the astrologers. “And the astrologers could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boils were on the astrologers and all of Egypt.”  This refers not to posture, but their inability to sustain their dignity...they could not “appear” before Moses who outperformed them. They were ashamed. But why were they any more ashamed during the plague of boils? The answer is the second part of the verse: “for the boils were on the astrologers and all of Egypt.”  Why was their “equal” status to all other Egyptians an embarrassment to them?  We see the answer quite readily; it was their very equality to all other Egyptians that disarmed their claims to greatness. They were no better. They could not defend themselves from boils. What type of powerful astrologer allows painful blisters to afflict them over days? It is the liar who allows this to happen, since in fact, he has no more defense from boils than any other Egyptian. It was this diminution of status that was their embarrassment, and why they could not “appear” before Moses. God unmasked another of Pharaoh’s security in his Egyptian astrologers and magicians. They are charlatans. And God’s plan was a complete success, as we never again hear from the astrologers.

More and more, God exposed Pharaoh to his false beliefs, all to once again, pave the way to his and his people’s recognition of the one Supreme Being. And although God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the five latter plagues, the lessons were witnessed by Pharaoh himself, and Egypt, as God said, “Nevertheless I have spared you for this purpose: in order to show you My power, and in order that My fame may resound throughout the world” (Exod. 9:16).

Thus, the plagues were certainly a remarkable show, but Torah shares subtle clues that enlighten us to the many more subtle purposes of God’s actions. If we “let the words of Torah speak to us,” we open our minds to God’s amazing Bible and its profound and concealed lessons.