The First Three Plagues

Jan 11, 2015

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה כָּבֵד לֵב פַּרְעֹה מֵאֵן לְשַׁלַּח הָעָם׃

And Hashem said to Moshe, “Pharaoh is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go.

Exodus 7:14

וַיֹּאמְרוּ הַחַרְטֻמִּים אֶל־פַּרְעֹה אֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים הִוא וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב־פַּרְעֹה וְלֹא־שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה׃

and the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of Hashem!” But Pharaoh's heart stiffened and he would not heed them, as Hashem had spoken.

va-yo-m'-RU ha-khar-tu-MEEM el par-OH ETZ-ba e-lo-HEEM HEE va-ye-khe-ZAK layv par-OH v'-lo sha-MA a-lay-HEM ka-a-SHER di-BER a-do-NAI

Exodus 8:15

At this point, the suffering of Egypt begins. God sends plague after plague against the Egyptians, demanding that the Israelites be permitted to serve God in the desert.

 

A number of patterns emerge throughout the plagues, revealing their grouping by threes. The first plague, blood, is accompanied by a warning at the banks of the Nile. The warning for the second plague, frogs, is given in Pharaoh’s palace. Pharaoh receives no warning whatsoever for the third plague, translated in the Israel Bible as gnats, but commonly known as lice. This warning pattern is repeated throughout the next six plagues (more about the tenth plague next week).

 

At first, the Egyptian magicians are able to duplicate the plagues, turning fresh water into blood and producing their own frogs. However, they are not able to recreate the lice, acknowledging for the first time that “this is the finger of God”.

 

The Israel Bible explains that the Nile is targeted for the first two plagues, blood and frogs, because it was the lifeblood of the Egyptian economy. Unlike Israel, which relies on rain for water and sustenance, Egypt depends on the Nile for its water (see Deuteronomy 11). When the Egyptians finally acknowledge God’s power with the plague of lice, His purpose — being recognized throughout the land — begins to be fulfilled.

 

Virtual Classroom Discussion

Sages and scholars throughout the centuries have discussed the symbolic meanings of the various plagues. Can you suggest why these particular plagues might have been sent against Pharaoh and his people? Why blood? Frogs? Gnats/lice? If we assume that God is sending punishments that fit the crime, why might He have chosen these plagues to punish the Egyptians?

 

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