By: William J Jackson
Interestingly enough, the ten plagues of Egypt have become a very popular topic for our entertainment industry. Many high profile networks have presented documentaries dedicated to explaining the events of those days, including *National Geographic, **the History Channel, and the ***Discovery Channel just to name a few. All these docudramas present a host of theories for and reasons behind the phenomenon of the plagues. If HaShem wanted to rely on His natural assets, why not? But we should be wary not to explain away the miracle by overlooking the details in the Torah.
Turning the Nile Red (Exodus 7:20): Many biologists have reported that an alga could have turned the Nile red. This occurrence would have resulted in fish dying and its waters becoming putrid thus supporting Exodus 7:18. This alga could have been the Burgundy Blood algae1, a toxic bacterium species that gets its name from its color. Other theories suggest gases or silt turned the Nile River red. The problem, however, lies in Exodus 7:17. Here God states he will turn the Nile waters to “blood”. The Hebrew word used is “dam” (Strong’s 1818), which means blood and only blood. The word for red is “adom” (Strong’s 122). Why wouldn’t that word be used if HaShem had simply been turning the Nile red instead of turning it to blood? To learn more, let’s look deeper into the text. In Exodus 7:19, HaShem did not limit himself to the Nile; He said all the bodies of water, including ponds. He even mentioned water in stone and wood vessels. Yes, algae, silt or even certain gases could contaminate the Nile, but what about the waters not connected to the Nile?
The Nile red algae event is thought to have had a domino effect in initiating the other plagues:
– the frogs leave the contaminated Nile (plague 2)
– the frogs die, causing an infestation of insects (plague 3 & 4)
– insects bring disease to livestock (plague 5)
– boils start to affect both livestock and humans (plague 6)
But the Nile turning to blood would cause the same chain of events.
As we move on to plague seven, we find it one of the hardest miracles to explain away. As stated in Exodus 9:24 “…there was hail, and fire flaming within the hail”. Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg and the Jewish Sages have referred to this event as “A Miracle within a Miracle”2. The aforementioned documentaries either don’t touch on this plague or suggest limited hypotheses with no proof. They are seemingly silent, much like Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus 8:14-15. Here, Pharaoh’s magicians admitted they could not replicate the plague of lice and said it was the finger of God. Likewise, the scientific community cannot explain this plague away, and their muteness gives testimony that it was the finger of God.
We see in Exodus 10:14 the introduction of another plague. This is the plague of the locust, and it is seemingly easy to accept without giving it much thought. Locust swarms in Egypt are not all that unusual, especially in a place where scientist would have to explain them. But as Exodus 10:13 states, this locust came from the East. Locusts usually come into Egypt from the Sudan and Ethiopia, meaning they would come from a south to south westerly direction. Some bible commentators have assumed that this was a mistake in the Torah3. Maybe this is HaShem’s signature showing us He was the one behind the phenomenon, and it is not just some coincidence.
Exodus 10:22 ushers in our ninth plague of thick darkness that lasted for three days. Many scientists accredit this event to a dust storm or even volcanic ash. The problem is Exodus 10:23 ”…all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings”, as apposed to the Egyptians who did not have light. Yes, some could say the dust storm or volcanic ash did not come over Goshen (where the Israelites lived). However, HaShem had no problem using the word Goshen for two of the other plagues (flies and hail). Here the word “moshab”, which means dwelling, is used in relation to His people.
Now for the grand finally: Exodus 12:29-30, which proclaims the death of the first-born. The theories range in the scientific community from carbon monoxide poisoning to moldy grain created by the other plagues. In history, these factors have been responsible for mass killings, but the death of the first born of both man and animals requires further explanation. This plague, like the others, cannot be accounted for by mere happenstance; it’s uniqueness gives testimony to the finger of God.
Remember that Pharaoh’s magicians were also able to replicate the occurrences Moses and Aaron summoned (Exodus 7:11, 22, 8:3). But there is a point when HaShem proved to all that these were His supernatural events and not just coincidences. HaShem wants us to study the Torah. In so doing, we are worshiping Him. Relying on someone else to give us tidy little answers robs us of the opportunity to get to know Him and His word.
(1) Richard Gray, Biblical plagues really happened say scientists, The Telegraph, 27 Mar 2010
(2) Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg, Barad: A Miracle within a Miracle
(3) Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers (Exodus 10:13)
*National Geographic Mysteries of the Bible: Exodus Revealed (2006)
**History Channel, The Exodus Decoded (2006)
***Discovery Channel’s Biblical Mysteries Explained Exodus (2008)