Let’s talk about plagues!

If you don’t do what I say, then I’m going to hurt someone you don’t care about!  Does that sound like a good way to force someone to do what you want?  No?  But that’s what happens in the story of Pesakh (Passover).

Ancient Egypt was ruled by an absolute monarch who owned all land and whatever it produced.  The entire populace worked for him.  We read in Genesis that all the grain in the country belonged to the Pharaoh and that the people who grew the grain then had to pay the Pharaoh if they wanted some to eat.  Clearly, the Pharaoh did not care about the residents of Egypt.

The story tells us that after Moses asked the Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave and the Pharaoh’s refusal, 10 plagues befell Egypt to force the Pharaoh to accede to Moses’ request.

Why didn’t the first 9 plagues work?  Water pollution, frogs, lice, wild animals, livestock disease, boils, hail and locusts devastated ordinary Egyptians.  Even if the locusts ate the crops, whatever was left went to the Pharaoh.  Giant hail didn’t hurt the Pharaoh’s palace as it might the homes of poorer people.  Livestock disease meant that the ordinary farmers had nothing to eat and didn’t have livestock to sell to buy food from the Pharaoh.  All these terrible plagues did nothing to change the Pharaoh’s mind because they happened to people he did not care about.  Not until the 10th plague that killed his heir did he relent.

So, why did the authors of the story have the god send the first nine plagues, these destructive natural disasters?  It was pretty obvious that they wouldn’t work to affect the ruler.  They only hurt ordinary people who weren’t responsible for the economic system of the country. 

Well, I don’t really know why the authors included this story – although one can assume it was to show the power of their god – but I do know what we can learn from it because we see the lessons playing out in our time.  We see that natural disasters devastate ordinary people but that big shots like, say, US Senators, can always escape them.  If we’d paid attention to the plague story, we’d have been less shocked.  We see that economic sanctions that countries put on other countries really hurt only the ordinary people – not the Ayatollahs or the Putins.  If we’d paid attention to the plague story, we’d have known this. 

So let’s remember when we try to influence other countries that hurting ordinary people is not the best way to achieve our goals.  And let’s remember that we should elect officials who actually care about ordinary people.

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