Moses and the plagues (Ps 105:26-105:36)

“Yahweh sent his servant Moses whom he had chosen.

He sent Aaron whom he had chosen.

They performed his signs among them.

They performed miracles in the land of Ham.

He sent darkness.

He made the land dark.

They rebelled against his words.

He turned their waters into blood.

He caused their fish to die.

Their land swarmed with frogs,

Even in the chambers of their kings.

He spoke.

Then there came swarms of flies.

There were gnats throughout their country.

He gave them hail for rain.

He gave them lightning that flashed through their land.

He struck their vines.

He struck their fig trees.

He shattered the trees of their country.

He spoke.

Then the locusts came.

There were young locusts without number.

They devoured all the vegetation in their land.

They ate up the fruit of their ground.

He struck down the entire first born in their land.

He struck down the first issue of all their strength.”

This section is based on Exodus, chapters 3-10. First, Yahweh chose Moses and Aaron. Then he performed signs and miracles in the land of Ham, Egypt. He sent darkness. He turned waters into blood so that the fish died. He sent swarms of frogs, flies, and gnats throughout the country, even in the royal chambers. He sent hail and lightning instead of gentle rain. He struck down the vines, fig trees, and shattered all the trees. He then sent numerous locusts that ate all the vegetation and fruits of the land. Finally, he struck down the first born through the country, both among humans and animals. This was just about total destruction to the land of Ham, the Egyptians.

Yahweh is king (Ps 97:1-97:5)

“Yahweh is king!

Let the earth rejoice!

Let the many coastlands be glad!

Clouds and thick darkness are all around him.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Fire goes before him.

Fire consumes his adversaries on every side.

His lightning lights the world.

The earth sees it.

The earth trembles.

The mountains melt like wax

Before Yahweh,

Before the Lord of all the earth.”

Psalm 97 is another untitled psalm about the kingship of Yahweh.   Yahweh is the king who rules the earth. The earth and the coastlands rejoice and are glad. Clouds and darkness are all around Yahweh. Righteousness and justice are the foundations of this throne. Fire consumes all his adversaries. His lightning strikes the world. The earth sees it and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before Yahweh, the Lord of all the earth.

The power of the voice of Yahweh (Ps 29:5-29:8)

“The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars.

Yahweh breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf.

He makes Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of Yahweh flashes forth flames of fire.

The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness.

Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.”

The thunderous voice of Yahweh broke open the great cedars of Lebanon that had been part of the wood that made up the Temple in Jerusalem. Lebanon and its mountain area north of Israel had been friendly to David. However, Yahweh had control of them like a young calf. He also had Sirion acting like a young wild ox or a buffalo. Sirion was a Phoenician name for Mount Hermon. They also knew that the thunder usually accompanied lightning which set off flash fires. The thunderous storm even caused the earth to vibrate so that the wilderness land even shook. The wilderness of Kadesh, which was in the northern Syrian area where some battles had taken place, was also vulnerable to the thunderous voice of Yahweh.

Yahweh questions Job about the clouds (Job 38:34-38:38)

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds?

Will a flood of water cover you?

Can you send forth lightning?

Thus they may go and say to you.

‘Here we are!’

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts?

Who has given understanding to the mind?

Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?

Who can tilt the water skins of the heavens?

When the dust runs into a mass

And the clods cling together.”

Yahweh wanted to know if Job could control the waters in the clouds. Did he have anything to do with lightning? Could he speak to the clouds? Where did wisdom come from? Who put wisdom in your mind? Who was smart enough to count all the clouds? How did they tilt the water out of the water skins to make it come to earth? Why did water turn dust to clods? These were some of the unanswerable questions that Yahweh posed to Job.

Elihu addresses Job (37:14-37:20)

“Hear this,

O Job!

Stop!

Consider the wondrous works of God!

Do you know how God lays his command upon them?

He causes the lightning of his cloud to shine.

Do you know the balancing of the clouds?

His wondrous works is perfect in knowledge.

Your garments are hot

When the earth is still

Because of the south wind,

Can you,

Like him,

Spread out the skies?

Can you make it as hard as a molten mirror?

Teach us what we shall say to him!

We cannot draw up our case because of darkness.

Shall it be told him that I want to speak?

Did anyone ever wish to be swallowed up?”

Elihu turned to Job. He asked him how he compared to the great works of God. God puts the light in the clouds to produce lightning. God balances the clouds so that there is a heat differential. Your garments get cold and hot depending on the winds. We are in the dark and cannot speak in the face of God. Otherwise we would be swallowed up.

God controls thunder, lightning, and rain (Job 37:1-37:13)

“At this also my heart trembles.

My heart leaps out of its place.

Listen!

Listen to the thunder of his voice.

Listen to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.

Under the whole heaven he lets it loose.

His lightning goes to the corners of the earth.

After it his voice roars.

He thunders with his majestic voice.

He does not restrain the lightning when his voice is heard.

God thunders wondrously with his voice.

He does great things that we cannot comprehend.

To the snow he says.

‘Fall on the earth.’

The shower and the rain,

His heavy shower of rain,

Serve as a sign on everyone’s hand.

Thus all whom he has made may know it.

Then the animals go into their lairs,

They remain in their dens.

From its chamber comes the whirlwind.

Cold comes from the scattering winds.

By the breath of God ice is given.

The broad waters are frozen fast.

He loads the thick cloud with moisture.

The clouds scatter his lightning.

They turn round and round by his guidance.

They accomplish all that he commands them

On the face of the habitable world.

Whether for correction,

Or for his land,

Or for love,

He causes it to happen.”

God as the weather man continues in this hymn to the power of God. The voice of God can be heard in thunder. His lightning reaches the ends of the earth. He makes snow fall. He sends rains, heavy and light. We feel the rain as a way that God touches us. Animals know when to get out of the cold. God sends the cold and ice as he freezes up the rivers. God causes all this to happen here on earth. This is a Theo-centric climate concept. All comes from God, not man. He guides the climate to correct us, help the land, and show his love. God makes it happen. Humans are merely passive to the actions of God. This is very poetic and thus not literal. It is anthropomorphic in that we assign the voice of God, who has no voice, to the thunder. God does not literally speak to us in thunder.

The hymn to the divine power over the climate (Job 36:24-36:37)

“Remember to extol his work!

Men have sung to his work.

All people have looked on it.

Everyone watches it from far away.

Surely God is great!

We do not know him.

The number of his years is unsearchable.

He draws up the drops of water.

He distils his mist in rain.

The skies pour down rain.

Rain drops upon mortals abundantly.

Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds?

Can anyone understand the thundering of his pavilion?

See!

He scatters his lightning around him.

He covers the roots of the sea.

For by these he judges peoples.

He gives food in abundance.

He covers his hands with the lightning.

He commands it to strike the mark.

Its crashing tells about him.

He is jealous with anger against iniquity.”

Elihu wanted Job to understand and extol the power of God over the climate we live in. Interesting enough I began working on this the day that Pope Francis I issued his encyclical on the climate “Laudato Si.” Yet here, Elihu in his hymn clearly sees God as the controller of the climate. God controls the rain, so that quite often we pray to God for more or less rain. This is especially true in strong farming communities. They also pray for good harvests from the land. We have seen both drought and over flooding this year in the USA. God has control over thunder and lightning as well as the seas.   God is jealous and angry against the wicked. Perhaps we do not pray to God enough about the climate. Just as we have moved from the poetic flat world concept of sunrise and sunset to the earth moving around the sun, so too we might see climate as not the poetic unique concern of God alone, but see the impact of human actions on the climate also.

The problems of Job (Job 1:13-1:19)

“One day Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house. A messenger came to Job and said.

‘The oxen were plowing.

The donkeys were feeding beside them.

The Sabeans fell upon them.

They carried them off.

They killed the servants with the edge of the sword.

I alone have escaped to tell you.’

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said.

‘The fire of God fell from heaven.

It burned up the sheep and the servants.

It consumed them.

I alone have escaped to tell you.’

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said.

‘The Chaldeans formed three columns.

They made a raid upon the camels.

They carried them off.

They killed the servants with the edge of the sword.

I alone have escaped to tell you.’

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said.

‘Your sons and daughters were eating

And drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house.

Suddenly a great wind came across the desert.

It struck the four corners of the house.

It fell on the young people.

They are dead.

I alone have escaped to tell you.’”

Once again, we begin with the once upon a time concept of “one day” back here on earth. The 10 children of Job were eating and drinking wine together. In a very oral stylistic format, 4 messengers, one after another come to tell him the bad news about his estate and his family. The repetition of lines for each group indicates an oral tradition that made it easy to remember. First, the Sabeans, a southern Arab tribe or traders where present day Yemen is, stole his 500 oxen and 500 donkeys. They also killed all the servants except one. The queen of Sheba may have been from Sheba and part of the Semitic Sabeans, somehow a descendent of Shem, the son of Noah. Secondly, lightning from heaven, the fire of God, destroyed and burned the 7,000 sheep as well as the servants watching them, except for one. Thirdly, the Chaldeans, a predominant Semitic tribe near the Persian Gulf that was taken over by the Babylonians around 600 BCE, stole all his 3,000 camels. They killed all his servants watching them except one. Finally, all his 10 children died when their house fell on them during a great wind storm. The servants all died, except one. Disaster has hit Job on many fronts. Foreigners stole his livestock. Lightning and windstorms destroyed his family and sheep.

The theophany (Ex 19:16-19:25)

“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain.  The blast of a trumpet was so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.  Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God.  They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because Yahweh had descended upon it in fire.  The smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.  When the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak.  Then God would answer him in thunder.  When Yahweh descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, Yahweh summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.  Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Go down and warn the people not to break through to Yahweh to look.  Otherwise many of them will perish.  Even the priests who approach Yahweh must consecrate themselves or Yahweh will break out against them.’  And Moses said to Yahweh, ‘The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai.  You yourself warned us, saying, set limits around the mountain, and keep it holy.’  Yahweh said to him, ‘Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you.  But do not let either the priests or the people break through to come up to Yahweh.  Otherwise, he will break out against them.’  So Moses went down to the people and told them.”

This is an example of a theophany, an appearance of God that is very rare.  Only the holy people get to speak directly with Yahweh.  Yahweh came in a thick cloud with thunder and lightning on the mountain.  There was a loud trumpet blast.  This is a big deal as God appears in thunder and lightning.  Yahweh comes from above and rests on the mountain.  This is the classic concept that up is good and down is bad.  The good up God is powerful and speaks down to the people.   With the blasts of the trumpet louder, Moses would speak and Yahweh would respond using thunder.  Yahweh summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.  Then Yahweh told him to get Aaron and bring him up to the mountain top.  However, Moses was not to let any other people up, even the priests.

 

The seventh plague – hail and thunderstorm (Ex 9:13-9:35)

 

“Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, and say to him, thus says Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may worship me.  For this time I will send all my plagues upon you yourself, and upon your officials, and upon your people, so that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.  But this is why I have let you live to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth.  You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go. Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place.  Every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.’  Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of Yahweh hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place.    Those who did not regard the word of Yahweh left their slaves and livestock in the open field.”

Yahweh said that he was going to deliver the plague himself.   There is a warning about a severe hail and thunderstorm that will come tomorrow.  Some people heeded the warning.  Interesting enough, there are some Egyptian officials who fear the word of Yahweh.  They protected their livestock and slaves.  Others did not put their livestock and slaves under cover.

“Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that hail may fall on the whole land of Egypt, on humans and animals and all the plants of the field in the land of Egypt.’  Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and Yahweh sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth.  Yahweh rained hail on the land of Egypt.  There was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the open field throughout all the land of Egypt, both human and animal.  The hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree of the field.  Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.”

This is basis of the fire and brimstone sermons.  Then Moses by himself stretched out his staff toward heaven, and Yahweh sent thunder, large hail stones, and lightening.  Fire came down on the earth, probably lightening.  All the humans, animals, trees, and plants in the open fields were destroyed.   However, there was no hail in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.

“Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned.  Yahweh is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.  Pray to Yahweh!  Enough of Yahweh’s thunder and hail!  I will let you go.  You need stay no longer.’  Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to Yahweh.  The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is Yahweh’s.  But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear Yahweh our God.’  Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud.   But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they are late in coming up.  So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to Yahweh.  Then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer fell down on the earth.  But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials.  So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let Israelites go, just as Yahweh had spoken through Moses.”

Now, we have a change of heart, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and told them that he had sinned.  Yahweh is in the right.  I and my people are in the wrong.  Pray to Yahweh!  Enough of Yahweh’s thunder and hail!   Pharaoh will let them go.  Game over, let’s get out of here.  However, Moses, always the skeptic said that he did not think that Pharaoh feared Yahweh.  The late harvesting wheat included spelt, a hardy kind of wheat.  Moses, however, went out and stopped the hail and thunderstorms.  But you guessed it, Pharaoh hardened his heart.  Let’s get on to the next plague.