Exodus 10:21-29, the darkness

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by Helen, Aug 11, 2002.

  1. Helen

    Helen
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    The Plague of Darkness

    This plague sounds so simple to cover in a study! I’m a day late because I found out it was not!

    Darkness is normal. What was going on with THIS darkness? I have read so many theories now, and some of them are REALLY wacky, that my head is spinning. The “what was it” answers include the following:

    1. Fog – as in pea soup variety
    2. Volcanic ash cloud
    3. Entering deep into the tail of a comet
    4. The eyes of the Egyptians were blinded, but the Israelites weren’t
    5. Supernatural, miraculous heavy darkness

    Where do I stand?

    Fog – probably not. Goshen was not affected and it, being one of the greenest areas around, should have been even foggier than the rest.

    Volcanic ash cloud – possible. The same winds that blew in the storm and the locusts could have been responsible for this with the possibility that the wind itself blew in such a way from such a direction as to keep it away from Goshen.

    Tail of a comet – improbable – Goshen would not have been kept out of it

    Egyptian eyes blinded – I don’t think so; this does not seem to agree with the meaning of the text.

    Supernatural – a possibility never to be denied.

    Something else? To me, in my mind, if there were a natural cause for this that God used, it was probably volcanic. Volcanic ash can turn waters a brownish red. The bright red of an algae bloom would not look like blood, but waters thickened with volcanic red ash could. We read that when Moses stretched his hand to the sky, that the darkness covered the land. The darkness, then, seemed to have come from the sky. Volcanic ash would do that. Volcanic explosions come in different varieties. An initial explosion propelling massive amounts of the iron-rich materials which would have settled relatively rapidly (turning exposed waters reddish-brown and possibly thickening them) followed by a further explosion which sent a massive ash cloud into the sky would account for both the red waters and the darkness as well as the possibility of initiating the massive hail storm and the winds that sent in the locusts. The second ash (or first if it was ejected high enough) ash cloud would then settle down later, choking the land. The fact that Moses was told to throw dust into the air for the plague of gnats or small flies might also be an indication of air beginning to show the signs of being choked with dust and ash.

    I spent some time searching the net for volcanic activity in the past in the Middle East, and particularly around Egypt, as well as prevailing winds. Egypt is next to the Red Sea, which marks a fault line between the continents of Asia and Africa. There are volcanoes in Africa where the Nile originates and across the Red Sea from Egypt. The prevailing winds, however, blow from the Mediterranean in the north, but they are famous for some large volcanoes, too. So the conditions are right for a volcanic explanation.

    Please keep in mind that in exploring the natural possibilities here I am in no way denying the miracles of timing and rescue that are clearly God’s hand on His people!

    If the darkness was supernatural, no explanations are needed. The one thing just about all the commentators agree on is that this time there was a direct message from God about the powerlessness of the sun god the Egyptians worshiped:

    Covering up the light of the sun in ancient Egypt was not a small matter. A famous Egyptian praise of the sun god writes: "I am he among the gods who cannot be repulsed. Who is he? He is Ra - when he arises on the eastern horizon of heavens." The daily sunrise was seen as a testimony to Ra's superior power, for nothing could hold him back. So … blocking out the affect of the sun for three days was the ultimate sign of defeat of the supreme sun god.
    From: http://www.tzemachdovid.org/Vsamachta/Pesach01/darkness.shtml

    In the Jewish Antiquities, Josephus states there was "darkness so thick that their eyes were blinded by it and their breath choke, and they either met with a miserable end or lived in terror of being swallowed up by the fog." [Jewish Antiquities II. 308]

    I am sure Josephus knew what fog was, and I cannot accuse him of otherwise, but I’ve been in some pretty thick fogs, where I could not see more than one or two feet ahead, and there was never a choking sensation or a feeling of being ‘swallowed up’ in a terrifying way. It’s just really wet and cold!

    The Jewish commentators were by far the more verbal about this plague, so I have quoted a number of them, with internet references, below. I have added a few comments here and there, but I think they present their own thoughts quite well and don’t need my help! One comment I saw over and over again was that tradition has it that the darkness covered up the burial of those Jews who were stricken by God because they did not want to leave Egypt, and the Jews who were alive did not want the Egyptians to think God had deserted them! As you will see below, there is an incredible amount of extra-biblical material in the Jewish teachings, but I found it fascinating.

    The effect of the darkness, as described in this week's reading, was that "people could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was" (Ex. 10:23). The darkness prevented all movement among the Egyptians. The Egyptians, who had enslaved the Israelites, refusing to allow them to go three days' journey into the wilderness (Ex. 5:3), were smitten with a plague that imprisoned them in their homes, preventing them from going anywhere.

    The Egyptians, who had embittered the lives of their slaves beyond belief, were given a taste of the bitterness of bondage in the plague of darkness, measure for measure.

    Thus, in the story of the plagues darkness represents bondage. The same is true in Lamentations (3:1-2): The man "who has known affliction," i.e., subjugation like the bondage in Egypt (cf. Ex. 1:11-12; 3:7), is driven in "unrelieved darkness" (lit. "darkness without light"). If darkness in biblical thought represents bondage, seeing the light signifies freedom and liberation. An ancient Babylonian text makes explicit the connection between seeing light and being liberated: "Whoever has not freed the prisoner, ... whoever has not shown light to the prisoner" (Shurpu, Tablet 2, lines 29-30, ed. E. Reiner, p. 13). The best biblical example for this metaphor is in Isaiah 9:1: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a brilliant light," i.e., will be liberated from the yoke of the gentiles. The darkness that generations of Hebrews suffered in Egypt became brilliant light, and even prior to leaving Egypt, during the plague of darkness, the Israelites experienced the sweet taste of freedom, for "all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings" (Ex. 10:23).

    From: http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Eparasha/bo/gre.html

    One man says it was a thick fog, and goes on with an interesting comment:

    One of my favorite comments concerning the plagues regards the 9th plague, the plague of darkness. The Torah says that the darkness was thick, that it could be "felt", that it was tangible, and that it affected only the Egyptians while the Jews had light. How can we possibly understand this?

    Let me share with you one commentary which is obviously midrash, not the intended meaning of the text but is brilliant.

    One Rabbi indicated that the darkness was not out in the world but rather in the eyes of the Egyptians. God had covered the eyes of the Egyptians with a thick covering which caused them to live in darkness. This satisfies all of the texts in the Torah: It was tangible and affected only the Egyptians, not the Israelites.

    I love this commentary. How often is darkness a matter of our own blindness. How often do we, each of us, live our lives with our eyes closed not allowing the light to come in. The Egyptians, blinded by hatred and enslavement of another people had already blinded their eyes to truth and justice. This plague, when interpreted this way, brings out this fact and encourages all of us to live our lives with our eyes open wide, not succumbing to the tendency we all have to close our eyes to others and to truth.

    From: http://www.hvcn.org/info/bethisrael/rabbi/plagues3.html

    Was it simply a fog? Here is a comment that would seem to deny that:

    Psychologically, solitary confinement can make someone go stir crazy. Especially if the darkness was so thick that the Egyptians could not move. This darkness might have been especially torturous because the Egyptians did not know when or if this darkness would ever lift.
    From http://www.tzemachdovid.org/Vsamachta/Pesach01/darkness.shtml

    Pharaoh’s behavior during the ten plagues seems incomprehensible. During several plagues, Pharaoh capitulates and agrees to let the Jewish people leave Egypt. Yet as soon as each plague ends Pharaoh recants—even though he knows that his stubbornness will result in further punishment for Egypt.

    Equally unfathomable is the indifference of the Egyptian population toward the exhortations of Moshe. After accurately predicting six plagues of doom, Moshe forewarns the people of the upcoming hail and tells them not to leave their slaves and animals out in the fields, lest they be killed.
    Nonetheless, the Torah reports, many Egyptians did just that and their slaves and livestock perished. What accounted for their stubbornness?

    The Kotzker Rebbe makes a striking observation. "Pharaoh rose in the night," the Torah reports, and Rashi comments that he rose from his bed.

    Imagine: after enduring nine terrible plagues, Moshe warns Pharaoh that at midnight every firstborn in the country would die. Pharaoh completely ignores this prophecy and goes to sleep! How could he be so relaxed in face of such compelling danger?

    Seven days after this plague, another remarkable incident occurs. In perhaps the greatest miracle of human history, G-d splits the waters of the Red Sea, and the Jewish people pass through. The Egyptian army follows and, to nobody’s surprise, G-d brings the waters crashing down on them.

    Why did the Egyptians think that G-d, who had been defending the Jewish people all along, would suspend the waters’ onslaught for the benefit of the Jews’ enemies?

    The Torah explains the mentality of Pharaoh and the Egyptian people simply: They "did not take to heart the word of G-d." Human beings are given the capacity to ignore even the most obvious truths, something psychologists call "denial."

    With powerful symbolism, the ninth plague of darkness reflects this irrational behavior in the Egyptians.

    The Rabbis tell us that when a Jew visited an Egyptian home, there was light for the Jew and darkness for the Egyptian. The very same spot was both light and dark, depending on the viewer’s perception. The Jew saw the hand of G-d clearly revealed, but the Egyptian remained in the dark, seeing nothing at all.
    Thus, the plague of darkness preceded the final blow, providing the key psychological insight into the mental blindness that prevailed in Egypt.
    There is an important lesson to be learned from these events: We all have traces of Pharaoh’s personality lingering within us. We, too, sometimes deny self-evident truths and close our eyes to blatant realities.

    Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, in his classic work of Jewish ethics, Mesilas Yesharim, instructs every human being to ask himself the question, "Mah chovosi ba’olami?" What is my obligation in life? Why did G-d create me with unique talents and abilities? What is the purpose of my existence?

    This inquiry is fundamental, yet many people live out their lives never once having pondered this question and its implications.

    If the behavior of Pharaoh and the Egyptian people strikes us as absurd, perhaps we should look at ourselves and become inspired to open our souls, to see the light of the Almighty which illuminates the entire world.

    Rabbi Yaakov Luban
    From http://www.ou.org/torah/ti/5759/bo59.htm

    Pharaoh said to (Moses), "Go away from me! Beware... do not see my face any more...." Moses said, "You have spoken correctly. I shall never see your face again" (10:28-29).

    This exchange took place after the Plague of Darkness. G-d 'hardened Pharaoh's heart' (10:19) and he refused to let the Israelites go. According to Sforno this does not mean that Pharaoh lost his power of making a free choice, but that G-d gave him the power to withstand the agony of the plagues: should Pharaoh indeed let them leave, it would be out of recognizing that G-d's will was to be obeyed.

    Why, therefore did Pharaoh throw Moses out of his palace after the Plague of Darkness? Of all the Plagues, this one was the least unpleasant. Unlike all other plagues they did not cause pain or permanent damage to body or property.

    One reason may be that the plague of darkness advanced the very message that Pharaoh forced himself to ignore. The previous eight plagues conveyed G-d's displeasure in the present, but nothing in the future. The absolute blackness of the dark - as a plague in its own right - symbolized something terrible to come should Pharaoh not release the Israelites as G-d willed.

    Pharaoh understood this hint well enough. His response was to continue his rebellion against the Divine Command a stage further. Previously he refused to let the Israelites go hoping that things would carry on no worse than before. Now this most intense darkness told him that death and total destruction were imminent. His heart was indeed hardened by G-d - but only to the degree that the inconvenience of the darkness would not influence his decision. His stubbornness knowing that permanent doom was at hand was entirely his own choice. Therefore his sin was of the highest order. It could loosely be compared to the 250 men who took part in Korach's revolt. There the rebels sinned 'against their souls' (Num. 17:3). (Rashi on Num. 16:7) implies that those men were so determined to rebel, that they did so in the full knowledge that they would die for it. Similarly Pharaoh had previously recognized the supremacy of G-d and His Judgement over himself - This time I have sinned: G-d is the Righteous One, and I and my people are the wicked ones (9:27). Notwithstanding, he chose to rebel against Him, in the full knowledge that it would be futile.

    This would explain why Pharaoh threw Moses out. Given such a state of mind, he found Moses' words and indeed presence more unbearable after the Plague of Darkness than after any other plague. It would also explain why the ultimate doom of the Death of the Firstborn followed directly after the Plague of Darkness.

    From: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/bo60.htm

    Along this line, I ran across (while going through the search engine links) a “Ministry of Darkness” webpage. I was ready to flick it right off when I noticed something it said – that there was a darkness coming in which there was no hope and no help. It was glorifying this darkness, so forget the webpage! But think about it – no help and no hope. In Egypt, the plague of darkness came right before death. The symbolism struck me in conjunction with my accidental hit on that webpage…

    The plague of darkness challenged the Biblical scholars. The Egyptians could not confront the earlier plagues. However, there was a very simple way of combating darkness. The Egyptians could have lit fires in their own homes. Why were the Egyptians unable to confront the plague of darkness in a rational fashion?

    Perhaps, the Egyptians lost their ability to respond rationally. Like Pharaoh, they developed the hardening of the heart that prevented them from changing their response. They accepted the status quo passively without any initiative. They could not think of a simple way of combating the darkness. The darkness of Egypt might also be seen as an inner darkness, a darkness of the soul. Sadly, we know the results of intense, clinical depression. The soul truly becomes dark. The clinically depressed individual perceives that life is hopeless, that he or she is trapped, that there is no exit from the situation. The dark soul feels there is absolutely no solution to a predicament. All is lost. Such were the feelings of the darkened souls of Egypt at the time of the ninth plague.

    Our sages teach us that the darkness of Egypt was so thick that one person could not see another. When we cannot reach out to another person, we are truly enshrouded in darkness. The Egyptians lost their ability to relate to one another. Isolation is a natural outcome of depression. When we are ensnared by the darkness of the soul, we certainly cannot reach out and embrace the world around us. We are trapped within ourselves and cannot escape. This spiritual darkness is truly a plague.

    A folktale of the world to come shares this lesson. The legend claims that in the next world, both heaven and hell will have the incredible food of the afterlife. The table will be set to perfection. However, the only way of feeding will be with use of very long utensils. In hell, the individuals starve, as the utensils are worthless, since a person cannot reach their mouth with them. In heaven, the individuals dine luxuriously, as they feed one another. We are truly surrounded by darkness when we cannot reach out to our families and to our communities.

    The Torah tells us that the Israelites had light in their dwellings. What has been the light of our people? The light of our people has been the light of wisdom, the light of Torah, the light of community. There is the inner light of the soul that is nourished on faith and hope. There is the light of teaching that uplifts the interdependence of one member of the household of Israel upon another. This was the light of the homes of Israel during the ninth plague. This is the light that continues to sustain us generations later.

    In the Torah, darkness, hoshech, is associated with the chaos of the primeval universe. G-d transcends the darkness through the creation of light by his word, "Yehi Or", "Let there be light." In order to banish darkness, G-d must reach out to Creation. G-d must give the darkness a name - "Lailah" and expel it from the day. So, we also must banish that darkness that precludes us from reaching out and transforming the world. The curse of darkness is the next to the last plague. The darkness of the soul is indeed a reflection of the very last plague - the death of the first- born. A darkened soul, without hope and light, is a type of spiritual death. We hope that the light of Israel, its faith and belief, will continue to be our inspiration. Just as Israel had light in the midst of its slavery, we too can find that light in our own time of challenge.

    From: http://www.shaareytefilla.org/sermons/Bo1.htm

    It was immediately after this time of darkness that the Israelites are instructed by God to ask the Egyptians for gold and silver. Knowing that the God of the Israelites was claiming responsibility for these plagues, it is not hard to imagine that the Egyptians were more than willing to hand over just about anything if it would appease their God and stop the catastrophes.

    The end of chapter 10 recounts not only that the Lord had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but that the Pharaoh orders Moses never to appear before him again.

    “Just as you say,” Moses replied, “I will never appear before you again.”

    The Pharaoh had just run out of chances. Moses had been his connection with the God who saves. Pharaoh broke that connection himself and Moses agreed to it.

    There was nothing left now but death for Pharaoh and those who followed him.

    [ August 11, 2002, 11:33 PM: Message edited by: Helen ]
     
  2. tyndale1946

    tyndale1946
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    Helen here is some spiritual food for thought... The Apostles having heard the promises of Jesus Christ... walking and talking with him and being constantly in their presence. What darkness were they in for three days as they waited for his resurrection?... Didn't Peter say I go fishing?... What were the thoughts of the others who couldn't see their hand in front of their face. Those who crucified Jesus said well that's the last of that trouble maker. What of the Apostles and his disciples?... Did they really believe he would be resurrected?... Three days of darkness... Each for the three persons in the Godhead... The Father...The Son... and Holy Spirits promises were sure!... Just my thoughts... Brother Glen [​IMG]
     
  3. Clint Kritzer

    Clint Kritzer
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