Exodus 5-8

Moses and Aaron ask Pharaoh to “let my people go that they may celebrate a festival” for God.  Pharaoh not only refuses, he punishes the Israelites by maintaining their quota of mud bricks and refusing to give them straw, forcing them to find straw themselves.  God speaks to Moses, saying “I did not make Myself known to them [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob] by my name YHVH” and revealing his plan to free the Israelites from slavery.  Genealogy of Moses and Aaron.

Moses demonstrates his power to Pharaoh by casting down his rod; it became a serpent.  The Egyptian magicians did the same with their spells, so Pharaoh was unimpressed.  Moses (or maybe Aaron) holds out his rod above the Nile (or maybe above all waters of Egypt), turning the water into blood and killing the fish.  The magicians again replicated this spell, so Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites leave.  Aaron then turns the dust into lice throughout Egypt, which the magicians could not replicate.  The next plague is of insects, after which Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites leave to sacrifice to God.  God removes the insects, after which Pharaoh changes his mind again.

Commentary:

  • 6:2-7:13 is from the P source, and is a variant of 3:1-6:1 (from JE).  In this version, Moses is to demand unconditional release of the Israelites, not just permission to leave temporarily to sacrifice to God.
  • Of the ten plagues, the first nine can be divided into three groups of three plagues.  For each triad, Moses warns Pharaoh in the morning about the first plague, warns Pharaoh at an unspecified time about the second, and doesn’t warn Pharaoh about the third.
  • The ten plagues are cobbled together from different sources, namely J, E, and P.  In P, the plagues are meant to demonstrate God’s power; in JE, the plagues are punishment.  The inclusion of multiple sources is why, in 7:17, Moses is asked to turn the Nile into blood, while in 7:19, Aaron is asked to turn all the water of Egypt into blood, even though the same plague is being described.
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