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So we would expect the ninth plague to be very serious indeed, something that threatened, even if it did not immediately take, human life.
Instead we read what seems like an anti-climax: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand towards the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt – darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand towards the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days.
They would have understood them as the work of Egyptian deities who, they believed, were sometimes angry with the people and took their revenge.
The second is the quite different symbolism the first two plagues were meant to have for the Israelites, and for us.
The river that turned to blood, and the Heket-like frogs that infested the land, were not afflictions as such, but rather coded communications, as if to say to the Egyptians: reality has an ethical structure.See what it feels like when the gods you turned against the Israelites turn on you.If used for evil ends, the powers of nature will turn against man, so that what he does will be done to him in retribution. Hence the tenth plague, to which all the others were a mere prelude.What is at stake in this confrontation is the difference between myth – in which the gods are mere powers, to be tamed, propitiated or manipulated – and biblical monotheism, in which ethics (justice, compassion, human dignity) constitute the meeting point of God and mankind.The symbolism of these plagues, often lost on us, would have been immediately apparent to the Egyptians. The first is why the Egyptian magicians declared, “This is the finger of God” (Ex. The first two plagues would not have surprised them at all.