The famous Abbott and Costello routine, wherein the two comedians debate who is on first base, is amusing for a number of reasons. One is that just when it seems some understanding has been reached, the conversation reverts to confusion. It’s also amusing because there’s nothing significant at stake. When a similar-in-spirit exchange occurs between two people and there is something important on the line—like the lives of a million Israelites—then the back-and-forth is maddening. When it takes ten rounds, it’s as boring as it is infuriating.
Turns out, God made it this way for Moses and the Pharaoh.
So Moses has been charged with asking the Pharaoh to release the Israelites so that they can go worship God in the desert. The plan is for them to flee from there. Because he didn’t want to give up his free labor, Pharaoh will need some convincing.
And so, at their first meeting, Moses breaks out the miracles handed to him from God. First, he turns his staff into a snake. Pharaoh is unimpressed, which might have been because his magicians did the same thing—which didn’t seem strange to anyone, apparently. But Moses (and God) have more up there sleeve. In the subsequent meetings—nine more—Moses confronts Pharaoh (who is suspiciously easy to get a hold of) with the same preamble (literally, we get to hear it nine more times) and more signs that he is who he says he is. In order, he turns the Nile into blood (yes, blood), rained down a plague of frogs, and unleashed a plague of gnats. How one is not convinced we these signs, I’m unsure, thought the fact that Pharaoh’s magicians come through in the clutch yet again to replicate Moses… except for the gnats. That they could not pull off. Still, Pharaoh isn’t having it. When Moses brings about the plague of flies, Pharaoh concedes. But when the flies stop, he changes his mind.
Thus our new pattern: Plague of liver stock, Pharaoh unmoved. Plague of boils, nope. Plague of hail? Okay, I give up. Then the hail stops. Not so fast. Plague of locusts, okay, this time, I give up. Locusts retreat, not so fast. The plague of darkness, okay, no, I mean it, go, and never appear before me again. But God offers the plague on the first born for good measure, and the Israelites are on their way. No wonder Moses left their last encounter “hot with anger.”
I have to admit, I was excited when I approached the Plague of the frogs section. I was hoping to have that frog scene in Magnolia make sense all a sudden. But I was disappointed. I’m trying to imaging people dealing with all those frogs and not breaking out into hysteria. Hard to picture, but it is hard not to smile thinking about these frogs going everywhere. Why frogs? Who’s afraid of a frog? Now granted, the numbers are the issue here, but still.
The last thing that struck me as strange was God working against Moses. Of course Moses needed a challenge, but, come on, 10 tries? Seems a little sadistic to challenge Moses so (after all, he had PLENTY of tests coming his way once the journey began). And even if he really was getting at Pharaoh, it seems like there were several other ways he could mess with him. I mean, he’s God, right?