The Plagues in Egypt

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The Plagues and Their Effect
“Indeed We afflicted the Pharaoh and his people with years of drought and scarcity of fruit, so they might take heed.  But, whenever good came to them they would say: ‘This is our due.’

And if they suffered from evil, they would consider it an omen ascribed to Moses and whoever was with him.  Verily, their omens are God given, yet most of them would not know.” (Quran 7:130-131)

The first two plagues sent by God were long term, lasting years.  In fact, they may have been intermittent.  Drought would afflict the farmers for years, creating famine in the land because crops would scarcely grow.  Then rains would come, producing the crops, but when harvest arrived, scarcely any fruit or grain would be left to gather.  One of the reasons a crop does not produce fruit is the blighting of their florescence in spring, which can be brought about by many reasons, such fungal parasites, insects or hail.  Whenever a fertile season occurred, the Egyptians would assume it was due to their adherence to their traditional ways, but when they felt the pinch of deprivation, they would blame it on the magical machinations of their adversaries.  This continued through the five plagues that followed the two mentioned above.[1]

“And they said: ‘Whatever sign you bring to enchant us (by sorcery), we will not believe in you.’

Both the Pharaoh and his advisors were determined to stay on their path of error:

‘So We sent on them the flood, locusts, weevils, frogs, and blood as (a succession of) obvious signs.  Yet they remained arrogant, being criminally sinful people.’” (Quran 7:132-133)

These plagues are mentioned in a different order than in the Bible, which reverses the order of the last three plagues and puts them first.[2]

The first of these signs was the flood, which was torrential rainfall that ruined all growing crops and fruit, penetrated their barns, and blighted their stores of food.[3]  The second was the locusts, which ate even the ‘nails’[4]  that held wooden joists together.  The third was qummal (lice, termites or weevils).  In fact, all three types of vermin included in the translation of qummal cause damage.  The first can infest both humans and animals, spreading disease, the second destroys wooden structures and the third consumes or destroys stored grain, and this is the interpretation favored by Ibn Abbas.[5]  The fourth sign was a plague of frogs, which infested every human habitation; a person would fear to open his mouth lest a frog jump into it.

Every time they were afflicted, the people of the Pharaoh would beg:

“…‘O Moses!  Invoke your Lord for us because of his promise to you.  If you remove the punishment from us, we shall indeed believe in you, and let the Children of Israel go with you.’  But when (God) removed the punishment from them for a fixed term, which they had to reach, behold!  They broke their word.” (Quran 7:133-134)

The last of the signs was blood in every source of potable water, and this proved to be too much[6]  for the advisors of the Pharaoh, who then suggested having Moses killed.

“…They said, ‘Kill him with the sons of those who believe, but let their women live.’

But the plots of the disbelievers are nothing but in vain.  When the Pharaoh said: ‘Let me kill Moses, and let him call his Lord.  I fear he may change your religion or cause mischief to appear in my land.’

Moses said: ‘Verily I seek refuge in my Lord and your Lord from every arrogant disbeliever in the Day of Reckoning.’” (Quran 40:25-27)

Contrary to this, the Bible has the advisors wanting him to ‘Let the men go, and let them serve God, their Lord,’[7]  for it was leading to the destruction of  Egypt.  In fact, the Bible says the Pharaoh also finally capitulated to the demands of the Israelites[8]  to go out into the desert to sacrifice to their God when his first born son was killed, but later repented letting them when he realized that they were not coming back.  Actually, Moses had prayed to God that hearts of the Pharaoh and his advisors, who had been showered with worldly wealth, glitter and power, should be hardened until their final penalty was clear to see.  Then God granted that request, and told him to be steadfast, clearly signaling the end of the Pharaoh was nigh.

A Believer among the Enemy
Meanwhile, one of the Pharaoh’s relatives spoke out against the Pharaoh’s decision.

“A believer from the family of the Pharaoh who had hidden his faith said: ‘Would you kill a man because he says “my Lord is God” after coming to you with clear signs from your Lord?...’” (Quran 40:28)

He further spoke to the Pharaoh’s subjects:

“‘O my people!  Yours is the kingdom today, you being dominant in the land.  But who will save us from the torment God, should it befall us?’

The Pharaoh said: ‘I show you only that which I see; and I guide you to the right path.’” (Quran 40:29)

This believer showed the true spirit of struggling for the right in the path of God,[9]  risking his life to aid of a fellow believer by challenging the ruling one who had made himself a god.  He went on to invite his people to the true religion, and when they tried to persuade him from the path, returned:

“‘O my people!  How is it I invite you to salvation while you invite me to the Fire?  You call on me to disbelieve in God and ascribe as partners unto Him that whereof I have no knowledge, while I call you unto the Almighty, the Oft-Forgiving.  The idols and gods you call me to have no claim in this world or in the Hereafter, and our return will be unto God, and the transgressors will be inheritors of the Fire.  And you will remember what I have said unto you.  I entrust my affairs to God.  Verily!  God is the Seer of (His) slaves.’

So, God warded off the evils that they plotted against him, while a dreadful doom encompassed the followers of the Pharaoh.” (Quran 40:41-45)

The Command to Depart
When the Pharaoh had made up his mind to kill Moses, God ordered him to leave with the believers.  He revealed unto Moses:

“…Depart with my slaves by night, for surely you will be pursued.” (Quran 26:52)

Indeed, this was both a difficult mission and one easier than it had been before hostilities, because God had earlier ordered the Israelites to make their dwellings in a place apart from the Egyptian dwellings, close to one another.  The believer, and those who were with him, may have warned, and perhaps even moved closer to, the Israelites.  The existence of a group of Egyptian believers is the opinion of some scholars, based on the verse:

“None believed in Moses, except for some of his (the Pharaoh’s) people, for fear of the Pharaoh and his chiefs...” (Quran 10:83)

 But the opinion of Ibn Abbas is that apart from the sorcerers who were martyred, only three of the Pharaoh’s people believed.  These included his wife, the believer in his family, and the one who warned Moses to flee after he had killed a man.[10]  In the latter case, ‘his’, in the above verse, would refer to Moses, and therefore the relatively few among the Israelites themselves that really believed.

In the next article, we will tell the story of the exodus, the flight and crossing of the Red Sea, and the drowning of the Pharaoh.

[1] The Torah also mentions that “God made the Pharaoh obstinate” (Exodus 10:20) whenever an affliction lightened.

[2] The Bible mentions three ‘plagues’ that are not even hinted at in the Quran or the Sunnah, which are the boils, the darkness and the deaths of the first born.

[3] This could well be the hail storms mentioned in the Bible, which had much the same effect.  The word used in Arabic is tuwfaan, meaning torrential rainfall. Another opinion states the floodwater spread a plague like disease that decimated animals and people – which might have been the source for the Biblical ‘epidemic’ plague.

[4] Possibly softer bindings that ‘tied’ joints of hard wood together.

[5] All three of these concepts are covered by the ‘lice’ and ‘dangerous swarms’ mentioned in the Exodus, but the first interpretation – the destroyer of stored grain, is the correct one.

[6] In the Bible, too, the Advisors had had enough by the seventh of the ten plagues mentioned therein.

[7] (Exodus 10:7)

[8] This contradicts the prayer by Moses, answered by God, to harden his heart irretrievably.

[9] “The best Jihad is to speak a just word before an unjust ruler”; Tafsir ibn Kathir commentary on Quran 40:28, citing Tuhfat Al-Ahwadhi 6:390.

[10] Ibn Kathir Qasas al-Anbiya; English translation, by R.A. Azimi; Pub. Darussalam 2003, pp. 387: The Story of Moses.

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