A means of exploring the Bible as a way to help understand God’s role in life is to confirm what is explicable through scientific fact while allowing faith to maintain belief.
For many people, certain Biblical miracles are incomprehensible and can cause them to doubt their faith. As it turns out, many of the miracles make perfect sense scientifically and historically, especially with an understanding of the culture of the time and the world view of the characters portrayed by the stories.
The story of the plagues of Egypt in Exodus has several possible explanations in which each plague led naturally to the next. Today, we’ll look at the first three plagues God used against the Pharaoh before Moses led the Jews out of slavery.
The First Plague: The Nile Turns to Blood
Although the story lacks the necessary details to say with confidence exactly what happened, there are several valid explanations as to how the Nile may have become filled with blood or why an event may have been perceived as such.
The most common explanation is called the Red Tide, which happens across the world at times in both fresh and salt water. A red algae which is natural to most water systems in small levels can multiply out of control for unknown reasons. The algae turns the water red and poisons the fish, especially the shellfish, and in turn poisons the predators and people who rely on fish as a food source.
A second explanation is that of torrential downpours along the Upper Nile washing huge amounts of red clay into the water to float downstream. The mud would kill the fish, being unable to process the water through their gills. The dead fish would spoil, and on such a large level would make the water undrinkable for man or beast.
There is a third explanation which although it seems less likely, fills the literal Biblical description of the water filling with blood. Again in the Ethiopian highlands along the Upper Nile, an animal disease could quickly spread, casing sickness and death. Sick and dying animals tend to go to the water for thirst, where they may vomit blood or be prey for scavengers. It’s hard to comprehend on such a scale as to flood the lower Nile with blood, but is not entirely inconceivable.
The Second Plague: An Invasion of Frogs
Regardless of which explanation of the Nile’s poisoning is most acceptable, it leads directly to the next plague of frogs.
Simply put, the frogs being amphibious would have a better defense against the poison by leaving the water. As their predators die off, they would have a chance to multiply to previously unseen levels. The overpopulation would need to find new food sources, and perhaps might intuitively try to leave the poisoned waters, thus coming into town afflicting the Egyptian palaces, homes, and farms as described.
As humans today would do, the people set about to kill the frogs and rid themselves of the pestilence. As worded by The Oxford Study Bible in Exodus 8:14, “They were piled into countless heaps and the land stank.”
The Third Plague: Infestation of Bugs
The third plague, an infestation of lice, fleas, gnats, and flies, is perhaps the easiest to explain.
First, without the frogs to eat the bugs they are going to grow in population. Secondly, dead fish and animals on the riverbanks and piles of dead frogs across the land are going to draw bugs like, well, flies to honey.
Anyone who has worked with their church in some of the recent disaster relief efforts after a hurricane knows just how horrible and annoying an infestation can be, but Americans at least understand modern medicine and sanitation techniques. It would have been terrifying to the ancient Egyptians who would have known these bugs spread disease without any concept of how or why. The infestation would not have been viewed as a nuisance which they could take cautionary measures against, but indeed, they would have recognized the situation as one of life or death.
When reviewing the ten plagues of Egypt, it is important to remember how the Egyptians would have reacted. They believed the plagues were magic, miracles brought about by God through Moses and Aaron. The real miracle is that God spoke to Moses, allowing him to predict each tragedy and give the Hebrews time to prepare for them.
~ 1776 Christian