FROG AND GNATS become the instruments of God’s righteous purpose, or so the 8th Chapter of Exodus would have us believe. Determined to get Pharaoh’s permission for a festival to be held “three days journey into the wilderness,” Moses and Aaron engage in a Miracle Contest with the Egyptian monarch’s chaplains. When the God of Israel sends a plague of frogs hopping into their beds and ovens and mixing bowls, “the magicians did the same by their secret arts.” Talk about self-defeating behavior! What would have happened if the Egyptian magicians had used their “secret arts” to get rid of the frogs? But oh no, they had to use their powers to show how they could afflict their own people just as efficiently as anyone else.
Then came the gnats. I’m glad my wife wasn’t at Morning Prayer the day this passage was read. She hates gnats! But then again, I can’t think of anyone who likes them. This miracle the Egyptian court-clergy could not replicate. “This is the finger of God,” they acknowledged. But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not let the people go.
Furthermore, the Bible says that God knows perfectly well that frog and gnat tricks are not going to work with Pharaoh. So why bother with the whole charade?
I think this represents more than 20th Century head-scratching over the antics of primitive religionists. I think it poses a fundamental theological issue, one that is as valid today as it was for ancient Hebrews and Egyptians, namely, why does God bother with human events, miraculous or otherwise? If God wants to save Hebrew slaves (or Michigan Episcopalians), why bother with inconclusive debates and conflicts and contests and collusions? Why not just fix it all with a snap of the divine fingers?
Apparently God likes a good story. Apparently God has a fondness for human beings and their clumsy way of blundering into the future. Apparently that is just the way God is.
I hope God has a fondness for us, as we engage in a “Miracle Contest” with the “Magicians” of Wealth, Weaponry, and Technology, because they can one-up us easily: we say, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” and they say, “This is the new I-Pad.” But the Real “Miracle” had little to do with frogs and gnats (or with I-Pads), but with the persistence with which Moses and Aaron pursued the goal of freedom. As it is written in Hebrews 11:7: “By faith Moses…refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt…”
If there is to be any escape from slavery, any salvation from sin, any fulfillment of the divine promises, it will be because here and there people and communities have persisted in the struggle for freedom and justice, and in their love for the people and for all of creation. That such people and such communities have indeed persisted, and been sustained in their persistence, is more significant a miracle than anything involving frogs and gnats.