The 10 least effective Exodus plagues
God got the job done, but not without considering every option first.
Hello, how are you? This post is associated with the Vacation Bible School Podcast, which is kind of nearly done with Exodus. Up next are an episode on the Law and an episode on the journey to the Promised Land.
VBS is supported by our Patreon, where we have some merch, a Discord chat, and some other stuff to offer our generous parishioners.
Let’s discuss one of the two most famous stories from Exodus, which we’ve discussed in somewhere between one (Moses origins) and three (Passover and “Red Sea”) episodes, depending on how you count ‘em.
What was the objective of the plagues? Well, besides God rebuilding his clout by taking down Egypt’s gods, the goal was to humble the Pharaoh into letting the Israelites go free. This was complicated by God repeatedly de-humbling the humbled Pharaoh in order to keep running up the score, but the goal remained the goal.
Well-chosen plagues, then. They’re all horrible, inflicting all sorts of woe on any innocent Egyptians who were caught in the crossfire. Ultimately, the plagues worked.
But what if they didn’t? What if God had instead chosen 10 plagues that did nothing to soften the Pharaoh’s heart? If God is indeed all-knowing, and “all” includes bad ideas, then God at least considered all of the following, before finding them unworthy.
1. Plague of adorable babies
An ineffective plague because babies are harmless blessings, and to gift the Pharaoh a gentle bundle is to boost the Pharaoh’s morale? No.
Because babies poop until they scream, irritating the Pharaoh instead of actually harming him? No.
Because babies were already the first plague. Exodus 1: “The Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; the Pharaoh said to his people, ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for us.’”
Babies were the plague that didn’t directly advance the cause, meaning they were ineffective. (However, we could also argue none of Exodus’ plagues worked, until the last one. Or two.)
2. Plague of a single regular frog
Our image of the Exodus FROG PLAGUE is one of frogs all over the place, as the Bible describes frogs filling up kitchens and bedrooms and dying in “countless heaps.”
Technically, the word used in Exodus 8:6 refers to a singular frog coming up out of the water and covering Egypt, though it’s plural elsewhere in the story. This has led to visions of a massive FROGZILLA tromping across Egypt.
One old rabbinical explanation for the grammar disparity: After Aaron called forth one massive frog, the Egyptians must’ve attacked the lonely frog just as they’d attacked Aaron’s lonely snake. This must’ve caused minion frogs to pour forth, because frogs roll deeper than snakes.
A simpler idea is that somebody did a typo at some point. But that would deprive us of FROGZILLA and the FROGVENGERS ASSEMBLE story, so that idea is bad.
Regardless, a plague of nothing but one normal frog would not soften the Pharaoh’s heart. He does not think anything is cute.
(There’s also an idea that the word refers to crocodiles, but I don’t think crocodiles fit in “kneading bowls.” Or the Kabbalists might decide the lone frog was some sort of Math Brains Bird. The Kabbalists might decide anything, and that is what is wonderful about them.)
3. A plague o' both your houses
Exodus’ plagues explicitly targeted the Egyptians, not the Israelites. A plague that attempted to play Both Sides would fail to move the Pharaoh.
4. Plague of confetti
In several plagues, stuff descended on the Pharaoh from above: bugs, worse bugs, even worse bugs, HAILFIRE, still worse bugs, a weirdly tangible darkness (shadow of Frogzilla?), the firstborn-slaying Destroyer (Which is actually God, Ruler of the heavens above), and the crashing waters of the un-parting sea. All of these dissuaded the Pharaoh at least somewhat, including the last one, which killed him.
But if this stuff were to descend on the unrepentant Pharaoh …
… his reaction would be to keep doing exactly what he was already doing. Stop reinforcing the Pharaoh’s bad choices.
(Should the parting of the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds count as a plague? Of course it should. It followed immediately after all the other plagues, finalized the poetic justice of drowning Egyptian men who’d once drowned Israelite boys, fit the plague pattern of harming only the Egyptians instead of any Israelites, was the most Impressive God Spectacle in a series of Impressive God Spectacles, and was preceded by the Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, just like all the other plagues. In Exodus 14, it’s as if God halted the fleeing Israelites, looked back at the bitter Pharaoh, and then decided to deploy a real showstopper of an encore plague. If we count the Plague of Babies and the Plague of the Sea, there were 12 plagues, the same as the number of the tribes of Israel fwiw. Also, the Bible doesn’t say there were exactly 10, two plague recaps in Psalms have fewer than 10, and the list in Exodus is likely a combination of different authors, neither of whom individually listed all 10. “But isn’t it nice if the number of plagues matches the number of commandments?” No, there were 613 commandments, so ~600 of them would be overkill, because the stubborn Pharaoh is already dead.)
[Thank you to @DiamondsEsq for the reminder to note this: Rabbis have also argued this Plague of the Sea was itself between 10 and 250 plagues.]
5. Plague of lighthouse keepers
This 1971 song is called “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers.” I have no idea what it is, nor do I understand why there is so much of it.
What we do know is that Egypt, eventual home of the world’s biggest lighthouse, would eventually need more lighthouse keepers, not fewer, meaning a rush of inbound lighthouse keepers could’ve come in handy. The Pharaoh’s wizards would’ve advised him to welcome Moses’ horde of lighthouse keepers as a boon to Egypt’s future, further convincing the Pharaoh to remain set in his ways.
6. Plague of snow
The plagues occurred around April, roughly the time of Passover. The average temperature in Egypt in April is 83 degrees, though everything was a little cooler 3,000 years ago, so maybe call it upper 70s-ish.
7. Plague of men
Being afflicted with enduring the company of males? A terrible time for nearly anyone.
But the Pharaoh already chose to surround himself with warrior guys and priest guys and wizard guys and statue-designing guys anyway, so this plague would not move the ball toward the goal line.
8. Plague of really obvious, scientifically verified problems
“Solving fake problems very quickly! Don’t be afraid of Frogzilla!” — the Pharaoh, no nearer to atonement
9. Plague of Skittles
10. Plague of ineffective plague-generating bots that can self-replicate
Research for this blog led me to this account, which has been doing this for well over a year so far:
Many speculative fiction and futurist scenarios revolve around the question of what to do once machines become smart enough to design better machines and produce those machines without our guidance.
So once the Rejected Plague Bot account becomes sentient and emits a gray goo of Rejected Plague Bots, we won’t just have 10 pretty harmless plagues.
We won’t just have 10 Pretty Harmless Plague Bots each generating countless pretty harmless plagues.
We’ll have an exponentially increasing number of Pretty Harmless Plague Bots, with each producing both more and more plagues and more and more plague bots, covering solar systems in plagues of penguins, none of them accomplishing the goal of breaking the Pharaoh’s will for good.
Give our latest episode a shot, if you like! It’s a Q&A-style thing, with discussion about our testimonies, Christian punk bands, outer space, youth pastors, finding God in ~secular media~, and so forth! If you like, give it a review on a podcast app!