Exodus 8: Frogs Everywhere!

By Mary Jane Chaignot

The last event was sudden and highly inconvenient. People had to get water from the ground along the Nile. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate it, which hardly makes sense from any standpoint. But at best, it was a stalemate. Pharaoh harrumphed and went into his palace.

So the Lord calls to Moses and says, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country.’” The text doesn’t actually relate this conversation with Pharaoh, but there is every reason to presume Moses does as the Lord instructs. The word translated “plague” is only used here. Since plague generally means devastation and loss of human life, it seems a bit hyperbolic for an overabundance of frogs. Nonetheless, this plague comes with a warning, and it is the first one that includes animals.

When God created humankind and gave them dominion over the animals, this would have included frogs. Now, in another reversal of the created order, the animals have dominion over humankind. Scholars refer to this as an “anti-creative” force aimed at the Egyptians. Likewise, in the creation story, the waters “teemed” with God’s creatures; here, the Nile will “teem” with frogs. These verbal connections with Genesis 1 enhance the notion that the created order is dissolving into chaos.

The threat is that frogs will be everywhere. “They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs.” The imagery is extraordinary. They will affect all aspects of Egyptian life and all levels of people, starting with the palace and right down to every household in Egypt. No doubt, Pharaoh has been insulated from the bloody water. His servants would have gone to great lengths to make sure his water is clear. But imagine turning over in bed and having frogs there. Or having them among your clothes. Or stepping over frogs as you walk down the hall. Or having them jump on your plate as you are eating. Everywhere! That’s the concept, and it’s pretty hard to believe. Pharaoh doesn’t believe it either because he obviously doesn’t “let the people go to worship.”

So the Lord tells Moses to tell Aaron, “Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.” He does, and they do. The frogs “cover the land.” Crazily, the magicians “do the same things by their secret arts; they also make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.” The idea that more frogs come up is even harder to imagine. Once the land is covered, the land should be covered. It seems as though Pharaoh’s magicians have managed to make a bad situation even worse. It doesn’t specifically say that Pharaoh has commanded this; on the other hand, it is unlikely that his magicians would act on their own to make matters worse. And, while they are able to make the frog problem worse, they seem to be unable to make it go away.

It doesn’t say how long this lasts, but it is annoying enough that Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron and says, “Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.” This is Pharaoh’s first acknowledgement that the Lord has any power, that there might actually be something going on beyond his control. It is a huge concession on his part and perhaps the beginning of a change. He asks them to intercede/plead to the Lord on his behalf and on that of his people. Perhaps, he is coming to terms with the realization that he needs to deal with the Lord at some point. The bottom line is that if the Lord makes the frogs go away, he will allow the people to go to offer sacrifices.

Rather than ending the problem on the spot, Moses says, “I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for the those that remain in the Nile.” Moses wants Pharaoh to know that this won’t be a matter of happenstance. He is to pick the exact time the frogs will die. Moses wants Pharaoh to know that it really is the work of the Lord.

Unbelievably, Pharaoh says, “Tomorrow.” He appears willing to experience another day of frogs in order to test the Lord. Moses says, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God. The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people. They will remain only in the Nile.” Notice, once again, there is no mention that any of the Israelites are affected by the frogs. Presumably their entire area is frog free.

After Moses and Aaron leave Pharaoh, Moses cries out to the Lord about the frogs. “And the Lord does what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, and the courtyards, and in the fields. They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them.” The frogs die immediately and all at once. They do not disappear; they die in droves leaving their corpses behind to “stink up the land.” The earlier statement that “the Lord does what Moses asked” is unusual in that usually it is people that do the will of the Lord. Here, the Lord does the will of Moses. Perhaps it is a testament to the unique relationship between the Lord and Moses.

True to form, once the problem is resolved, Pharaoh reneges on his promise and renews his resolve. He “hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.”

Why frogs? Scholars think this might be another diatribe against the Egyptian gods. The goddess of childbirth has been shown with the head of a frog. This brings up all sorts of literary connections. Earlier, Pharaoh decreed the death of male babies by drowning, then by having the midwives kill them. It is no surprise, then, that this early plague would attack the goddess of fertility. And the Nile also figures into the story. It is the lifeblood of Egypt; here, it is the cause of devastating pollution.

Again, could this have happened? Scholars say “yes.” Remember that the Nile has recently been turned bloody, resulting in dead fish. The dead fish have polluted the waters for the frogs, so coming onto land would be the natural result. Obviously, the amount of frogs is extraordinary, but it explains why they would leave the waters of the Nile. The piles of dead fish are also a great breeding ground for insects and the diseases they carry. Being on land exposes the frogs to these insect-borne diseases, which might explain why they suddenly die. So the process has a natural explanation. The scale of the event defies any rationalization.

Additionally, there are a few other aspects of this event worth noting. After this, the magicians stop duplicating the problem. Realizing they could make things worse but not better must have been terribly humiliating. Likewise, Pharaoh has made an important concession, possibly even an admission of weakness against the Lord. In terms of the grander scheme of things, an overabundance of frogs might be a sign or a wonder. But the sudden death of said frogs at the exact appointed time is highly impressive. That’s hard to dismiss. Still, Pharaoh is Pharaoh and unused to threats against his supreme authority. So as soon as the frogs die, he changes his mind.

We also notice in this story, that by the end, Moses is taking a more active role. He speaks directly to Pharaoh; he intercedes directly to God, and both respond. Aaron is still in the picture, but he will fade more and more into the background, while Moses becomes spokesperson for the Lord. This has been the Lord’s plan all along. His concession to include Aaron was simply to accommodate Moses’ perceived inadequacies. But as the story moves forward, Moses becomes stronger and stronger, while Pharaoh becomes weaker and weaker. It could have all ended here, but Pharaoh keeps the contest going. Perhaps, God does too. There are more lessons to learn and more wonders to reveal. Round three is on its way.