Bo (Go)

Bo – Exodus 10:1 to 13:16 – The Ten Plagues were designed to demonstrate the power of God to both Egyptians and Israelites…. But why was killing of 1st born needed? Most Egyptians had no part in freeing the Israelites. In fact, many were friendly toward the Israelites.

Last week we read about the first seven plagues.

Ten Plagues-Exodus

Ten Plagues-Exodu

This week God delivers the last three plagues upon Egypt.

The opening words of Bo tell us a lot about why God uses the plagues. “Then the Eternal One said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your children and of your children’s children how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among the – in order that you may know that I am the Eternal.’” (Ex. 10:1-2)

Thus we learn:

  • The plagues are part of God’s plan
  • God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart… God takes control of Pharaoh’s free will and the later plagues, the free will of Pharaoh’s court. God also forces his plans upon the natural forces of nature.
  • God uses the plagues to prove his power to Pharaoh and his court…. And to the Israelites, their children, their children’s children.

The plagues also are designed to defeat the gods of the Egyptians.

  • Blood in the Nile – attacked Hapi (the God of the Nile) the water from the Nile was the source of life for the Egyptians. It provided fresh water for the people and for irrigating crops.
  • Frogs – attacked Heqt (Goddess of fertility, water and renewal.) This goddess had a head of a frog. Interestingly, many frogs were viewed as a good thing.
  • Lice – Lice were created by from the dust of the earth. God attacked Geb, Egyptian god of the earth. Also Khepri, god of creation – a beetle headed god; and Thoth, god of magic.
  • Insects – Attacked Kheper (God of creation, movement of the sun.) This god had the head of a beetle.
  • Diseases of Livestock – Attacked Hathor (Goddess of love and protection.) Goddess had head of a cow. Also other bull cult gods: Apris, Buchis and Mneuis were considered sacred.
  • Boils – Attacked Isis. (Goddess of medicine and peace.) Also Im-Hotep, a real person turned deity, patron of wisdom and medicine.
  • Hail – Attacked Nut. (goddess of the Sky;) Shu. (Goddess of water and moisture;) and Seth. (God associated with chaos resulting in thunder, the desert, and infertility.)
  • Locusts – Attacked Senehem. (God of protection from ravages of pests.) This god had locust-like head.
  • Darkness – God attacked Ra .(Sun god.) Also Horus. (Sky god… sun was his right eye, and moon his left.)
  • Death of First Born – God attacked Pharaoh himself. Also Min. (God of reproduction) and Ra, (God believed to create all things.)

The plagues can also be seen as a punishment for enslaving the Israelites and not allowing them the freedom to worship their God. However, students of Torah throughout history have asked why the punishment is applied to all Egyptians… especially the last plague of death to all first born…. Why does God kill Egyptians who have no part in the decision to free the Israelites? In fact, many of those killed may have been helpful to Israelites.

To answer this, we should look at where the sentence of death is applied elsewhere in Torah:
Religious Practices

  • Sacrificing to other Gods (Ex.22:20, Lev. 27:29, Num. 25:1-9)
  • False prophecy (Deut. 13:1-10, 17:2-7, 18:20-22)
  • Blasphemy (Lev. 24:10-16)
  • Witchcraft, communicating with ghosts and dead (Ex. 22:17, Lev.20:27)
  • Breaking of Shabbat (Ex. 31:14, 35:2, Num. 15:32-36)

Sexual Practices

  • Rape by a man of a betrothed women (Deut. 22:25-7)
  • Consensual sexual activity involving a betrothed woman (Deut. 22:23-24)
  • Adultery with a married women (Lev. 20:10)
  • Marrying one’s wife’s mother (Lev. 20:14)
  • Incest (20: 11-21)
  • Male on male sexual intercourse (Lev. 18:22, 20:13)
  • Bestiality (Ex. 22:19, Lev. 20:15-16)


  • Murder (Gen 9:6, Ex. 21:21-14, Lev 24:17-23, Num. 35:9-34)
  • Smiting a parent (Ex. 21:15)
  • Cursing or disobeying a parent (Ex. 21:17, Lev. 20:9, Deut. 21:18-21)
  • Kidnapping (Ex. 21:16, Deut 24:7)
  • Contempt of court (Deut. 178-13))
  • False witness to a capital crime (Deut. 19:15-21) (Source: Wikipedia – List of capital crimes in the Torah)

From the above, it appears there is a heavy emphasis on several themes: Worship of God to the exclusion of other gods … Keeping Shabbat … Importance of marriage and family (the basis for maintaining religious ideas through generations) … Importance of following laws of courts. So, the death penalty appears to apply to infractions of the first five of the Ten Commandments. However, with many of these infractions, the actual application is never (or very rarely) applied….. However, the citation of the penalty demonstrates the importance of the law.

The same can be said of places in Torah where mass killings occur…. Sodom and Gomorrah …. Korach …. Battle after Pinchas kills people in Temple … Battles before the Israelites enter Canaan. All of these advance the power of God or the creation of the nation of Israel.

It may be possible that, in reading the Torah, we observe events that have been passed orally for hundreds of years before being written. During this time the application of death penalty may have been used to emphasize the importance of significant events or laws. For this reason, the death of Egyptians first born may be interpreted to tell us that these deaths do not serve as a punishment, or a demonstration of God’s feelings toward the Egyptians… in fact, the deaths may have never happened. But, by thier inclusion, these deaths dramatically demonstrate the importance of the plagues. The same can be applied to the other events and law mentioned above.

By adopting this approach, I don’t see these events and laws as representing a vengeful God, but a text that is demonstrating the importance of various ideas and concepts.

Now, if one agrees with this concept, the next question is did the plagues and the Exodus actually happen. Many commentators that feel that the events, as stated, never occurred….. However, the idea behind these events is key to our faith… God is the creator and power in our world. This is the message of the Torah readings of the past few weeks.

Earl Sabes
Description: Bo-Exodus 10:1-13:6-The Ten Plagues were designed to demonstrate the power of God to both Egyptians and Israelites…. But why was killing of 1st born needed?

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