Oct 01, 2022
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A recent photo of the Nile and surrounding desert, taken from the European Space Agency’s newly launched satellite, has unexpectedly caused the Book of Exodus to pop up in media headlines all over the world. The photo, which shows the Nile as blood-red, generated an international buzz which even the most mainstream news outlets connected to the obvious association – the Bible.

CBS News called the sight “Biblical”, saying it looked like “something from the Old Testament”, and Fox News drew “parallels to the first Biblical plague in Egypt.” Even Technology Pep, a tech website normally vacant of anything spiritual, saw the connection to the story of the first plague.

However, though it was a powerful image universally recognized, the real message may have been lost on all but the Biblically oriented.

The Sentinel 3-A was launched in February as the third satellite in the Copernicus program, purported to be the most sophisticated Earth observation system to date. The startling image was created using a radiometer, which measures heat generated by vegetation for monitoring environmental changes. These images will help scientists track and predict droughts more accurately, but it had an entirely different impact on people with a Biblical perspective.

With the holiday of Passover only a few short weeks away, the message is clear. While Jews drip wine onto their plates at the holiday seder, the viral satellite photo of a blood-red Nile stands as a strong reminder that the Exodus from Egypt was not an archaeological theory or fable with a moral, but a Biblical  narrative about an actual event that could reappear in the news with a renewed message relevant in a modern context.

When Moses turned the Nile to blood, it was a blow directed at the heart of Egypt’s sustenance, the base of their power in the region. The steady source of water and the cycles of flooding gave them a misplaced feeling of  independence from divine assistance. Nahmanides, a prominent 12th century Torah scholar from Spain, wrote in his commentary on the plagues that the primary reason God punished the Egyptians was not for enslaving the Israelite people, but for dismissing God and his influence in their life.

The message has similar significance today when, due to advanced technology, most consider themselves free from the need to turn to the heavens for sustenance.

The power intrinsic in water is often overlooked in an age when, in most developed countries, a quick twist of a faucet solves what is still a life threatening situation in other areas of the world. Nonetheless, this basic need can still occasionally be felt in the United States in ways reminiscent of plague-stricken Egypt.

After neglecting pollution in Lake Erie for years, in 2014 residents of Toledo were reminded of their dependence on outside sustenance when their tap water was discovered to be contaminated. Flint, Michigan is still suffering from a water crisis and lingering health issues resulting from lead contamination. Opening the faucet and receiving life-giving water, a luxury taken for granted by millions, became a precious commodity, a reminder of daily needs.

A more graphic reminder of the plague came when Environmental Protection Agency workers accidentally released one million gallons of toxic mine waste into the Animas River, turning it bright orange in a Colorado reenactment of the first plague in Egypt.

In the Bible story, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to recreate the miracle created by Aaron and Moses, but they were unable to reverse it. The same can be said for the modern incarnations. The new satellite will help scientists predict droughts, but ultimately, technology is dependant on the natural aspect of God, a reminder of our dependence on divine sustenance.