The Apex of the Plagues: Moses and the Gods of
Part V Egypt
By Dr. Dave Johnson
across fields vacant for want of crops to harvest. Depression and defeat permeated the country. Yet
Pharaoh remained unbowed. By contrast, the atmosphere in
, where the Israelites lived, was bright Goshen
and cheery. Fattened livestock fed on rich pasture land, and the people lived in exuberant expectation of
imminent deliverance. While pessimism reigned in
Egypt, optimism pervaded . Goshen
We read of the ninth plague in Exodus 10:21-29. No man or beast died during this plague, but they probably wished they could have. The darkness was so thick that they could feel it and so thorough that they couldn’t move. They could not tell night from day because sundials don’t glow in the dark. They did not know when or if they would ever see the sun again. Surely many Egyptians spent that time pondering the meaning of life—especially as the demonstrations of the power of God repeatedly challenged their animistic worldview assumptions.
Ra (or Re) was the sun-god of
and father of creation who was widely worshiped throughout the ancient Near East. He was at or near the pinnacle of the Egyptian pantheon. He was believed to ride across the heavens in his chariot during the day and travel through the underworld at night, thus explaining the how and why of the sunrise and sunset in the minds of the people. Ra’s importance can hardly be overstated. He was regarded as the creator of the universe and father of some of the Egyptian gods. While he was also seen as old and reclusive, not active in the daily lives of the people, he was still a powerful force and was not to be ignored. That the God of the Hebrews did defeat Ra by sending darkness was an undeniable fact. In the power match between God and the gods of Egypt , the score was now nine to nothing in Yahweh’s favor. Egypt
Again, Pharaoh tried to negotiate without actually setting the people free. By now he knew he was in deep trouble and wanted to appease the God of the Hebrews, but he also didn’t want to lose his control over the Israelites. He knew that if the cattle and livestock were left behind the Israelites would have to return for them or be set free with nothing to sustain them in the wilderness. But Moses would have none of it and rejected Pharaoh’s offer. In response, Pharaoh threatened Moses with death if he should appear before him again. Indeed, death would come, but it would not be Moses who would die.
Exodus 11-12 tells the tale of the final and most devastating plague—the death of the firstborn. The impact on
, when it came, would be incalculable. Future years might erase or at least ease the memory of the first nine plagues, but the tenth they would remember forever. The foundation of any civilization is the nuclear and extended family. This plague would rock the foundation of the most powerful nation in the Ancient Near East. Egypt
It was through this plague in particular that God said he would execute judgment against all the gods of
. In Exodus 12:12, the gods of Egypt are juxtaposed against the Lord himself. Here, the Hebrew word for God is Yahweh, meaning the eternal, self-sufficient, all-powerful, covenant keeping God. In this act of death and destruction, God would reveal the full extent of his power against the gods of Egypt —the power over life and death. At the same time, he would also demonstrate to the Israelites his ability and willingness to keep his covenant made with Abraham more than 400 years before by setting them free. Both would be accomplished in one dreadful night. Egypt
God had protected the Israelites from the effects of most of the plagues and promised to do so again this time but, in this case, his protection would be conditional. If the conditions were not met, they would suffer the same fate as the Egyptians. Thankfully, by now, the Israelites were convinced that God kept his promises and made good on his threats. The conditions God set, found in Exodus 12:1-11, were both simple and symbolic. The lamb had to be a yearling without blemish. Its blood was to be sprinkled over the door and on the doorposts. The Passover meal was to be prepared and eaten in haste, anticipating the hour of their redemption. The rich symbolism of this event would not be properly understood until 1,500 years later when the sacrificial Lamb of God himself would die on the cross on the very day the Passover lamb was killed. In both cases, the innocent died on behalf of the guilty.
The point in setting the conditions was that God wanted to create an object lesson that would be perpetuated from one generation of Israelites to another with the hope that they would never forget what God had done for them. Through the reenactment of the Passover, the patriarch of the family would recount for the younger generations the story of God’s great deliverance. Creating such memorials is important to any society, but especially in ones with a high degree of illiteracy—which was likely the case of the Israelites during this time.
While the Israelites prepared and waited, the death angel swept over
, bringing death and indescribable anguish to the Egyptians. Apart from the flood in the days of Noah and the predictions of future judgment, no outpouring of the wrath of God in the biblical record was harsher than this. Multiplied thousands of people died. No household, not even Pharaoh’s, was spared from the slaughter. Egypt
In striking the house of Pharaoh, God altered the dynastic line of descent, killing the son born to be the next Pharaoh. Attacking the royal lineage, which was no doubt the epicenter of Egyptian culture, struck a blow at the heart of the Egyptian pantheon of gods. No deity had a more direct impact on the people’s daily lives than Pharaoh. While Ra was remote and not active among the people, Pharaoh dictated their every move. He was considered nearly omnipotent, and his rule was absolute. When God killed Pharaoh’s son, he exposed the lie of Pharaoh’s acclaimed divinity, revealing him as nothing more than a mere mortal. Perhaps nothing undermined the worldview of the Egyptians more than this. Pharaoh had been checkmated by the God of the people he had enslaved. Later, Solomon would write in Proverbs 16:18 that “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall” (NKJV)—and Pharaoh was an outstanding example. Finally, Pharaoh caved and set the people free, not only letting them go but forcing them out.
The main lesson that we should draw from these two plagues and, indeed from all of the plagues is that, in both blessing and cursing, God keeps his promises. Every plague that he promised would come came exactly as Moses said it would. But God also remembered and kept his promise made to Abraham more than 400 years before that his progeny, now a nation, would be delivered from
and returned to the promised land. But God could only keep his promises because he is who he claims to be: eternal, self-sufficient, all-knowing, and all-powerful. All of these characteristics were revealed in the plagues as he executed judgment on the gods of Egypt . If he can keep his promises to Abraham, Moses, and the children of Egypt , he can keep them to you. Israel
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Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson