The Plagues of Egypt
Okay, I’m totally confused. What is the deal with all the plagues in the book of Exodus? It seems kind of random to me that God would use like gnats and lice and frogs and stuff to upset the Pharaoh. Why did he do that? Why didn’t he just send the Angel of Death the first thing? I’m sure I’m missing something, can you help me?
My brother, allow me to say that you are not the first person to be confused by the ten plagues in Exodus and you won’t be the last. I actually asked the exact same question in my Confirmation class when I was 16 years old. It made no sense to me (although I did find the fact that God would use “lice” as beyond funny…nowadays, He’d probably use incurable acne).
At any rate, the Ten Plagues that God reigns down upon Egypt were done with a few purposes in mind but, principally, they were done to show the Egyptians (and the Israelites) that God was far more powerful than any of their false Egyptian “gods”. You see, the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for about 400 years when Moses was called forth by God and sent to Pharaoh. When Pharaoh refused to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt and worship in the desert, God answered (through Moses and his brother Aaron, the priest) with the ten plagues (Exodus 7:14-12:30).
Each of the plagues offered a tangible, visible example and display of our God’s power over everything/everyone they worshipped and one after another, with each plague that dominated the country, Egyptian hope vanished and Israelite confidence grew.
So, basically, each plague – the frogs (overrunning the land), the cattle (dying), the Nile (turning to blood) were manifestations or visual representations of one of the Egyptian gods being conquered by the God of Moses (and also the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…oh, and you and me).
As for the Ten Plagues – here’s what they were (in order) and what they signified:
1. Nile River turns into blood (Ex 7:14-24)
The Egyptian “god” – Hapi – Father of all the gods, and god of the Nile
The Nile represented life to the Egyptians. All their economy and their livelihood depended on the Nile – they worshipped the river. The plague also represented the sins of the Egyptians coming back to haunt them, the blood of the Israelite children who were thrown into the Nile by Pharaoh.
2. Frogs (Ex. 7:25-29, 8:1-11)
The Egyptian “god” – Heka – the toad goddess, the god of resurrection and procreative powers
Frogs were sacred, and killing one was punishable by death. It’s like God saying, “You like frogs, I’ll give you frogs!” You couldn’t even walk without stepping on one. But the only way to get rid of them was to kill them, which God did, shaming Heka.
3. Gnats (Ex 8:12-15)
The Egyptian “god” – Geb – the god of the earth, or vegetation
This was the first plague that Pharaoh’s magicians could not replicate with their powers, but Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened. The gnats represented came out of the ground, out of the dust, causing blame on Geb.
4. Flies (Ex 8:16-28)
The Egyptian “god” – Khepfi – the god of insects
Insects out of control, and Khepfi can’t stop them! The Egyptians think their god has been defeated, or is dead.
5. Livestock (Ex 9:1-7)
The Egyptian “god” – Apis or Menvis – the bull god, and Hathor the cow goddess
The Egyptians worshiped many animals, but especially the ram, the ox and the bull. The soul of their god Osiris was said to reside in the body of the bull. Having all these animals die was a defeat of these Egyptian gods.
6. Boils (Ex 9:8-12)
The Egyptian “god” – Thoth – the god of medicine, intelligence and wisdom
The Egyptians had several medical gods, and they sacrificed humans to these gods, burning them alive on a high altar and scattering their ashes into the air. It was believed that with every scattered ash a blessing would descend upon the people. So Moses took ashes from the furnace and scattered them into air, but now anyone the ashes touched broke out with boils
7. Hail (Ex 9:13-35)
The Egyptian “god” – Nut – the sky goddess and “Seth” – protector of crops
The hail attacked the fields during the time of harvest, destroying all the crops. Nut was blamed, and Seth could not protect the crops like he was supposed to…
8. Locusts (Ex 10:1-20)
The Egyptian “god” – Anubis – the god of the fields and “Isis” – protector against locusts
Whatever wasn’t destroyed by the hail, was finished off by the locusts. Locusts were so feared that the Egyptians actually had a god to protect them from the vile insects. Isis was shamed, and Anubis was overcome
9. Darkness (Ex 10:21-29)
The Egyptian “god” – Ra or Amon-Re – the sun god
With darkness so intense you could feel it, it seemed Ra, the sun god was dead
10. Death of the First-born (Ex 11:1-10, Ex 12)
The Egyptian “god” - Pharaoh himself, a god-king, and his first-born son, also a god
Pharaoh was considered a god, and his first-born son was too. In fact, first-born people and animals were often worshipped. Pharaoh was considered an incarnation of Ra, the sun god. Because Pharaoh’s son was considered a god, a god of Egypt actually died.
Each one of these plagues – while seemingly “random” can still teach us a great deal about our modern faith walk. In all honesty, even in modern culture, many of us make material and worldly things…even people, our “gods”. Boyfriends or girlfriends, sports or jobs, school or friendships, addictions or sex – any and all of them can become our “gods” if we let them.
If that is the case, realize that God will allow certain situations and create other situations that will help draw us back to Him and back into His perfect love. He might already be doing that in your life. Keep your eyes open. Although your bedroom might not be overrun with frogs or gnats anytime soon, God is still working and He will prove Himself more powerful than anything else that we allow to have power over us.
Finally, if you’ve never seen it, take a couple hours and watch The Prince of Egypt. It’s not completely historically/Biblically accurate, but it’s a really good interpretation of the Exodus story, well told and beautifully animated.
I hope this helped. Keep reading and studying the Word!
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