The plagues of Exodus are a ten-part strategy whereby God bests the gods of Egypt. Why? So that Pharaoh would realise that that the God of Israel was infinitely superior to his demon-gods and would, therefore, let His people go.
Just before releasing the tenth and final plague on Egypt, God told Moses that He would “bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD” (Exodus 12:12). Now we know that there is no true God except the God of the Bible (1 Corinthians 8:4-6), so the ‘gods’ of Egypt were demonic entities infesting the nation and controlling Pharaoh and his leaders (1 Corinthians 10:18-20).
Most of those reading this article will be very familiar with the biblical account of the plagues (Exodus chapters 7 to 11), but what many may have missed is the careful sequencing that God orchestrated. Firstly, He escalated the plagues from least harmful to the people of Egypt to the most destructive. After each plague, God instructed Moses to ask Pharaoh to “Let my people go” and to tell him that worse was to come if he did not comply. God’s intention was to persuade Pharaoh with minimum hardship, to yield to Him and release the Israelites from slavery. Secondly, the first two plagues were relatively so minor that even the demon-gods of Egypt could duplicate them through their magicians. So, God started with non-lethal warnings in the hope that these would suffice. Thirdly, it was only after the sixth plague that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Up to that point, Pharaoh refused to acknowledge God and to obey Him, and only after God had given him chance after chance did He finally determine that the suborn, evil man would no longer have any say over what would now transpire. So, God gave Pharaoh every opportunity to relent before finally executing judgement.
The God revealed in and by the Lord Jesus Christ has forever been gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love (Psalm 145:8-9). The way He progressively executed judgement on Egypt confirm this (Exodus 9:13-19).
Another aspect of the story of Exodus 7 to 11 is that Almighty God aimed each of the 10 plagues at a major god of Egypt in order to convince Pharaoh that He was superior to all so-called gods and that submission to His will was, therefore, the wisest response possible.
The Egyptians worshipped over 80 gods and those associated with the Nile River were of great significance to them. The Nile was the source of life for an otherwise desert nation. Hapi, Khnum, and Tauret all claimed to control the Nile, but the river itself represented the blood-stream of the great ‘god’ Osiris, lord of the underworld. So, in the first plague, Almighty God turned the waters of the Nile to blood, demonstrating His superiority over Osiris.
One of the goddesses of Egypt was Heqet, the demon who influenced fertility and reproduction. She was depicted with the head of a frog and so God dealt with her next by sending as a second plague, a plague of frogs to enter the houses of the Egyptians and crawl all over their matrimonial beds… how very apt.
To release the third plague, God instructed Moses to, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.” (Exodus 8:16). God aimed this plague at Geb, the bisexual demon-god of the earth and soil and demonstrated His superiority by turning the dust of the ground into pesky gnats. Pharaoh’s magicians could not reproduce this miraculous feat and so had to admit that “this is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).
The fourth plague presents a particular translation problem because the Hebrew text speaks of swarms but does not mention flies. Young’s Literal Translation inserts the word ‘beetle’ instead of ‘flies’ and this is most probably the correct understanding. The ancient Egyptians detested flies but they revered the Scarab beetle as a representation of Khepri, the god of resurrection and rebirth.
Up until this point God had not allowed anything to be killed, but now Pharaoh became even more recalcitrant and so The Almighty had to increase the severity of the pestilences. The fifth plague was upon the Egyptian’s livestock but it did not affect any of the Israelites animals. The Egyptians represented several of their deities as domestic animals (Hathor, Knum, etc.), but the most famous of all was Apis the strong bull-god of war. It is likely that the Golden Calf worshipped by the disobedient children of God at Mount Sinai was a depiction of Apis. It was fitting, therefore, that God aimed the first real act of judgement at this Bull-deity.
Then came the first plague to strike human beings. This sixth plague was festering boils that broke out on the Egyptians, but not upon the Israelites. I love the little detail added that ‘the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians’ (Exodus 9:11). Magic was used, among other things, to heal and so Egypt’s magicians were medical practitioners. Two of the most important gods connected to this ancient art were Serapis, the god of healing, and Imhotep, the god of medicine.
After this plague, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and so the seventh plague was a judgement and not just a warning. God said to the king of Egypt; “this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14-15). And with that, He unleashed a hailstorm of biblical proportions! Horus and Nut were the sky god and goddess targeted here.
Next came the eigth plague of locusts, aimed at Nepri the god of grain and Seth the god of crops. Exodus 10:14-15 describes the devastation as follows; ‘they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail — everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt’.
The ninth plague was total darkness for three days. This does not sound so bad until we realise that God was striking the religious heart of Egypt. Ra was the great sun god of Heliopolis. The pyramids of Giza were associated with Ra as the supreme lord and creator god who ruled over the land of the living and the dead. Almighty God gave the chief of all the gods of Egypt a kick where the ‘sun don’t shine’.
The final tenth plague was a devastating judgment upon Pharaoh himself. As supreme ruler of the people, they considered pharaoh a god in human form, the intermediary between the gods and the people, and the High Priest of the religions of the land. In this sense, he was an anti-Christ, one who stood in the place of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. His firstborn son was the automatic successor to the throne of Egypt and so the death of all the first-born in the land was a devastating blow to both Pharaoh and his people.
Now, one last thing we need to consider. The good, gracious, loving and longsuffering God of all that was, is, and is to be also aimed this decisive judgment at himself some 1,500 years later. On a cross just outside of Jerusalem, the Son of God died to take upon Himself the judgement of the sin of humanity. He was prepared to apply the same final devastation upon Himself as He had applied to Pharaoh.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son’ (John 3:16-18).