In this post we will discuss the ten plagues of Egypt as handed down to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt at the commands of Aaron and Moses. Before we get into the nitty gritty, you need to familiarize yourself with the nation of Israel in the land of Egypt and you can do so here
The “They” is Egypt, the “Them” is Israel and the “Us” is us today. As we look at the plagues we will see how each plague impacts the they, them and then look at this and how it applies to us.
Now that you have an idea of the who and the where, let’s get into these plagues. God loaded up Moses with the plagues in a conversation which occurs in Exodus 4. In fact, God even gives Moses the plague of the death of the firstborn son. And in fact, had Pharaoh repented, this last plague would not have been needed. But we know how it is going to go, otherwise it would be called the nine plagues. So, let’s dive in. We arrive on the scene in Exodus chapter 7. We see Aaron and Moses arriving in the royal court to request of Pharaoh to let the enslaved Hebrews free. The first event was not actually a plague but rather a miracle. This first miracle was when Aaron threw down his staff onto the ground and it turned into a serpent. It was meant to be a sign, but the magicians and sorcerers of Egypt were deeply involved in black magic and were able to also turn sticks into serpents. But Aaron’s serpent swallowed the others. And Pharaoh did not repent or set the Hebrews free.
The first plague called down was turning the Nile and all the water in Egypt into blood. This would have killed all of the existing fish in the river as well as making both animal and humans sick, and frankly quite scared. This was Jehovah God’s frontal attack on one of Egypt’s prime gods. The Egyptian god Hapi was the god of the Nile. This was the entity, in the Egyptian’s eyes at least, that was in charge of the rising and the lowering of the Nile each year and for the success of the navigation of the Egyptians upon the river for both commerce and for control. Here is a glyphic depiction of Hapi:
Pharaoh’s magicians and sorcerers, however, were able to replicate this plague on a smaller scale, and his heart was hardened against God.
And the second plague was that of an infestation of frogs. While annoying and a bit disconcerting, for us this one may not make a big impact. For the Egyptians and for Pharaoh however, this would have been a proverbial “shot across the bow”. Heket was the goddess of fertility, water and renewal. By means of the first plague, God had attacked the very river of the Egyptian’s success and it’s god Hapi. And with this plague God attacked the “what” of the Nile in its goddess Heket. She would have been the reason for the annual success of the harvests. She would have been the one they sacrificed to in order to have children. She would be the “Mother of Egypt” as it were, all things would have a beginning in and through her. Here is a glyphic depiction of Heket:
And again, Pharaoh’s magicians and sorcerers were able to replicate this plague on a smaller scale, and his heart was hardened against God.
Then the third plague was released. This one was directly released on the humans living in Egypt, which included all of the classes of Egyptians and the Hebrews as well. The plague was that of lice or gnats. While we aren’t 100% sure of what type of bug it was exactly, the point of this plague was actually less about the annoying insects than it was as an affront to the Egyptian god of dust, named Geb, who was in charge of hosting the humans and all life on his stage, Earth. This plague both mocked the Egyptian god and it reminds us of what the scriptures state in Genesis 3:19 that we are made from dust and to dust we will all return. Here is a glyphic depiction of Geb:
This time Pharaoh’s magicians and sorcerers could not replicate this plague and actually remarked that “these plagues have the fingerprint of God on them”. But Pharaoh ‘s heart was still just as hard.
These first three plagues would have held significance to the Hebrews as well. First of all, the Hebrews were also subject to these plagues just like the Egyptians. And I think the reason for this is to shake them back to their senses. Although they are all part of the long lineage of the line of Abraham, they had spent well over 400 years in exile in Egypt. During this time some of them, most of them, fell away from their relationship with Jehovah God. Others have been trying to maintain their relationship with God and to keep His commandments, but yet again, here they are as slaves and not free. And as such they were not free to worship their own God. Instead, many would have grown up… after generations in the land… and have either adapted to the gods of Egypt or simply accepted them as a normal part of their lives. These first three plagues falling on both the Egyptians and the Hebrews is a wake up call. For the Egyptians, especially Pharaoh, to let the Hebrews go. And to the Hebrews, a call to remember their God. Even in Exodus we read that they were crying out because of their affliction, but it wasn’t specifically to God. And yet God heard their cries. This shows a broken and divided relationship between Jehovah God and his chosen nation of Israel. And these plagues would have slapped them out of their stupor in preparation for their exodus.
Moses then released the fourth plague, the swarms of flies. These flies would actually end up taking down humans and animals. And by now you’ve guessed, there was an associated Egyptian god. The fly-headed god Khepri was god of creation and rebirth and Jehovah God directly attacks Kehpri in this plague. And it is beginning with this fourth plague we see that the Hebrews begin watching from the safety of Goshen, Northeast of the royal city where the Pharaoh lived. They won’t be subject to the plagues again until the very end. Here is a glyphic depiction of Khepri:
This time no magicians and no sorcerers. Pharaoh does, however, try to negotiate with Moses which ends up being a veiled attempt for him to remain in control. God doesn’t want to compromise with Pharaoh, he wants Pharaoh to change his heart.
Now we have arrived at the fifth plague. Moses gives Pharaoh advanced notice and a chance to repent and set the Hebrews free, yet he does not. This plague ends up killing all of the livestock of Egypt, except for all which belonged to the nation of Israel. In fact, Pharaoh double checked and confirmed that all of the Hebrew animals were healthy and alive. This plague would have disrupted the transportation, economic and culinary markets of Egypt. The equivalent of the stock market crashing to nothing. But with all of this Pharaoh remains hard-hearted. Of course there is an associated Egyptian god once more. The goddess of love and protection, Hathor. And again, Jehovah God directly embarrasses the goddess and her followers with this plague. Here is a glyphic depiction of Hathor:
The sixth plague was boils and sores, and like the last, it only fell upon the Egyptians and their animals. This time the plague directly affected individuals, not just their belongings. God was calling for attention, to grab their thoughts and hearts in an attempt to get them to influence Pharaoh, to get him to set the Hebrews free. Washing in the Nile and keeping clean was of paramount importance in Egyptian society. But by covering all Egyptians with boils and sores God had made them all unclean and that was a direct affront to the goddess Isis, the goddess of medicine and peace.
By this point many Egyptians must have been convinced that Jehovah God was the one true God, but since they were not Pharaoh, they were powerless to enact change. We also see these last three plagues being of significance to the nation of Israel. They would have been slaves of the Egyptians, forced to work for little to nothing and just enough sustenance to keep themselves and their families alive. They were at the mercy of the Egyptians. But with these three plagues they would have recognized Jehovah God’s providence and involvement in their lives. He would be the one to set them free. He would be the one to provide for them. He would be the one to lead them. He would be the one to heal them.
Pharaoh, still hard-hearted as ever, remained unchanged. Moses releases the the seventh plague, hail and fire from the sky. The hail was enormous in size (as had never been seen in the land of Egypt before) and became fire as it hit the ground. The Bible specifically states that the fire and hail annihilated the flax and barley crops. Flax was used for the linen clothing they wore, and barley was used to make their libations (booze). The wheat was miraculously left unharmed. This was because God was leaving them a chance to provide bread for themselves IF they repented and Pharaoh set the Hebrews free. But, the fact that this is the seventh of ten plagues ought to tell you Pharaoh’s decision. This plague once again attacked an Egyptian god. This time is was Nut, the goddess of the sky. Had she been the true goddess of the sky and Pharaoh her high priest, this plague could have been stopped before the destruction was so widespread. Here is a glyphic depiction of Nut:
And now we have arrived at the eighth plague. Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh once more, entreating him to let the Hebrews free. And once more he refused. In Genesis 41 we read about how Joseph, a Hebrew himself, was put in power over all but Pharaoh. He organized the collection of grain during a particularly heavy harvest period which was followed by a horrible famine. Joseph’s work helped to consolidate and increase Pharaoh’s power and reach more than ever before. But then we read in Exodus 1:8 that there arose a new Pharaoh, one that did not remember Joseph and his contributions to Egypt. The eighth plague was a release of locusts, so large and so heavy that no crops were left to feed the Egyptians. In Exodus 10:2 God tells Moses that Pharaoh will be telling his sons and grandsons about this plague. Jehovah God meant to not let His name be forgotten anytime soon in Egypt.
The Egyptian god of storms and disorder, or chaos, is Seth. And of course the Egyptians would have been crying out to this god for help as the locusts descended onto every plant that still had leaves, only to see everything be eaten. Seth was powerless against Jehovah God. Here is a glyphic depiction of Seth:
We are almost through with the plagues now. But God has still not convinced Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go free, instead Pharaoh’s heart has grown harder and harder.
The Pharaoh was worshiped as the end all, be all of the Egyptian pantheon. Only second behind him was the sun, and this is who Jehovah God took on next. Moses cast a darkness across the land of Egypt, but remember only over the Egyptians as the Hebrews were not subject to plagues four through nine. The darkness was so dark and dank that it could be not only seen, but felt. This went beyond a simple eclipse, as it needed to be a dagger through the heart of the sun worshipers, and the god of the sun, Ra. Here is a glyphic depiction of Ra:
These last three plagues would have decimated the remaining strength of the Egyptians but yet again, Pharaoh had to fulfill the role of cosmic leader and would not relent to Jehovah God’s pressure. God wasn’t even necessarily asking for Pharaoh to step down or stop worshiping his false gods, he wanted Pharaoh to let His people, the nation of Israel, free. These last three plagues were meant to show Jehovah’s omnipotence and exclusive power, that only He was able to do these amazing and awe inspiring plagues. The nation of Israel would have taken note of this, and would have gained confidence that the God who chose them would indeed be fully capable of redeeming them, if not yet then shortly.
In fact, now would be a good time to review the four promises of the Exodus, just so you can remember all that God claimed He would do before we reach the end of the list of plagues. Read more here
So you have refreshed your memory on the four promises of the Exodus. Let’s get back to the showdown between Jehovah God and Pharaoh.
God tells Moses to prepare the people of Israel to “get out of Dodge”. He even instructs them to prepare to ask the Egyptians for their precious metals and all of the treasures of Egypt as they leave the land. That is all of the increase brought on the backs of the Hebrews and shall be theirs as they leave the land! Pharaoh was thought to be the highest manifestation of any Egyptian god, in fact he was considered to be the son of Ra in the flesh. As it turns out, his selfishness will end up killing the firstborn of all of Egypt. The tenth plague indeed did break the resilience of Pharaoh. But it also showed that Pharaoh’s selfish actions killed many. And his son was indeed dead, never to inherit the throne. Here is a glyphic depiction of Pharaoh:
The Israelites would see this as a complete and utter defeat of Egypt. And they would see the first of the promises of the Exodus fulfilled. Watching as God whittled down the resolve of both the Egyptians and of their Pharaoh and how He freed them from the overarching mindset of the Egyptians as slave-drivers and the Hebrews as slaves. They would have gained more and more confidence in their God and in following His leader chosen for them, Moses. All of this is important to note as the nation of Israel prepares to leave its home of more than 400 years.
How do these plagues apply to us today? Well, they don’t. Not exactly. But at the same time, all scripture is useful as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16. While we don’t have exact correlations to each of the plagues, we need to be reminded that we many times look to success, work, money, power, prestige, nature, pets, and even children as gods in our own lives. Yet, at the end of the day we too need to be set free from our entrenched positions in order to follow God’s leading sometimes. In fact, many times we are enslaved by our jobs, by our hobbies, by our lifestyles in such a way as to convince ourselves that we are unable to live without them. God can’t always use us as participants in His on-going work when we are unwilling let go of something we are holding onto tighter than Him. He may allow plagues to hit us. Not necessarily to punish us, but that we may come once again to be aware of His existence and recognize His role in our lives. We may then return to the place where we rely on Him for providence and acknowledge His involvement in our lives. We should live our lives with such a fervor and energy that others will see His omnipotence and exclusive power working through us. And if we will allow God to use us and work through us, maybe others would also see and come to know the true son of the living God, Jesus. He too died, but not as a result of the selfish actions of His father, like Pharaoh and Ra. But rather in a selfless act, Jesus, chose to die in order that all people would come into a relationship with Himself and His father so that when they are worshiping and believe in Him, they too are saved and not plagued.
To start at the beginning of the Easter/Holy Week series, click here
Next day, click here