For four hundred years, after Joseph became governor of Egypt, the Israelites enjoyed peace and prosperity. Then, a new Pharaoh came to power who knew nothing of Joseph, who had saved Egypt from famine and destruction. The Pharaoh saw the population and prosperity of the Israelites as a threat, and imposed severe restriction on them. These restrictions degenerated into forced labor and slavery.
Of these restrictions, none was more severe, and abhorrent to God, than the Pharaoh's command to kill every newborn male Jewish child. Every first-born male child in Judaism is consecrated to the Lord. Thus, Pharaoh's actions were not only genocidal, but a direct confrontation to God. In response, God called Moses, who was saved from death by Pharaoh's daughter, to lead Israel into freedom by defeating the Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods.
In the Exodus we read, 'God hardened the heart of Pharaoh
There is an old saying which states, 'The sun that melts the wax, hardens the clay." Moses is a type of Christ and Christ is Truth. Thus, when some come into the presence of truth, they become humble and soften, like wax, and adopt the truth. Others, find the truth contradictory to their opinions, and become stubborn and hardened, like fired clay. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword."1. The sword is the Truth, which hardens Pharaoh's heart.
Another aspect of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart is that God knew Pharaoh's heart, and that he would defy any change. Pharaoh was not only the ruler of Egypt, but a god, supreme over all other gods, the son of the god, Ra. So, when Moses and Aaron petitioned for the Israelites to go into the wilderness and offer a sacrifice to the Lord, Pharaoh replied defiantly, "Who is the LORD, that I should heed his plea to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD; even if I did, I would not let Israel go.” 2
Certainly, the Pharaoh found the Israelites petition to worship another god insulting. Thus, he became more entrenched against the Israelites. And, God used the hardness of Pharaoh's heart, and the ten plagues, to destroyed the Pharaoh's claim to divinity, his military power, and all the other gods of Egypt as well. Thus, proving that the Lord is the one true God, to the Egyptians, the Hebrews, and because Egypt was the most advanced civilization of the time, to the world.
Thus, the Lord said, "I will lay my hand on Egypt and by great acts of judgment I will bring the hosts of my people, the Israelites, out of the land of Egypt, so that the Egyptians may learn that I am the LORD, as I stretch out my hand against Egypt and lead the Israelites out of their midst.”3
God wanted the Israelites to be free that they might worship Him, not in bondage, but in love. The plagues were a declaration of war, and a promise of deliverance, against the gods of Egypt, the gods of slavery, and the prince of this world, Satan.
The Ten Plagues
Like many of the cultures at the time of Moses, Egypt had many gods. Fifteen hundred of them are known by name. They represent natural and social phenomena, as well as abstract concepts. "There were several large schools of theological thought in Egypt, and each proclaimed its superiority over the others. the ruling dynasty would often promote their chief local god to the chief national god."4 Thus, the gods were an important aspect of Egyptian religion and life, and their defeat had very significant, if not devastating, effects on the Egyptian economy, their religious beliefs, their families and property, and their sustenance and survival.
Plague 1: Water turned to Blood
A plague against the god, Hapi, the Egyptian God of the Nile.
The Egyptian god, Hapi, is pictured as a water bearer.
"The LORD now says: This is how you shall know that I am the LORD. I will strike the water of the river with the staff I hold, and it shall be changed into blood. The fish in the river shall die, and the river itself shall become so polluted that the Egyptians will be unable to drink its water ... And, there was blood [for seven days] throughout the land of Egypt [demonstrating that the Lord was superior to all the Gods of Egypt].”5
Hapi was greatly celebrated among the Egyptians. He was the 'Lord of the Fish and Birds of the Marshes'. "He was especially important to the ancient Egyptians because he brought the flood every year. The flood deposited rich silt on the banks of the Nile, allowing the Egyptians to grow crops."6
Plague 2: Invasion of the Frogs
A Plague against the goddess: Heket - Egyptian Goddess of fertility, childbirth, water, and renewal. Heket, was pictured as a frog.
The LORD then told Moses, “Say to Aaron: Stretch out your hand and your staff over the streams and canals and pools, to make frogs overrun the land of Egypt.” Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.7
Aaron stretched out his hand and the "frogs came up from the river covered the land of Egypt. They were in their houses, in their food, in their clothing, in every place possible. They died off and heaps and heaps of them were gathered up. And there was a stench in the land ... From the greatest to the least, no one in Egypt escaped the plague of frogs. Pharaoh's magicians were able to bring more frogs in their attempt to imitate the power of God, but only Moses was able to make the frogs go away." 8
Heket was the Egyptian symbol of the childbirth. She assisted in the birth of three Pharaohs. "Pregnant women often wore amulets and scarabs featuring Heket to protect them during childbirth.9
Plague 3: Gnats and Lice
A plague against Geb - Egyptian God of the Earth.
The Egyptian god, Geb, was over the dust of the earth.
The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron to stretch out his staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may be turned into gnats throughout the land of Egypt ... Aaron stretched out his hand, and with his staff he struck the dust of the earth, and gnats came upon man and beast. The dust of the earth was turned into gnats throughout the land of Egypt. 10
"The very dust that was referred to in the creation process of man is now used to plague men, as a reminder of his mortality and sin which both lead to death." 11 The lice and flies brought defilement to the people — a terrible blow, for Egyptians could not worship their gods unless they were spotlessly clean. "The ancient Egyptians believed that earthquakes were Geb's laughter"12
Plague 4: Flies
A plague against Khepri - Egyptian God of creation, movement of the Sun, rebirth
The Egyptian Goddess, Khepri -, had the head of a fly.
"If you will not let my people go, I warn you, I will loose swarms of flies upon you and your servants and your subjects and your houses. The houses of the Egyptians and the very ground on which they stand shall be filled with swarms of flies. But on that day I will make an exception of the land of Goshen: there shall be no flies where my people dwell, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth.13
"This time, however, only the Egyptians are directly affected by the judgement, or plague, and the children of Israel remain unscathed ... Pharaoh tried a new tactic and begins bargaining with the Lord, showing his desire to maintain power and authority over God. He tries to dictate the terms and conditions of the offer, telling them they may sacrifice but only "in the land" clearly not complying with the requested "three days journey" that the Lord required.14
Plague 5: Pestilence against cattle
A plague against Hathor - Egyptian Goddess of Love and Protection
The Egyptian Goddess, Hathor, was depicted with the head of a cow.
Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go to worship me. If you refuse to let them go and persist in holding them, I warn you, the LORD will afflict all your livestock in the field — your horses, asses, camels, herds and flocks—with a very severe pestilence. But the LORD will distinguish between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that none belonging to the Israelites will die.”15
"This plague was given with an advanced warning, allowing a period of repentance to occur, which goes unheeded ... This plague affected the Egyptian by creating a huge economic disaster, in areas of food, transportation, military supplies, farming, and economic goods that were produced by these livestock."16
Plague 6: Ashes to Boils
A plague against Isis - Egyptian Goddess of Medicine and Peace.
She was believed to help the dead enter the afterlife.
Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take a double handful of soot from a furnace, and in the presence of Pharaoh let Moses scatter it toward the sky. It will then turn into fine dust over the whole land of Egypt and cause festering boils on man and beast throughout the land.”17
"Cleanliness being paramount in the Egyptian society, this plague pronounces the people "unclean." The magicians who have been seen throughout the previous plagues are unable to perform ceremonially rituals to their Egyptian Gods and Goddesses in this unclean state, not allowing them to even stand before Pharaoh; they are seen in the scriptural account no more. It is great to notice the contrast shown as Moses and Aaron are the only ones left standing in front of Pharaoh, with the "One True God" as their support."18
Plague 7: Hail rained down in the form of fire
A plague against Nut- Egyptian Goddess of the Sky.
I warn you, then, tomorrow at this hour I will rain down such fierce hail as there has never been in Egypt from the day the nation was founded up to the present. Therefore, order all your livestock and whatever else you have in the open fields to be brought to a place of safety. Whatever man or beast remains in the f fields and is not brought to shelter shall die when the hail comes upon them.”19
A division is now felt between the Egyptians in the form of those "converted" to the Lord, as shown by their obedience and willingness to escape to the protection of their "houses ... This gave the Egyptians still another chance to turn to "the One True God", and forsake their own Egyptian gods and goddesses, thus showing His mercy and grace even yet."20
Plague 8: Locusts sent from the sky
A plague against Seth - Egyptian God of Storms and Disorder
If you refuse to let my people go, I warn you, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. They shall cover the ground, so that the ground itself will not be visible. They shall eat up the remnant you saved unhurt from the hail, as well as all the foliage that has since sprouted in your fields. They shall fill your houses and the houses of your servants and of all the Egyptians; such a sight your fathers or grandfathers have not seen from the day they first settled on this soil up to the present day.” With that he turned and left Pharaoh.”21
The eighth plague issued by the Lord had an even greater purpose than all the others, it was to be felt so that Pharaoh would tell even "his sons and son's sons" the mighty things of the Lord, thus teaching even future g generations of the power of the "strong hand of God" over all the other Egyptian gods and goddesses."22
Plague 9: Three Days of Complete Darkness
A plague against, Ra. The Sun God.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that over the land of Egypt there may be such intense darkness that one can feel it ... and there was dense darkness throughout the land of Egypt for three days. Men could not see one another, nor could they move from where they were, for three days. But all the Israelites had light where they dwelt.”23
"Three days of palpable darkness, that was so immense it could be physically felt, covered the land of Egypt. The sun, the most worshipped God in Egypt other than Pharaoh himself, gave no light ... The Lord showed that he had control over the sun as a witness that the God of Israel had ultimate power over life and death. The psychological and religious impact would have had a profound influence on the Egyptians at this point. Darkness was a representation of death, judgment and hopelessness.24
Plague 10: Death of the Firstborn
A plague against, Pharaoh - The Ultimate Power of Egypt.
Thus says the LORD: At midnight I will go forth through Egypt. Every first-born in this land shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh on the throne to the first-born of the slave-girl at the handmill, as well as all the first-born of the animals. Then there shall be loud wailing throughout the land of Egypt, such as has never been, nor will ever be again. But among the Israelites and their animals not even a dog shall growl, so that you may know how the LORD distinguishes between the Egyptians and the Israelites.”25
Before this final plague, God commanded Moses to inform all the Israelites to mark lamb's blood above their doors on every door in which case the LORD will pass over them and not "suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and smite you" After this, Pharaoh, furious, saddened, and afraid that he would be killed next, ordered the Israelites to leave, taking whatever they wanted, and asking Moses to bless him in the name of the Lord. The Israelites did not hesitate, believing that soon Pharaoh would once again change his mind, which he did; and at the end of that night Moses led them out of Egypt with arms upraised.26
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