Smiting the Gods

January 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Posted in Exodus | 9 Comments
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We tend to think of the word “plague” as meaning a bad outbreak of disease, or some natural catastrophe that brings distress, destruction, or death to a large group of people. Therefore, it is not incorrect to call the events by which God began to deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage “The Ten Plagues.”

However, the Hebrew word translated as “plagues” can also mean “blows” or “strikes.” These violent strokes from God’s hand may also be seen as “signs.” They expressed messages. They systematically stripped the Egyptians of all their hope in false gods and in their Pharaoh. Some scholars see a clear pattern of “Ten Plagues” beginning with the Nile River turning to blood and ending with the death of all the Egyptian firstborn. But others see a 1:9:1 structure, with the signs performed by Moses and Aaron in Pharoah’s court (staff-turned-to-snake) being the initial limited sign, followed by nine “nation-wide” signs, ending with the death of the first born as more of a deliverance-judgment than a “sign.”

In either case, the plagues/signs that God performed through the prayers and announcements of Moses and Aaron consistently increased in severity, even as Pharaoh’s heart appears to have grown harder and harder in response. First, the Nile River was turned to blood.

Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river’s brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand.

Exodus 7:15

And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also. And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river. And seven days were fulfilled, after that the LORD had smitten the river.

Exodus 7:20-25

This plague was not limited in its effect against the Egyptians only, the way later plagues would be, but it did show God’s power over the false god, Hapi, the supposed god of the Nile River. It was duplicated on a minor scale by the Egyptian magicians – whether by demonic (but far lesser) power or by deceptive sleight of hand.

Next came the plague of frogs.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs:

Exodus 8:1-2

The Egyptians had their own god, Heqt, who was supposed to be in charge of the frogs, so this, too, was a direct assault on their belief system.

And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneadingtroughs: And the frogs shall come up both on thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants. And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt. And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.

Exodus 8:3-7

Obviously, their frog deity was no match for the true God.

The third plague involved lice.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast.

Exodus 8:16-18

This was the first of the plagues that was not pre-announced to Pharaoh, and I could not find any specific reference to a “lice-god” in Egypt. However, we do know that the Egyptians were obsessed with personal hygiene, and, despite the fact that Pharaoh and his officers would most likely have practiced the shaving of not only their heads and eyebrows, but also all their body hair, and yet still found themselves infested with lice, this would have been most distressing.

The fourth plague was a plague of flies (the biting kind).

And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are. And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be. And the LORD did so; and there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt: the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of flies.

Exodus 8:20-24

There had become a clear delineation in the way that the plagues were affecting only the Egyptians, and sparing the Israelites, although they occupied the same geographical location. Obviously these were not “natural disasters” produced by blind chance, coincidence, or an undesigned chain reaction spurred by algae in the Nile River. Nor could the Egyptian fly god, Uatchit, stop the flies, any more than Apis (the bull god) could heal the dying cattle (fifth plague); or Sekhment (goddess of healing) stop the boils which broke out on men and beasts (sixth plague); or Seth (god of crops) and Nut (god of the sky) do anything whatsoever to abate the worst hailstorm known to man (seventh plague). Pharaoh was willfully blind to the obvious, but God was not finished yet.

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