The Living God Vs. The Gods Of Egypt

“And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.” (Exodus 12:12)

The majestic imagery of the events in the Book of Exodus make for quite the engrossing story as well as larger-than-life cinematic moments. Cecil B. DeMille, the legendary movie director, made not one but two films about “The Ten Commandments” (1923 and 1956). I remember watching the newer Charlton Heston version as a kid and seeing those fantastic images of the ten plagues being carried out against a stubborn Pharaoh (portrayed wonderfully by Yul Brynner). I never really gave it much thought when I was young but, as I grew older, I must admit that the particular plagues that God chose to enact against the people of Egypt did seem rather strange and arbitrary. I mean, frogs? Flies? Locusts? A bloody river? Why did God use these particular things in order to plague the land of Egypt?

We have a few clues in the Bible about why God used these instruments in order to express His wrath on Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. First of all, we see in Moses’ initial encounter with Pharaoh that Pharaoh defiantly asserts, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice and let Israel go?” (Ex. 5:2). And secondly, we see the Lord declare in Exodus 12:12 that He is “executing judgment against all the gods of Egypt.” It seems that the biggest obstacle to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites was, A.) He did not submit to God’s authority and claimed to not even know Him and, B.) He was trusting in false gods and submitting to the authority of idols. Pharaoh did not feel compelled to obey the command of God because he did not recognize the living God as having sovereignty over him. He did recognize the gods of Egypt as having authority, but not the Living God. Therefore, the “contest with Pharaoh” that would follow through the plagues that God poured out on Egypt were ultimately a “Clash of the Gods“, so to speak. Each and every individual plague would be a frontal attack against a particular Egyptian deity, asserting that God Almighty was the One who had authority over that area of life, as He does over every area of life. Worshipping a pantheon of gods, the Egyptians assigned a specific deity to rule over every aspect of their lives from the mundane to the extraordinary. Let us look at each of the plagues and their significance to the pagan idolators of Egypt:

The Nile Turns To Blood

For all intents and purposes, the River Nile is Egypt. All of the major settlements in ancient Egypt grew up either next to the Nile or one of its tributaries. The importance and significance of this life-giving waterway to the ancient Egyptians simply cannot be overstated. Consequently, they had assigned many deities to the governing of it. Hapi, the bull-headed god, was the god of the Nile itself. Isis, the wife of the god Osiris, was also revered as having authority over the River. Khnum, a god with the head of a ram, was viewed as a special guardian of the Nile’s waters. There were countless other lesser gods who were revered in connection with the sacred waters of the Nile. The turning of the Nile from water into blood must have called into question the power of all of these deities to protect the sacred stream of Egypt. Not only was the Nile the primary source of water for the land, it was also the source of irrigation for the crops that were grown there. The annual overflowing of its banks brought necessary saturation and fertilization to the farms of an otherwise arid land.

In addition to the lack of drinking water and the threat to the irrigation of their crops, the fish within the River died (Ex. 7:21). Imagine, two primary food sources as well as the primary water source being simultaneously affected. The impact of this must have been devastating to the Egyptians. For a people who enacted precise religious rituals in order to appease the gods who ruled over the Nile, its turning to blood had to call into question Who really had the power of life and death in His hand.

Frogs

Heqet was the Egyptian goddess of birth and fertility. She was depicted as a woman with the head of a frog. Because of this, frogs were seen as possessing divine, life-giving powers and it was absolutely forbidden to kill them. Frogs were a common sight along the Nile’s banks when the river receded each year, but we are told in connection with this plague that they came forth “abundantly” and invaded the homes of the people (Ex. 8:3). Ironically, the frogs infested the bedrooms and beds of the Egyptians; the very places where the blessings of Heqet were sought. It is somewhat amusing to picture the people of Egypt attempting to gingerly step over these millions of frogs as they walked about, afraid to crush any of these sacred animals beneath their feet. I wonder how long their patience endured before the constant croaking and the overwhelming blanketing of these slimy little amphibians over every square inch of their homes became too much to bear and they wanted to curse the little fellows rather than worship them?

Lice/Gnats

It is not certain exactly what type of insects these were, but it seems that they were some type of stinging or biting bugs. Aaron smote the dust of the earth with his rod and the dust became these insects (Ex. 8:17). In the mind of Egyptians, this would have been a definite affront against Geb, the god of the earth. Interestingly, Geb was often portrayed with the head of a snake — Aaron’s former demonstration of his rod becoming a snake must have also brought Geb’s image into the mind of the Egyptians (Ex. 7:10). The symbolism of Moses’ and Aaron’s power over the snake would have spoken a great deal.

Flies

Khepri was a god related to creation and rebirth and was depicted as a man with the head of a fly. Additionally, the Ichneumon fly was considered a direct manifestation of the god Uatchit.

Plague On The Livestock

As in the plague on the Nile River, the sickness of the Egyptian cattle would have been seen as a threat to their food supply. Cattle were also viewed as sacred animals and the deities Hapi and Hathor (goddess of love) were normally depicted as having the head of cattle.

Boils

Sekhmet was a goddess with power over sickness and disease; Sunu was a god of pestilence; and Isis was the great goddess of health, medicine, and healing. Yet none of these seemed to have any power to stop this terrible plague of skin sores upon the people of Egypt. Since cleanliness and ceremonially cleansing were an integral part of religious life in Egypt, the priests were rendered ineligible for service due to their boils. If no previous plague had brought the entire Egyptian religious practices to a halt, then this certainly would have.

Hail And Fire

Nut, the goddess of the sky and Set, the god of storms would have been the object of this plague. Only the flax and barley were destroyed by the flames and hailstorms which would have primarily affected the textile and beer-brewing industries. It was only the luxury items affected here, not the main food crops. Yet Pharaoh did not repent and the locusts would come next to destroy all that the hail had left (Ex. 10:12).

Locusts

Osiris was the ruling god over the crops of the land of Egypt. The plague of locusts brought the utter destruction of all remaining plant life. Along with Nut and Set, already mentioned, gods such as Shu (god of the wind and atmosphere) would have been proven powerless in the face of the Living God of Heaven.

Darkness

This second-to-last plague would have affected the dominion of one of the highest gods in the entire Egyptian pantheon: Ra, god of the Sun. Along with Osiris, Ra was considered the greatest of all the Egyptian deities. The fact that the Sun over which he supposedly ruled failed to shine for three days would have seriously called into question the abilities of even this great god of Egypt.

Death Of the Firstborn

This final plague affected the two mightiest gods in the entire Kingdom: Pharoah himself and his son. Pharoah was viewed as a “living god”, as was his son. God demonstrated in the taking of the son of Pharaoh that He held power and authority even over Pharaoh . The King of Egypt was powerless to prevent this from happening and this last plague on the land proved beyond any doubt that Pharaoh was not a god at all. By this point, Pharaoh definitely knew Who the Lord was and why he should listen to Him. The Living God had shown that He alone is God and that He alone holds power over Heaven and Earth, kings and kingdoms, life and death. Pharaoh scoffed each time that Moses declared what God was about to do to the people of Egypt, yet every single thing that Moses told him came to pass exactly as he said it would. The “gods” that Pharaoh was trusting in, the “gods” that the people of the land were counting on to protect them were but vain and powerless idols compared to the Almighty God of the Universe.

One cannot help but see uncanny similarities between the Plagues of Egypt and many of the judgments of God in the Book of Revelation. The day will come when God shall again execute judgment against sinful, rebellious man and the “gods” he worships. Man continues to shake his fist in the face of God and defies His Maker. Man might not draw caricatures with animal heads of his deities nowadays, he might not name each one and assign them specific tasks, but he still believes that he is the master of his own destiny and that the powers of Nature can be tamed by his own efforts. Man still asks, “Who is God that I should obey Him?” and all the while bows his knee to “gods” who are powerless to help him. God will judge all who do so and everything which man has called “god” will be laid low and hewn down by the judgment of the Lord. Someday, every knee will bow down to the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:11, Phil. 2:11) and the worship of idols will be no more. There is no one else nor anything else worthy of man’s worship than God Almighty, our Maker and Creator. Let us come to Him now and not wait for our own “gods”, as well as ourselves, to come under His judgment.

10 responses

  1. Hi Loren,

    Thank you for this post…. Ever so many years ago I read about these correlations, but had long forgotten them…. This is so good to realize because we need to know how very detailed our Lord is in all that He does…. There is no happenstance….. Everything around us declares the glory of God and is for us to learn from…. Our learning should bring us to worship and honor our Lord for all that He is and does.

    And fast forwarding to our coming Judgment Day, Revelation describes judgments against the worship of money, riches of all sorts, the abuse against human lives, power over others, immoralities, etc….. All of that seems to be in the forefront of our daily news and media….. And, people are refusing to listen to God’s words of warning — just as Revelation describes….. The hearts of the people are cold.

    Maybe this post will get someone to considering whether or not they are a “little Pharaoh” of sorts….. Thank you.

    Margaret

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  2. Loren, This was a wonderfully informative post. I did not know all of that about the Egyptian gods and how they correlated with the specific plagues God sent upon Egypt. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Peace, Linda

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  3. I’m with Linda, Loren. I did wonder . . .the plagues were unique! This now makes so much sense and leaves me in awe of God even more. He is in every detail of the Bible. He is also interested in every detail of our lives. God bless you as you keep teaching us more about Him! Thank you so much!

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  4. Thank you, Loren

    I’ve been ‘background reading’ and getting fat on the facts. Thank you!

    Echoing Linda and Debbie – this is mostly brand new to me too. To see how God ‘cut them off at the knees’ … interesting. Very, very interesting. I guess this bears out the point of the hard-heartedness of Sir Pharoah. He really did make it easy for God!

    The Pharoah had opportunities to rewrite the story but He chose not to change his heart. He went up against God and God was right there waiting for him. If He can do this to a ‘mighty’ Pharoah, what can He not do (to whomever?)

    Sidenote … I wonder if the gnats/flies were bed bugs? :-)

    Thanks again, Loren. I greatly appreciate your efforts. I have a friend who loves studying the scriptures – I’m passing this on to her as well.

    Praying He’ll search my heart and remove any ‘hard’ thing that’s in there. It’s my desire to become what He wants me to be.

    In learning mode,
    ann

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  5. Hi Margaret,

    Back when I was writing on Genesis 3, I put up a post called “The Ironic Nature Of God’s Judgments“. It blows me away that even the Lord’s judgment on the devil, Adam, and Eve were so appropriate to the sin of which they were each guilty. And then to look at the judgments/plagues here in Exodus and those in Revelation: God’s judgments always seem to perfectly fit the sin. Let the punishment fit the crime, as the saying goes.

    You’re absolutely right. People are still refusing to listen to the warnings in the Word of God about the coming judgments of our Lord. Oh, that they would come to Him and partake of His wonderful mercy! The saddest part of all of these judgments is that they could so easily be avoided if man would only come before the Lord, trust in Him, and ask for His mercy. Their hearts are cold, indeed.

    Thanks, Margaret, I so appreciate your wonderful comments :)

    In Christ,

    Loren

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  6. Thank you so much, Linda, I am so glad that you found this useful and informative :)

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  7. It is so awesome, isn’t it? What a reminder that nothing God does is without purpose and meaning. Thank you so much, Deb, for the great feedback, I really appreciate it so much!

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  8. “The Pharoah had opportunities to rewrite the story but He chose not to change his heart”

    Something really caught my eye as I was preparing and studying to write this. I considered commenting on it, but the evidence is inconclusive in the text. In Exodus 4:23, God instructs Moses to tell Pharaoh that, if he fails to let Israel (God’s son) go, then God will slay Pharaoh’s son. What we read in Exodus 5 concerning what Moses tells Pharaoh does not contain this specific ultimatum (the inconclusive part I mentioned :) ), but I personally believe that Moses would have been faithful to include this information in his initial confrontation with Pharaoh.

    Can you imagine? Moses kept coming to Pharaoh and telling him exactly what God was about to do, and then it would happen just as Moses said it would. I wonder if those words concerning his own son didn’t haunt Pharaoh from time to time during these plagues, I mean, didn’t he even consider that this would transpire just as Moses said it would, as well? Apparently not. How arrogant! How foolish! What a tragedy that he could have changed the way that this unfolded at any time, yet he chose not to.

    Interesting point about the bedbugs. It seems that nobody really knows for sure. Some have suggested lice, stinging gnats, mosquitos, and lots of other types of bugs. I have lived in a lot of different climates and have been stung/bitten by several different types of insects and I know one thing: none of it’s much fun! I can’t imagine the agony of having any type of bug infesting your home so badly that they are like the very dust of the Earth (not only in nature, but certainly in multitude!). If nothing else, I like to think that this would have gotten my attention.

    Thanks for sharing this with others, I hope they find it useful. Praying with you about the “hard things” being turned soft. May the Lord keep our own hearts tender.

    God bless you, Ann.

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  9. Thank you for writing this. Today I came across a verse that said God executed judgement on the gods of Egypt. I wondered how god could judge the gods of Egypt since they are not Living gods. In other words how could they be judged if they are not real? This article really answered my question. Even though they were false gods, Jehova God disproved their “power”. Thanks again.

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  10. Awesome, I am so glad you found this helpful :)

    Thanks for taking the time to share your fedback. God bless you!

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