God is described by many names and adjectives: omniscient, omnipresent, holy, just, loving, and many others. When I first read Exodus 7, I thought about another word to describe God: Random! Honestly, look at these plagues! Blood, frogs, dirt, flies, dead cows, sores on the skin? How can you make this stuff up? How do you come up with a list like that? The only thing I could imagine is that this seemingly random list of plagues has a deeper meaning. What if this incredibly random list of inconveniences was, well, anything but random? Let’s take a look at these 10 plagues and find the deeper meaning behind how God used secular culture to demonstrate His ultimate power and authority.
Plague #1 - Is this bottled water, or from the tap?
God instructed Moses to stretch the rod over the Nile River and the water turned to blood. The Nile River is a life source for the people of Egypt, from water to food to transportation. One of the Egyptian gods was Hapi, the god of the Nile River. Egyptians believed that worshipping Hapi would give them a source of continual water and food from the Nile. By turning the water into blood, the fish died and the river became ritualistically unclean. The people could not even be near the bloody water. The one true God starts to prove that He is superior to all other Egyptian gods.
Plague #2 - Don’t touch them, they’ll give you warts!
After Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites, God sends a plague of frogs. Another Egyptian god was Heket, the god of fertility and renewal. An image of Heket has a woman’s body with a frog’s head. The frogs where everywhere: in their clothes, their food, and their homes. The very sign of renewal and survival was making them miserable. Again, God shows His dominance over another false god. The source of everyday life and the hope for renewal were gone for the people. Where else could they turn?
Plague #3 - Let’s see David Copperfield do this one!
Geb was the Egyptian god of the earth. Another name was the dust god. Moses stirs the dusts of the earth, forcing lice and biting bugs to get all over the people and the animals. Had another god of the Egyptians turned his back on the very people that worship him? Or was the God of Israel simply continuing to flex His muscles and prove His position of authority as more than a God among gods? The Pharaoh’s magicians were starting to catch on. After matching wits with God by managing to turn water into blood and make frogs appear out of nowhere, the magicians turned to Pharaoh in defeat and acknowledged that the power behind the third plague was no doubt “the finger of God” (Ex 8:19).
Plague #4 - There’s a fly in my soup.
When looking at pictures of Egyptian gods, Khepri looks a bit odd. It is a man’s body with the head of a black fly.
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Swarms of flies are sent to plague the people of Egypt, and Pharaoh starts to get weary of the plagues. Khepri is the god of creation and rebirth. Pharaoh decides to try to bargain with Moses in exchange for the flies being called off. When the flies leave however, Pharaoh continues to worship the false gods, giving credit to Khepri for taking the flies away and giving them a rebirth or new start, and calls off the deal with Moses.
Plague #5 - Looks like we’re having steak for supper.
After the flies leave, God kills all of the Egyptians’ livestock. Hathor was the god of love and protection. She is also portrayed as having a cow’s ears and horns on a woman's body. In exchange for sacrifice and worship, Hathor would show love to the people by providing them food and labor in the form of animals. The animals also offered bartering power with other countries, earning their allegiance and building Pharaoh’s army. Why do you need an army? For protection, of course. In one swoop, Moses takes away their bartering power, their labor force, their food source (which has become extremely necessary since the fish in the Nile are dead) and consequently the power and purpose of Hathor. Hamburgers anyone?
The theme is obvious in the passage. The plagues are not just about inconveniences and suffering. The main reason for such a display of strength is to establish a hierarchy of power. The hierarchy is this: The God of Israel is the one true God. Period.
Next week, we’ll look at the other five plagues, including God challenging the power of the ultimate authority in Egypt, Pharaoh himself.