Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Meaning of the Plagues

In honor of the passover and Easter season (and because I watched The Prince of Egypt with my family last night), I am compelled to share a portion from the book exploring the purpose of the plagues sent upon Egypt. We knew God was making a point... but why exactly did he choose the plagues he chose? Why specifically blood, Frogs, Lice, Flies, Death of Livestock, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and Death of firstborn? This article explains the symbolism of these choices, God's language of choice, and their significance, from the Egyptian point of view.

Plague 1: The Nile turns to blood.

The Egyptians saw the Nile River as the god who supplied the lifeblood of Egypt. Gods associated with Nile included Hapi, Hatmehyt, and Osiris, among others. The power of these gods was broken as Yahweh too control of the river, making the Nile a source of death instead of life.

Plague 2: Frogs.

Frogs were associated with the fertility goddess Heqt (or Heket), who had the body of a woman and the head of a frog. During the second plague, frogs became a curse for the Egyptians instead of deities to be worshiped. Just as it is unlawful for Hindus to ill cows or remove them from stores, so it was with the Egyptians in regard to frogs. The frogs went into every corner of every house, but because of their religious beliefs (false paradigms) the Egyptians were powerless to stop them.

Plague 3: Lice.

One of the chief Egyptian gods was Geb, god of the earth. Offerings were given to Geb to ensure the bounty of the soil. As you will recall, the lice were produced when Aaron struck the ground with his staff, thus producing lice from the dust (Exodus 8:16-17). Geb should have been able to defend his domain, but once again, God rendered yet another Egyptian god completely powerless.

One of the effects of the lice would have been that the Egyptian priests would be unable to serve their gods in their temples. The Egyptian priests would now be ceremonially unclean, and their gods would be proven powerless to intervene. At this point, the priests finally bucked, saying, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19).

Plague 4: Flies.

Scholars believe that the word often translated as "flies" in this passage actually means all kinds of different biting and stinging insects. Insects were also worshiped as gods in Egypt. Utachit was the god of flies, and Khepra was often shown as a scarab beetle. The Egyptians thought that worshiping the gods who controlled these insects would keep the insects from attacking them. But it didn't work out that way this time. In fact, this was the first time Pharaoh himself asked Moses to pray to Yahweh on his behalf (Exodus 8:28).

Plague 5: Death of livestock.

The Egyptians worshiped livestock just as Hindus today worship cattle and other animals. In fact, the Persians won a significant battle against the Egyptians by driving sacred animals in front of them. The Egyptians would not fight for fear of harming the sacred animals, so the Persians were able to wipe them out. By killing the animals in this fashion, God demonstrated that he was greater than these domesticated gods. Two of the Egyptian gods decimated by this plague were Hathor, the cow-headed god that protected cattle herds, and Apis, the bull god.

Plague 6: Boils.

With this plague, God instructed Moses to scatter ashes toward the heavens (Exodus 9:8-10). This was God's declaration of war on the sky gods of Egypt: Horis, Shu, Isis, and Nut. It was also a custom of the Egyptian priests to scatter ashes from sacrifices as a sign of blessing. Moses was mimicking the priests, but his actions brought boils, not blessings. Exodus 9:11 specifically points out that the Egyptian priests were infected with boils and could not stand before Moses and Aaron. In other words, God made the Egyptian priests a public laughing stock. The people used to go to them for help, but now they were inflicted just like any common Egyptian or slave. Their cleansing rituals did nothing for them. In fact, they couldn't even get off the ground! On top of that they were once again banned from their own temples because of their physical uncleanness.

Plague 7: Thunder and hail.

Think of Egypt as a desert country that was fortunate enough to have a river running through it. Thus, rain, hail, and thunder were virtually unknown in the region. It must have been quite a shock to see fiery hail fall from the sky. Where were Nut, Horus, Shu, and Isis, the sky gods of Egypt, who were supposed to protect against such things? Exodus 9:31 tells us that the flax and barley crops in Egypt were wiped out. An Egyptian celebration was held at this time of year called the "coming out of Min." Min was the god who protected agriculture. But his party probably had to be canceled that year. At this point, even Pharaoh began to recognize the distinction between the gods of Egypt and the God of the Hebrews.

"I have sinned this time. Yahweh is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. Entreat the Lord, that there may be no more mighty thundering and hail, for it is enough" (Exodus 9:27-28a)

Plague 8: Locusts.

Locusts were pretty much a standard "judgment against sin" in the Old Testament. However, the Egyptians had found a way around locust infestations. They had a god named Serapia whose job was to keep them away. If the Egyptians worshiped this god, all would be fine. In addition to Serapia looking after the locusts, the god Nepri also looked after the grain. Anubis was guarding the fields, and Ermulet looked after crops. It looked like the Egyptians had their bases covered. But God proved them wrong. Exodus 10:4-6 says the locusts covered the face of the earth and even filled all of the Egyptians' houses. They destroyed everything, just as Yahweh had destroyed the gods who were supposed to keep the locusts at bay.

Plague 9: Darkness.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt'" (Exodus 10:21). One of Egypt's chief deities was the sun god Ra or Amon-Ra. The Egyptians believed that at night, Ra went through the underworld fighting his was through darkness and storm to re-emerge the next day. If Ra didn't return, that meant creation was over. By restricting the sun from shining for three days, God showed the Egyptians that Ra had nothing on him. I should point out that Pharaoh was considered to be Ra's son, meaning that when the darkness fell, Moses could brag to Pharaoh, "My dad is bigger than your dad!"

Plague 10: Death of firstborn.

This was the straw that broke the Egyptians used to pray for the protection of their firstborn children. They believed the gods protected these children supernaturally, because they would inherit the family wealth and name. Pharaoh even married his own sister to keep the bloodline pure. They believed the son produced from this union would also be part of "god's family" and divinely protected. Through this plague, Yahweh showed once and for all that he alone - not the Egyptians' false gods- had the power of life and death. It was on this day that the festival of the Passover was instituted.

For a truly captivating read, try the book If This Were a Dream, What would it Mean? by Murray Dueck. Murray is a local Fraser Valley-ite who runs a prophetic school in Langley, BC called Samuel's Mantle. The book is about discovering the spiritual meaning behind everyday events. This book truly helped change my own paradigm regarding prophetic events, dreams, and God's symbolic language evident in everyday life.

(c) Murray Dueck

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