I had the pleasure Sunday of presenting the findings of a year and an half long research project on the gods of Egypt (granted, in the end it all came down to one book…but still, it took me over a year to FIND that book!!).
At first I wasn’t going to inflect the congregation with my strange endeavors…but several members of the congregation found the information fascinating and, as such, encouraged me to share it with the entire church.
So I did. 🙂
As usually, my written notes are below with the full audio file on the PRV homesite.
Last week you guys learned about the Passover – the meal of remembrance – remembering how God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. During this time I heard that you all briefly talked about the 10 plagues that led up to their deliverance.
1. Plague of blood (דָם): Ex. 7:14–25
2. Plague of frogs (צְּפַרְדֵּעַ): Ex. 7:25–8:11
3. Plague of dust and gnats (כִּנִּים): Ex. 8:12–15
4. Plague of flies (עָרוֹב): Ex. 8:20–32
5. Plague of pestilence (death of livestock) (דֶּבֶר): Ex. 9:1–7
6. Plague of boils (שְׁחִין): Ex. 9:8–12
7. Plague of hail (בָּרָד): Ex. 9:13–35
8. Plague of locusts (אַרְבֶּה): Ex. 10:1–20
9. Plague of darkness (חוֹשֶך): Ex. 10:21–29
10. Death of the firstborn (מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת): Ex. 11:1–12:36
Today we are going to dig deeper into each of these plagues as they were not random or senseless events – instead each of the plagues was a ‘battle’ between God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the gods of Egypt.
“…I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.” –Exodus 12:12b
“The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians, who were burying all their firstborn, whom the LORD had struck down among them; for the LORD had brought judgment on their gods.” –Numbers 33:3-4
**Josh – tell the story of Moses and the basic outline of the Exodus for those who have never heard the story**
However before we dive into this, I want to set the scene a little bit – to help us to understand what was going on at that time and to understand what the people there were feeling and thinking.
Ancient Egypt – What comes to mind when I say “ancient Egypt”? The pyramids? Mummies? King Tut? The Sphinx?
Egypt was one of the greatest countries in the world – it boast of one of the oldest cultures in world with boundaries that stretched from modern day Susan to Syria. This map shows the boundaries of Egypt in the 15th Century – that is around the 1400s BC – which is fairly close to when the Exodus event happened which was around 1312 BCE or 1450 BCE or 1200-1250 BCE or maybe even 1602 BCE.
Scholars have a hard time dating the time of the Exodus due to the lack of proper names within Bible and the lack of records written by the Egyptians themselves. Some see this ‘problem’ as reason to discredit the entire thing…but we have to remember that writing was a rare thing in ancient Egypt – reserved for things of importance – and if your slaves just rebelled against you and walked out of the country…would you write that down? NO! You would try to spin it in our favor! You would hope that folks would quickly forget about that part of history…
Speaking of the rulers of Egypt, it is worth nothing that unlike some of the other rulers in the ancient Near East, the Egyptian Pharaoh did not just rule the land on behalf of the gods – he was in a literal sense one of the gods. He birth was a divine act as he was considered the child of the chief gods of Egypt.
Knowing this, one can understand a tad more about why he reacted the way he did when Moses and Aaron asked if the Israelites could go out into the desert to make sacrifices to their Lord. If Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to go, it would mean that he was unable to rule the land – that as a god of Egypt, he was unfit. Hence his unwillingness to listen to Moses’ demands.
As you can see from this map, Egypt was – and is – located in the desert. This meant that the civilization of the nation was closely connected with the Nile River. It was the life blood of the land. Not only did it provide water for drinking – it also provided water for the crops and animals – much the way the Payette River or Squaw Creek provides the water for this valley. The Nile was also used for transportation and commerce – much the way the Columbia River is used here in the Northwest.
In addition to this, the Nile River would overflow its banks each Fall – flooding the surrounding farmland and depositing a layer of fertile soil on which the farmers would grow their crops once the waters recede. This caused the average Egyptian to not only associated different gods with the Nile, but fertility, blessings and happiness. The best way to describe this is to read an old hymn from the same time period as the Exodus:
“Hail to thee, Oh Nile, that issues from the earth and comes to keep Egypt alive!…He that waters the meadows which Recreated, in order to keep every kid alive. He that makes to drink the desert and place distant from water: that is her dew coming down (from) heaven.”
In short, not only was the economic fortune of Egypt depended upon the river, but also the psychological welfare of the people. Shoot, even the Egyptian calendar was based upon the impact the Nile had on the farming of the desert
Plague 1: River of Blood
• Attack against the river itself
• Gods attacked by turning the river to blood
o Khnum – the guardian of the Nile courses
o Hapi – the “spirit of the Nile”; sometimes manifest in the form of the crocodile
– Would have had to leave because of the pollution in the Nile
o Osiris – one of the greatest gods in Egypt who ruled the underworld; the Nile was his bloodstream
• The death of the fish in the river
o Neith – a warlike goddess connected to the fish “lates” (the largest fish in the Nile)
o Hathor – supposed to have protected the slightly smaller fish “chromis”
Plague 2: Frogs
• The presence of frogs was not unusual in Egypt
• Some folks even wore amulets in the form of a frog as a representation of fruitfulness, blessing and the assurance of a harvest.
• The annual flooding of the Nile left small pools throughout the country side which frogs would quickly inhabit. Their nightly chorus told the farmers that the river gods had done their work and the land would be fertile that year.
• The plague attacked:
o Heqt – wife of the great god Khnum; symbol of resurrection and the emblem of fertility.
– She also assisted women in childbirth
– She was one of the eight primeval gods who existed from the very beginning
– As such, the frog could not be intentionally killed and even their involuntary slaughter was often punished with death.
Plague 3: Dust and Gnats
• The Hebrew word could be translated as ‘gnat’ or ‘mosquitoes’
o Either way it was a small insect with a painful sting
• Seeing how the religion of Egypt was not controlled by one group or one ‘god’ – but multiple gods – the number of which depended largely on where you lived – the specific deities against which this plague was directed is not known.
• The plague could have attacked:
o Geb: Egyptian god of the Earth
o Khepri: Egyptian god of creation, movement of the Sun, rebirth; beetle-headed
o Thoth: one time considered god of magic, failed along with magicians (or priests) to duplicate conjuring of gnats or lice.
• It could be that it was meant as an attached against the official priesthood in the land as the priest were known for their physical purity. They were circumcised, shaven, washed daily and dressed in beautiful linen robes.
o The gnats/bugs attacked man and beast, making it very difficult, if not impossible, for these priests to keep up their purity
o This impurity would make their prayers ‘ineffective’
• The plague affected everyone – from the king to the lowest slave
Plague 4: Flies
• The Hebrew just says ‘swarms’
• The Septuagint (a Greek version of the OT written about 132 BC) says ‘dog-fly’
o Dogfly and gadfly were blood-suckers and abhorred in Egypt
– They spread diseases and caused blindness
o Ichneuman fly – lays its eggs on living things upon which its larvae can feed
– Seen as a manifestation of the god Uatchit
• God protects His people
“‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’” –Exodus 8:22-23
Plague 5: Death of Livestock
• Still Pharaoh did not free the Israelites
o To do so would be to publicly admit the existences of gods greater than those in Egypt
o It would mean that he, as a god, could not control his own land
• This plague shows a shift from personal pain and irritation to lose of personal property
o Cattle and domestic animals were very precious to the Egyptians
o Lots of paintings of them
• Economic consequences
o As you can imagine, the loss of livestock would have destroyed the economic structure
– Horses for transportation
– Cattle for food
– Trade, etc
o Several areas of Egypt considered certain bulls and cows as sacred
– These areas used these animals as their symbols
o Apis bull – the sacred animal of the god Ptah
– Only one at a time; supposed to have 28 distinctive marks
– Founds one burial site with 64 mummified bulls
o Hathor – the goddess of love, beauty and joy – represented by the cow
o Mnevis – another sacred bull; associated with the god Ra (the top god who was Pharaoh’s father)
Plague 6: Boils
• Like most people, the ancient Egyptians were aware of illness
o Sekhmet – a lion headed goddess had the power to both start and stop epidemics
– There was an entire priesthood devoted to her
o Folks wore amulets and other ‘magical’ items to ward off evil
o Sekhmet – mentioned before
o Imhotep – the god of medicine and the guardian of healing sciences
• The inability of these gods to help the people most likely led to despair and frustration
Plague 7: Hail
• Demonstration to the world of God’s power
o Joshua 2:10
“We (the people of Jericho) have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.” –Rahab to the Israelite spies (Joshua 2:10)
• Remember, Egypt is in the desert – they are used to getting two inches of rainfall a year – less in some places
o Yet God brought in a huge thunderstorm and destroyed the crops, killed livestock and people
• Some of the servants of Pharaoh obeyed Moses and brought in their animals
o The power of Pharaoh was weakening
o Flax – used for clothes as the Egyptians did not like wool
– Flax provided the lien for the garments of the priests
o Nut – the sky goddess; she was unable to control her ‘house’ as the hail came from the sky
o Isis and Seth – gods of agricultural
Plague 8: Locusts
• Locusts were feared in Egypt – still are in parts of Africa today
o They can eat their weight daily
o One square mile of a swarm will normally contain from 100,000,000 to 200,000,000 locusts
o Swarms can cover more than 400 square miles – and move up to 60 miles per day
• Some Egyptians even prayed to a locust god to try to protect themselves
• Think about the horror and despair in the hearts of an Egyptian farmer when the last of their crops were destroyed by millions of locusts
o Remember this was after the Nile turned to blood, frogs invaded the land, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, and hail
o You and your family is sick with illnesses and everything you have worked for has been taken away
• Even after the plague ended, it still meant famine – famine would lead to robbery and social unrest.
o It had economic, political, social and religious implications
Plague 9: Darkness
• A darkness so think that it would be ‘felt’
o Could have been a volcanic or a sandstorm or who knows what
o The crazy thing is that the Israelites were not affected by the plague even though the Egyptians were
• Light – One of the top gods in Egypt was Ra or Atum, the sun god
o He brought light and warmth to the land
o Helped everything grow and was faithful to show up each morning
o Ra’s son was the Pharaoh
o Hymn to the sun
Hail to thee, beautiful Ra of every day, who rises at dawn without ceasing, Khepri wearying (himself) with labor! They rays are in (one’s) face, without one knowing it. Fine gold is not like the radiance of thee. Thou who has constructed thyself, thou didst fashion thy body, a shaper who was (himself) not shaped; unique in his nature, passing eternity, the distant 0one, under whose guidance are millions of ways, just as they radiance is like the radiance of heaven and thy color glistens more than its surface.
• Also attacked
o Amun-Re, Atum, Aten, Khepre, Horus – all variations of the sun
o Hathor – the sky goddess and the goddess of love and joy
o Nut – another sky goddess who controlled the skies
o Thoth – mood god and god of writing and computation
o Plus a lot of other local gods and goddess connected to the sun, moon, stars and light.
• Pharaoh – as mentioned before, he was supposed to have been the son of Ra – “….by whose beams one sees, he is one who illuminates the two lands more than the sun disc.”
o The plague of darkness would have destroyed his power
Plague 10: Death of the Firstborn
• Came about midnight on an unknown evening
o Unknown to Pharaoh that is – the Israelites prepared for it by having the first Passover (which Mike talked about last week)
• The firstborn was not only the heir to his father’s wealth, he also represented special qualities of life and strength.
o A great cry went up from across the land
• Pharaoh’s firstborn
o Not only inherited the throne, but was a specially-born son having divine properties. His death would have meant that gods were unable to save the people
• Attacked on:
o Min – the god of procreation and reproduction
o Isis – who had the power to produce offspring
o Hathor – goddess of love and child birth
The Results of all Ten Plagues
• God was shown to be King over every area of life
• Israelites where set free
• The nations around them heard about God
• Many Egyptians and other non-Israelites joined the Israelites when they left (Exodus 12:38)
o They saw that God was bigger than their gods
o Fulfillment of the mission of God that started with Adam and Eve than went to Abraham and now to the people of Israel
• We should remember that the same God who humbled Pharaoh, the people of Egypt and their gods, is the same God who rules our world
o Even though we may have wars and rulers, God holds the upper hand and His will is going to come through
• God looks upon His followers with mercy and not judgment
o Just like the Israelites were protected in the middle of the plagues, so will God protect us
o This doesn’t mean that suffering will not happen – Jesus said we would suffer as people come against us – but it means that we do not have to fear God
o And it means that God will not forget us but He will deliver us like He did the Israelites