The Ten Plagues
Well, that was Dreamworks’ interpretation of the plagues on Egypt – I wonder if it matches how you picture it.
Tonight I want to look very briefly with you at the content of these chapters in Exodus – chapters 7-13, but then focus on the significance of this part of the Bible, so let’s pray and ask God to help us understand his word. PRAY
1. Did it happen?
There are some people who deny miracles can happen. So when it comes to parts of the Bible like this, they seek to find natural causes, as if doing so will discredit any involvement from God.
So in the late 1950’s a very credible theory was put forward that runs something like this -
Now the Nile river rises about July/August each year (well it did before people started building huge dams across it), after the Ethiopians snows have melted and the heavy spring rains fallen. The floods reached their maximum about September each year, and then began to fall. This was the time of the first plague, and the flood that year was abnormally high.
Such a high flood could have washed down lots of the bright red earth of the Ethiopian and Abyssinian plateau, and red-coloured micro-organisms, turning the Nile red and foul, so that fish died. Plague #1.
7 days later according to 7:25 came plague #2. 7 days in which the fish decomposed causing the frogs to desert the river banks. And if it had been a very high flood that year the conditions would be ripe for a great breeding of frogs. The frogs caught the organisms which killed the fish, and themselves died quite suddenly.
As the waters of the Nile started to recede flies and gnats would have bred, bringing the 3rd and 4th plagues.
Anthrax – the fifth plague – is caused by the dead frogs.
The boils on both men and beats, plague #6, were a different form of anthrax, this time transmitted by fly bite.
By now it is February, a time when thunderstorms and hail are common in February, and would have beaten down the barley and flax crops, but left the wheat and spelt which, as 9:32 tells us, ripen later.
March then sees a time of prevailing winds, which carried a plague of locusts, caused by the rains which caused the flood to start with, up the valley. By then the wheat would again be green and ripe for eating.
With the ground left bare, the time is ripe for a dust storm, well known in Egypt. Sufficient to blot out the light of the sun for 3 days – plague #9.
Well, that’s one scenario. Perhaps it happened that way – I don’t know, because the text doesn’t tell us how God did it, just that he did it.
And that is the first area of significance in these chapters – they are about God. So let us explore what they say to us about God.
- God’s character and uniqueness.
First and foremost these chapters are about God – his character and uniqueness!
Exodus is not so much about Moses, despite our series being on him, as it is about God.
The plagues should make us go ‘Wow’ as we see something of the power of God.
Remember the context – the Israelites are slaves in Egypt. Over the 400 odd years they have been there their numbers have grown from 70 to around possibly 2m. Perhaps they have forgotten what God is truly like, especially in a foreign land, full of strange gods. Maybe they have taken on some of the Egyptian religious practices, and become unfaithful.
But God is faithful. In Gen 15:13-14 God had promised Abram - ‘know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions.’
And God is jealous for his name. God will show his people, and indeed all people that he alone is God, over every area and every place, even here in Egypt. And so we read in 9:16 – ‘I (God) have raised you (Pharaoh) up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’
This is not just a conflict between Moses and Pharaoh, this is a religious conflict between the true God, the God of the Israelites and the false gods of the Egyptians. Many of the plagues then become attacks on contemporary Egyptian religious practices and thought.
- Think of the 1st plague - the Nile was considered a kind deity and a sacred river, like the Ganges is today to Hindus. But God is in control of it.
- Or the 2nd plague. Frogs were associated with the goddess Heka; who it was thought could assist women at childbirth, and so was a symbol of life-giving power to the Egyptians.
- The 4th plague - flies were associated with Beelzebub, the fly god; on whom the people depended to guard their land against swarms of flies; but now shown to be untrustworthy.
- The 5th plague, cattle were to some extent also considered sacred, but not before God.
- Or the 9th plague, which strikes right at the heart of Egypt’s theology. Ra, the sun god, was the greatest god. Pharaoh himself was his embodiment. But the sun is overcome and powerless in the face of the one true God.
The plagues reveal that God is the one true God, the one who alone is sovereign over all the earth, and over every detail of the whole earth.
And even if these plagues are explained by nature – even if that were true, they are no less miraculous. Think of their timing, their duration, their intensity. Think of Moses’ trust that God would do what he said. This is not just ‘chance’ or good luck’ for the Israelites. The Hebrews had no word for nature, all events were the hand of God. It would be a good perspective for us to recover. God uses nature for his purposes, when he wants to.
Of course, the 10th plague has no natural explanation at all. God alone, the giver of life and death, is at work here. This is the final blow against Pharaoh and Egypt, the blow God promised way back in 4:23, which will break the camel’s back, and secure the freedom God promised Israel As someone has crudely said – in Egypt that night in every household there was either a dead lamb or a dead firstborn. Even Pharaoh could not protect his firstborn – so much for him being a god.
God uses all things, even his own creation, to achieve his divine purpose – the deliverance of Israel, and through that the making known of his name and power throughout Egypt and the world. Nothing is too hard for God. Such is his power; such is his sovereignty. God alone is God – we do well to remember it!
And God is jealous – jealous for his name. He alone deserves glory, worship, praise and obedience. Remember the first Commandment we looked at last year – you shall have no other gods but me. For the Israelites the purpose of the Exodus will be that they will serve and worship God – so in ch 9:1 – Moses is to go to Pharaoh and say ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says, Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’ God’s goal is that people all over the world will worship him as God.
It does matter what people believe about God – I’m sure the Egyptians were very sincere in their worship, but ultimately their worship was in the wrong thing, and God will not stand for that. Only God alone deserves praise and worship and glory and obedience. And no others. Who are we giving our praise, worship and obedience to?
The plagues are amazing displays of God’s power and sovereignty.
It’s amazing isn’t it as well, that despite the evidence of the plagues, despite the times when Moses prays and asks God to remove the plagues and he does, despite all the evidence Pharaoh and the Egyptians continually reject God. Today is no different is it – so many evidences of God, but people, people you know, continue to reject God. Don’t be surprised by this, but prayerfully bring them to God who alone can work in their hearts.
- God’s mighty works of judgement and salvation
As God shows his character so he works – works of judgement, on those who are not his people, and salvation, for those who are his people.
In part all the plagues are God’s judgement on the Egyptians for their sin. So for instance in 9:27 Pharaoh admits “I have sinned… The Lord is in the right and I and my people are in the wrong.’. Some of these first 9 plagues however show the other side - God’s salvation of his people, those plagues which do not touch the land where they live.
But it is the final plague, isn’t it, which is the graphic reminder that life and death are in God’s hands. Death is the end point for those who do not know and obey God. But for those who do, God will save them.
And so the firstborn of every Egyptian, from Pharaoh down, was struck down by the Lord. It seems to us perhaps so terribly hard and brutal, but the Bible never conceals or makes light of the reality of God’s judgement on sin. And nor should we. God hates sin and will one day punish all sin, not just the sin of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. And God cannot be fooled – Pharaoh sometimes weakens from his pride, sometimes seeks forgiveness, but not in real repentance and trust in God. And how often are we like him?
And we may ask – why did God sometimes harden Pharaoh’s heart? In part to bring about God’s purposes – so God can reveal his power and bring salvation. So in 4:21 God tells Moses he will harden Pharaoh’s ‘heart so that he will not let the people go.’ God is sovereign; he will do what he wills whenever and however he decides. But God is not capricious, he’s not playing with Pharaoh – God is faithful and just, and can do no wrong. Pharaoh, like all of us, is given free will. Pharaoh’s heart is also hardened because he has rejected God.
God acts in judgement, yet it is also the means to redemption. God’s purpose is to show his power not in destruction but in deliverance.
God shows the wonder of his grace in that sinners are spared judgement. The Israelites were not perfect, God owed them nothing, he was not obliged to have pity on them, but God showed his grace to them. God is free to be gracious as he chooses.
So those who did as God commanded through Moses, who put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, were spared as the Lord passed over them, and in 12:23 did ‘not permit the destroyer to enter (their) houses and strike (them) down’. The blood of the lamb protected them, cleansed them and was a substitute for them.
And of course not only were they spared death, the Lord then acted to bring them out of Egypt, out of slavery, across the Red Sea and on towards the Promised Land. God’s great act of salvation recorded so often in the OT, for his people to remember.
- What about us?
But what about us? We are not Israel and we are not in slavery in Egypt some three thousand odd years ago – thankfully! How do these chapters apply to us?
a) They still show us the character and work of God. God doesn’t change and nor do his plans and purposes. And much as we might react against thinking of God in these terms, this is how the Bible constantly portrays God.
i) God is still sovereign – over all things. That should drive us to prayer – for there is nothing outside of God’s control; there is nothing too hard for God; there is no area of our life in which we should not or can not trust God.
ii) God is still a jealous God – jealous for his name, and for his glory. We echo it when we say the Lord’s Prayer – hallowed (glorified) be your name. That should drive us to worship, and praise and service and obedience of God only. We need to ask what are we worshipping and praising and serving and obeying which isn’t God.
iii) God is still a wrathful God – he will not let humanity or anything else in all creation rebel against him forever. He will punish, he will bring death. Jesus speaks more of hell and God’s wrath than anyone or anywhere else.
iv) And God is still a saving God. He is a gracious and compassionate God who loves the people he has made and longs to save them.
And all these are seen in Jesus’ life
i) He shows God’s sovereignty – whether it is healing the sick, making food, stopping storms, casting out demons, raising the dead, there is nothing outside of his control.
ii) He is jealous for his Father’s glory – all he does is for the glory of God. As was the purpose in the plagues, Jesus dies and rises again so people will come to serve and worship God.
iii) And on the cross as Jesus dies we see God’s judgement as the means to salvation. Jesus dies taking God’s horrific punishment on human sin, so that we can be saved.
Friends real as the plagues were 3500 years ago for the Israelites and the Egyptians, for us they are a shadow of what was to come.
We are in slavery – not physical bondage in Egypt, but spiritual slavery to sin, and we cannot break free. We need a new Exodus.
And we need a new Moses to take us out of this slavery – who is none other than the Lord Jesus himself.
And we need a new Passover lamb – again none other than the Lord Jesus himself. In 1 Cor 5:7 Paul writes ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’. Jesus Christ shed his blood and died for us, taking from us the wrath of divine judgement which would otherwise certainly be ours.
Of course just as the blood of the lamb had to be applied to be of benefit, so too with Jesus – it is not enough to just know about his death and resurrection for us, we must personally and individually receive him – by repentance and faith.
The physical Exodus from Egypt back then foreshadowed the even greater redemption that was to come through Jesus. So Peter writes in 1 Pe 1:18-19 – ‘you were redeemed… with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’.
One writer says ‘Exodus is the picture of our spiritual journey out of the world of bondage to sin and into the freedom of forgiveness and the full inheritance we have in Jesus Christ’. God frees us so that we too may serve him – it is the purpose of our salvation.
Friends God’s love in judgement and redemption is still the same today – he loves you so much he has provided for you a way out of your bondage and slavery to sin. Will you take it and serve him, or will you stay in Egypt and serve self and sin?