Understanding the Plagues in Exodus

Exodus 12

1Now the LORD gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron while they were still in the land of Egypt: 2“From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. 3Announce to the whole community that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice. 4If a family is too small to eat an entire lamb, let them share the lamb with another family in the neighborhood. Whether or not they share in this way depends on the size of each family and how much they can eat. 5This animal must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no physical defects.

6“Take special care of these lambs until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then each family in the community must slaughter its lamb. 7They are to take some of the lamb’s blood and smear it on the top and sides of the doorframe of the house where the lamb will be eaten. 8That evening everyone must eat roast lamb with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast. 9The meat must never be eaten raw or boiled; roast it all, including the head, legs, and internal organs. 10Do not leave any of it until the next day. Whatever is not eaten that night must be burned before morning.

11“Wear your traveling clothes as you eat this meal, as though prepared for a long journey. Wear your sandals, and carry your walking sticks in your hands. Eat the food quickly, for this is the LORD’s Passover. 12On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn sons and firstborn male animals in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD! 13The blood you have smeared on your doorposts will serve as a sign. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12: 1-13, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever wondered about all the plagues in the book of Exodus? For six chapters in Exodus (7-12), Moses squares off with Pharaoh via a series of plagues that the Lord brings upon the Egyptians.

After each plague, it appears that Pharaoh is going to relent and release the Israelites but in each case the text says that Pharaoh hardens his heart and maintains his grip over his Hebrew subjects. The result of Pharaoh’s stubbornness is yet another plague.

Why exactly did God initiate all these plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians? If God can harden Pharaoh’s heart why couldn’t he also soften Pharaoh’s heart and bring an end to this stalemate so that God’s people could be released as soon as possible?

These kinds of questions demonstrate that in our human understanding, we always have a blueprint in our mind regarding how we think things should go and how they WOULD go if WE were in charge. And when things don’t unfold the way we would expect, we can easily question God’s motives or misunderstand His purposes.

The truth is that while my approach is like playing checkers, God’s approach is llike playing 4D chess. In other words, my outline, if I were writing the story, would be pretty simple and basic. Moses would show up and force Pharaoh to release the Israelites and in the next scene, we’d see the Israelites collectively marching to the promised land, and probably singing “Don’t Stop Believing” as they embark on their Journey to the promised land! (Do you see what I did there?)

But God’s approach to the story line is much more complex than mine and it’s because God always has a much bigger purpose to accomplish than what I can imagine.

So the question remains, why does God enact all these plagues instead of just one or two? We know the first plague likely took place in July or August when the Nile flooded and the last plague likely occurred in April. Why make the Israelites wait for nine months to fully realize their rescue?

The key to understanding the plagues and God’s ultimate purpose in this face-off between Moses and Pharaoh is Exodus 12:12, where God states:

On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn sons and firstborn male animals in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD! 

God’s purpose in executing the ten plagues was not just a battle of wits between Him and Pharaoh but it was a statement of His superiority and a display of His power over all the Egyptian gods, of which there were many. God orchestrated this elaborate series of plagues in order to demonstrate to the Israelites and the Egyptians that He alone is the Lord.

If we examine each of the individual plagues with this new understanding, that God was demonstrating His power over the Egyptian gods, we can see that each individual plague was actually a display of power and authority over a specific Egyptian god.

For example, in the first plague, Moses turns the Nile river into blood. This plague was a demonstration of God’s power and authority over Hapi, the Egyptian spirit of the Nile, and Khnum, the Egyptian guardian of the Nile.

The plague of flies was a judgment against Uatchit, an Egyptian god who manifested himself as a fly.

The plague of locusts was a judgment over Isis, the Egyptian goddess of life, and Seth, the Egyptian protector of crops.

Finally, the plague of the death of the first-born, was a culmination of all the plagues and was a judgment over all Egyptian deities, including Osiris, who was seen as the giver of life and Pharaoh himself, who was often regarded as a deity among the people.


NOTE: for more information on the plagues as judgment over Egyptian gods and deities click here and here. Keep in mind that there are so many Egyptian deities that the names and subjects of Egyptian deities may vary slightly depending on the list, but the point still remains – the plagues were intended to show the impotence of the Egyptian gods compared to the God of the Israelites.


So you see, God had a greater plan in bringing about 10 plagues over a period of about 9 months. His plan involved bringing judgment against the Egyptian gods and demonstrating to all His authority and power over them.

So while the Israelites were waiting and wondering for 9 months, questioning the Lord’s abilities and intentions to make good on His promise of deliverance, God was slowly laying the groundwork to demonstrate His superiority over all of the so-called Egyptian gods.

And as a bonus, by the time the final plague comes, the Egyptian people are so weary of the escalating devastation they’ve experienced, and so fearful of what disaster might come next, that they jump at the chance to help the Israelites “pack their bags”, hastening their exit from their presence.

The Israelites end up with clothing and silver and gold from the Egyptians and the text says that it is in this way that the Israelites plundered the Egyptians on their way out of town.

So, the next time you find that God is not responding as quickly as you want, or when you think things aren’t happening in the way that makes sense to you, remember that we tend to think linearly and very one-dimensionally. But God is multi-faceted and He thinks multi-dimensionally. He’s aware of every factor and the purposes that He’s working to accomplish are likely far greater than we can even comprehend.

Perhaps God is working out a story that’s exponentially more amazing than the one we would create for ourselves if we were writing the script. That was certainly true for the Israelites.

Reflection

When is a time when you thought God wasn’t working out circumstances the way you thought made sense to you? What was the situation? How did things ultimately work out?

What are some examples in your life when things worked out differently than you expected but you came to understand God’s greater purposes in the end?

Why do you think we have such a hard time waiting on God and trusting His ultimate plan even though we have countless examples from the Scriptures and our own lives that demonstrate that God’s plans and purposes are perfect?

What is something that you are struggling to trust God for in your life right now because it’s not working out in a way that would make sense to you or it’s not working out as quickly as you think it should? What can you learn and apply from this passage that will help you to trust the Lord for the outcome?

 

Photo by Yigithan Bal from Pexels

What’s in a Name?

Exodus 3

1One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he went deep into the wilderness near Sinai, the mountain of God. 2Suddenly, the angel of the LORD appeared to him as a blazing fire in a bush. Moses was amazed because the bush was engulfed in flames, but it didn’t burn up. 3“Amazing!” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go over to see this.”

4When the LORD saw that he had caught Moses’ attention, God called to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

5“Do not come any closer,” God told him. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.” 6Then he said, “I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he hid his face in his hands because he was afraid to look at God.

7Then the LORD told him, “You can be sure I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries for deliverance from their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8So I have come to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own good and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites live. 9The cries of the people of Israel have reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians have oppressed them with heavy tasks. 10Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

11“But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” Moses asked God. “How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12Then God told him, “I will be with you. And this will serve as proof that I have sent you: When you have brought the Israelites out of Egypt, you will return here to worship God at this very mountain.”

13But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they won’t believe me. They will ask, ‘Which god are you talking about? What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14God replied, “I AM THE ONE WHO ALWAYS IS. Just tell them, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15God also said, “Tell them, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This will be my name forever; it has always been my name, and it will be used throughout all generations.

16“Now go and call together all the leaders of Israel. Tell them, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—appeared to me in a burning bush. He said, “You can be sure that I am watching over you and have seen what is happening to you in Egypt. 17I promise to rescue you from the oppression of the Egyptians. I will lead you to the land now occupied by the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ (Exodus 3:1-17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

I’m not sure that it’s as much of a thing in our modern culture but in ancient times, a person’s name often said something about how they were born or the aspirations the parents had for their child.

For example, Jacob was born grasping the heel of his twin brother Esau, who was born first. The name Jacob means “grasps the heel”, but figuratively can mean “he deceives”.

Some time later, Jacob deceives his father Isaac into thinking he is Esau and he secures the blessing that normally was reserved for the oldest child, his brother Esau. When Esau learns that his blessing has gone to his brother, his response is “No wonder his name is Jacob, for he has deceived me twice, first taking my birthright and now stealing my blessing.”

Another example is Benjamin, whose mother Rachel died giving birth to him. In her last breaths before dying, she named the child Ben-Oni, which means “son of my sorrow.” However, Jacob called his son Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.”

So you see, names in the Old Testament often had meanings beyond just what was most popular in that year’s baby name book.

In this chapter, we are many years beyond the life-span of Jacob and his son Benjamin. While Jacob and his family were warmly welcomed in Egypt at first, thanks to Joseph’s relationship with Pharaoh, over time the Israelites became so numerous that they became a threat to the king, who enslaved them as a means of controlling them and ensuring they would not be able to rise up  against him.

Moses, a Jew who grew up in Pharaoh’s household but who was wanted for murder, escaped to Midian, where he has been living for 40 years. One day he sees a strange occurrence, a bush that is burning but not being consumed.

He goes to take a look and finds out that it is God in the bush. God tells Moses that He has seen the suffering of His people and He’s commissioning Moses to go and rescue the Israelites from Pharaoh’s grip.

Moses really doesn’t want to go and he comes up with excuse after excuse as to why God shouldn’t send him. One of his excuses is centered around God’s name. “Look”, Moses says. “They’re going to ask me who sent me. What am I supposed to say? If I tell them the God of their ancestors sent me, they might ask ‘Which one? What is His name?'”

God is patient with Moses, addressing every one of his excuses. God’s response to Moses’ question about His name is “I AM THE ONE WHO ALWAYS IS. Just tell them, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God’s response is significant because it tells us something about His nature.

The phrase “I AM” is based on the verb “to be”. God is saying, “I’m the one who is.” Essentially, God is referring to Himself as the eternally self-existent one.

This is important because in this descriptive name of Himself, God is setting Himself apart from and above all other gods. It’s important to note that people in the Ancient Near East (ANE) were conditioned to believe that there were many gods who oversaw regions. Hence, they might think Moses was referring to some regional deity. In response to their question about which regional god sent Moses, God’s answer is to tell them “the eternally self-existent one” has sent you.

In our culture today, we sometimes give people nicknames, based on who they are or how we perceive them. In this chapter though, we see God giving Himself a name that describes himself as eternal and self-existent, meaning that he is not created and therefore is above all other created things.

Reflection

Did you have a nickname growing up? If so, what was your nickname and why were you given that name? If you didn’t have a nickname, think of someone you knew who did. What was their nickname and what was the reason they were called by that name?

What is the reason your parents gave you your name? If you were named after a relative, what was it about that person that motivated your parents to give you their name?

What are the implications for you in knowing that God calls Himself “I AM – the eternally self-existent one”? What other names do you find for God revealed in Scripture and what do they tell you about God’s nature?

 

Photo by Guido Jansen on Unsplash