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War of the Gods: the Plagues of Egypt

October 23, 2017

            The ten plagues of Egypt have fascinated children and scholars alike for centuries.  The plagues were harsh, painful, and in the end tragic to those who weren’t under God’s protection. 

They almost seem a bit of an overkill since God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart for him during the last plagues so he wouldn’t let the Israelites go.  Yes, the Egyptians had been cruel and demanding to the Hebrew slaves, but it has been questioned if the sheer destruction of the ten plagues can really be called justice.  Or does this whole miraculous event need to be looked at from a different angle? 

            What if the ten plagues weren’t for the Egyptians, but rather for God’s chosen people?  What if the purpose of the plagues was to prove to the people that God was mightier than the mightiest of the gods of their Egyptian masters? 

            Looking ahead in history, the Israelites would need to trust God, starting with the parting of the red sea.  There were battles against larger and stronger nations, lack of food and water, and an unintended forty year trudge through the wilderness. God brought the ten plagues in order to demonstrate His total sovereignty over all the gods of the most powerful nation in the world.  He demonstrated His power in order to show that He is the only true God and the only one who is worthy of worship. 

The Israelites needed to know from the start that their God was the biggest thing out there, and what better way to do that than wage war against the gods of Egypt?  

The gods were limited in power to the land and the people that worshiped them. The plagues showed that God is not limited to a certain region; His sovereignty and power are universal. He gave not only the nations a powerful and unforgettable demonstration of His sovereignty and power, but also to Israel, in order to encourage them to never go after lesser gods.

            Each of the ten plagues was aimed at a multitude of gods.  With one plague, God could defeat and dethrone many gods and goddesses.  In the end they all would fall before the one true God.

            For the first plague, God turned the waters to blood.  This included the Nile River and all other water sources.  The Nile to the Egyptians was the foundation of life in the desert.  The annual rise of the waters and flooding provided new deposits of fertile soil along with water for the surrounding fields. The Nile extended agricultural life eight miles to either side of its banks. The Nile not only brought irrigation for crops, but also wild game to the land for hunting, which is often depicted in Egyptian wall paintings. The river also contained scores of fish that were basic to the Egyptian diet. [1]  The Nile turning to blood would not only have contaminated the water source, but it would have killed all the aquatic animals, permeating the air with the stench of rotting fish. The plague lasted for seven days.

            Many of Egypt’s gods were associated either directly or indirectly with the Nile and its productivity.  Nile-gods Hapi and Khnum were critically essential, with Hapi being the spirit of the Nile and its dynamic essence, and Khnum being the guardian of the Nile sources and creator of all Egyptian people. [2]  Some other gods that took a thrashing were Tauret the hippopotamus goddess of the river and Neith the warlike goddess who watched over Lates, the largest fish in the Nile.  Another goddess, Hathor, was the protector of Chromis, a slightly smaller fish.

            With the death of the fish, Nu, the god of Nile life, was toppled along with the fish goddesses. [3]  Sepek, a god that took the form of a crocodile, had a temple in Thebes constructed in his honor where a crocodile would swim in a pool of water taken from the Nile.  A woman of high standing would drink from the water that the crocodile was in to show reverence, but with the water turning to blood, no one would be at Sepek’s temple. [4] 

The god that took the greatest beating however, was Osiris, the god of the underworld.  The Egyptians believed that the Nile was his bloodstream.  The supernatural pollution of all the waters in the land were a humiliation to the Egyptian gods. [5]

            For the second plague, God completely overwhelmed the land with frogs.  They were in the people’s houses, their beds, their clothing, and hopping in their food.  To the Egyptians the frog represented fruitfulness, blessing, and the assurance of a great harvest.  The sacredness of the frog is known to us by the multiple frog amulets that have been found all over Egypt.  The frog was one of numerous animals in Egyptian culture that was not to be killed; even the involuntary killing of a frog could lead to punishment. [6]  In one fell swoop, God turned the frog, which was seen as a blessing, into something loathsome.

            The goddess being attacked with this plague was Heqet, who was the symbol of resurrection and renewal.  She was also the goddess of fertility and assisted in childbirth. She was usually depicted with the body of a woman and the head of a frog. [7] Being the wife of Khnum, the creator of the Egyptian people, she had a rather high standing in the land.  This plague would be seen as the gods being against them, as the absolute abundance of frogs would have forced the Egyptians to kill the embodiment of their goddess Heqet. Also, the frog’s connection to the water supplies, like the plague of blood, would have continued to rob them of their clean drinking water. [8]

      God brought the third plague right out of the soil of Egypt.  The gnats were so numerous they were like the dust.  Sometimes the Hebrew word ken is translated as lice, fleas, or sand flies, but gnats seem to be the most accurate. [9]  Since the word also comes from a root meaning to dig, there is a high probability that the insect was one that dug into the flesh of animals and humans.  This plague was directed against the great Geb, god of the earth.  The Egyptians would give offerings to Geb for the bounty of the soil, yet ironically it was from the dust that the gnats appeared. [10]  This plague was also against the god Thoth, lord of magic.  The Egyptian priests were not only unable to duplicate the plague like they had done with first two, but were probably unable to enter the temples to pray to their gods because of defilement by the gnats. [11]

The third plague not only dishonored the official priesthood to the gods, but was first to directly attack the living and cause physical pain.

            Swarms of flies were the fourth plague to befall the Egyptians. This fly was most likely the gadfly, a nasty blood sucking insect, or the ichneumon fly, a bug that deposits it’s larvae on living things so that it can feed. Flies were, however, considered sacred in Egyptian mythology and it was believed that they protected against disease and misfortune. Fly amulets have been found in Egypt and depictions of the insect have been found on various ritual artifacts. [12] This plague was an attack on Kheper, the god of flies and beetles, most specifically. It also would have taken a swipe at Ptah, Egypt’s creator of the universe. [13]

            For the fifth plague, God brought a deadly contagious disease to the Egyptian’s livestock. Bulls and cows were considered sacred and chosen as emblems in many areas of Egypt. [14]

Not only did this plague destroy a deified animal, but created an economic disaster. Cows were a source of food, transportation, military supplies, farming, and economic goods.

The death of these animals was a direct hit to Hathor, goddess of love and protection. [15] She was often depicted as a cow, suckling Pharaoh, giving him divine nourishment.  More than cows died in this plague; all livestock was affected. This plague would have been a blow to many more gods, including Ptah whose sacred animal was the Apis bull, Khnum whose sacred animal was a ram, and Bast who was the cat goddess of love. Lastly, the mnevis bull was associated with the great god Ra and its death would have shaken the worshipers of Ra. [16]

            God’s sixth plague of sores is one of the most painful and symbolic. The Egyptian priests had a furnace where human sacrifices were burned to the gods. The priests would take the ashes and cast them into the wind as it blew over Egypt.

It was believed that the human ashes would become a blessing from the gods as they settled over the people. When Moses took some ashes from the furnace and threw them into the air, the wind carried them all over Egypt and became a curse of boils and sores. [17]

This plague was an affront to two main goddesses in particular: Isis goddess of medicine and peace, and Sekhmet the lion headed bringer and ender of epidemics. There was even a special priesthood dedicated to Sekhmet and her amulets were used to ward off sickness. [18] Another god under fire would have been Imhotep, who was in charge of medicine and the guardian of the healing sciences. Like with the gnats, this plague defiled the Egyptian priests making it impossible for them to worship and offer sacrifices to the gods. They were even unable to stand before Pharaoh.                God shows his absolute power and uniqueness with the seventh plague of hail that turned to fire as it hit the ground. This would have brought terror to the Egyptians who had never seen anything quite like it. The northern part of Egypt gets about two inches of rain each year and the southern part sometimes gets no rain at all. Ironically, when the Egyptians finally see something falling from the sky, it wreaks havoc, destroying their flax and barley crop. The plague of hail would have most assuredly been against Nut, the goddess of the sky. Since she was the mother of the gods Osiris, Hathor, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys, it also would have been an attack on her children. Other gods that would have fallen from power with this plague would be the wind god Shu and the hawk headed sky god Horus of Upper Egypt. Reshpu, god of thunder and lightning, would also have been seen as a target. [19]

            God’s eighth plague of locusts followed right on the heels of the hail storm.

Every plant that had not been destroyed in the fire would be devoured by the locusts.

In ancient times, these creatures could demolish an entire village’s food supply in a matter of minutes. The locusts God brought were so numerous that the land was darkened, leaving nothing behind for the people. Locusts were feared by the Egyptians and amulets have been found in the shape of the insect that were most likely worn to ward off the swarms that would lay their crops to ruin. 

            Many gods were dethroned in this devastating plague, most prominent being Seth, god of crops. Others would have been Nepri god of grain, Ermutet goddess of childbirth and crops, and Thermuthis goddess of fertility and harvest. [20]   At this point, nothing was left. Most of the livestock was dead and the land stripped of plant life. Yet there were still two more plagues left to finally break Pharaoh and annihilate the last of the gods.

            The ninth plague was one of complete darkness and a show of God’s victory over the gods of the sun and moon. The darkness lasted for three days and was so dense that the people couldn’t leave their homes. Ra was the chief deity of Egypt and the sun god. His wife was Mut, divine mother and queen of all gods. Their son was Khons, god of the moon. This plague of darkness would have also toppled the falcon headed Horus who was the god of light and personified the power of the sun. [21]

           The tenth and final plague was death of the firstborn, animal and human. This was an attack on all the gods of Egypt.

Not one god would be able to protect those that worshiped them. This plague was more devastating than all the other plagues put together.

In Egyptian culture, the firstborn was the chief heir of his father, and if the first son died it could wreak havoc legally and emotionally on a family. Not only was this plague an attack on the Egyptian gods, it was an attack on Pharaoh himself. It was believed that Pharaoh was the god incarnate of Egypt and a representation of Ra.  With the death of the firstborn, the next supreme god on earth, Pharaoh’s son, was snuffed out. [22] Not only could Pharaoh not protect his subjects and his land, but now the people were left without an heir to the throne. [23]

 

With the land and the people of Egypt in utter destruction, there could be no doubt which god had won: Yahweh, the one true God, lord of the universe.

1 Cory Baugher, “Yahweh Versus the God’s of Egypt.”  Knowing the Bible.net, 9 Nov. 2013  < http://www.knowingthebible.net/yahweh-versus-the-gods-of-egypt#_ftnref11>

2 John Gagliardi, “10 Plagues for Hebrews, Not Egyptians.”  Transform World, 9 Nov. 2013 <http://transform-world.net/newsletters/2011/10plagues.pdf>  

3 Chuck Missler, “Against the God’s of Egypt.” Koinonia House 9 Nov. 2013 < http://www.khouse.org/articles/2000/263/>

4 Baugher

5 Missler

6 Baugher

7 Gagliardi

8 Baugher

9 Missler

10 Baugher 

11 John J. Davis. Moses and the Gods of Egypt Studies in Exodus (Winona Lake: BMH, 1998) 111.

12 Baugher

13 Missler

14 Baugher 

15 Gagliardi

16 Baugher 

17 Missler 

18 Baugher

19 Baugher

20 Gagliardi

21 Baugher

22 Gagliardi

23 Baugher

 

 

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