Can you imagine being an Egyptian during the time of the ten plagues? Think about how scared you would be, and how much you would have wished that Pharaoh would just release the Israelites. You might even have wondered why there were ten plagues, and what was important about each plague. After all, God could have used any plagues He wanted. He could have sent thousands of lions among the Egyptians, or He could have caused alligators to eat the people. Why did God choose the plagues that He did?
The Bible gives us a hint about why God chose the ten plagues. In Exodus 12:12, Moses recorded these words spoken by God: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of EgyptI will execute judgment: I am the Lord.” God said that the plagues were against the gods of Egypt.
During the time of Moses, the Egyptians worshipped many different gods. They did not worship the one true God like Moses and the children of Israel. The Egyptians named different gods that were supposed to be in control of different areas of life. Each plague sent by the true God was designed to show the Egyptians that the gods they worshipped were false gods who could not control nature. Only the true God had (and still has) the power to control nature. Let’s look at each plague and see which Egyptian gods were proved false.
Water to Blood
The entire life of Egypt revolved around the Nile River. The Nile brought food to the Egyptians in the form of fish. It watered the crops and fertilized the land with the rich silt (dirt) that it deposited on its banks. The Egyptians literally worshipped the Nile as a god because it brought life. The Egyptian god Hapi was supposed to be the spirit of the Nile who controlled the water. The god Osiris supposedly used the Nile for his bloodstream. However, when God changed the Nile to blood, the river that once had brought so much life to the Egyptians brought only death and destruction. The Bible says: “The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:21).
Frogs were a common sight in the land of Egypt. The Nile River was a great place for frogs to live. The Egyptians chose frogs to represent Heket (also spelled Heka or Heqt). Heket was the goddess of fertility. She is drawn on many walls with the body of a woman and the head of a frog. Supposedly, Heket helped women deliver babies. To the Egyptians, frogs were a sign of fertility. In fact, it has been reported that anyone who injured a frog could be severely punished. Because of this, God sent thousands of frogs on the land. Imagine getting out of bed and seeing frogs in your shoes, clothes, sink, and shower. Just think about going to the kitchen and finding frogs in all the dishes and bowls. Since frogs were sacred, the Egyptians did not feel that they could kill the frogs. God used the frogs to show the Egyptians that they were worshipping the wrong things. When God caused the frogs to die, the Egyptians’ precious frogs that represented fertility became a sign of death. When the frogs died, the Bible says, “They gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank” (Exodus 8:14). How disgusting!
Lice (or Gnats)
The Hebrew word used to describe the third plague means some type of tiny insect like lice or gnats. These tiny insects came from the ground and infested both people and animals in Egypt. They would have crawled in the eyes, noses, and mouths of the Egyptians. According to the Egyptians, Geb was the god who controlled the dirt and the land. But when God caused the dust to turn into nasty little insects, He proved that Geb was not in control of the land. And whatever the true God ordered to come out
of the ground, did so.
Moses was told by God to
warn Pharaoh that swarms
would be sent if Pharaoh did not obey. These swarms would have been insects like flies or beetles. Again, the Hebrew word used does not tell us exactly what kind of insects these were. When we read about these swarms of flies or beetles, remember that they were probably not like the flies we swat in our kitchens with fly swatters. These bugs could probably bite or sting. When we look back into Egyptian history, we find that the scarab beetle was considered sacred. This plague was probably against the god Khepfi, who was supposed to be in control of insects.
Death of the Livestock
When God sent death on the Egyptians’ livestock, He proved that their god, Apis, could not stop Him. Apis was shown in Egyptian art as a bull. In one discovery in Egypt, several huge burial tombs were found with “sacred” bulls buried inside. How silly it was for the Egyptians to worship something that God could destroy in a few days.
Boils came upon the Egyptians when Moses scattered ashes into the air. These boils would have been very painful swell-ings on the skin filled with puss and infection. The Egyptians worshipped the goddess Sekhmet, who they thought had the power over diseases. The god Thoth was also supposed
to help with healing. Yet, the Bible says that even the magicians in Egypt had
boils (Exodus 9:11). If the magicians of
the Egyptian gods could not stop the
boils, how did Pharaoh think he could
stop the God Who caused the boils?
When God sent this plague upon the Egyptians, it wasn’t a few pea-sized pellets of ice. On several occasions, the Bible says that the hail was “very heavy.” It was so heavy, in fact, that it killed all the men and animals that were not under some type of shelter. Along with this hail came fire from the sky. This plague destroyed many of the crops and trees of the land. However, in the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived, there was no hail. With the plague of hail, God proved that He had power over the sky. The Egyptians worshipped a goddess named Nut, who they thought controlled the weather, but God proved them wrong.
Huge swarms of millions of locusts have been documented around Africa. One swarm affected an area of five million square miles (twice as much land as in the United States). Locusts can eat their own body weight in food every day. With the locusts, God destroyed what was left of the crops in Egypt. He also proved that Seth, the god of the crops, was not really a god after all.
The darkness caused as the ninth plague was unlike any we have ever experienced. Exodus 10:21 says that it was a darkness “which may even be felt.” This plague was against one of the Egyptians most important gods, Ra—the Sun god. Ra was thought to be one of the strongest gods. He faithfully crossed the sky day by day, bringing sunshine and life to the crops, and joy to the people. The Egyptians wrote poems and songs of worship about Ra, the powerful Sun god. Yet, when the true God sent darkness across the land, Ra lost all his power (although he never really had any to start with).
Death of the first-born
Throughout all the plagues, Pharaoh would not obey God. Pharaoh should have repented and let the Israelites go after God defeated all the gods of Egypt, but Pharaoh would not. For this reason, God sent one more plague—the death of all the first-born in Egypt. Pharaoh was often worshipped as a god, and his first-born son would take his place. By striking Pharaoh’s first-born, God proved once and for all that no god could match the powers of the true, living God.