Why God Used the Ten Plagues
"What was the meaning and purpose of the Study on the ten plagues Question: The ten plagues of Egypt?"
Answer: The Ten Plagues of Egypt—also known as the Ten Plagues, the Plagues of Egypt, or the Biblical Plagues—are described in Exodus 7–12. The plagues were ten disasters sent upon Egypt by God to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelite slaves from the bondage and oppression they had endured in Egypt for 200 years. When God sent Moses to deliver the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, He promised to show His wonders as confirmation of Moses' authority (Exodus 3:20). This confirmation was to serve at least two purposes: to show the Israelites that the God of their fathers was alive and worthy of their worship and to show the Egyptians that their gods were nothing. The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for about 200 years, and in that time, had lost faith in the God of their fathers. They believed He existed and worshiped Him, but they doubted that He could, or would, break the yoke of their bondage. The Egyptians, like many pagan cultures, worshiped a wide variety of nature-gods, and attributed to their powers the natural phenomena they saw in the world around them. There was a god of the sun, of the river, of childbirth, of crops, etc. Events like the annual flooding of the Nile, which fertilized their croplands, were evidences of their gods' powers and good will. When Moses approached Pharaoh, demanding that he let the people go, Pharaoh responded by saying, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Thus began the challenge to show whose God was more powerful. The first plague, turning the Nile to blood, was a judgment against Apis, the god of the Nile, Isis, goddess of the Nile, and Khnum, guardian of the Nile. The Nile was also believed to be the bloodstream of Osiris, who was reborn each year when the river flooded. The river, which formed the basis of daily life and the national economy, was devastated, as millions of fish died in the river and the water was unusable. Pharaoh was told “By this you will know that I am the LORD...” (Exodus 7:17). The second plague, bringing frogs from the Nile, was a judgment against Heqet, the frog-headed goddess of birth. Frogs were thought to be sacred and not to be killed. God had the frogs invade every part of the homes of the Egyptians, and when they died, their stinking bodies were heaped up in offensive piles all through the land (Exodus 8:13-14). The third plague, gnats, was a judgment on Set, the god of the desert. Unlike the previous plagues, the magicians were unable to duplicate this one, and declared to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). The fourth plague, flies, was a judgment on either Re or Uatchit, who were both depicted as flies. In this plague, God clearly distinguished between the Israelites and the Egyptians, as no swarms of flies bothered the areas where the Israelites lived (Exodus 8:21-24). The fifth plague, the death of livestock, was a judgment on the goddess Hathor and the god Apis, who were both depicted as cattle. As with the previous plague, God protected His people from the plague, while the cattle of the Egyptians all died. God was steadily destroying the economy of Egypt, while showing His ability to protect and provide for those who obeyed Him. Pharaoh even sent investigators (Exodus 9:7) to find out if the Israelites were suffering along with the Egyptians, but the result was a hardening of his heart against them. The sixth plague, boils, was a judgment against several gods over health and disease (Sekhmet, Sunu, and Isis). This time, the Bible says that the magicians “could not stand before Moses because of the boils.” Clearly, these religious leaders were powerless against the God of Israel. Before God sent the last three plagues, Pharaoh was given a special message from God. These plagues would be more severe than the others, and they were designed to convince Pharaoh and all the people “that there is none like me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14). Pharaoh was even told that he was placed in his position by God, so that God could show His power and declare His name through all the earth (v. 16). As an example of His grace, God warned Pharaoh to gather whatever cattle and crops remained from the previous plagues and shelter them from the coming storm. Some of Pharaoh's servants heeded the warning (v. 20), while others did not. The seventh plague, hail, attacked Nut, the sky goddess, Osiris, the crop fertility god, and Set, the storm god. This hail was unlike any that had been seen before. It was accompanied by a fire which ran along the ground, and everything left out in the open was devastated by the hail and fire. Again, the children of Israel were miraculously protected, and no hail damaged anything in their lands. Before God brought the next plague, He told Moses that the Israelites would be able to tell their children of the things they had seen God do in Egypt and how it showed them God's power. The eighth plague, locusts, again focused on Nut, Osiris, and Set. The later crops, wheat and rye, which had survived the hail, were now devoured by the swarms of locusts. There would be no harvest in Egypt that year. The ninth plague, darkness, was aimed at the sun god, Re, who was symbolized by Pharaoh himself. For three days, the land of Egypt was smothered with an unearthly darkness, but the homes of the Israelites had light. The tenth and last plague, the death of the firstborn males, was a judgment on Isis, the protector of children. In this plague, God was teaching the Israelites a deep spiritual lesson which pointed to Christ. Unlike the other plagues, which the Israelites survived by virtue of their identity as God's people, this plague required an act of faith by them. God commanded each family to take an unblemished male lamb and kill it. The blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the top and sides of their doorways, and the lamb was to be roasted and eaten that night. Any family that did not follow God's instructions would suffer in the last plague. God described how He would send the death angel through the land of Egypt, with orders to slay the firstborn male in every household, whether human or animal. The only protection was the blood of the lamb on the door. When the angel saw the blood, he would pass over that house and leave it untouched (Exodus 12:23). This is where the term “Passover” comes from. It is a memorial of that night in ancient Egypt when God delivered His people from bondage. First Corinthians 5:7 teaches that Jesus became our Passover when He died to deliver us from the bondage of sin. While the Israelites found God's protection in their homes, every other home in the land of Egypt experienced God's wrath as their loved ones died. This grievous event caused Pharaoh to finally release the Israelites. By the time the Israelites left Egypt, they had a clear picture of God's power, God's protection, and God's plan for them. For those who were willing to believe, they had convincing evidence that they served the true and living God. Sadly, many still failed to believe, which led to other trials and lessons by God. The result for the Egyptians and the other ancient people of the region was a dread of the God of Israel. Pharaoh once again hardened his heart and sent his chariots after the Israelites. When God opened a way through the Red Sea for the Israelites, then drowned all of Pharaoh's armies there, the power of Egypt was crushed, and the fear of God spread through the surrounding nations (Joshua 2:9-11). This was the very purpose that God declared at the beginning. We can still look back on these events today to confirm our faith in, and our fear of, this true and living God, the judge of all the earth.
Rebellion of Aaron and Miriam In The Old Testament Aaron and Miriam Started out Supporting Moses, but Later Began to be Angry and Bitter From the time Aaron met Moses in the desert en route to Egypt, and all throughout the drama that unfolded before Pharaoh, he and Miriam were rock-solid supporters of Moses. As Moses' brother and sister, they were with him when they crossed the Red Sea as if it were on dry ground and they watched the Egyptian army drowned. Miriam was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20) and Aaron had faithfully been Moses' spokesman in Egypt.) Aaron was the first appointed priest, and two of his sons also served in the priesthood. Except for the gold calf confrontation, neither Aaron nor Miriam had wavered. But Miriam, like Eve, listened to her own discordant thoughts and went to Aaron and ensnared him in her envy. The alleged reason was Moses' wife, according to Numbers 12:1, but she was not the real reason.) This personal attack on Moses' character was completely without merit or substance. They said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” It does not say that they said anything directly to Moses. It appears that they were only talking about these things to each other, slandering Moses behind his back. What they failed to realize was that the Lord heard the things they said. Suddenly, the Lord spoke audibly to Moses, Aaron and Miriam at the same time. “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” They responded, and went out to the tabernacle. The Lord manifested Himself in the pillar of cloud right in the doorway of the tabernacle. Then God called Aaron and Miriam to come forward. And the Lord spoke. “If there were prophets among you, I, the LORD, would reveal myself in visions. I would speak to them in dreams. But not with my servant Moses. Of all my house, he is the one I trust. I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the LORD as he is. So why were you not afraid to criticize my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8 NLT) Miriam, earlier identified as a prophetess, is not mentioned at all between the Red Sea crossing and this incident. She and Aaron had been discussing how the Lord had spoken through them, but the fact is that God was not speaking through them, only through Moses. Scripture does not record a time when she carried out her ministry as a prophetess. Perhaps she had exercised this ministry in Egypt, foretelling the deliverer, but when Moses arrived and Aaron became his spokesperson, her work was finished.) Aaron and his sons were in charge of the priesthood, and Moses had his 70 elders to assist him in oversight. Perhaps Miriam was feeling left out, jealous, angry, bitter. But the mental direction she was moving in was dangerous ground, an attitude that had already brought the wrath of God on thousands of her fellow Israelites. The Lord was agitated. His presence, indicated by the cloud, disappeared. As soon as the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, Miriam was leprous, “as white as snow.” Aaron, seeing Miriam and realizing how he and Miriam had insulted and grieved God, pleaded with Moses, “Oh, my lord! Please do not lay this sin on us, in which we have done foolishly and in which we have sinned!”) Moses, also shocked by Miriam's appearance, and likely unaware of Miriam and Aaron's secret backbiting, cried out to the Lord. “Please heal he r, O God, I pray!” According to the word of the Lord, Miriam was to be shamed and shut out of the camp for seven days. This was fulfilled and all of Israel waited before journeying further until Miriam was brought back into the camp again. The people then moved from Hazeroth and set up camp in the Wilderness of Parano.
The Mosaic Covenant Encamped before Mount Sinai, the Israelites encountered their God, who had recently delivered them from Egyptian slavery. At this mountain for the first time, God made a covenant with the entire nation of Israel, usually referred to as the Mosaic Covenant. He formalized His relationship with the Israelites with a ruler-subject. In other words, he made a treaty with them. That is, God came to the Israelites as the Great King and presented them a binding treaty in which He would make certain promises to them and they would have certain obligations as His servants. This was not a treaty between equals; it was a treaty between the superior King and His inferior servants. In this treaty, God first reminded the Israelites of who He was and how He had acted in their behalf. He was their Savior-the One who had snatched them from their oppressors. And if they covenanted with Him, God promised to make the Israelites His inferior"special treasure." He would lavish special attention on them and make them and"a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." On the one hand, Israel would become holy-distinct and separate from all other nations-because of its special relationship with God. But on the other hand, Israel, in its separation, was to be the means by which the other nations would learn of the living God. This nation of priests would lead others to a correct worship of the true God. Psalms 117 As part of this treaty, God graciously instructed the Israelites on how they should live (Ch. 20). As a people who had a relationship with the living God, the Israelites had to act a certain way - God's way. The Law was benevolent instruction from God Himself. It was God's direction, like an outstretched hand pointing out the one should take on the road of life. The Israelites were in a most enviable position. God had demonstrated His love for them by saving them. He had shown His faithfulness to His promises to their parents, Abraham and Sarah. He had formalized His relationship with them in a treaty and promised to make them His special people. Finally He even gave them instructions for how to live. They were at piece with their creator.