Against All the Gods of Egypt
by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: Exodus 12:1-13
I. The descendants of Jacob moved to Egypt because of a severe famine and within a short time became slaves in that land - Genesis 15:13
A. Yet, God promised to rescue them and returned them to land promised to Abraham.
B. When the time came, God raised up Moses to deliver his people - Exodus 3:9-10
C. Pharaoh would resist God, providing an opportunity for God to display his might - Exodus 3:19-20
D. The plagues became a judgment against all the gods of Egypt - Exodus 12:12
II. Egypt worshiped over 80 gods
A. “For beneath and above everything in Egypt was religion. We find it there in every stand and form from totemist to theology; we see its influence in literature, in government, in art, in everything except morality. And it is not only varied, it is tropically abundant; only in Rome and India shall we find so plentiful a pantheon. We cannot understand the Egyptian – or man – until we study his gods.” (Durant, p. 197)
B. “The Egyptians considered sacred the lion, the ox, the ram, the wolf, the dog, the cat, the ibis, the vulture, the falcon, the hippopotamus, the crocodile, the cobra, the dolphin, different varieties of fish, trees, and small animals including the frog, scarab, locust and other insects.” (Davis, p. 95)
C. “Even Pharaoh was a god, always the son of Amon-Ra, ruling not merely by divine right but by divine birth, as a deity transiently tolerating the earth as his home. On his head was the falcon, symbol of Horus and totem of the tribe; from his forehead rose the uraeus or serpent, symbol of wisdom and life, and communicating magic virtues to the crown. The king was chief-priest of the faith, and led the great processions and ceremonies that celebrated the festivals of the gods. It was through this assumption of divine lineage and powers that he was able to rule so long with so little force.” (Durant, p. 201)
D. God proved He was greater than all these gods - Exodus 18:10-11
III. The Plagues
A. Water to blood - Exodus 7:20-21
1. Some state that the word blood doesn’t necessarily mean blood, but can just mean a blood-red color.
a. Even if this is so, the waters did change color and all the fish died.
2. “It was appropriate that the first of the plagues should be directed against the Nile River itself, the very lifeline of Egypt and the center of many of its religious ideas. The Nile was considered sacred by the Egyptians. Many of their gods were associated either directly or indirectly with this river and its productivity. For example, the great Khoum was considered the guardian of the Nile sources. Hapi was believed to be the ‘spirit of the Nile’ and its ‘dynamic essence.’ One of the greatest gods revered in Egypt was the god Osiris who was the god of the underworld. The Egyptians believed that the river Nile was his bloodstream. In the light of this latter expression, it is appropriate indeed that the Lord should turn the Nile to blood! It is not only said that the fish in the river died but that the ‘river stank,’ and the Egyptians were not able to use the water of the river ... imagine the horror and frustration of the people of Egypt as they looked upon that which was formerly beautiful only to find dead fish lining the shores and an ugly red characterizing what had before provided life and attraction.” (Davis, p. 102)
3. None of these gods were able to prevent the destruction of their very realms.
B. Frogs - Exodus 8:2-4
1. Frogs are naturally present along the Nile. What changed is the quantity found.
2. “In various parts of the East, instead of what we call ovens they dig a hole in the ground, in which they insert a kind of earthen pot, which having sufficiently heated, they stick their cakes to the inside, and when baked remove them and supply their places with others, and so on. To find such places full of frogs when they came to heat them, in order to make their bread, must be both disgusting and distressing in the extreme.” (Clarke, p. 101).
3. The frog was associated with the goddess Heqt, the wife of the creator of the world and the goddess of birth.
a. Women would wear amulets with the image of Heqt during childbirth for protection.
b. Consider the irony in the statement that the frogs invaded Pharaoh’s bedroom and even jumped on his bed!
c. By the way, even the involuntary slaughter of a frog was punished by death.
4. Even the removal of the frogs caused distress - Exodus 8:12-14
C. Lice - Exodus 8:16-17
1. The word is translated various ways, but it comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to dig”. Hence, this was probably a critter which borrowed under the skin.
2. It came from the earth, a strike against Geb, the god of the earth.
3. It was especially dreadful to the priests of Egypt, for they were required to shave all their body hair off every day (including eyebrows and eyelashes), wear a single tunic, and bathe twice a day, so that no lice would come upon their bodies.
D. Swarms - Exodus 8:21-24
1. The type of insect is not specified in the Hebrew text.
a. The word “flies” was added to many of the English translations.
b. Some believe it was the scarab, or what is commonly called the dung beetle. These beetles have mandibles capable of sawing through wood and can be more destructive than termites.
(1) Notice the statement in verse 24 about being in all the homes of the Egyptians.
(2) Again, this beetle was considered sacred to the Egyptians. The scarab makes small balls of dung which it pushes around. The Egyptians pictured their sun god, Ra, as a scarab pushing the sun across the sky.
c. A more popular belief is that the dog-fly was the insect.
(1) “This fly multiplies rapidly in tropical and subtropical regions (hence the delta with its Mediterranean climate would be exempt) in the fall by laying its six hundred to eight hundred eggs in dung or rotting plant debris. When it is full grown, the fly prefers to infest houses and stables, and it bites both men and animals, usually in the lower extremities. Thus it becomes the principal transmitter of skin anthrax (see plague six), which it contracts by crawling over the carcasses of animals that have died of internal anthrax.” [Kaiser, Exodus]
(2) Remember the dead frogs?
2. This was the first plague where God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians.
a. It was not a natural overpopulation of insects. The sudden appearance and disappearance is more than just a natural occurrence.
b. Flies would not make a distinction based on borders or nationalities - Exodus 8:22-23
E. Diseased Livestock - Exodus 9:2-6
1. Horses and cattle were not only valuable animals, they were also sacred.
2. It is commonly believed that the disease was anthrax.
3. “All Egyptians use bulls and bull-calves for sacrifice, if they passed the test for ‘cleanness’; but they are forbidden to sacrifice heifers, on the ground that they are sacred to Isis.” (Herodotus, p. 101)
4. The god Apis was represented as a bull. A bull was selected to represent the god and supposedly had the power of prophesy. When the Apis bull died, all the land of Egypt mourned for him as if they had lost Pharaoh himself. The priests would then travel through every pasture in Egypt looking for a replacement – a calf bearing a black coat with distinctive patches. Imagine the priest’s turmoil after this plague!
5. Another goddess was Hathor, represented by a cow or a woman with a cow’s head. She was the symbolic mother of Pharaoh. The king of Egypt was referred to as “the son of Hathor.”
6. Again, the Israelite’s cattle were not affected.
F. Boils - Exodus 9:8-11
1. This was probably skin anthrax, a black abscess that develops into a pustule. They are particularly painful and generally affect the knees, legs, and soles of the feet (see Deuteronomy 28:35 for a similar plague).
a. This would explain why Pharaoh’s magicians could not stand before Moses.
2. This was an affront to the Egyptian gods Serapis, the god of healing; Imhotep, the god of medicine; and Thoth, the god of intelligence and medical learning.
G. Hail - Exodus 9:18, 23-26
1. Egypt is a dry land. It normally receives only two inches of rain per year.
2. The Bible mentions that the flax and barley crops were ruined (Exodus 9:31-32), which places this event in January.
3. The plague originated in the sky, the realm of Nut, the sky goddess. It was also an affront to Shu, the god of the wind; Horus, the sky god of upper Egypt; Isis and Seth, who were suppose to protect crops.
H. Locust - Exodus 10:13-15
1. Swarms of locust can destroy an entire village’s food supply. Yet, here was a swarm that covered the nation of Egypt.
2. Again the gods of Egypt were silent. Where was Nepri, the god of grain; Ermutet, the goddess of childbirth and crops; Thermuthis, the goddess of fertility and harvest? Again Isis and Seth were unable to protect the crops.
I. Darkness - Exodus 10:21-23
1. Here was an insult to Egypt’s entire religion and culture.
2. The sun god, Amon-Ra, was considered to be the greatest blessing in all the land of Egypt. This god was supposed to be Pharaoh’s father.
3. The Egyptians had many other gods who were also insulted: Horus, the god of light; Ptah, the creator of the sun, moon, and earth; Atum, the sun-god and creator; Tem, the god of sunsets; Shu, the god of sunlight and air, and many others.
J. Death of the firstborn - Exodus 11:4-7
1. As in many cultures, the firstborn was special.
a. The child represented the future generations.
b. The firstborn was the inheritor of the families’ estate.
c. The death of the firstborn would cause both an emotional and even legal upset.
2. This plague was noticeable because it was so selective – only the firstborn and so general – the firstborn of the rich and poor and even the animals that survived the earlier plagues. It could not have been a childhood epidemic.
3. This particular plague struck at the heart of all the gods of Egypt - Exodus 12:12
a. There was Meskhenet, the goddess who presided at the birth of children along with seven other deities; Min, the god of procreation; Selket, the guardian of life; and Renenutet, the guardian of Pharaoh and his offspring.
IV. There is no God like our God - Psalm 77:11-20
The idea for this came from Dave Padfield’s series: Against All the Gods of Egypt