The descendents of Abraham moved to Egypt during the time of the patriarch Joseph (Gen. 46:8-27). Some seventy souls moved to Egypt, and while there they became a nation within a nation (Gen. 46:27). Stephen, the first recorded martyr in the New Testament church, explained that "when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt till another king arose who did not know Joseph. This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live." (Acts 7:17-19).
While living under these harsh conditions, the people cried out to the God of their forefathers (Exo. 2:23-25), and God raised up Moses to set His people free (Heb. 11:23-27). Jehovah first spoke to Moses from the burning bush at Mt. Horeb (Exo. 3:1-4). After God revealed His plan to Moses, He said, "But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go" (Exo. 3:19-20).
It was through a series of ten plagues that God chose to harden Pharaoh's stubborn heart (cf. Exo. 7:3, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32). Egypt was a polytheistic society -- they worshipped over eighty gods. The true God of heaven was not only going to reveal Himself to Israel through the plagues, He was also going to show His superiority to all of the gods of the Egyptians.
"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. In addition to these there were anthropomorphic gods; that is, men in the prime of life such as Amun, Atum, or Osiris." (John Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, p. 95).
"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." (Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, Volume 1, p. 201).
Jehovah was going to reveal Himself to the Egyptians by the plagues and judge the land of Egypt and her gods (Exo. 7:4; 10:2; 12:12; 18:11). "But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them" (Exo. 7:4-5).
In all likelihood, the first nine plagues were similar to plagues that have stricken the land of Egypt from the dawn of time. It appears as though God Divinely intensified these plagues and brought them to pass at the time of His choosing.
These plagues were not just against Pharaoh and his people, but also "against all the gods of Egypt" (Exo. 12:12). Every one of the plagues was a direct insult to the gods of Egypt. It has been my observation that many people study the plagues and focus only on the plague itself, and totally ignore that fact that these plagues were directed "against all the gods of Egypt" (Exo. 12:12).
In this article, we want to notice each plague and then see what god or gods in Egypt would have been affected by the plague.
The Nile was the heartbeat of Egypt -- all trade, commerce, and crops depended upon the Nile. In the first plague the water of the Nile was changed to "blood." It is not clear from the original text whether the water was changed to literal blood or just changed to a "blood red" color -- in either case, the fish in the Nile would have died. Not only was the Nile "red," but other waters as well, even the water that was drawn for use in houses and stored in stone or wooden jars.
This plague was an affront to many of the greatest gods of Egypt.
The great god Khnum was the guardian of the Nile River -- he is usually represented as a human being with a ram's head.
Hapi was the "spirit of the Nile" and its "dynamic essence." Hapi was the god of the annual Nile inundation. Epithets for Hapi describe him as being the "lord of the fishes and birds and marshes."
"The very position of Hapi made it certain that he would become successful as a deity. The entire country looked to the Nile as the source of all wealth and provender, so that the deity which presided over it rapidly rose in public estimation. Thus Hapi quickly became identified with the greater and more outstanding figures in early Egyptian mythology. He thus became a partner with the great original gods who had created the world, and finally came to be regarded as the maker and molder of everything within the universe. We find him credited with the attributes of Nu, the primeval water-mass, and this in effect made him a father of Ra, who had emerged from that element. Hapi, indeed, stood in more immediate relationship to the Egyptians than almost any other god in their pantheon. Without the sun Egypt would have been plunged into darkness, but without the Nile every living creature within its borders would assuredly have perished." (Spence, Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends, p. 170).
One of the greatest gods of Egypt was Osiris, the god of the underworld; the Egyptians believed the Nile was his bloodstream.
During this first plague, the Egyptians would have to wonder where was Tauret, the hippopotamus goddess of the river. Where was Nu, the god of life in the Nile?
"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 Egyptians considered the Nile sacred. Many of their gods were associated either directly or indirectly with this river and its productivity. For example, the great Khnum 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 that 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. Crocodiles were forced to leave the Nile. One wonders what worshipers would have thought of Hapi the god of the Nile who was sometimes manifest in the crocodile." (Davis, p. 102).
The presence of the frogs would not have been unusual, for the receding Nile left ponds that would have been a natural breeding ground for them. However, this plague was going to cause the river to "bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into your house, into your bedchamber, on your bed, into the houses of your servants, on your people, into your ovens, and into your kneading bowls" (Exo. 8:3).
"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, Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, p. 101).
The frog was considered the theophany of the goddess Heqt, the wife of the creator of the world and the goddess of birth. Heqt was always shown with the head and body of a frog. Amulets and scarabs worn by Egyptian women to protect them during childbirth would often bear the image of Heqt for protection. Heqt was believed to assist women in childbirth -- consider the irony in the statement that the frogs invaded pharaoh's bedroom and even jumped on his bed (Exo. 8:3).
Frogs were so sacred in Egypt that even the involuntary slaughter of one was often punished with death. Imagine the people of the land as they went out to gather the decaying bodies of the frogs, and put them into heaps. The fact the Pharaoh entreated Moses to intercede with Jehovah to take away the frogs was a sign the he recognized the God of Israel as being the author of the plague -- Pharaoh realized this was not a natural occurrence.
It is very possible that the next plague originated from flies depositing their ova in the putrid masses of the dead frogs.
The word "lice" is rendered as "sand flies" or "fleas" in some translations. The Hebrew word kinnim comes from a root word meaning "to dig"; it is probable that the insect in question would dig under the skin.
This plague would have been an embarrassment to Geb, the great god of the earth. Egyptians gave offerings to Geb for the bounty of the soil -- yet it was from "the dust of the soil" that this plague originated.
This plague would have been especially dreadful to the priests of Egypt, for they were required to shave their hair off every day, and wear a single tunic, that no lice would be permitted on their bodies. The daily rituals of the priests were not possible because of physical impurity.
The Greek historian Herodotus traveled to Egypt and was impressed by the rituals of Egyptian priests. "The priests shave their bodies all over every other day to guard against the presence of lice, or anything else equally unpleasant, while they are about their religious duties; the priests, too, wear linen only, and shoes made from the papyrus plant -- these materials, for dress and shoes, being the only ones allowed them. They bathe in cold water twice a day and twice every night -- and observe innumerable other ceremonies besides." (Herodotus, The Histories, p. 99).
So notice what happened during this plague: the land was infected with "lice," yet the priests of Egypt could not even enter their temples to beseech their gods due to their own impurity of the flesh!
This article is continued in the next bulletin.