The first article in this series to showed how the 10 plagues God sent on Egypt were directed not only against Pharaoh and his people, but also "against all of the gods of Egypt." We will now continue with the second installment.
In the fourth plague, Pharaoh was warned that God would "send swarms of flies on you and your servants, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand" (Exo. 8:21).
It is important to note that Moses did not use the phrase "of flies" in this passage -- he simply used the word "swarms" -- the phrase "of flies" was added by the translators, and it is very possible the translators did not help with our understanding of this passage.
It is very likely that the "swarms" in this passage were swarms of the scarab beetle. The scarab was actually a dung beetle -- an insect that feeds on the dung in the fields. The plague of swarms of scarabs, with mandibles that could saw through wood, was destructive and worse than termites!
Deification of the scarab beetle is still seen in Egypt today. Amon-Ra, the creator and king of the gods, had the head of a beetle. "Ra, the Sole Creator was visible to the people of Egypt as the disc of the sun, but they knew him in many other forms. He could appear as a crowned man, a falcon or a man with a falcon's head and, as the scarab beetle pushes a round ball of dung in front of it, the Egyptians pictured Ra as a scarab pushing the sun across the sky." (Geraldine Harris, Gods & Pharaohs from Egyptian Mythology, p. 24).
Some scholars believe this "swarm" was of the blood-sucking gadfly, which was responsible for a lot of blindness in the land. Keil and Delitzsch believe this was the dog-fly, an insect described in detail by Philo. Dog-flies are more annoying than gnats, and fasten themselves to the human body.
This is the first plague in which God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians -- the swarms stayed away from Goshen, where His people lived, for He made "a difference between My people and your people" (Exo. 8:22-23).
The fifth plague was directed against the domestic animals in the land of Egypt. Horses and cattle were not only highly valued in the land of Egypt, but they were also sacred. "All Egyptians use bulls and bull-calves for sacrifice, if they have passed the test for 'cleanness'; but they are forbidden to sacrifice heifers, on the ground that they are sacred to Isis." (Herodotus, The Histories, p. 101).
"The flies would have also become carriers of the highly infectious and usually fatal Bacillus anthracis that had already killed the fish and frogs, and livestock (brought back into the fields as the flood-waters subsided) would have succumbed to the anthrax bacteria (fifth plague)." (Edward Youngblood, Exodus, p. 53).
The Egyptians worshiped many animals, and many animal-headed deities. The god Apis was represented as a bull, and had been worshipped in Egypt since around 3,000 B.C. The funerary cult devoted to him left many important remains. The Apis bull was the living image of the god Ptah. He was also associated with Re, from whom he borrowed the disk he wore between his horns.
When the Apis bull died, priests would travel through every pasture in Egypt looking for his replacement -- the calf would have a black coat, with distinctive patches on his neck, back and body. The Apis bull supposedly had the power of prophecy. When the Apis bull died the land of Egypt mourned for him as they would for the loss of the monarch himself. After death, his body would be embalmed, and after the funeral rites were performed, the body would be placed in a granite sarcophagus.
Hathor was the cow-headed goddess of the desert. "The cow was the living symbol of Isis-Hathor, represented sometimes as a cow, at others as a woman with a cow's head, at others as a horned woman." (How and Wells, Commentary on Herodotus, p. 185).
"The original form under which Hathor was worshipped was that of a cow. Later she is represented as a woman with the head of a cow, and finally with a human head, the face broad, kindly, placid, and decidedly bovine, sometimes retaining the ears or horns of the animal she represents. She is also shown with a head-dress resembling a pair of horns with the moon-disk between them." (Lewis Spence, Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends, p. 163).
The goddess Hathor was the symbolic mother of Pharaoh, and the king of Egypt was referred to as "the son of Hathor." In addition to the gods already mentioned, this plague would have been a direct insult to Khnum, the ram-god, and to Bast, the cat goddess of love.
In the sixth plague Moses and Aaron were commanded to "Take for yourselves handfuls of ashes from a furnace, and let Moses scatter it toward the heavens in the sight of Pharaoh. And it will become fine dust in all the land of Egypt, and it will cause boils that break out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt" (Exo. 9:8-9).
This plague was probably skin anthrax, a black abscess that develops into a pustule. This plague was accompanied by painful boils that affected the knees, legs, and soles of the feet (cf. Deut. 28:35). This explains why Pharaoh's "magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians" (Exo. 9:11).
This medical malady was also an affront to Imhotep, the god of medicine -- this alone must have led to great despair in the land. "The first real person in known history is not a conqueror or a king but an artist and a scientist -- Imhotep, physician, architect and chief adviser of King Zoser (ca. 3150 B.C.). He did so much for Egyptian medicine that later generations worshiped him as a god of knowledge, author of their sciences and their arts; and at the same time he appears to have founded the school of architecture which provided the next dynasty with the first great builders in history." (Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Volume One, p. 147). It is very likely that Imhotep was the architect who planned Egypt's first large-scale stone monument: the Step Pyramid at Saqqara.
This plague would have also been an affront to Serapis, the deity in charge of healing, and to Thoth, the ibis-headed god of intelligence and medical learning.
The seventh plague was directed at the "very heart" of Egypt so the Egyptians would "know that there is none like Me in all the earth" (Exo. 9:14). Jehovah was going to cause "very heavy hail to rain down, such as has not been in Egypt since its founding until now" (Exo. 9:16). This would have been a very unusual occurrence, for the region around Cairo normally receives only two inches of rain per year.
In this plague the flax and barley crops were destroyed (Exo. 9:31), which means this must have taken place in January.
Since this plague originated from the sky, it would have been an insult to Nut, the sky goddess. "Her most general appearance, however, is that of a woman resting on hands and feet, her body forming an arch, thus representing the sky. Her limbs typified the four pillars on which the sky was supposed to rest. She was supposed originally to be reclining on Geb, the earth, when Shu raised her from this position." (Lewis Spence, Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends, p. 173).
Nut was also considered by the Egyptians to be the mother of five other gods: Osiris, Hathor, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.
During this plague, you have to wonder: Where was Shu, the wind god? Where was Horus, the hawk-headed sky god of Upper Egypt?
Isis and Seth supposedly protected the crops, but the burned fields testified of their impotence. Although this plague would have caused widespread devastation, a few trees remained for the locusts of the next plague to devour.
This article will be continued in our next issue of the bulletin.