Against All the Gods of Egypt
The Exodus of Israel from Egypt is one of the most momentous happenings in all of history. Surprisingly, it is well-documented in secular history, as well as the Bible, even though it happened almost 3,500 years ago. Even the Egyptians wrote about it.
Prior to the Exodus, Israel had sojourned in Egypt for centuries. Many generations were forced to endure under the yoke of slavery to the Egyptians.
Finally, God took pity on the children of Israel. He determined to deliver the nation, and chose a man through whom to work. God said to Moses, “[B]ehold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:9-10).
God revealed Himself to Moses as “I am.” The name I am means “the Self-Existing One.” He is the only true God in the universe, the only God possessing real power, the only God worthy of worship, in whom alone we can have unwavering trust and faith. Through the events of the Exodus, God proved this fact unequivocally, as we will see.
This great God told Moses to gather the elders of Israel together and relate to them His plan for the freedom of His people (verses 18-19). Finally, Moses and Aaron approached the highest civil court in the land—that of Pharaoh. “And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1).
Pharaoh did not respond well to the request. “And Pharaoh said, 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” (verse 2).
We should understand that in Egypt, Pharaoh was believed to be a god. He certainly believed it about himself, and later civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, would copy this belief by deifying their emperors. Pharaoh did not know God, because during the years following the death of Joseph, Egypt had forgotten the God they had came to know through him and the family of Jacob (Exodus 1:8-11).
If we look at the outcome of the trip to Pharaoh’s court humanly, we might think it did not go well. Not only did Pharaoh not let them go, he even passed a penalty against them: They had to collect their own straw for future brickmaking (Exodus 5:10-12).
The Israelites became angry with Moses because of the added work. They really did not know God because, in their many generations under slavery, they, like the Egyptians, had mostly lost the knowledge of the true God. That is the reason God had to reveal Himself through miracles to Israel, as the tribes later wandered in the desert. What’s more, the Israelites had also come to believe in the false gods of Egypt. (Their later rebellion in making a golden calf, a major god of Egypt, is evidence of this fact; Exodus 32:4.)
Among God’s many purposes in sending Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh was His desire to reveal Himself to both the Israelites and the Egyptians.
God told Moses in advance that he would succeed in convincing Pharaoh to free the Israelites: “Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land” (Exodus 6:1).
The fact that the court refused Moses’s request had no bearing on the final outcome. The great I am had a plan, and nothing could interfere with that plan. The same is true with God’s plans today. He doesn’t always tell us what He is doing, but we may be absolutely confident that His plans will work out as He intends.
A major part of God’s plan for the Israelites is recorded in Exodus 12:12: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord.” Not only was God going to free Israel, but He was also going to judge all the false gods of Egypt.
The story of how God judged the Egyptian gods begins in Exodus 7. First, following God’s command, Aaron cast his rod upon the floor before Pharaoh, and it became a serpent (verses 9-10). Then Pharaoh’s magicians did the same: “Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments” (verse 11). The word magicians used here means individuals with a knowledge of the occult. This was not just a trick.
However, God put them to shame, when “Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (verse 12). A vivid demonstration of God’s preeminence!
We are not told what kind of serpent these were, but the Hebrew word does indicate it was considered to be great, and we do know that Pharaoh’s protector god serpent was the great cobra. Thus, the first false gods of Egypt that God began to judge were Pharaoh himself and the false snake goddesses, Wadjet and Renenutet. Pharaoh’s gods could not protect him; instead they were eaten by the serpent of God’s representatives!
This alone should have caused Pharaoh to obey God, but it didn’t. “And he [God] hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said” (verse 13).
After this confrontation between Moses and the magicians, then came the plagues. Moses was again sent to court to ask for freedom for God’s people. The answer was the same—no—as it would be for a total of 10 times. Ten times Moses went to court, and 10 times he was told “no.” After each time, a new plague came down on Egypt: the Nile turning to blood, frogs upon the land, body lice, swarms of insects, the death of four-legged animals, fire and hail from heaven, locusts, then darkness on the land.
Some knowledge of the elaborate paganism within Egypt will help us to understand just what God was accomplishing with this particular sequence of events.
In an attempt to explain these plagues, some commentaries have argued that they were naturally occurring events. The Bible, however, speaks of their unnatural severity; and the fact that Pharaoh asked Moses to have them removed is proof that he believed there was a connection between the actions of Aaron and Moses and the calamities on his nation.
When God attacked the Nile, turning it into blood, He was proving that the false gods of the river were no gods at all. The Nile was believed to be the bloodstream of Osiris, yet that false god could not stand against the true God. Where were the gods Khnum, Hapi, Nu or Taweret, all gods connected to the Nile?
When God sent frogs on the land, where was the goddess Heket—the wife of the creator god—who is pictured as having the head and body of a frog? When lice came from the dust of the ground, where was Geb, the earth god? Why could he not protect Egypt? That plague would have been especially repugnant to the Egyptian priests, who were required to have perfectly clean bodies to serve in their temples; body lice made it impossible for them to serve their false gods. In fact, this plague took the priests completely out of action: “Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said” (Exodus 8:19).
We are not told exactly what the swarms of the next plague were. The word “flies” is added by the translators. It was the first plague where a difference was established between God’s people and the Egyptians. That it was swarms of scarab beetle has been suggested. That may be true, because Amon-Ra, creator and king of the gods, was pictured with the head of a beetle.
The plague involving cattle also had religious significance. Both horses and cattle were highly valued in Egypt. Bulls were also valued religiously, being used for offerings. In addition, however, the Egyptian god Apis was pictured as a bull, and the cow goddess, Hathor, was the goddess of the desert. The bull was the living image of the god Ptah, and the sun disk on his head identified him with the god Ra. They could do nothing to protect Egypt, and since the Israelites looked after Pharaoh’s herds in Goshen, there would have been a great distinction—Israelite animals were not affected, while Pharaoh’s were dying by the thousands.
Then painful boils came on the Egyptians. Where was the god Serapis, the deity in charge of healing? Or Imhotep, god of medicine? Or Thoth, the ibis-headed god of medical knowledge? Why would they allow this to happen?
Hail, the seventh plague, dramatically affected Egypt, as it destroyed the flax and barley. No Egyptian had ever seen a storm like this one—it was the worst in the nation’s history (Exodus 9:18). By this time, even some of the Egyptians acted to protect their animals: “He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses: And he that regarded not the word of the Lord left his servants and his cattle in the field” (verses 20-21). Nut, the sky goddess, or Shu, the wind god, or Horus, the hawk-headed sky god of upper Egypt, could not stop this plague.
Then the locusts came—locusts that ate what was left of the barley and the leaves of the trees, while the gods of grain, Nepri and Ermutet, could do nothing. Isis and Seth—protectors of crops—were silent as this plague descended on the land.
And then, the crowning insult of all: The sun was put out in a way that struck terror into all Egyptians, as thick, heavy darkness settled over Egypt. The whisper must have swept through Egypt: Amon-Ra, the great sun god of Egypt, was silenced!
Josephus wrote, “But when Moses said that what he [Pharaoh] desired was unjust, since they were obliged to offer sacrifices to God of those cattle; and the time being prolonged on this account, a thick darkness, without the least light, spread itself over the Egyptians, whereby their sight being obstructed, and their breathing hindered by the thickness of the air, they died and under a terror lest they should be swallowed up by the dark cloud” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book ii, xiv, 5). Tem, god of the sunset, and Shu, the god of sunlight and air, could not prevent this.
These were just some of the gods of Egypt, and, in these few plagues, God revealed them all as being nothing at all!
All the more shameful, then, that it was to these idols that God’s people Israel returned over and over again—even after knowing the true, living God.
Follow God’s Man
Now let’s examine the 10th plague in Exodus 11: “And Moses said, Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts” (verses 4-5).
To escape this plague, the children of Israel were told to sacrifice lambs, and paint the blood on their doorposts and lintels. That must have seemed a strange thing to do. They had never done it before, and the unusual directions did come from Moses. This was the same Moses who had gone to court 10 times to petition for religious freedom and had lost the case (so it seemed) every time. Some of the elders of Israel didn’t agree with him even going to court, and now he was giving them very strange directions. This must have been a great test for Israel.
But Moses was the man through whom God had chosen to free the nation. He was delivering God’s message.
“And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said” (Exodus 12:29-31).
Any faithless Israelite surely would have become increasingly impatient through the whole ordeal of the plagues. Nevertheless, ultimately, just as God prophesied, “with a strong hand” Pharaoh let the Israelites go, and drove them out of his land.
Where Is God?
After the Israelites had left their homes in Egypt, Pharaoh had another change of heart. As he and his army pursued Israel, God opened the sea to allow the people to escape what looked like an impossible situation. They walked through the sea to safety.
Pharaoh, however, trusting in his physical strength and ego, plunged forward, thinking he had God’s people trapped against the sea. In fact, he never had the upper hand in this whole story. Even when it seemed that the Israelites were losing at every turn, the contest was never in doubt. The reason is, God had determined their future before He sent Moses to court the first time. From the first moment Moses crossed the threshold into that courtroom on his first visit, the people of Israel had won their case—because it was God’s case. No one can stand against the true God.
It didn’t seem that way at the time, but the truth is, God was just giving the Egyptians every opportunity to repent. Time and time again, Pharaoh could have changed, repented, and received blessing for his obedience, but he would not. In the end, Pharaoh had to pay the price for his wanton and stiff-necked disobedience. We all pay that price if we go the way of Egypt—into habitual sin.
But there is one more important lesson for us to learn from the story of the Exodus.
Where was God during the Exodus? He was with His people. Knowing where God was was all-important. Without that knowledge, men died. With that knowledge, they were saved.
The same is true today. Editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in Jeremiah and the Greatest Vision in the Bible:
“Where is God?” This is the only question that will lead us to God! If we don’t know where God is, the God whose countenance shines like the sun in its full strength (Revelation 1:16), then we are dangerously deceived.
”Where is God?” This one big question, if honestly answered, will always keep us anchored in the truth. Answer this question correctly and there should never be a serious problem answering other questions. God is always revealing “present truth” based on what He has already revealed in the past (2 Peter 1:12). That means there is always a powerful work, if His people are submissive. God provides an “open door” (Revelation 3:7-8), through which we can deliver His revealed truth. If we are going to build for God, we must start on this foundation: “Where is God?”
Do you know where God is? Though there are countless false gods in the world and in the religions of this world, there is only one true God in the universe—only one God worthy of worship, in whom alone we can have unwavering trust and faith.