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Article 2016-03 - God Judges Egypt’s gods

Chapter 18: God Judges Egypt’s gods


Often in the Bible Egypt is a picture of the world and Pharaoh is a picture of the ruler of the world, the devil. Therefore, the confrontation between Moses and Aaron in the name of God on the one side, and Pharaoh on the other, is a confrontation between the power of God and the less powerful gods of Egypt. The Plagues were God’s judgment over the gods of Egypt and everyone in Egypt saw Who the real God was. In the process Pharaoh hardens his heart a few times before God confirms him in that choice.
When later the Israelites face the sea, with the Egyptians behind them, they learn that when they meet with problems they never saw before, they see God providing solutions they never saw before. There is not that much difference with what missionaries face in their cross-cultural ministries!

Scripture reference

Moses and Aaron … said, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ”Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.”’ Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go’ (Ex. 5:1,2)

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet’ (Ex. 7:1)

The story

During their first audience with Pharaoh, Aaron asked him in the name of God to let His people go, in order to hold a feast for Him in the wilderness. Pharaoh refused. Why should he obey a foreign God, while they had gods in Egypt? What started as a request soon became a conflict between God and the gods of Egypt. Pharaoh himself was worshiped by his people as a god.
To show off his power, Pharaoh laid an even heavier workload on the Israelites. They complained, first against Pharaoh and his foremen, then to Moses and Aaron. They hadn’t met their own God yet, let alone knew what He could and was about to do for them. They would have to endure a little while: often things become worse before they get better.

God took the challenge by Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods seriously. It was time to show His power. Moses and Aaron performed the miracles God had given them, but Pharaoh’s magicians did the same. He hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites go. Then Moses and Aaron went into the court and told the king that if he didn’t listen, the water of the Nile would change into blood, killing the fish and spoiling the drinking water. Even this was imitated by Jannes and Jambres, the king’s magicians, but they failed to make the water healthy again.
The Egyptians worshiped all sorts of created things, rather than their Creator. They worshiped the sun (represented by Pharaoh), animals that lived in the Nile, different sorts of insects, certain types of cattle, gods that regulated weather and climate, etcetera. The futility of that worship would soon become visible for everybody.

Pharaoh didn’t listen to the old missionaries, not even when the next judgment came. Millions of frogs swarmed out everywhere, including the royal palace. Pharaoh did not listen, or said he would, withdrawing his promises as soon as the plague was over. A whole series of plagues passed over the country. The next was that of gnats. The magicians warned Pharaoh that they could not imitate that plague. This had to be an act of Israel’s God. Pharaoh didn’t listen.

Scripture reference

  • But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart … he will not listen to you (Ex. 7:3,4)
  • Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen (Ex. 7:22; 8:15,19,32)
  • But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen (Ex. 9:12; 10:1,20)

The story, continued

And so it went on. The plagues of the gadflies, of a deadly cattle disease, sores that hit the people and a heavy hail storm that killed many and ruined the harvest.
After Pharaoh had been disobedient from the beginning, God said He would harden his heart. But Pharaoh chose to harden his heart several times before God hardened it.
Then came the locusts and after that a thick darkness that lasted three days. By the nature of the plagues God ridiculed the Egyptian gods, one by one. Nothing changed Pharaoh’s heart however; it became harder and harder, according to his own choice.

Moses and Aaron were forbidden to visit the king again, so they didn’t, and the last plague concerned the whole people: that night all first-borns would die, except for who applied the blood of a lamb to his door frame. The Israelites all did that. They believed God’s word, but in Egypt the first-borns died. They did not believe God’s word about the only possible way of escape. Finally Pharaoh let the people go. This last blow had been too heavy.

After eating the pass-over meal in a hurry, the Israelites, dressed, packed and ready to leave, marched away from the city on their way to freedom. They had been safe in the land of Goshen where they lived, when the plagues raged over Egypt. When plagues were announced God said five times ‘I will deal differently with my people Israel’. He protected them against all plagues through which He judged Egypt’s gods.

Scripture reference

But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live … so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land I will make a distinction between my people and your people (Ex. 8:22; 9:4,26; 10:21-23; 11:7)

The story, continued

When the Israelites came to the Red Sea, the Egyptian army pursued them. God was about to take His rescue operation a step further. The people however, stuck between an approaching army and the sea, ignorant of God’s plan, panicked. They grumbled and blamed Moses for their predicament, but God had spoken to Moses about this exact place of encampment. Here God was going to show His power to provide extraordinary solutions for extraordinary problems. He ordered Moses to raise his staff and the sea split so that a path was created between two walls of water. The people could walk to the other side. The Egyptians pursued them, but what proved to be the way of salvation for God’s people became the way of death for its enemies. Once the last Israelite had reached the other side, Moses stretched out his staff again. The waters flowed back and the Egyptian army drowned completely. God worked on the faith of one strong leader, who had been delegated to exercise salvation for God’s people and judgment over its enemies.


Abraham had become God’s first redeemed person, the one man to start God’s plan for the nations. After three generations, Jacob developed a clan: sons who became heads of tribes. That took place during their sojourn in Egypt. When Moses led these tribes out of Egypt, they received a law that became the foundation for their national existence. They became God’s first redeemed people. As such they were called by God, right after their departure, to become an example of a God-fearing nation among the surrounding peoples. The time of the plagues was a major lesson for Israel to get to know their own God.

Scripture reference

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. … you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Ex 19:5,6)

Comment, continued

Everybody who lives through difficulties with his God, gets to know Him better and more intimately. This applies on an individual level; here we saw it also applied on Israel’s national level. Their slavery had turned into persecution before they were led out. God rescued them by judging Egypt’s gods and their representatives in its government, while Israel was still in the country. God’s liberation of His people was complete and convincing for everybody.

In the last days it will happen again, on a worldwide scale, when Christ returns to liberate His people, taking His seat of judgment against all God-less governments and their idols. There will be no more doubt in any people group about Who the real God is. Before that, God’s people has to offer the whole world the only way of escaping eternal death, by applying the blood of the Lamb of God at the ‘doorframes’ of their hearts.

Some people on God’s mission make the same mistake: seeing such big obstacles, that it looks as if these are bigger than God’s power. They never are. Then they complain to God and blame their leaders. Instead of exercising faith, they pronounce words of unbelief. Unusual problems inspire God to create unusual solutions if we are willing to trust Him. If we do, we get to know Him deeper and more intimately. In situations like this, leaders trust God and provide examples to the people who fail to do so.

Moses and Aaron by representing God against the gods of Egypt, engaged in a ‘power-encounter’: a clash between God and the powers of hell. There is not one example in the Bible, when power-encounters occur, that God looses from the gods. The question is though, whether we as God’s ambassadors, are willing to muster the faith, like Moses and Aaron, to stand up for God in dangerous and ugly confrontations with the powers of hell! We learn more about power encounters later, when we look at the book of Daniel.

Discussion & dialogue

  • Can you tell your study group about similar experiences of your own, where God miraculously liberated His people by overruling ‘gods’ or governments?
  • Which seven of the ten themes reoccur in this story? How? (Answers in the Teacher’s Guide)

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