In our last article we 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." This is the third and final article in the series.
In the eight plague, Moses promised that the Lord would bring locusts to Egypt the following day, "and they shall cover the face of the earth, so that no one will be able to see the earth; and they shall eat the residue of what is left, which remains to you from the hail, and they shall eat every tree which grows up for you out of the field" (Exo. 10:5). When Pharaoh refused to release the people of God, "Moses stretched out his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind on the land all that day and all that night. And when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb of the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. So there remained nothing green on the trees or on the plants of the field throughout all the land of Egypt" (Exo. 10:13-15).
In ancient times, locusts could destroy an entire villages food supply in a matter of minutes, and history can supply us with numerous examples of such. Locusts were described as an army by Joel.
"What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; what the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; and what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten. For a nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the fangs of a fierce lion" (Joel 1:4, 6).
"No one who has ever seen the locust at work accuses the Bible account of hyperbole. In 1926 and 1927, small swarms of the African migratory locusts were spotted in an area 50 by 120 miles on the plains of the river Niger near Timbuktu. The next year swarms invaded Senegal and Sierra Leone. By 1930 the whole of West Africa was flailing away at the pests with everything moveable. But the locusts didn't seem to notice; swarms reached Khartoum, more than 2,000 miles to the east of Timbuktu, then turned south, spreading across Ethiopia, Kenya, the Belgian Congo, and in 1932, striking into the lush farm land of Angola and Rhodesia. Before the plague finally sputtered out fourteen years after it began, it affected five-million miles of Africa, an area nearly double the size of the United States." (John Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, pp. 128, 129).
Again, as with the preceding plagues, the gods of Egypt were silent. You have to wonder what their worshippers thought as they saw the devastation. Where was Nepri, the god of grain? Where was Ermutet, the goddess of childbirth and crops? Isis is silent once again. Thermuthis, the goddess of fertility and the harvest was speechless. Seth, another god of crops, was also mute.
The ninth plague consisted of a "thick darkness in all the land of Egypt" for three days. The darkness was so severe that "they did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings" (Exo. 10:23).
This plague of darkness was an insult to Egypt's religion and entire culture. The sun god Amon-Ra was considered one of the greatest blessings in all of the land of Egypt.
Amon and Ra were originally two separate deities. Ra was a sun god whose cult was centered at the city of Heliopolis, and is usually represented in art with a man's body and a falcon's head surmounted by a solar disk. Ra was believed to sail across the sky in a boat each day and under the world at night.
"The moon was a god, perhaps the oldest of all that were worshiped in Egypt; but in the official theology the greatest of the gods was the sun. Sometimes it was worshiped as the supreme deity Ra or Re, the bright father who fertilized Mother Earth with rays of penetrating heat and light; sometimes it was a divine calf, born anew at every dawn, sailing the sky slowly in a celestial boat, and descending into the west, at evening, like an old man tottering to his grave. Or the sun was the god Horus, taking the graceful form of a falcon, flying majestically across the heavens day after day as if in supervision of his realm, and becoming one of the recurrent symbols of Egyptian religion and royalty. Always Ra, or the sun, was the Creator: at his first rising, seeing the earth desert and bare, he had flooded it with his energizing rays, and all living things -- vegetable, animal and human -- had sprung pell-mell from his eyes, and been scattered over the world." (Will Durant, History of Civilization, Vol. 1: Our Oriental Heritage, p. 198).
In Egyptian mythology Horus was the god of light who personified the life-giving power of the Sun. He was usually represented as a falcon-headed man wearing a sun disk as a crown. The reigning kings of Egypt were believed to be incarnations of the god Horus.
Once again, the gods of Egypt were silent. Where was Ptah, the chief god of Memphis, and the one who created the moon, the sun and the earth? Where are Atum, the sun god and creator who was worshiped at Heliopolis, the major center of sun worship? Where was Tem, the god of the sunset? Where was Shu, the god of sunlight and air?
This tenth plague was potentially more devastating that all of the other plagues put together. This plague was also very selective -- it destroyed only the Egyptians firstborn males, whether human or animal. God told Moses that, "About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the maidservant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the beasts" (Exo. 11:4-5). The Israelites and the entire male population of the nation were to be exempt from this plague. This plague was too selective to merely be a childhood epidemic.
The firstborn was not only an heir of a double portion of his father's inheritance, but represented special qualities of life (cf. Gen. 49:3). The law of primogeniture decreed that the major portion of a family estate would be inherited by the firstborn son when the father died (Deut. 21:17). The death of the firstborn son would cripple a family legally and emotionally.
The story of the plagues is summarized in several Psalms, including Psalms 78:44-51, and again in Psalms 105:28-36 (but the plagues are not listed in chronological order). In Psalms 135:8 and 136:10 the death of the firstborn is the only plague mentioned at all, probably because this plague made a greater impression of future generations. Therefore, in Bible writings, the tenth plague can stand for all of the plagues because it was the most memorable (cf. Heb. 11:28).
This plague was directed against "all of the gods of Egypt" (Exo. 12:12) and would show the total inability of the gods of Egypt to protect their subjects. In the face of unparalleled tragedy, "all of the gods of Egypt" were silent. Where was Meskhenet, the goddess who presided at the birth of children? Where was Hathor, one of the seven deities who attended the birth of children? Where was Min, the god of procreation? Where was Isis, the goddess of fertility? Where was Selket, the guardian of life? Where was Renenutet, the cobra-goddess and guardian of Pharaoh?
"Following the death of Thutmose III, his son, Amenhotep II, took the throne and ruled for at least twenty-six years. This king, according to the early date of the exodus, would have been the Pharaoh of the exodus and the one who lost his firstborn son in the final judgment of God (Exo. 12). Some have seen a relationship between the death of Amenhotep's firstborn son and the well-known 'Dream Stela' of Thutmose IV, his son and successor to the throne. In this document the god Har-em-akht promised the throne to Thutmose IV on the condition that he restore the exposure of the great sphinx which apparently had been largely covered by drifting sand. It is their view that this Dream Stela represents an attempt at legitimizing his right to the throne, since he was apparently not the firstborn son" (Davis, p. 43).
In my opinion, John Davis gave the most concise overview of the plagues: "June: the Nile becomes stagnant and red with microscopic organisms. July: Frogs abound after the inundation of the Nile. Hot summer and damp autumn months: Lice, flies, murrain and boils. January: Hail and rain. (This date fixed by the effect on the crops mentioned). February: Appearance of locusts in early spring, over the green crops. March: Darkness from great sandstorms. April: Death of the firstborn, dated by the Passover celebration" (Davis, p. 93).
After the final plague, Pharaoh released the children of Israel (Exo. 12:31-37). Three months after leaving Egypt, they came to Sinai, where the Mosaic Law would be revealed (Exo. 19-24).