Theme: The Meaning of the Plagues
This week’s lessons focus on the faithfulness of God, and call us to remember his many mercies toward us and to praise him for them.
Scripture: Psalm 105:1-45
For some reason—we do not know why—Psalm 105 changes the order of the plagues somewhat and omits two. This listing begins with the ninth plague (the great darkness). Then it reverts to the original sequence, except that it inverts the order of the third and fourth plagues (gnats and flies, here flies and gnats) and omits the fifth and sixth plagues entirely (the death of the livestock and the boils).
In order to understand these plagues we need to know that they were directed against the gods and goddesses of Egypt and were intended to show the superiority of the God of Israel to the Egyptian gods. There were about eighty major deities in Egypt, all clustered about the three great natural forces of Egyptian life: the Nile River, the land, and the sky. It does not surprise us, therefore, that the plagues God sent against Egypt in this historic battle follow this three-force pattern. The first two plagues were against the gods of the Nile. The next four were against the land gods. The final four plagues were against the gods of the sky, culminating in the death of the firstborn children of Egypt, including the firstborn of Pharaoh who was to be the next “god.”
1. The great darkness (v. 28; Exod. 10:21-29). The first plague mentioned in Psalm 105 is actually the ninth in Exodus, the terrible darkness that covered the land for three days. Ra, the sun god, was the most important god in the Egyptian pantheon, but he was suddenly banished from his place in the heavens. The importance of this plague in showing the superiority of Jehovah over Ra may be why this ninth plague is handled first in Psalm 105.
2. The Nile turned to blood (v. 29; Exod. 7:14-24). The second judgment, actually the first in Exodus, was against the waters of Egypt, primarily the Nile. Osiris was one of the chief Egyptian gods, and he was god of the Nile. The Egyptians believed that the Nile was his bloodstream. Khnum was considered the guardian of the Nile sources. Hapi was “the spirit of the Nile” and its “dynamic essence.” In Upper Egypt, Hapimon and Tauret were also Nile gods. Prayers had been addressed and offerings had been made to these gods for thousands of years, but they were revealed to be nothing by this judgment.
3. The land overrun with frogs (v. 30; Exod. 8:1-15). We know that the Egyptians worshiped frogs because archaeologists have found amulets carved in the form of frogs. Also, one of the most ubiquitous goddesses of Egypt was Hekt, and she was pictured with the head and often with the body of a frog. Since Hekt was embodied in the frog, frogs were sacred, as were many other animals. They could not be killed, just as cows, which are sacred to Hindus, cannot be killed in India. Because they could not be killed there was no way for the Egyptians to fight against this horrible and ironic proliferation of their goddess. They were forced to loathe the slimy symbol of their depraved worship, and when the frogs died their corpses must have turned the land into a stinking horror.
4. The plague of flies (v. 31; Exod. 8:20-32). Insects have always been a problem in Egypt. They are today. But in this fourth judgment they multiplied to a frightening and an intolerable extent. Many insects were identified with goddesses and gods and were worshiped, including flies. For example, the ichneumon fly was viewed as the god Uatchit.
5. Dust turned to gnats (v. 31; Exod. 8:16-19). The soil of Egypt is one of the most fertile in the world, thanks to the tons of rich earth carried down river from the highlands of central Africa and deposited in Egypt by the river’s annual inundation. Out of this soil came wonderfully nourishing grain, fruit and vegetables. As part of God’s judgment upon the god of the earth, known as Geb, the land produced even more insects to plague the people and defile their bodies.
What is the three-force pattern of the plagues?
Why is the great darkness listed first in the account of the plagues?
In what way were frogs and insects significant to the Egyptians?
How did God use the soil to punish the Egyptians?
Reflection: What do the plagues teach us about the Lord? How does this encourage you?