Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM
God on god Violence
When going to Bible college, my professors were wont to say that God’s ten plagues against Egypt were attacks against the gods of Egypt. Did not Yahweh say to Moses in Exodus 12:12, “…on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD”? Just as three meant few, forty meant many, and seven was a sacred counting, so also ten plagues, matching the ten fingers on the human hand, did represent a type of fullness… here, a fullness of judgment against Egypt and her gods. When, however, I would ask what Egyptian gods were involved and how the plagues diminished them, I never got more than one or two obvious ones tossed back at me, like “attacking the Nile (Hapi)” and “blocking out the sun (Ra).” They would usually mumble off after those and say to the rest of the class, “Any other questions before we move on?”
So that you don’t have to suffer the same unmet curiosity, let me give you a list.1 When Pharoah boasts, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” Yahweh shows Pharaoh exactly who He is. He is the Lord of Lords.
1. The Nile turned to Blood
Hapi was the god of the yearly flooding of the Nile, which was the very source of Egypt’s life. Pharoah made the Hebrews cast their sons to the Nile, and when it was struck with Moses’ staff, it ran red like the blood of those drowned there and devoured by fish and crocodiles. Hapi was often called, “Lord of fish and birds and marshes,” as well as “Lord of the river bringing vegetation.” Everything in the Nile died.
2. Frogs Swarm the Land
Heket is a fertility goddess with the head of a frog. The frog was a fertility symbol. Yahweh makes them fertile indeed. Rather than rising with the Nile they exit from the Nile, swarm the land, and fill Egypt with putrefaction. Though Heket was also “She who hastens birth” it is the Hebrew women worshiping Yahweh alone, who “are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”
3. Lice From the Dust
Geb was the god of the soil, i.e. the dust of the earth. Yahweh “invades his territory” and brings forth lice rather than rice. He is also regarded as the father of snakes, giving a deeper sense to Moses’ staff becoming a serpent and swallowing up the Magicians’ serpent staffs.
4. Swarms of Flies
Uatchit, also called Wadjet, was the goddess of the marshes where papyrus and swarms abound. She is the goddess of the heat of noon which empowers the swarms and was closely associated with the Sun god Ra. She both wore and was the image of Pharoah’s crown, a protector of the land. Yahweh blots out the sun with swarms and devastates the land over which the Swarm goddess stood sentinel.
5. Death of Livestock
The Cow goddess, Hathor, like many Egyptian deities, has a complicated history. She was pictured as a cow or a woman adorned with cow horns. Like other cow goddesses, Hathor is also associated with the sun and sky, and thus the symbolic mother of the Pharaohs. Cows were revered as nurturers and givers of milk. She is symbolically struck down with Yahweh’s plague against the cattle of the land.
6. Ashes Turn to Boils
Isis, the goddess who resurrected her brother, Osiris, had legendary magical powers and is commonly associated with magic spells of healing for everyone, even common people. Here, even Pharaoh’s magicians could not stand before Pharaoh because the boils were tormenting them.
7. Hail and Fire From the Heavens
Exodus 9:23 says, “Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth.” As with the swarm goddess, when swarms destroy and the frog-headed fertility goddess when frogs overrun and pollute the land, Yahweh “seizes control” over the heavens and rains down lightning and lethal hail. There are a few different sky deities at play here. Primarily, we have Tefnut, goddess of sky moisture, we have Shu, god of winds and air, we have Horus, god of kingship and sky, the spirit of Pharaoh in life, and we have Nut goddess of the sky, a nourisher suckling the world. None can hold back Yahweh’s hand.
8. Locusts Plague From a Strong East Wind
Seth was the ruler of the red land, i.e. the east and west desert regions surrounding the black land of fertile Egypt. As the desert was a protective flank, Seth was thought to play his part in warding off the chaos from Egypt. From “Seth’s desert,” however, Yahweh brings locusts to finish off what remained from the hail.
9. Blocking Out the Sun
Ra, the noon-day sun, ruler of the sky, earth, underworld, and kings. He was divine order and the source of creation. The Egyptians called themselves the cattle of Ra. Yahweh’s penultimate strike was to blacken out all the light of day and night so that painful darkness spread throughout the whole land.
10. Killing the Firstborn
Pharaoh was worshipped as the son of Ra, Horus on earth, and Osiris in death. Not only does Yahweh strike down every firstborn from beast and man, from the lowest servant to the very house of Pharaoh, but here Pharaoh is defeated in his resistance to releasing the labor force of Israel to go their way.
God said to Moses in Exodus 7:2-5:
“…tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
Yahweh did. Egypt did. Pharaoh did. Israel did.
1I’ve seen some variation in the list from different scholars, particularly those who mistake Khepri for a fly-headed god, but this is a good list.