God’s Plagues in Egypt - Related to Egyptian gods?

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G

Puritan Board Senior
Our family is now working through Exodus in our worship time. The account in the Bible does not seem to explicitly relate each plague to an Egyptian idol. However I have heard some and read one that, in a very interesting manner, discussed how an understanding of the Egyptian idols helps enhance our understanding of each plague and shows how our Lord was demonstrating to Egypt that He alone is the only true God as opposed to their false gods. To be honest I found the angle very interesting. I was never taught those details growing up and if the approach is well founded, then it seems fascinating.

What are your thoughts?


For reference in the event others may not of heard of this stance: https://www.ucg.org/beyond-today/beyond-today-magazine/the-exodus-plagues-judgment-on-egypts-gods
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Our pastor, when teaching about the plagues, related each to an Egyptian god. So yes, you're in good company. :)
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Certainly, the plagues do show, among other things, that the true God is more powerful than idols. And it has become popular in recent years for teachers to connect each plague with an Egyptian false god. That's probably not an altogether bad way to approach the passage, but I'm not sure it's the best way. I have resisted doing this when I teach through Exodus, for a few reasons:

1. It seems to me that we could take nearly any ancient pantheon of false gods and do the same thing. The fact that the Egyptian idols can be made to match up with the plagues is not actually as uncanny as it appears to be the first time you hear it done.​
2. God hit the Egyptians where it hurt: in the things that were important and seemed life-giving to them. It no surprise, really, that these are also things the Egyptians had idols for. So God might have picked the plagues to match up with the idols, but we could just as easily say he picked the plagues to get the Egyptians' attention by striking at things that mattered, or to inflict a comprehensive punishment, or to show that he is Lord over all that gives life—and not directly to expose the false gods.​
3. Most importantly, the text in Exodus does not point our attention much to the Egyptians' false gods. There is repeated emphasis in the text on God being more powerful than Pharaoh, but only one mention of him judging the gods of Egypt (in Exodus 12:12)—even though it would have been easy to insert it more often if that were the basis for the particular plagues. There are only so many things I can focus on when teaching or studying a passage, and I usually prefer to emphasize the same things the author keeps mentioning.​

So, the plagues matching up with Egyptian idols is probably a fair observation, and it's okay to dig into a passage and notice things beneath the surface, or to apply cultural scholarship. But to me, this framework also sounds a bit like a scholar trying too hard to uncover a new way to look at the text when the key points are already stated for us upfront. The narrator tells us plainly that the plagues are intended to showcase God's power. They are intended to show his caring devotion to his people. They are a demonstration of his covenant faithfulness to the patriarchs. They are a judgment on Egypt for its mistreatment of the Israelites. And they are part of a plan to harden Pharaoh's heart and end up plundering Egypt.

Rather than spend my time running through a list of Egyptian idols, which aren't even named in the text, I'd rather focus on some of those themes that very clearly are in the text and are mentioned multiple times.
 

G

Puritan Board Senior
Certainly, the plagues do show, among other things, that the true God is more powerful than idols. And it has become popular in recent years for teachers to connect each plague with an Egyptian false god. That's probably not an altogether bad way to approach the passage, but I'm not sure it's the best way. I have resisted doing this when I teach through Exodus, for a few reasons:

1. It seems to me that we could take nearly any ancient pantheon of false gods and do the same thing. The fact that the Egyptian idols can be made to match up with the plagues is not actually as uncanny as it appears to be the first time you hear it done.​
2. God hit the Egyptians where it hurt: in the things that were important and seemed life-giving to them. It no surprise, really, that these are also things the Egyptians had idols for. So God might have picked the plagues to match up with the idols, but we could just as easily say he picked the plagues to get the Egyptians' attention by striking at things that mattered, or to inflict a comprehensive punishment, or to show that he is Lord over all that gives life—and not directly to expose the false gods.​
3. Most importantly, the text in Exodus does not point our attention much to the Egyptians' false gods. There is repeated emphasis in the text on God being more powerful than Pharaoh, but only one mention of him judging the gods of Egypt (in Exodus 12:12)—even though it would have been easy to insert it more often if that were the basis for the particular plagues. There are only so many things I can focus on when teaching or studying a passage, and I usually prefer to emphasize the same things the author keeps mentioning.​

So, the plagues matching up with Egyptian idols is probably a fair observation, and it's okay to dig into a passage and notice things beneath the surface, or to apply cultural scholarship. But to me, this framework also sounds a bit like a scholar trying too hard to uncover a new way to look at the text when the key points are already stated for us upfront. The narrator tells us plainly that the plagues are intended to showcase God's power. They are intended to show his caring devotion to his people. They are a demonstration of his covenant faithfulness to the patriarchs. They are a judgment on Egypt for its mistreatment of the Israelites. And they are part of a plan to harden Pharaoh's heart and end up plundering Egypt.

Rather than spend my time running through a list of Egyptian idols, which aren't even named in the text, I'd rather focus on some of those themes that very clearly are in the text and are mentioned multiple times.

Thanks Jack. Those have been some of my main thoughts in walking through it with my family. I do find the OP link interesting food for thought, but I am not sure I would teach it that way. I would be much more comfortable limiting myself to just using the reasons God gives in his word, which I think can be summed up by Exodus 10:1-2
 

Kinghezy

Puritan Board Sophomore
I have not heard each plague corresponds with each Egyptian God, but, came across the following points while going through Genesis and Exodus (still in Exodus)

In Pharaoh's dream (Gen 41) that Joseph interprets, Keil and Delitzsch have this to say about Genesis 41:8 --
But not one of these could interpret it, although the clue to the interpretation was to be found in the religious symbols of Egypt. For the cow was the symbol of Isis, the goddess of the all-sustaining earth, and in the hieroglyphics it represented the earth, agriculture, and food; and the Nile, by its overflowing, was the source of the fertility of the land. But however simple the explanation of the fat and lean cows ascending out of the Nile appears to be, it is "the fate of the wisdom of this world, that where it suffices it is compelled to be silent. For it belongs to the government of God to close the lips of the eloquent, and take away the understanding of the aged (Job 12:20)." Baumgarten.

In Exodus 12:12, Matthew Henry takes the position that the coup de grace of the last plague also interacted with the gods
Dreadful work was to be made this night in Egypt; all the first-born both of man and beast were to be slain, and judgment executed upon the gods of Egypt. Moses does not mention the fulfillment, in this chapter, yet he speaks of it Num. xxxiii. 4. It is very probable that the idols which the Egyptians worshipped were destroyed, those of metal melted, those of wood consumed, and those of stone broken to pieces, whence Jethro infers (ch. xviii. 11), The Lord is greater than all gods. The same angel that destroyed their first-born demolished their idols, which were no less dear to them.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
I believe that part of the reason for the plagues was to show the emptiness of the Egyptian idols. I would encourage you to read John Currid's commentary on Exodus. He does a very good job of bringing that aspect in without losing other elements entirely.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Philip Ryken's Exodus "sermonic" commentary also brings out the ties to many of the Egyptian gods. It's good stuff.

If I could preach (tolerably) for an hour, there might be time to deliver some more such background to the hearers. However, in my experience, to make progress through a book of the Bible preaching it, I have to focus more on what it seems Moses made priority. Agreeing with JackK on this.
 
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