Against all the gods of Egypt

At our Bible Study, we are currently touring through the book of Exodus. Although the Ten Plagues is a well-known text, it continues to surprise and delight the reader with sparkling gems previously unnoticed. In 12:12, anticipating the death of the first-born, God says:

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord”

The previous nine plagues had each denuded and exposed particular Egyptian deities. The Nile god, Hapi, was shown to be powerless when the Lord turned the river to blood; Isis, goddess of medicine, was helpless when the boils struck; Nut, goddess of the sky, could not prevent the hail and neither could Ra, the sun-god pierce Jehovah’s thick darkness. The final plague, however, is described as a judgement on all of these ‘gods’. 12:12 intrigues me, and I consider it here: 

-The Egyptians worshipped so many gods, that the nine humiliated by the ‘lesser’ plagues still allowed the others’ priests to proclaim their respective gods’ greatness. This final decimation of Egypt would show that even these other gods could do nothing to help. 

-Pagan people had a very anthropocentric understanding of their deities. This means they regarded them as being like humans. Hence the Greeks had few qualms about their Zeus being a pervert and Elijah mocked Baal for nipping to the toilet rather than firing his prophets’ altar. In case any Egyptians wondered if their gods were merely away on business when the LORD struck, this final plague would remove any doubt that they were powerless and worthless.

-The Egyptian gods were perhaps more than mere blocks of wood and stone. It might be that actual spiritual forces received worship from this people, offering the odd ‘miracle’ or mystical experience in return. If this is the case, then Exodus 12:12 may refer to an actual punishment inflicted by God on the demonic beings in whose sway Egypt was held. In Psalm 82 we read

‘God stands in the congregation of the mighty;

He judges among the gods.

How long will you judge unjustly,

And show partiality to the wicked? Selah’

The following verses indicate that gods may be describing powerful human kings, judges and magistrates who have power of life and death. Some suggest it refers to the angelic estate, a significant membership of which is in rebellion to God and awaiting His judgement for its crimes. Thus, the powerful entities exercising dominion over Egypt were punished in ways the text does not describe.

-One of the ‘gods’ of Egypt was very much alive and well- Pharaoh himself. Thus far, the Egyptian king had suffered relatively little loss and discomfort during the previous plagues, for his royal status shielded him from major harm. From this final plague, however, even this haughty potentate could not be protected, for he lost his own heir. Lamenting the loss of his son, and ordering the Hebrews’ departure, Pharaoh concedes his humanity by asking from Moses a blessing. As a god, he had just been soundly judged and sentenced.

-The real meaning of the tenth plague, however, is not to just expose the futility of paganism and its gods’ disabilities. It points to the true God’s supremacy. Furthermore, the whole story anticipates the coming of Christ to save believers. As the Egyptians kissed goodnight their children, the Hebrews were painting lambs’ blood on their lintels and preparing unleavened bread. By prophesying the coming of The Lamb of God who would pay for sin on the cross, God’s remark in 12:12 may also refer to His final victory over evil at Calvary. The apostle writes of Christ in Colossians 2:15:

Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

These ‘principalities and powers’, usually understood to refer to hostile demonic agents, were humiliated and enfeebled by Christ’s crucifixion. The days of their rebellion were numbered and their hold on fallen humanity was loosened. The gods of Egypt were humbled by the tenth plague, but the gods- human and otherwise- of the entire cosmos were judged at Calvary; their final sentence shall be executed at His return.

‘Against all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgement‘.