Who Caused the Plagues? What Are the Plagues About?

Today’s Reading: Exodus 8-10

Exodus 8-10 covers 8 of the 10 plagues that occurred in Egypt. I think what I would call the traditional, standard, or conventional reading of this passage is that God caused these plagues to fall on Egypt because Pharaoh would not let Israel go due to his pride and hard heart. The traditional view is that each of the ten plagues

  • water turned into blood so that all the fish died
  • frogs over the whole country of Egypt
  • gnats in all the land of Egypt
  • swarms of flies on Pharaoh, his servants, and all his people
  • a severe plague on the livestock in the field
  • soot from the kiln that becomes fine dust and causes boils over all Egypt
  • heavy hail that killed every man and beast in the field
  • locusts that covered all the land of Egypt
  • darkness that could be felt over the land of Egypt
  • the death of all the firstborn in a household that was not under the blood

were done by God to Pharaoh and Egypt.

But, is this God?

Is this how God acts?

Is this how God leads people to know him?

Is this how God leads people to repent?

Growing in my relationship with Jesus has forced me to change the way I read the Bible. Jesus causes me to read passages like Exodus 8-10 in a different way.

What do I mean?

Colossians 1:15 says, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.”

Hebrews 1:3 says, “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

John 12:45 says, “And whoever sees me [Jesus] sees him [God the Father] who sent me.

John 14:6-7 says, “I [Jesus] am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:9 says, “Whoever has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father.”

John 10:30 says, “I [Jesus] and the Father are one.”

Jesus is the clearest picture of who God really is, what God is really like. We only see God, we only know who God is, when we see Jesus.

There was a veil in the tabernacle and the temple that separated the holy place from the most holy place. Israel couldn’t go into the holy place. The priests could go into the holy place. But, no one, except the high priest once a year, could go into the most holy place. There was a veil that kept them from seeing God clearly.

2 Corinthians 3:12-16 says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”

Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

There is a veil over the Old Testament. It’s hard to read it clearly and understand what God was really doing and saying. But, there is someone that removes the veil. Jesus!

How did Jesus remove the veil? Jesus died on the cross and the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. For those who would come to him, those who would enter into the temple, they would see God clearly through Jesus. But, not just see Jesus in any old way. We could see God clearly through the crucified Christ that died for the sins of the world yet cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

1 John 4:8 and 16 both say, “God is love.” How do we know love? 1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We know love, we only know love, because God loved us and sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. God manifested his love in Jesus. God made his love a real, tangible thing that we could see, touch, and smell through Jesus.

Paul lists 16 attributes of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Just look at the last five. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Therefore, given that Jesus is the image of God, God is love, we can only know love through Jesus’ death on the cross, and it is that death on the cross that removes the veil to read Moses clearly, how can I can possibly read the ten plagues as something God was doing to Pharaoh and Egypt? How can I possibly reconcile that with all that I have come to know about Jesus’ death on the cross so that I could be free from Satan, sin, and death?

Further, in Exodus 8-10, Moses continually writes that God was acting so that Pharaoh and everyone else would know that he is Lord. In order to know the Lord, we must turn to Jesus. We must repent. God was calling Pharaoh to repentance. What leads to repentance? Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” God smiting Pharaoh and Egypt with ten plagues was God’s kindness leading him to repentance? Really? I don’t think so.

If not God, then who caused the ten plagues?

Have you ever noticed what happens to the person doing evil or wickedness in scripture? Goliath’s head was cut off by his own sword. Haman was hanged on his own gallows. Satan, who had the power of death, was defeated by Jesus’ death on the cross. The one acting wickedly is always done in by his own wickedness.

Proverbs 26:27 says, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” The following list of scriptures says exactly the same thing.

  • Job 4:8
  • Psalm 7:15
  • Psalm 35:8
  • Psalm 141:10
  • Proverbs 28:10
  • Proverbs 29:6
  • Daniel 6:24
  • Matthew 26:52

And, there are many, many more.

But, I want to call out one other scripture in particular. Psalm 7:16 says, “His mischief returns upon his own, and on his own skull his violence descends.” The evil one does violence, and his violence returns on his own skull.

Where was Jesus crucified? Golgotha, the place of the skull. We did violence to Jesus, the image of God, and that violence returned to our own skull. God was kind to forgive us of that. Seeing that kindness, leads us to repentance.

So, who caused the plagues in Egypt? God, who is love, such love that can only be known through the death of Jesus on the cross and his forgiveness from the cross? Or Pharaoh, whose own violence, whose own evil and wicked acts, was coming back on to him?

What was the wickedness that Pharaoh did? First, he had enslaved Israel in his own pride. Second, he worshiped everything but God. Each of the ten plagues is related to an act of worship of something that Pharaoh and Egypt held to be a god. Each plague was the wicked idolatry of Egypt coming back onto itself.

The plagues were an issue of worship. Egypt worshiped false gods to their own destruction. Yet, God was calling people out of Egypt, the culture, the belief system, the education system, etc., to worship him. God was calling people to go on a three day journey into the wilderness to worship him. Three days is the period from death to life. God was calling people to die to Egypt, the world, and come to him for life. God was even calling Pharaoh, if he would but listen. God was moving in the midst of that, trying to get Pharaoh to know him, trying to turn Pharaoh towards him.

The whole issue was about what, rather who, was being worshiped.

We must always remember that the cross, the crucified Christ, changes everything. It is the central pivot point in all of history. It changes, or it should change, the way we read the Old Testament. Jesus’ death removes the veil so that we can see God clearly in the Old Testament.

But, we must remember that even now “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Let us turn to Jesus, through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, so that we can see the Father clearly in all the scripture.

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