The United States is what I would call a safety-net country. An abundance of government-led programs prevent the widespread devastation of economic crises and natural disasters. In fact, these programs have made many believe they are entitled to invulnerability of any kind.
“Everyone has the the right to eat!” So the government spends billions on WIC, EBT, SNAP and other welfare programs.
“Nobody should lose everything if they are laid off from a job!” So we’ve been given unemployment benefits.
“No elderly person should have to work until they die, or starve if they can no longer work…” So we have Social Security.
“No disabled person should have to beg for food!” So we have disability benefits.
“No person should get abandoned in a catastrophe!” So we send in FEMA
To many, these safety nets are like gods themselves…
I would argue that many of us (Christians included) place far more confidence in our preventative measures than we ought to. Sometimes, the only way we can really see the power of our God is through complete loss. If you are deluded into thinking the United States (for example) will always be strong and prosperous, start digging into some history. Nations rise and nations fall; don’t trust in them…
The Egyptians of the Exodus period did not have safety-net programs…
…but they did have safety-net gods.
We know, based on archeological evidence, the great power and prosperity of Ancient Egypt. They attributed this to their gods and their pharaohs. Like so many, they put their trust in the wrong safety-nets.
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.” (Exodus 7:5)
Let’s take a moment and look at the severity of these plagues and how some of the Egyptians started recognizing the power of God over their own weak imitations.
Water to Blood (Exodus 7.14-25)
Just like veins carry your life-blood throughout your body, so the Nile River carried life-giving water to the Egyptians.
If you’ve ever been without access to a water source, you know the value of keeping stored water in your home or car in case of sudden emergency. Just imagine waking up one morning, turning on the faucet and seeing nothing but air. You go to retrieve a bottle of water only to find it contaminated. The grocery store shelves are empty and your neighbor is in the same predicament.
What would you do???
The Egyptians not only had a contaminated water source, but all their water—in bowls, jars, canals, and streams had turned to blood. They had to go dig along the Nile banks for water.
Khnum, Anuket, Hapi and Satet were the Egyptians gods associated with the Nile. Khnum in particular was the god of the source of the nile and also purported to create the bodies of human children. I’m sure more than one Egyptians was asking, “Why is Khnum silent? Why doesn’t he stop this plague?”
Frogs (Exodus 8.1-15)
Hot on the heels of stinking dead fish and bloody water, another plague rises from the Nile—swarms of frogs. These creatures were everywhere—in their beds, their kneading bowls, and their ovens. I can’t even imagine…
Once again, the Egyptians see another object of worship humiliated…
Lice/Gnats (Exodus 8:16-19)
Up to this point, the magicians of Pharaoh have somehow managed to “duplicate” the plagues by their “secret arts.” (A wiser leader would say, “Idiots! I don’t want you to add to the plague, I want you to stop it!”)
When the third plague comes along, these magicians admitted defeat and said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”
Excellent deduction, Sherlock…
Even the magicians are starting to recognize the impotency of their gods and the awesome power of the One True God.
Flies (Exodus 8:20-30)
The plague of flies is significant because, for the first time, the Lord specifically separates the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived, from the impact of the plagues. I can only deduce that up to this point, they were suffering from these plagues as well. Just picture the Egyptians squinting through the hordes of flies to see the great clear air of Goshen. I think I’d be packing my things and adopting an Israelite…
But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth. Thus I will put a division between my people and your people…
Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.
Exodus 8:22-24, ESV
Hail (Exodus 9:13-35)
I skipped a few plagues for the sake of brevity. In the plague of hail, we see a few of the Egyptians listening to Moses and Aaron. They aren’t placing their trust in Pharaoh or their gods…
Then whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slaves and his livestock in the field.
Locust (Exodus 10:1-20)
You know that moment when you have just pulled through a disaster and you think, “it’s going to be ok, I still have __________________ to sustain me.” ?
Yeah, the Egyptians had one of those moments during the plagues. During the plague of hail, Moses records: “The flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the emmer were not struck down, for they are late in coming up.” (Exodus 9:31-32)
Well, even this little “safety-net” moment is about to be crushed…
God warns Pharaoh to let the people go or the locusts will consume whatever the hail didn’t destroy. While Pharaoh is still wanting to bargain, his servants say this:
“How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?”
Exodus 10:7, ESV
The Egyptians may still be unwilling to acknowledge God as the One and Only God, but they do recognize the frailty of their position.
Death of the Firstborn
The plagues brought death: Dead fish. Dead frogs. Dead livestock. Dead crops.
Death is the result of refusing to acknowledge God.
The most heart-wrenching plague of all was the death of the Firstborn. When this plague hit, every house in Egypt had at least one dead body in it. This death did not come from an invading hoard, it came softly in the dead of night while Egypt slept peacefully.
Death has a way of showing up unexpectedly.
The Egyptians knew what needed to happen next:
The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.”
~ Exodus 12:33, ESV
The Egyptians recognized the supremacy of the Israelite’s God, but it is doubtful that they abandoned their polytheism altogether.
What about you?
It’s easy to ridicule these ancient cultures and their self-made deities, but how often do we create de facto gods of our own? We rely heavily on our government, the stock market, the police force, the might of the military, the power of our arsenal, our bank accounts, our retirement funds, our time management skills, etcetera.
We believe we have heaps of time when we really only have this moment. You never know if you’ll be that person who is at work when a plane crashes through the building, or on the Champs-Elysées when a nutcase indiscriminately sprays bullets into the crowd, or in the car when that teenager is fatally texting their way into your vehicle.
Have we put too much faith in ourselves? Too much faith in the established order?
What would you do if all these “safeties” were obliterated?
Do not make the same mistake as the Egyptians. Put your trust in the right place. God is going to be there whether you’re contentedly sipping coffee on the back porch or locked in a dark pit in Vietnam.
God will be there at the end of all things, whether you trust Him or not.
The question you need to ask yourself is this: Will I face Him with joy or in abject terror? Will it be a happy meeting or the beginning of eternal suffering?
The time to know God is NOW.
This is Part 3 of the Series “The Effects of Knowing God.”
For previous posts, click the links below: