God Unleashed

Plagues of Egypt

by Lois Tverberg

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'” Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” Exodus 5:1-3

During Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh, God told him to tell Pharaoh that the Israelites needed to take a three-day journey into the desert to worship him (Ex. 3:18, 5:3, 8:27). This is confusing because it sounds as if they are asking for a long weekend off, and then they’ll come back. But in fact, in no place does Moses say that they will return afterward.

Another suggestion is that the phrase “three-day journey” is actually not about the length of time they plan to be away, but the distance they need to travel from Egypt before they worship God. In the Scripture, measuring distance in “days of journey” was common. (See Gen 31:33, Num 10:33, Deut 11:1, 1Ki 19:4, etc.) Moses was likely saying that people must be far away from the false Plagues of Egypt“gods” and oppression of Egypt before they worshipped God, or their awesome God might release plagues and destruction. The Egyptians were the ones in danger!

It seems that Pharaoh was undaunted by Moses’ warnings about the power of his God, and he refused to let the Israelites go a safe distance from Egypt. It is easy to imagine that as this holy God approached his people, getting nearer and nearer, the plagues on Egypt became increasingly worse. First the river ran red from some distant danger sweeping downstream, then the insects started swarming, then the animals started dying, then the sky blackened with hail and locusts and utter darkness as this awesome God approached Egypt.

Finally, when the Israelites went ahead and sacrificed a lamb and worshipped their God right in the midst of Egypt, his full power was unleashed on the Egyptians and destruction poured out on the oppressors of his people. Because Pharaoh would not release Israel to worship their holy God, he came to punish their captors and release them himself.


Photo: John Martin

Plagues from the God of Nature

by Lois Tverberg

Pray to the LORD, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.” Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. – Exodus 9:28-29

HorusAs the passage above says, God unleashed the powerful forces of nature in the plague of hail to show that he was the true ruler over the earth, not the hundreds of “gods” that the Egyptians worshipped. It was clear that God was in control of other aspects of nature when locusts and diseases destroy the crops and livestock at Moses’ command.

It may be a surprise to some that most of the plagues could be describing natural events that were known to occur in Egypt. The Nile turning to blood may describe the red tide, a type of algae that kills fish when it overgrows, or an excessive reddish silt washed down from the mountains during an abnormally strong annual flood. The frogs might have bred in the stagnant water left behind from the flooding. Even the “darkness that can be felt” seems to be a description of a sandstorm that comes from the hamsim, strong winds that blow in from the desert at certain times of year that blot out the sun by filling the air with dust, which can make it as dark as night.

This observation initially can be disturbing, because it seems to be more spectacular to turn nature on its head. The key is to realize, however, that what showed God’s power is not the unearthliness of the plagues, but God’s sovereignty over their timing and who they afflicted. While they might have been events of nature, they clearly were controlled by God’s will. And, the last plague really has no natural explanation – how every firstborn could be chosen to succumb to an illness all on the same night. God can work inside of nature or outside of it, and he can choose when and how.

When you think about it, God working through nature is really the most appropriate display of his power, because he is the creator and sustainer of all things. We can see this in that the point at which the magicians realized that their gods were defeated was a seemingly mild plague, that of the gnats. (Ex. 8:18-19) Why? Because God is the creator, not Satan. God’s creation of the tiny gnat was too much for Satan to imitate. It was the God of Israel who held the life of every creature in his hands.


Photocred: Bibleplaces.com

The Finger of God

by Lois Tverberg

But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. And the gnats were on men and animals. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” …. Exodus 8:18-19

When Pharaoh’s magicians convincingly imitated the first two plagues of turning the Nile to blood and producing frogs, Pharaoh had reason to be confident that he could defeat the God who produced these signs. But at the third plague, the magicians were confounded when they saw gnats created from the dust. They declared. “This is the finger of God!”

Plagues of EgyptThey meant that this was the sign of a power far, far greater than they could conjure up. Often God’s power or intervention is described metaphorically by using words like God’s “arm” or God’s “hand.” God’s “finger” also refers to his power or intervention. God is so mighty that all he had to use was his littlest finger to defeat the powers of the magicians in Egypt!

Interestingly, this phrase also comes up in the life of Jesus, and it is in a similar context. Jesus was being challenged by what means he was casting out demons, with the accusation that he was using satanic powers to do so. He replied:

…But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils. Luke 11:21-22

Why did he use the phrase “finger of God”? The situation here is similar to that in Exodus. Moses was in a battle against the gods of Egypt and they were defeated by the “finger of God.” Similarly, Jesus was in a battle with the powers of darkness and was defeating them by God’s power. God’s kingdom was arriving with such great power that with its littlest finger it could vanquish Satan and set people free.


Artist of photo: John Martin