If the same carnal and compromising Christians that exist today had lived back at the time of the Exodus, we would have a very different story indeed. Instead of a hard-core power confrontation between Yahweh and his servant Moses and Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, there would have been one sentimental, syrupy ecumenical get-together.
These syncretistic and deluded Christian leaders would want to have a big session of interfaith dialogue, where the various faith communities could see how one they are, and how they all worship the same God. They would avoid like the plague (pun sort of intended) any confrontational approach, and would do their best to find common ground – any common ground.
The aim would be for everyone to just “get along”. After all, tolerance and acceptance and a celebration of diversity are among the priorities of these apostate leaders, so what better way to demonstrate Christian “love” than to tell Pharaoh he is a terrific guy and his gods are just peachy.
What we find of course in Exodus 1-15 is an altogether different scenario. The gods of Egypt are viewed as damnable frauds and worthless idols that must be exposed and destroyed, and Yahweh does this in the clearest and most forceful manner possible. He targets these false gods and shows his absolute sovereignty over them, and radical difference from them.
In Ex. 12:12, just before the tenth and final plague against Egypt is unleashed, we read this important word: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.”
No wonder John Davis entitled his 1971 volume, Moses and the Gods of Egypt. This was indeed a real showdown between the one, true living God and all the false gods of Egypt. Said Davis: “The Egyptians were just about the most polytheistic people known from the ancient world. . . . Almost all living creatures, whatever their habitat, and even inanimate objects, became the embodiment of some deity.”
Thus the ten plagues were more than the just judgment of God on a pagan nation which was oppressing God’s chosen people. They were also a direct blow to the pagan gods and pagan idolatry. Pharaoh was especially being targeted here: “The plagues served to demonstrate the impotency of Pharaoh, both as a ruler and as a god. He was subject to the same frustrations and anxieties as the average man in Egypt during the period of the plagues.”
Philip Graham Ryken further comments on this incredible power encounter:
By sending plague after plague – nine in all – God was showing his power over creation. What the Egyptians should have done in response was repent of their sins and join Moses in giving praise to the one true God. Yet the more Pharaoh suffered, the harder his heart became. This was because his heart was committed to serving other gods. So one by one God defeated the gods and goddesses of Egypt. The plague of blood defeated the river gods of the Nile, the locusts defeated the field gods of the harvest, the darkness defeated the gods of the sun and sky, and so forth.
Still Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go. Finally, God sent the tenth and deadliest plague of all: the death of the firstborn. This was a battle of the gods, a contest between the deities, and God was determined to win. . . . With this final plague God accomplished his objective – namely, to demonstrate his lordship over the Egyptians by defeating their gods, together with the demonic powers they represented. With one deadly blow God achieved his conquest over Egypt’s gods, and in doing so, he gave the Egyptians what they deserved. The last plague was a glorious act of his sovereign justice.
Old Testament scholar Douglas Stuart concurs:
Exod 12:12 makes clearest of all to the reader of the plague stories what the purpose of the plagues really was. By the plagues God demonstrated his superiority to all the supposed other gods, and by demonstrating that superiority in connection with the supposed gods of the greatest economic-political-military power of the day, God showed his sovereignty, mutatis mutandis, over all the nations of the earth and their ‘gods’. This was an evangelistic enterprise. God’s purpose was not to show off, as if he needed attention, or to prove himself to others, as if he were insecure. Rather, he is, as he has always been, a saving God who delights in rescuing human beings from captivity – sometimes captivity of a political, economic, or social sort but, far more importantly, from captivity to sin, which brings death. . . . A good God therefore made sure that the belief system of the Egyptians, and for that matter all pagan cultures by logical extension, was exposed as fraudulent and foolish. Since trust in a variety of gods was at the heart of that belief system, exposing a variety of gods as nothing, unable to save, unable to grant life, and unable to defend Egypt and the Egyptians against the God of the Hebrews was a convincing method of forcing people to look elsewhere than the discredited gods for salvation. To evangelise is to turn people away from the bad news (no matter how attractive it might look) and toward the good news, and if that can be accomplished by dramatically and decisively exposing the bad news as truly bad and obviously false, the reality of the good news has opportunity to sink into the consciousness of those who witness the sort of events the Egyptians and Israelites did in the case of the plagues.
How utterly foreign is this way of thinking to what we so often find today in our anaemic and backslidden churches. Most so-called Christians never think in terms of the sheer damnable nature of false religions and false gods. They have no inkling about how such false gods are sending people to a lost eternity, and they do not even think in terms of these folks as being in need of salvation.
Instead, they smile and nod and think that somehow all religions are basically the same, and that all God wants us to do is just happily get along and sing another round of Kumbaya. These duped believers actually think a devout Muslim or Hindu is heading straight to heaven, and we should never challenge their beliefs, but just affirm them in their non-Christian faith and practice.
What an absolute contrast to the way Moses reacted to these pagan deities. They were sending people to hell, and had to be utterly and conclusively challenged. Forget these lousy interfaith services and little ecumenical pow-wows. Instead, the living God must be fearlessly affirmed, championed and proclaimed, while the fake and diabolical gods had to be fiercely opposed.
Davis offers a nice summary of all this:
In short, therefore, what were the essential purposes of these ten plagues? First of all, they were certainly designed to free the people of God. Second, they were a punishment upon Egypt for her portion in the long oppression of the Hebrews. Third, they were designed to demonstrate the foolishness of idolatry. They were a supreme example both for the Egyptians and for Israel. It was by these that Jehovah revealed His uniqueness in a way that had never before been revealed (6:3; cf. 10:2). Finally, the plagues clearly demonstrated the awesome, sovereign power of God. In the Book of Genesis, God is described as the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all the laws of nature. In the Book of Exodus the exercise of that creative power is revealed as it leads to the accomplishment of divine goals. God’s sovereignty is not only exercised over the forces of nature, but is also revealed against evil nations and their rulers.
And all this is to say that they ultimately brought glory to God. That is always to be the end goal of all that we do. And this is exactly what the clueless interfaith crowd don’t get. They totally ignore the glory of God by pretending that we are all meant to just sit back and never challenge the false religions, false gods and false prophets who are deceiving millions.
They do not know one of the most basic themes of Scripture, as we find twice recorded in the book of Isaiah:
I am the Lord, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another,
Nor My praise to carved images. (Isaiah 42:8)
For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it;
For how should My name be profaned?
And I will not give My glory to another. (Isaiah 48:11)