In Egypt, the people were enslaved by a nation where politics and religion had married. Everything was established as a political propaganda campaign, while at the same time establishing the religion of the Egyptian gods. Now, in this we find the people of Egypt petitioning their gods in everything. There were gods in control of the Nile river overflowing to water the crops. There were gods in charge of the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the frogs, the dirt, and everything in life, such as fertility, drink, wealth, etc. No matter where you went, or what you did, everything was at the disposition of the gods. So, when the Egyptians wanted to have a good life, they needed to bring their petitions and offerings to the gods. There is no record of the gods listening to their cry; only of their offerings and their petitions.
The book of Exodus starts with a reference to the patriarchs of the tribes of Israel, and that when they died, there was a Pharaoh who eventually came along that didn’t remember Joseph and what he had done for Egypt. This Pharaoh enslaves the people Israel to keep them from rising up in opposition to Egypt. Chapter 2 ends with these words: “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”
In this, we find a contrast being made. The gods of Egypt, and the political system of Pharaoh built around them, is now being contrasted with the God of Israel. What is it that God did next? He found a partner to challenge this system of slavery. Just as the gods of Egypt had Pharaoh, now we find the God of Israel using Moses as His voice.
There is a place called the Ramesseum. This place had a funerary temple. The funerary temple was not a place that you go to in order to worship “the gods”, but rather was dedicated to the living Pharaoh. It was massive. It had two jobs. One, it was a place to prepare the Pharaoh’s body for burial, and was located just next to the Valley of the Kings. The second function is to perpetuate the worship of the cult of that Pharaoh during his life, and also to perpetuate the worship of the Pharaoh after he has passed. In the Ramesseum, you get an idea of what the Pharaohs thought of themselves. Everything was massive. At the Ramesseum is the largest freestanding statue ever found anywhere. It was originally 70 feet tall. Below are a couple pictures.
Whoever the Pharaoh was trying to say that he represented is making a point. You want to know how big I am? Take a look at the size of the gateway into my temple. I find it interesting that when we come to the Psalms, there is in chapter 24 a passage that reads, “Lift up your heads, oh you gates, and be lifted up! For the King of Glory is to come in.” What is it saying? You see these gates and how massive they are? Our God needs them lifted even higher if you want Him to enter
This gets us back to our story. If you look at the images of Pharaoh, you will find that he always seems to have a stick. The stick has a hook on it like a shepherd’s staff. This is to symbolize that the Pharaoh had absolute power, like the shepherd has over his flock. Take this back to the God who hears the cry. He finds His servant, Moshe, and He asks him, “What is that in your hand?” It’s the same thing that every shepherd always has… It’s a shepherd’s staff – just a stick of wood with a crook on the top. God says, “Throw it down.” Now, if you’re Moses at this point, what are you thinking? Are you thinking that God is contrasting your shepherd’s staff with the symbol of Pharaoh’s authority? Probably not. Most likely, you’re questioning the reason for throwing down the stick. But, Moses does it…
And it turns into a snake.
What is God doing? Take a look at the pictures of Pharaoh. Have you ever noticed what is on his head? A cobra. What is God doing?
Now, like almost all of us would do, Moses ran. Some of those snakes in the wilderness are poisonous. God says, “Pick it up.” What would you do? “The snake?” I would probably hesitate. I’m not sure whether I really would pick up the stick… And yet, Moses does. He not only picks up the snake, but picks him up by the tail. Now, if you’ve ever heard anyone say anything about snake handling, there is one thing you don’t do… ever: pick up a snake by the tail. When Moses does pick it up, it becomes a stick… just a normal everyday average shepherd’s staff.
Could you imagine when Moses goes to see the Pharaoh? What do you think would happen? The Pharaoh looks out, hearing the sound of a stick hitting the pavement, and sees this 80 year old man walking toward him. Do you think he laughed at Moses? “What’s that?” It’s my shepherd’s staff. “I know… I have one too… It is a sign of my great power, and the power of the gods of Egypt!” Our God has power, too, Pharaoh…
Now, that snake that is on the head of Pharaoh is the protector of Pharaoh. At this time, Aaron throws the stick down, and it becomes a snake. No big deal. The Pharaoh calls his magicians and they throw down their sticks, and their sticks also become snakes. What does Exodus 7 say? It isn’t that Moses’ snake eats up the other snakes. It is that his staff eats their staffs. Why is this important? The writer wants you to know that this isn’t about the snakes. It is about the symbol of authority. Who’s authority is more prevalent? Pharaoh or Moses?
It is at this moment that Moses turns and confronts the oppressive power of evil.
Thus says the LORD!
What does the text say? Pharaoh replies: “Thus says PHARAOH!”
Now, it is at this point that we turn our focus slightly. Who is it that Moses is confronting? Who is it that God is saying He cannot tolerate? The Egyptians? That can’t be. It says in Exodus 7:5 that God will make the Egyptians to know – experientially – that He is God. Is God mad at Pharaoh? Well, no… Exodus 7:17 suggests that God is desiring even for Pharaoh to experientially know Him. Who are you upset with, Lord? It is in Exodus 12 that we find the answer. “I will execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt.”
It is at this point that we now enter into the whole reason for my writing. When we celebrate Passover, what are we celebrating? Are we celebrating simply that the Lord has delivered us from the house of slavery? Are we simply reflecting on how we no longer are under the oppression of sin and bondage? Or is there something deeper? God starts to chisel away at the Egyptians and at Pharaoh little by little. The Passover is not about how God has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness. It is much deeper than that.
When it says in Exodus 12 and Numbers 33 that God executed judgment upon the gods of Egypt, we know that these gods are not real. At least, we know that the statues and carvings are just sticks, rocks, and other materials. They aren’t real. But in another sense, we read that these false gods are demons (see Deuteronomy 32:17 for example). Paul calls these the principalities and powers. Principalities because they rule over the nations; powers because they are worshiped through the offerings given unto the forces and powers of nature – things out of control of humanity. The plagues are not mere natural phenomena to cause the people to wonder. They clearly do that. But it is deeper than that.
Which of you, O gods of Egypt, will stand before Adonai? How about you, Osiris? They say the Nile is your bloodstream. Will you be able to stand against me and my people? How about tomorrow… in the morning… the Nile becomes blood. Stretch out your stick Moses. Osiris is not god. How about you, O Paket, frog-headed goddess of childbirth? Will you stand? How about tomorrow, a plague of frogs comes out of the Nile. How about you, O Geb, god of the earth? Tomorrow, the dust of the earth will become lice. How about you, O Khepri, scarab headed god? Tomorrow, flies (probably scarabs) will plague the Egyptians. What about you, O Hathor, cow goddess? Tomorrow, the cattle of the Egyptians will die. And you, O Isis, goddess of medicine and peace? Tomorrow, ashes will cause for boils to appear on the Egyptians, thus making them unclean. How about you, O Seth, god of the storm? Tomorrow, hail will come and destroy the fields and countryside. Can you stand before me, O Nut, goddess of the sky? Tomorrow locusts will be sent from the sky. And you, O Ra, god of the sun, can you stand before me? The sun will be darkened for three days. And finally, O Nek Bes, protector of children – especially the heir to Pharaoh – will you challenge me? Tomorrow, the firstborn of every animal and person will die.
This is the context of the Passover. It is this that precedes the slaying of the lamb, and the placing of the blood upon the doorposts. While God is asking the Egyptians and Pharaoh if they are listening, He now turns to the Israelites… You see, when the Egyptians were crying out, no one heard the cry. But when the Israelites cried out, their God heard. You see, there is this place in Egypt called Karnak. In Karnak, the place is lined with hundreds of lamb-headed statues. It isn’t a sacred animal, but rather a symbol of Amun-Ra. Maybe this is why Moses replies to Pharaoh in Exodus 8:26 that the Egyptians would stone them if they offered sacrifices in the land.
And now, God says to the Israelites that He wants them to take one of those lambs and sacrifice it, putting the blood on the doorposts for all to see who they are standing with. It wasn’t any question to the Egyptians what the stance was that was being made. What does it mean to spread the blood upon the doorposts in our day? What does it mean to stand up for what the Lord has commanded, even when our culture says that it requires our death? This is where it gets interesting.
As we celebrate the Passover this year, lets keep this in mind. The zeroa, the lamb, is significant because it represents a clear breaking away from the gods of this world. We no longer will take it easy. We will no longer allow them to oppress us and tell us to build bricks without straw. For some of us, what it means to take this stand is to give up our addictions or sins that we’re holding to. As the author of Hebrews says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” This notion of shedding blood seems quite in line with the slaughter of the lamb and the blood on the doorposts.
For others, it seems like we need to take our stand against the system of the world that is represented by Egypt. We give ourselves over to a faulty system of life, one founded upon society and their opinion. Maybe for you it is to oppose the Mafia. Maybe it is to oppose the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic groups. Maybe it is to stand up in your school as a believer, even when you know that it will mean persecution. What does it mean for you to come out of Egypt in your heart, and make your stand against the gods of this world?