This section of Exodus begins with Moses and Aaron going before Pharaoh, and ends with the Passover and the declaration to leave Egypt. It progresses from confrontation to freedom. In this section, the significance for you and I is to recognize the plagues as more than plaguing Egypt, Pharaoh, or the Egyptians. Here is where the rubber meets the road in Christianity.
We cannot believe in systems, whether governments, religious, or academic. A system is an institution, a machine established to produce a certain result. For businesses, the machine is worked through marketing, management, and “customer service”. The workers themselves are merely numbers, and expendable at that. The workers are simply means to the end – growth in the company as well as wealth. For government, a system is even easier to recognize. For we Americans, we just have to look at Washington D.C. and how far outside of actual American culture it is. The famous quote by George W. Bush makes it clear, “Not everyone would pick lettuce for $50/hour.”
Over these systems, the principalities and powers rage. What the secular/pagans don’t know is that they aren’t simply devoting their attention to science. It isn’t about saying that science proves truth, but about devoting your entire existence to demons. They who are so naive to think that if you can’t test it, it isn’t real only show forth blindness that goes beyond human capacity.
Organisms are not this way. The Body of Christ is exactly that – a body. A body is not something that is mechanical. Our church services might be, but the Church itself is not. If we are indeed connected to the Head, who is the creator of the universe, then we should not find the boring and mundane repetition that characterizes our services. Truly, the problem is that our buildings and programs are not run out of the authenticity of the life of God, but rather from the expectancy that the “show must go on”. There is an agenda. The people come for a certain kind of biblical teaching, they want to hear some sort of moving music that they can sing along with (and they want to either know the words, or learn the words quickly), and maybe they want to then know that there are certain programs or events in place that “benefit the community”.
That kind of Christianity is Egypt.
Egypt is the definition of system. It builds an empire for itself, amassing great wealth and prestige among the other nations, and yet builds this empire upon the backs of slaves. Modern Evangelical Christianity has enslaved the pastor, which is why the pastor has to pay so much in insurance, is stressed almost daily, many pastors have been divorced at least once, and they are financially almost unable to stay afloat. We have erected a Christianity that is based upon self. I can prove this by the question you ask when you leave the meeting: “What did you think of the sermon? What did you think of the worship? What would you like to eat?”
Over Egypt are gods, which are not truly gods, but demons. It is these unseen powers that pervade our societies and cultures – including the Christian society and culture if we’re not careful. Whereas I thought for a long time that the principalities and powers was a subject exclusive to the New Testament, I am beginning to see it everywhere. Our understanding of what Paul is expressing as “the principalities and powers” cannot come from Ephesians alone, or from the handful of other passages that mention them either directly or indirectly. Where does Paul get his understanding? Is it strictly from the Holy Spirit, or is there a reference in the Old Testament that he would have been able to provide?
I think one of the places that Paul would have used is this very passage. In Exodus 5-12, we have the plagues of Egypt, but they are not sent in judgment upon the Egyptians, nor Pharaoh, for enslaving God’s people. Rather, these plagues are sent in judgment upon “the gods of Egypt” (Ex 12:12). Now, either the gods of Egypt are just wooden or stone carvings, not really anything at all, or they are indeed something. If they are nothing, which is certainly attested to in the Old Testament, then why would God send judgment upon them?
What is happening here we find explained in Deuteronomy 32:16-17. The idol itself is nothing. As Isaiah mocks, with half of the log they keep themselves warm, but with the other half they carve their idol. How can you be so ignorant to bow down to an idol that you yourself carved, even knowing that the other half of the log was used for firewood? What significance could your idol possibly have? Yet, what Moses is saying, and it’s ultimately God saying it here, is that the idol itself is only a representation of a demon that is truly being worshiped. That demon has the power to cause for titillations and “feelings” so that the worshiper will continue to bow down, completely convinced that they are indeed worshiping gods, because they can feel it.
Science is no different. Think of the many atheist scientists who are not willing to simply do their jobs. They have an agenda, and if you start to disagree with their beliefs, they must rise up in furor to defend “science”. That kind of zeal does not come from simply being devoted to your job, nor does it come from a love of your study. That kind of zeal only comes from a devotion to something beyond the physical world.
The Egyptians plagues are plagues against the demonic realm. We find this significance in multiple ways, not the least of which being that the plagues of Revelation mirror many of the plagues of Exodus. This is a pattern. God doesn’t combat the principalities by us “casting down strongholds” or claiming “in the name of Jesus”. This kind of dethroning only comes through plagues, which is attested to in 1 Kings 17-18 as well. For they who are desiring to overthrow the rule of the demonic forces at work in our nations, states, cities, or churches, we must understand that what we are asking for is a plague that neuters any possibility of that god being considered as having power.