What the Bible says about
Plagues of Egypt
(From Forerunner Commentary)
God's warning to the Egyptians that He would kill their firstborn was part of the plan from the beginning. It was not, as The Ten Commandments movie would have one believe, a last minute decision to which God resorted when all the other plagues failed to achieve His desired effect. In His mercy, God repeats His warning to Pharaoh, giving him plenty of opportunity to repent: "[A]ll the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the maidservant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the beasts" (Exodus 11:5).
The Law of the Firstborn
The ancient Egyptians had a god name Ptah, represented by a man's body with the head of a frog. For the second plague God sent an infestation of millions of frogs. For the Egyptians, this was too much of a good thing! Moses writes that they got into the houses, into the beds and ovens and kneading bowls (verse 3). When God lifted the plague, these millions of frogs died and stank the country up for days (verse 14).
The third plague, striking Egypt unannounced, hit the Egyptians in their religious ritual: They were a scrupulously clean people, believing that dirt and vermin made them impure and defiled. They bathed and shaved their bodies regularly to maintain their purity and superiority, but infected with lice, they could not worship in any temple. In addition, this plague struck the beasts also (verse 17), many of which were sacred animals kept in their sanctuaries. So, not only were the Egyptians defiled, but their gods and temples were defiled also.
Pharaoh's magicians could not duplicate this third plague in even a small way, so they admitted that Israel's God was greater than any of theirs (verse 19). God showed these pagan people that He controlled the creation and could do with it as He wished. The plagues on Egypt continued in this manner in sets of three, in which Moses and Aaron announced the first two and the third would descend unannounced.
What is the Passover? Right from the start, God knew that young people would ask this very same question: "And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?'" (Exodus 12:26). So He prepared an answer for them: "It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households" (verse 27).
Passover is a memorial day—a very important anniversary day. However, it commemorates three events, not just one. As God said, it commemorates the tenth and last plague upon ancient Egypt in which, after giving them ample warning, God passed over the nation of Egypt and killed all the firstborn in the land. Through this decimating plague, God freed the children of Israel from their captivity and servitude in Egypt.
Secondly, and most importantly, it commemorates the death of Jesus Christ, who was and is the firstborn Son of God the Father. Through Jesus' awful death—which, by God's design, took place on Passover day in AD 31—God freed us, regenerated Christians, from our captivity and slavery to the world, to Satan, and to sin.
Finally, it commemorates the baptism of each Christian, when we formally accepted the death of Jesus Christ, when we asked Him to apply His priceless sacrifice to our sins, when we asked that He would cover and blot out our sins with His blood (Psalm 41:1, 9; Acts 3:19; Romans 4:7).
What Is the Passover Anyway?
Israel was to keep the Night to Be Much Observed in part as a night of watchful vigil to commemorate the reason they could leave Egypt so easily: God watched over them as His plan unfolded.
Reading Genesis 15 with the story in Exodus, we can see how God watched over them. Israel's bondage in Egypt had disciplined Israel, preparing them to go through the wilderness, and afterwards, take the Promised Land. This was God's plan for them, and He watched it brought to completion. His greater plan is not completed even now, because we are a part of it! Genesis 17 shows that it has eternal consequences and is still in operation.
The Night to be Much Observed is a significant event in God's plan. Will anyone deny that God watched out for Israel, seeing the blood on the doorposts and lintels and passing over them? Can anyone deny that He watched over them as they finished spoiling the Egyptians during the daylight portion of Nisan 14, watching as they gathered to meet in Rameses?
“Watch" does not mean that God passively observed them as they left. Instead, it means that He actively "guarded" them. "Watched" comes from the Hebrew shamar, used often and translated as “keep.” Whenever one desires to keep something, he guards and protects it. In like manner, God watched, kept, guarded, and protected Israel. Exodus 11:7 shows just how closely God watched, not allowing even a single dog to bark.
Can anyone deny that God watched as the Israelites walked out that night of Nisan 15 in the very sight of the Egyptians who were burying their dead? Most likely, the Egyptians would want to blame the Israelites for the death of their children and animals. They would be enraged. They could not see God, nor blame Him directly, as it were; but they would take it out on His people. But they stood by numbly instead of resisting or fighting.
The Night to Be Much Observed is the official marking of God's watchful care. It is good and right that we celebrate what God did and continues to do. We can easily see that this portion of the first day of Unleavened Bread is of great significance, not just on the basis of its prior history in the life of Abraham, but also its significance to the Exodus. An entire nation of slaves just got up, and without lifting a hand to achieve their liberty, they walked away.
Most people, in order to win their liberty, must undergo bloody warfare, and many people lose their lives. Those who do not suffer the loss of life usually lose their material wealth. Israel did not lose any lives and came away rich! The captor nation was helpless to do anything to retain its slaves because God restrained the Egyptians.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Night to be Much Observed
The Israelites accuse Moses of not dealing with them fairly, murmuring that he should not have led them out of Egypt. This occurs just days after they went out with a high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians, joyful that they were free. How quickly their faith evaporated when fear began closing in on them!
The Egyptians, their horses, their chariots, all the shining army and might of Egypt were represented there. The Israelites' backs were up against the sea, and they could see the death sentence approaching them as fast as a horse could pull a chariot. They thought their lives were hanging in a balance when they saw the army. The end of their lives was quickly coming within view.
Had not God given them enough evidence through all His plagues against Egypt? Had He not given them enough evidence to impact their thinking, clearly dividing the Israelites from the Egyptians, beginning with the fourth plague? All of the plagues fell on Egypt, but none of them after that fell on the Israelites. Had He not impressed their minds enough on Passover when the blood of the Lamb enabled their firstborn to live while the Egyptians' died?
We can learn and grow from this lesson. In principle, we all come to our own personal Red Sea. Every one of us fails repeatedly, just as Israel did when they lost their faith for a while. What we go through when we come up against our personal Red Sea is very similar to what Israel went through.
God rescued and chastened them, but He did not dump them. He shows that He will continue to work patiently with us just as a teacher continues to work with students, even though some fail and rarely do anything well. A teacher is faced with the same principle that we are involved in with God. The teacher does not want to fail students, so he uses all of his time, energy, and efforts to encourage and instruct so that those who are failing will turn around, catch the vision, and begin to apply the right teaching.
God thinks of time in the same way a teacher does: “There is still time to catch this person's interest and turn them around.” Therefore, God gave the Israelites forty years in the wilderness.
Hebrews 11:29 shows that these people did recover their faith in time to go through the Red Sea. The major reason that they turned themselves around may have largely been because of faithful leadership, primarily by Moses and possibly by others as well. They exhibited some measure of faith, and God faithfully and duly records it.
This ought to encourage those of us who fail from time to time. Many times our faith has failed, but God patiently continues to work with us. We cannot become discouraged, but must keep going on, because God will not stop. He will keep working with us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 1)
Was God a God from afar here? The answer is "yes" and "no" because His overall plan was undoubtedly in mind, and He was recording this for the sake of future generations. Realize that from the time the book of Exodus opens until the Israelites finally leave Egypt eighty years pass. Moses was not born at the time that Scripture says they were crying out to God because of the bondage. Moses was born and preserved right through the persecution. He was cast in a little ark onto the Nile River, rescued by Pharaoh's daughter, grew up to be a man, fled into the wilderness at age forty, and spent forty years tending sheep, learning to be humble. Finally, God had him ready, so He sent him back to Egypt.
God's overall plan was in mind for a long time, yet all through these events, He was very near to Moses, preparing him. God was far off in the sense that He was using these people to prepare an account that His servant Moses would write for our sakes, so that we would understand these things.
God undoubtedly appeared to be far away from the Israelites who were crying out to Him for deliverance, but He was really right on the spot. He was near to them; He is a God at hand. We have to keep both of these views in mind. They both have an impact on the transference of the Spirit of God into our minds. God is always working two things at once: His overall purpose and His specific purpose for us as individuals and for the church.
Out of this comes a principle. God is Yahweh Jireh, which means "the Eternal who sees" or "the Eternal who provides." It is shortened into this statement: He is there. He was there when Abraham stood on Mount Moriah about to sacrifice his son, Isaac—and God provided a ram. He was at hand through all the plagues of Egypt—and He divided the Israelites away from them. He watched so closely when they left Egypt that not even a dog barked, which is what the Night to Be Much Observed is all about (Exodus 12:42). God was the One observing, watching. He was aware at the Red Sea—and He parted the waters.
He is there. He may seem far off, but He is not.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)
Woven into the fabric of the Psalms are many of the very words that Jesus Christ used Himself during His life on earth, including some of the final words He uttered before His death. The understanding that David possessed, a gift and blessing that the Eternal gave to him, is further evidenced in Psalm 51:7: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
Here, David refers to the spiritual washing required for his cleansing. He makes a deliberate request of God to wash Him, knowing that only the cleansing power of Almighty God can make a man clean and pure. Though his sins have covered him in filth and stained him to the very roots of his being, the washing power of God makes a man whiter than snow.
In our understanding of the symbolism of colors, "snow-white" is considered the ultimate in white, the whitest of white, as pure and unsullied a white as possible. David's expectation was that God's cleansing power would exceed even that ultimate white - "I shall be whiter than snow." We can only relate this to absolute spiritual, moral perfection, the very state in which Almighty God exists. The wording expresses that the scrubbing God could give him would permit him to exist in that absolute, ultimate state of perfection.
At the beginning of verse 7, David makes the deliberate request of God to purge him with hyssop. Hyssop is an interesting choice as a cleansing agent. It is an herb, a species of marjoram and member of the mint family, and some Bible versions actually refer to it as "marjoram." It has long been considered an aromatic and medicinal herb, anciently indigenous to western Asia and northern Africa, including regions of the Middle East. The hyssop plant grows just under three feet in height, producing clusters of variously colored flowers. In ancient times, it grew naturally in rocky crevices, and people cultivated it on terraced walls.
The short, cut stems of the plant can be gathered into bunches, and in the Old Testament, these bunches were used for ritual purposes. The most spiritually significant of these uses is recorded in Exodus 12:22. Moses has just given the instructions for the killing of the Passover lamb, and he continues with some further instructions that must have been rather startling for those participating Israelites:
And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood [of the Passover lamb] that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.
It is important that we consider all the aspects of this event. During repeated requests by Moses for Pharaoh to allow Israel to leave Egypt, Pharaoh had continually refused to let God's people go, and the nation had endured nine plagues of cataclysmic consequences. The economy of the nation was largely a shambles. Crops were ruined, and disease had run rampant.
Since the third plague, God had also made readily visible a clear distinction between the captive nation of Israel and the Egyptians, in that the Israelites in Goshen had been spared much of the devastation that had ruined the rest of Egypt. By the use of the blood of the sacrificial lamb, God was about to make a final, absolute distinction between these two nations that would never be forgotten.
We must recognize that Egypt suffered the devastation at the hand of God because though it was a sophisticated, dazzling, world-dominating empire, it was also a wicked, idolatrous nation. The Egyptians were a people who openly flouted the natural evidence of a supreme Creator by worshipping a pantheon of idols and gods dedicated to their own passions and lusts. Egyptians regularly engaged in a frenzy of immoral and idolatrous celebrations, sporting events, fashions, and music all dedicated to gods of materialism and human gratification.
The plagues God meted upon the land of Egypt and its people were just as much attacks on her idols and lifestyle as they were punishments for the sins of her people. As just one example, the Egyptians worshipped the Nile River as a god, and when God turned its waters to blood, the life-giving nature of the river was destroyed, along with the power that the Nile River god supposedly possessed.
Thus, in this solemn Passover event of Exodus 12, God used blood of a different nature to represent the saving, life-giving power that only He, the almighty, eternal God, possessed. The sacrificial lamb of Passover symbolized the future Son of God, who would take upon Himself the role of the sacrificial Lamb of God (John 1:29). The shed blood of the Passover lamb symbolized the blood to be shed by the coming Messiah.
The bunch of hyssop was dipped into the blood, and per God's instructions, that blood was sprinkled or brushed on the doorposts and lintel of each home. The Israelites were then told to stay within those homes, separated from the Egyptian people and their normal routines. That night, there was to be no interaction or communication with any aspect of the Egyptian civilization. Their very lives depended on their following this command to the letter.
The sacrificial blood, sprinkled or smeared by the bunch of hyssop, graphically represented a separation and a protection of Israel against the deadly havoc that God wrought upon Egypt that night. The blood ceremonially cleansed and protected the people inside those homes against the plague of death that struck a people who practiced the filthy abominations of godlessness.
Later, in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, hyssop was used as part of sacrificial ceremonies. The hyssop was always tied into bunches for use in sprinkling the blood of the sacrificed animal. In some sacrifices, the priest sprinkled the blood onto the person making the sacrifice.
In Numbers 19, Moses gives instructions for one who is unclean due to touching a dead body. These instructions include taking a bunch of hyssop, dipping it into clean, running water, and sprinkling the unclean individual, his tent, and possessions. This example clearly connects the use of hyssop and clean water for cleansing.
Over the years, some have suggested that hyssop contains valuable antiseptic or cleansing properties that would "disinfect" the contaminated person or his possessions. This cannot be the point because such an idea contradicts the fact that God is the only Source of true purification. The biblical use of hyssop in the Passover, the sacrifices, and the ceremonial cleansing rituals was a constant reminder, painting a detailed picture of the washing, cleansing, saving, purification, and salvation from death itself that come only from the eternal God.
This is the kind of cleansing that David requested of God when he asked to be purged with hyssop.
Purge Me With Hyssop
Like Revelation 11:4-5, verse 6 has obvious references to the Old Testament. The first miracle—no rain falling in the days of their prophecy—refers specifically to Elijah's 3½ year drought (I Kings 17-18). The second—waters turning to blood—is an obvious reference to the first plague that Moses brought upon Egypt (Exodus 7:14-25). This seems to be a return to the way God's servants worked before Jesus Christ came—specifically focusing on Elijah's and Moses' works.
The word "power" appears three times in the description of the Two Witnesses, once in Revelation 11:3 and twice in verse 6. When somebody says, "These have power," we think in terms of energy or force or strength to do something. However, the implication of "power" here is authority. God gives them the authority, or the right, to cause these things to happen. In a way, they are given carte blanche to do what needs to be done.
In studying the lives of Elijah, Moses, and others of the prophets, we do not often see them going to God and saying, "Now, what should I do at this point? God, you know our enemies are coming, and I'm not sure what I should do." No, they just do whatever needs to be done. In II Kings 1, when the groups of fifty men and their captains come upon Elijah, the prophet was not sitting there and praying at the top of a hill, saying, "Oh, they're getting close. God, tell me what to do." He just called for fire from heaven and destroyed them. So, the Two Witnesses are given much the same authority at the time of the end. These two will have been trained and prepared by God to such an extent that they will know what to do. They will call upon God, and He will answer with power.
We do not find Jesus, for that matter, beseeching God for instruction about what to do. If someone came to Him for healing, He healed him. If someone needed a demon cast out, He cast out the demon. Once one has God's Spirit—and is in line with God's will—then these decisions are easier to make because, as Paul says in I Corinthians 2:16, "We have the mind of Christ." As we grow, we develop more of that mind of Christ, and we should be able to make decisions as Christ would make them.
So these Two Witnesses will be very much like Christ. They are witnesses of Him, as it says in the literal translation of verse 3. They are, in a way, some of the best representatives of Jesus Christ and His character that will have ever walked this earth. They will act like Christ as much as any two men can, and people in the world will see these two people as like Christ—and eventually treat them as they treated Christ.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part 6)
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