Exodus 7:17. Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.
And so the 10 Plagues begin.
The Nile River turned to blood.
Plague of livestock
Death of the firstborn son
But what do the 10 Plagues mean? What is their purpose?
The 10 Plagues tell us a whole lot about God, but primarily they tell us two things.
1. God really loves us.
You may remember that God warned Pharaoh about the 10th plague before any of the plagues began.
Exodus 4:23. and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
The plagues are God’s rescue mission. He’s securing the release of his son, the Hebrew people. But how does that prove that God loves us, the Gentiles? Because the firstborn son is the representative of the whole family. The Hebrews represent the whole human race. To free them is to free humanity. To free them is to preserve the line of the Messiah. To free them from slavery is to ultimately free all of us from our slavery to sin through Jesus Christ.
The 10 Plagues also show God’s great mercy toward Pharaoh. Why 10 plagues? Why not just one? Why not skip to #10? Why not just squish Pharaoh? When Moses first spoke to Pharaoh, as the representative of Yahweh, Pharaoh responded mockingly with “Who is Yahweh?” The plagues gave Pharaoh 10 responses from God. 10 chances to repent. 10 chances to change his mind. To unharden his heart against God. In a very real way the plagues are the mercy of God.
2. God really really hates our idolatry
Later on we will hear God say “I am a jealous God.” God will not tolerate humanity worshiping anything other than God. Again, this is because God is love, not because he’s an egomaniac. A Trinity can’t be driven by ego, only by love and sharing. And the Trinity wants us to worship the Trinity and no one else.
God made us to worship him. To serve him. Therefore, he knows that when we worship or serve anything less than him it only leads to our destruction. Why? Because to count on a god that is less than all powerful, less than eternal, and less than good is to count on something that will ultimately just enslave you and destroy you. This is why the 10 Plagues were a blatant attack by God not on the Egyptians as much as the Egyptian gods.
Exodus 12:12. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.
Think about your own idols for a minute. Maybe they don’t look like the gods of Egypt. Maybe they aren’t linked to bodies of water, or cattle, or the sun. But most likely they are linked to the things that you consider to be your source of life and love and happiness.
Can you name them? Can you see how they control your heart? How they control when you are sad and happy? Afraid and relieved? Can you see how they control your behaviors and your emotions?
Rather than being gifts from God that point to his love, power, and kindness, they become gods to us. The source of our love, power, and happiness. They become our identity rather than us finding our identity in the imago Dei. In Christ.
Romans 1:24-25. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
God hates our idolatry. Ultimately we see God’s hatred for our idolatry not in the plagues but in the cross of Christ. The plagues are the temporary judgments of God that led to the rescue of the Hebrews from Egypt. But they didn’t rescue all of mankind from sin and death. That would take a far greater judgment. The cross.
And it would take a substitute. You see the Hebrews deserved those plagues just as much as the Egyptians did. And in the end what will save the Hebrews will be their faith in a substitute. A lamb’s blood on a doorpost (more on that later).
For today let’s pause and be reminded of God’s love for us that creates his hatred of our idolatry. Both the plagues and the cross serve to remind us that our idolatry will never be tolerated by God. It is a deep offense to him. Loving anything more than God is not only irrational, it is spiritual suicide, and cosmic treason. The plagues show us that God hates our idolatry.
And he hates our idolatry because he loves us.
Because of his love for us the only thing that God hates more than our idolatry is the death that our idolatry brings. God wants us to live. He wants us to love. He wants us to trust him and depend on him alone. He wants us to be free to serve. He wants us to live by faith not sight.
“To live is Christ” offers what no idol can. Unconditional love and grace. Freedom from demands. Idols only demand never offer. The life of Christ only offers never demands. How? Because Christ has taken every plague of God in our place. Every demand met. Every gift of God offered in the person of Jesus Christ.