FAITH & REASON
By Dr. Tony Rapu
We all know the story of the ten plagues that hit Egypt in Old Testament times. It has been a favorite of children’s storybooks, Sunday school, countless sermons and Hollywood movies such as The Ten Commandments and Prince of Egypt. It is one of the most spectacular and best known incidents recorded in the Bible. Plague after plague tormented and ravaged the land of Egypt until Pharaoh finally released the enslaved Israelites after a four hundred year sojourn in Egypt. But imagine for a moment that contemporary observers from the United Nations or some other development organization had been present in Egypt and witnessed the cataclysmic events taking place.
Their report would certainly not have read anything like the well know spiritual duel between Moses and the ancient Egyptian magicians. As academicians, they would have filed reports citing the need for more effective emergency response administration and disaster management as the plagues struck. There would be talk of catering for displaced persons and refugees as drought from the locust invasion hit the land. There would be an international campaign for relief supplies to the beleaguered nation.
Epidemiologists would be summoned to investigate the sudden outbreak of strange ailments. Climate scientists and ecologists would be tasked to look into the bizarre meteorological phenomena, especially the three days of intense darkness. What was the cause of this sudden climate change? Depletion of the ozone layer?
Naturally, politicians and international bureaucrats would discuss the devastation of Egypt’s agriculture-based economy and the imminent labour uprising by foreign Israelite expatriate workers whose leaders had been protesting their working conditions. The report would request an emergency summit to discuss ways of averting or at least managing the collapse of the Egyptian economy and the potential regional fallout. The country would be the focus of global media attention with extensive coverage by CNN, BBC and other news outlets. There would be much debate about whether Moses and Aaron were activists, freedom fighters or terrorists. This looked like a suicidal mission by every account; facing the leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth with nothing other than a shepherd’s crook.
And yet the ten plagues were a providential event. They were signs of God intervening forcefully in history and human affairs, not just to punish tyranny and injustice but more importantly to liberate the Israelites from four hundred years of bondage and have them commence their journey as a new nation into the promise land.
The season of natural disasters captured a moment of transition for God’s people. Behind the ecological disasters, the point of the ten plagues was to “bring judgment upon the gods of Egypt.” The plagues struck every area of Egyptian life. Yet God was using the occasion to bring deliverance to his people.
The plagues of hail and locusts which left nothing green in Egypt, stripping trees of their foliage and killing livestock, was God’s plan to decimate the country’s economy. It would have caused a food crisis, yet it positioned the Israelites for their own spiritual advancement. The final blow, the death plague on every Egyptian family’s first-born could be viewed as some form of genocide. It would have adversely impacted family structures and inheritance laws, yet it was severe judgment on the idolatry of Egyptians who worshipped and deified their first-born sons. From a purely natural point of view of the UN experts, this scale of epidemics, the outbreak of boils, and so many deaths would have been summarized as a healthcare disaster.
The rivers and water bodies turning into blood would have been viewed as an ecological disaster that would drastically reduce national water supply for consumption and irrigation while depleting fish stock for food. And yet behind all these natural events and catastrophes and national issues, God was moving in sovereign fashion, acting to implement his purposes in history.
What was God’s agenda? It had to take the eye of a prophet to recognize that behind the crises of Egypt was a deliberate process leading to the emancipation of slaves who had been incarcerated for four hundred years. That was God’s main purpose while at the same time allowing the miraculous plundering of the wealth of the Egyptians by these newly emancipated slaves. There was a transference of wealth into the hands of the people of God in the midst of the disasters plaguing the nation of Egypt.
Through the plagues, God was working and affirming his sovereign authority over earthly life, over the elements and over even the gods that were purported to have control of the elements. By demystifying and judging the gods of Egypt, God liberated not only the Israelites from bondage but also the Egyptians from the fear of gods and the religious hierarchy.
The lesson of the ten plagues is that we need discernment and insight to see through the veil of history and current affairs, and perceive what God is doing among the nations. In the midst of contemporary plagues and catastrophes ravaging the world, the unraveling of political and economic structures and systems, is it still possible to discern the finger of God? Today, we live in the midst of crises but we must be able to interpret the crisis around us in the light of God’s word. National turmoil is not a reason for despair. Crisis is not a reason for despondency. Confusion in the land may not be enough justification for gloom and doom. It is possible that a crisis situation is actually a signal that God has initiated a process of change.
A sign that a people have begun their own journey into their destiny in spite of the adverse circumstances. In the midst of the ten plagues, God was removing the leaven from the home of the children of Israel, calling them to a new level of holiness and initiating them into a new order of his purpose. In the midst of Egyptian national turmoil, the power of God was actually on display. Even today, the church is being called to a renewal even as darkness covers the nations.
As a great preacher once wrote, “Revivals are born at midnight.” There is a generation that must commence its journey to deeper levels of holiness and find its purpose in the midnight hour of world crises. It was when the system of Egypt was collapsing and its mortuaries full that Israel witnessed a statement of divine power. Our challenge is to discern what God is doing; and then align with His journey into purpose, even in the midst of a crisis situation.