In a bit of a rabbit trail during Sunday’s sermon, I noted that God’s war on Egypt was a thoroughly spiritual warfare. That is, God was at war with the demon-gods of Egypt (cf. Ex. 12:12). Pharaoh was the earthly representative of that pantheon, and clearly in Egyptian mythology, he held a deified status. Thus, most of the action takes place between Moses and Pharaoh, but as commentators have often pointed out, the plagues themselves were targeting various sacred emblems and deities in the Egyptian pantheon. The Nile is sacred to you? Well, the Lord will turn it to blood. Frogs are sacred? Let me fill your land with them. And so on.
Add to this the fact that the Egyptian wizards are able to mimic Moses for the first few plagues. They can turn their rods into serpents. They can turn the Nile to blood. They multiply frogs. They finally give up on the third plague, and apparently can’t cause gnats to swarm (Ex. 8:18). Notice two important things: first, the Egyptian wizards really do possess some kind of supernatural power, and second, they can only make the plagues worse. If the Egyptian wizards actually wanted to compete with the Lord, they ought to have been reversing the plagues. But if you think about it for a moment it makes complete sense. That’s the only thing the powers of darkness can do. Demonic, Satanic powers cannot give life; they cannot make things good or beautiful. They occasionally ape the goodness and beauty of God or appear as an angel of light, but it’s all a sham, stolen from the Triune God, the source of all goodness and light.
But a key detail that is often missed in all of this is the significance of the first sign: the staff in the hand of Moses. Of course Moses throws down the staff, and it turns into an enormous serpent. Next, the magicians and sorcerers are summonsed, and by the power of their demon-idols cast their rods down, causing them to turn into serpents as well. The serpent of Moses swallows theirs, which is surely significant, but the really crucial business is the fact that Moses then takes the enormous serpent by the tail and it resumes its form as a rod in the hand of Moses. The real miracle is that Moses holds the dragon in his hand.
In other words, Pharaoh is that enormous serpent, but God is showing Pharaoh on the front end that Pharaoh is a rod in His hand. I hold you, says the Lord. I hold you, and I wield you. And not the other way around. But take this one step further: all of the plagues are powered by the rod in Moses’ hand. Given the demonic power that drives the Egyptian magicians’ and grants them the power to make the plagues worse, it appears that the point of the plagues is actually an enormous object lesson in idols and false gods. Idols destroy. Demons maim. The powers of darkness send the world into chaos. The true God of heaven gives order and beauty to the world, and by His Word all things hold together. But to put your trust in idols and demons is to unleash chaos and insanity on your society. The ten plagues are proof of that. Moses walks around showing Egypt what Pharaoh is already doing to them. Moses lifts his rod, symbolizing the demon-possessed Pharaoh, and says, look at what your serpent king is doing: He’s turning your life-giving waters to blood. He’s doing it already with the Hebrew baby boys, but it’ll only be a matter of time before Egyptian boys are dead as well. Pharaoh claims to cause fruitful harvests and to be in league with the powers that cause fertility and good weather, but he’s a lying snake. God in heaven causes all those good gifts, and Pharaoh’s communion with the forces of darkness is actually unleashing pestilence, sickness, storms, darkness, and death.
Thus, the ten plagues work as something like a time lapse video. The miracles are God speeding up the process of what Pharaoh is already doing for everyone to see. Do you want to see what Pharaoh’s rule would do to Egypt? Watch. It is loosing nature’s chaos on Egypt. Idols are liturgical suicide. They are terror on a pedestal. They are roadside bombs that leave their worshipers blind, deaf, dumb, and maimed. All who worship them become like them (Ps. 115:8).
Now, the final point is the application to our own day. America’s rivers run with blood. We have elected Pharaohs who have carried out a successful population control regime on us. We need to recognize that this means we unleashed demonic powers in our nation long before 1972. People don’t just up and start murdering their children by the millions. It takes a certain kind of cold-hearted, demonic insanity to countenance the kind of bloodbath we have performed. We were worshiping convenience and power and money and lust, and those gods demanded the blood of our children. And because we had already come under their power, we caused our children to pass through their fires. At fifty million children slaughtered, we make the Nazi’s seem tame and humane. But that is not all; the whole thing is coming unraveled. And every day brings news of more chaos. Language is unraveling, society is unraveling, divisions are increasing, riots are ramping up, justice is miscarried, law and order cannot hold under the current conditions. And we are about to choose between Demon Fool #1 or Demon Fool #2 for our Commander in Chief. Would you rather the gnats or the lice? Would you rather the hail stones or the locusts? Please select one and we will give you sticker.
And the point is that if we are reading our Bibles, the unmistakable reality is that we worship idols. Our wizards command money to be printed by their dark arts, increasing the plague on our land. Our wizards in their black robes announce that boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls. Our wizards summon peace to arise in far flung places through the incantations of bureaucracy and embargoes and bombs. But we have unleashed dark powers in our land (and in these other lands) that can only crush, only maim, only destroy. These dark powers enslave people through guilt and shame and despair, and their shackles are addictions, lusts, regret, anxiety, and greed. The Accuser loves accusations. The Accuser loves condemnation. The Accuser loves guilt, shame, failure, treachery, and the despair that haunts all of it. America is unraveling at breakneck speed because we are a nation of idol worshipers.
On the one hand, this is horrific and terrifying. But on the other hand, we should not forget that the answer is so wonderfully simple, so startlingly simple. We just need to ask God to take away the frogs. We need to ask God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to take away the gnats and the pestilence and the darkness. We need to ask God to heal our land. Our idols cannot do it; the powers of darkness cannot do it. And of course that would mean that we must acknowledge Jesus as Lord. We would be confessing that Jesus is Lord because He (and only He) can save us from the chaos. Because He is the only one who suffered, bled, and died for us. When He was nailed to the cross, all of our darkness, all of our sin, all of our shame was nailed with Him. And He took it down with Him into the grave and now it is dead and now there is no condemnation.
Jesus has disarmed the principalities and powers. Apart from Him, there is only chaos, darkness, and enslavement, but with His blood over our doors, the powers are utterly powerless and fading into nothing.