All right, so we’ve established that the character of God stands in stark contrast to our character and the character of the polytheistic gods. But what does this mean? Is it important? The answer, of course, is yes. God’s holiness and purity is linked to his power. It is part of his essence. If we want to talk about God and describe who and what he is, we have to include holiness and power. Yet even that does not begin to contain God in words. He is infinitely more that those two words can hold.
If the reason the polytheistic gods and mankind feel so comfortable together is that we are more similar than different, then let’s apply that to holiness and power. We are not holy. If they are impersonating God, then they are not holy. We are limited in our abilities. Are they? Well, if God is who he says he is and they are what he claims they are (rebellious servants) then let’s look for an example in which the power of God and the polytheistic gods is compared. And the classic example comes to mind. Yup. Moses at the court of Pharaoh.
Egypt at the time was the superpower of the Middle East, which is to say the civilized world, at the time. They were the biggest and the baddest. Under the thinking of the day, their gods were bigger and badder than the gods of other nations because the gods of a nation were what created national power. So, if Egypt was at the top of the heap, it was their gods that got them there. Enter Moses. He was once a prince of Egypt but now he shows up with a beard and a shepherd’s flowing robes. The Egyptians would not have been impressed. He tells Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Pharaoh laughs. To demonstrate God’s power, Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a snake. The magicians (read “priests”) do the same but Aaron’s staff/snake eats their snakes. Should have been a warning.
We now proceed through the 10 plagues. Water turns to blood. The magicians copy it. No problem. Except they can only do it, not undo it but God can and does. Frogs. The magicians copy it. But again, they can do it but they can’t undo it. The frogs are everywhere and the magicians can’t make them go away. But God does. Now we get to the third plague, gnats. Here’s where it all starts going south on the magicians. They can’t do this one. They realize they’re up against something more powerful. “This is the finger of God,” the magicians said to Pharaoh. [Exodus 8:19a] But Pharaoh won’t give in. Enter plague four, flies. Five, death of livestock. Six, boils. (Gotta love this one. It says even the magicians/officials were covered with boils.) Seventh, hail. At this point, even the magicians are listening. “Those among Pharaoh’s officials who feared the word of the Lord made their servants and livestock flee to shelters” [Exodus 9:20] Eight, locusts. Now they’re begging. “Pharaoh’s officials asked him, “How long must this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, so that they may worship [the Lord] their God. Don’t you realize yet that Egypt is devastated?” [Exodus 10:7] Nine, darkness. And last and most terrible of all, the death of the firstborn. Here God himself comes down and strikes Egypt. We read in Exodus 12:29, “Now at midnight the Lord struck every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and every firstborn of the livestock.” This is in the Passover Seder liturgy that we use. It says “It was God himself and not an angel.” So when God says he redeemed Israel from Egypt, he meant it. He didn’t send another to act on his behalf. He took action himself against the gods of Egypt.
Now why do I say he was acting against the gods of Egypt? After the tenth plague, we read in Numbers 33:4 “Meanwhile, the Egyptians were burying every firstborn male the Lord had struck down among them, for the Lord had executed judgment against their gods.” So we know that the plagues were a judgment against the gods of Egypt for daring to stand in God’s way and it follows that the plagues would be a witness to the Egyptians that their gods were not much by way of gods. Some of these plagues point specifically to specific Egyptian gods, others simply show the inability of the Egyptian gods to defy the One God. For example, the water turning to blood was a challenge to Hapi, the Nile god. Plague nine, darkness, was a challenge to Ra, the sun god. Yes, there was an Egyptian goddess with the head of a frog. Heqet was a fertility goddess and also linked to resurrection through the Osiris (god of the dead) cult. Dead frogs everywhere did not reflect well on her. Hail would have come under the purview of Nut, the sky goddess. Livestock? Hathor (mother-figure, also a sky goddess, associated with the Osiris cult) often appeared as a cow. Her bovine counterpart was the Apis bull, considered to be the intermediary between mankind and the gods. The other plagues may not have been god-specific but this speaks to the all-encompassing power of the One God versus the limited and ineffectual gods of Egypt.
And this is what I’m driving at. Limited gods are not gods. These gods mucked about, dabbling in each other’s domains. They lacked clearly defined areas of power, specializing in little and attempting much, but none of them could do it all. When the One God challenged them, they could not respond with any power or authority to even make it a fight. You would think that they would gang up on him. Ra, the sun god, could join up with Nut and Hathor in their sky goddess functions and end the plague of darkness, thus proving themselves the equal of the One God but nothing like that happened. The gods of Egypt were silent and powerless. As powerless as Pharaoh, the living god.
So not only are the gods of Egypt limited and powerless in the face of the One God, they are defeated gods. The One God defeated them handily and they had nothing to offer back. This is why we read in Exodus 12:38, “An ethnically diverse crowd also went up with them, along with a huge number of livestock, both flocks and herds.” There were Egyptians and others who left with the Israelites because they saw the power of the One God and put their lot in with him. They saw and understood what they had been worshipping and what they had had was powerless in the face of the One God.
What does this tell us? These imitation gods rely on human nature. Yeshua wasn’t kidding when he said in John 3:19, “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” Our nature draws us to gods like ourselves because we want to be the gods in our own life, so we will settle for limited, flawed and fundamentally powerless gods who tell us what we want to hear. Even if it’s a lie. Especially if it’s a lie.