Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my people the Israelites (Exodus 7:4).
For most of my life I’ve thought about the story of the Ten Plagues as a duel between Moses and Pharaoh. Their repeated confrontations have the feel of a dusty western town where a good guy and a bad guy face off against each other in the street right in front of the saloon. Moses and Pharaoh keep trading blows like Hillary and Obama, back and forth. Moses calling for the freedom of the Hebrew slaves, Pharaoh refusing every time. With every refusal God sends another plague to crush Pharaoh.
But the plagues are not a duel. While Moses and Pharaoh seem to go at it toe to toe, the plagues were actually intended for the benefit of God’s people. After more than 400 years of slavery they had become very confused about who truly held power. The affliction of slavery and the impressive sights of Egypt had convinced them that Egypt ruled the world. It was believed that Pharaoh was a god; Israel suspected it just might be true. They had soaked for centuries in Egypt’s definition of the “real world.”
Eugene Peterson helped me re-think the plagues when he explained that they were “used to discredit Pharaoh’s claim to sovereignty and establish the sovereignty of Yahweh in its place.” God needed to show his people over and over and over again who had power. Peterson continues:
When Moses began his work with his Hebrew bother s and sisters, their spirits were broken (Ex. 6:9) and the only “truth” they had access to was this huge Egyptian lie. But Egypt and Pharaoh were not the “real world.” They were the real world defaced, desecrated, demonized. The ten plagues deconstructed this magnificent fraud item by item and piece by piece until there was nothing left of it to hold the imagination of the people of God (Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 163).
Like the Hebrews, we often get confused about who has power. We live in a culturally induced stupor, believing that Wall Street has power and Washington has power and Hollywood has power. We give power to the person we work for and others whom we wish to impress. That which ought to strike us as shallow and silly often intimidates us. That which ought to put us on our face in awe and wonder bores us. We take human limitations and place them on God. We take God-like power and give it to people. Confusion reigns.
We’ve heard often enough that God has power over the circumstances of our lives; that God can handle what we can’t. We’ve heard it, but we don’t always believe – and maybe we don’t believe it because we’ve been too long in Egypt. Maybe before we ask God to change our circumstances we should simply invite his power to come like sunlight that burns away the fog of confusion; we need to be reminded where true power lies.
All power belongs to you, O Lord. Help us to remember that throughout this day. We bring to you now the people we love, the struggles we face, the outcomes we fear. We place all of these things in your powerful hands, and we do so thankfully through Jesus our Lord. Amen.