Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Parasha, Vaera, translates to “… and I appeared”, and it spans Exodus six through nine. This passage is nothing short of an epic battle between gods warring in the heavenly realm, the shadows of whom we see dance over Egypt. In these gods’ human counterparts, we see clearly how the will of man fractures under forces both natural and supernatural.
The text starts out with God commanding Moses and Aaron to spread the word of the Israelis’ forthcoming deliverance and of God’s supreme authority over the Earth. When Moses expresses doubt over his and Aaron’s abilities, not only does God double down on His original command, but we are even allowed a sneak peek at the genealogical credentials of these unlikely heroes, both Levites.
God then sets the stage for the imminent cosmic battle. He says that He has made Moses like God to Pharaoh and Aaron like Moses’ prophet. That is to say, Moses is God’s frontman—the unusual role of acting in persona christi long before Messiah’s incarnation—and Aaron was to be his executor. This appears strange until we are introduced to our main antagonist, Pharaoh.
We read that God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”. One might object that God violated Pharaoh’s free will here; and that Pharaoh should not be held responsible for the sins to follow. This is to gravely and fundamentally misconstrue the relationship between God, man, and their respective wills. Put simply, God is unchanging. We, however, are fickle creatures, constantly shape-shifting to fit the molds of fleshly desires. Moses is like butter, and Pharaoh like clay. The sun, God, shines on both the same, but one, by its nature melts, and the other hardens under the heat. It has been likewise speculated that the rays of God’s love and glory which warm the believer in Heaven are the very same rays which torch the damned in Hell.
And, indeed, in today’s story, it appears as though, in his hardness toward God, Pharaoh necessarily softened to the deceiving spirits of this world. Moses’ sign of his staff becoming a serpent was replicated by Pharaoh’s pagan sorcerers, which pleased Pharaoh. By rejecting the true miracle of the true God, Pharaoh yielded to the deceptive conjuring of a false god. In this moment, he is the embodiment of a demon, and his magicians are his prophets; an inverted parallel to the dynamic between God, Moses, and Aaron.
So… which false god is possessing Pharaoh? Rather, the question ought to be, which false gods are possessing Pharaoh? In that day, Egypt was full of pagan deities. Each of the ten plagues were specific attacks from Adonai on these false gods. Together, they form the ten battles of this celestial war. God’s stated objective in this war was, as always, holy: to set the Israelis free to depart for the wilderness and worship Him.
The first plague was turning the water of the Nile into blood. This is an attack on Apis, styled the “god of the Nile”. Water was the most crucial element of Egyptian society and economy. The plague was so intense, in fact, that Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to make it stop, even promising the release of the Israelis. But he reneged on his promise immediately after God lifted the plague.
The second plaque involved the proliferation of frogs, which invaded homes, later died and produced a stench across the land. This was an attack against Heqet, the goddess of birth, who had the head of a frog. Again came the pleas and false promises, and again, Pharaoh’s heart was re-hardened.
The third battle featured gnats (or lice) arising from the dust of the earth. This was a targeting of the god of desert storms, Set. This plague the magicians could not replicate; a powerful testimony to God’s unmatched power.
The fourth attack, swarms of flies, was against Uatchit, the fly god. This plague moved Pharaoh to comply with God’s command, but that Israel must stay within the land of Egypt. But Adonai will never placate the demands of demons or despots, and the plagues continued.
The fifth plague was the death of Egyptian livestock. This attack was leveled against either Apis, the bull god, who symbolized fertility or Hathor, the goddess with a cow head. Here, as with the flies, the Jewish people were spared. God always protects His faithful remnant.
The sixth plague was boils on the Egyptians. This was a judgement on either Sekhmet, the goddess of disease; Isis, the goddess of healing; or Sunu, the god of pestilence. Even the sorcerers were so afflicted with boils that they could not muster an appearance in this act of the drama.
The parasha concludes with the seventh plague: hail and fire from Heaven, which destroyed crops and killed people and animals. Here, Adonai humiliated Nut, the sky goddess and Osiris, the god of crops and fertility.
Throughout these plagues, Pharaoh’s will was repeatedly broken, yet propped up again by other false gods. Moses, on the other hand, was tapped into the power of God Almighty, so his will withstood both natural and supernatural forces. When we walk in obedience to the will of the Father, we are immovable. Humans are, in some sense, vessels which need filling. The demons knew that if they could not keep Pharaoh’s heart hard and his will set against the God of Israel, then God would have his way—meaning, the Israelis would escape and it would usher in the next phase of God’s bigger plan to save the world. That’s right… This was not merely a divine squabble over the social injustices of slaves; it was a decisive battle in Satan’s doomed war against God and His master plan of salvation.
Now here’s the sobering part. The same battle is taking place in your life. At this very hour, there are false gods at work in our schools, our government, our computers, and at our workplaces. We dare not give them a foothold in our hearts or homes. Paul could not be more clear, writing these words to the believers in Ephesus, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Fortunately, the Scriptures have much more to say on the matter. Paul also wrote, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). And centuries earlier, God spoke these words through Isaiah: “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment, you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me,” says the Lord” (54:17).
Israel would soon be set free. You and I have been set free. For now, the battle continues, but victory in the eternal realm has already been achieved. We are in the camp of the triumphant! Let your heart rejoice!