God used the plagues to systematically dismantle the Egyptian system of worship. God is very interested in who and what we worship, because He desires our worship. The first commandment, which will be given in just a few chapters is this: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) When the Israelites heard this command from the Lord, they understood exactly what He meant. Sometimes we don’t.
When we hear the words “idol” or “idolatry,” we tend to think of primitive people bowing down to statues. But biblically, whenever we look to some created thing to give us what only God can give us – that is idolatry. An idol can be family and children, career and making money, achievement, critical acclaim, physical beauty, social standing, romantic relationships, competence and skill, political or social cause, your moral record, religious activity, or even ministry success. It can be anything that we substitute for God. Paul was inspired by the Spirit to word it like this:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:21-25)
In Exodus 9, the Lord will continue to come after Egypt’s idols, but you and I have our idols of the heart that the Lord wants to expose and destroy as well. Our hearts are idol factories. We are continually creating replacements for God.
The fifth plague (Exodus 9:1-7) was directed against the domestic animals in the land of Egypt. Horses and cattle were not only highly valued in the land of Egypt, but they were also sacred. The god Apis was represented as a bull, and Hathor was the cow-headed goddess of the desert. The goddess Hathor was the symbolic mother of Pharaoh, and the king of Egypt was referred to as “the son of Hathor.” In addition to the gods already mentioned, this plague would have been a direct insult to Khnum, the ram-god, and to Bast, the cat goddess of love.
The sixth plague (Exodus 9:8-12) was accompanied by painful boils that affected the knees, legs, and soles of the feet. This was an insult to Imhotep, the god of medicine, to Serapis, the god of healing, and to Thoth, the ibis-headed god of intelligence and medical learning.
The seventh plague of hail (Exodus 9:13-35) would have been an insult to Nut, the sky goddess. Nut was also considered by the Egyptians to be the mother of five other gods: Osiris, Hathor, Set, Isis, and Nephthys. During this plague, you have to wonder: Where was Shu, the wind god? Where was Horus, the hawk-headed sky god of Upper Egypt? Isis and Seth supposedly protected the crops, but the burned fields demonstrated their impotence. Although this plague would have caused widespread devastation, a few trees remained for the locusts of the next plague to devour.
The God who devastated the gods of Egypt is out to destroy your idols and mine as well. He is jealous of our worship and will not rest until our hearts are fully His.