By the time Moses arrived on the scene, around 1500 B.C., the Hebrews had been in Egypt for more than a hundred years. The days of Joseph serving as vizier to the pharaoh were long gone. The Hebrews had grown from an extended family of about six dozen to a couple million, but they were suffering under the rule of a nation that no longer valued their presence except as forced labor.
So Yahweh set the next phase of His plan in motion. After guiding the life of Moses from infancy to adulthood (you don’t think he survived that trip in the reed boat by accident, do you?), Yahweh appeared to Moses in his exile and tasked him with bringing Israel out of Egypt. And the way God had him do it was a clear message to the gods of Egypt.
Moses’ first encounter with Yahweh was in Midian. That was at Horeb in the northern Sinai, later part of Edom (contrary to long tradition that puts the mountain in southern Sinai), the har elohim, or mountain of God. Get this: The burning bush incident was the first time since Eden that a human had come face to face with Yahweh on His holy mountain. There is no question that the bene elohim, the Fallen, the seventy rebel angels God allotted to the nations after Babel knew about this meeting. It was a very clear message from Yahweh to the rebels: I have reestablished my mount of assembly on the earth.
The time had finally come. God called Moses back to Egypt to bring His people, Israel, to the place He’d claimed as His own—Canaan.
Yahweh chose to convince pharaoh and the Egyptians to not only let Israel leave, but to encourage them to go. He did it by hardening pharaoh’s heart through a series of increasingly severe trials until the people of Egypt must have been begging pharaoh to let His people go.
There are several studies you can find online that draw links between the ten plagues Yahweh inflicted on Egypt and specific Egyptian gods. For example, the first plague turned the Nile River to blood. This is said to have been directed at Hapi, the god of the annual Nile flood. Plague number two, frogs, was aimed at Heqet, a fertility goddess worshipped since the early dynastic period—the time of Narmer and the first kings of Egypt, about 1,500 or 1,600 years before Moses.
Those match up well enough, but when we get to the third and fourth plagues, the connections are iffy at best. The plague of lice or gnats, depending on the translation you read, doesn’t match up well with any known Egyptian god. The plague of flies is paired by some with Khepri, a god of creation. But Khepri had a scarab beetle for a head, so that’s not a good match, either.
Some of the pastors and teachers who’ve published these studies are very intelligent people whom I respect. However, and with all due respect to those pastor-teachers, they’ve overlooked an even bigger supernatural conflict. Understanding that confrontation will show you why trying to link the ten plagues to specific Egyptian gods is looking in the wrong direction. More accurately, it’s looking at entirely the wrong pantheon.
Yes, Yahweh demonstrated with the ten plagues that His power was superior to that of the gods the Egyptians trusted to keep the Nile flowing and the crops growing. And we know for a fact that Yahweh put a hurt on the gods of Egypt the night He took the lives of Egypt’s first-born.
How do we know? He told Moses.
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.
Exodus 12:12 (ESV), emphasis added
How likely is it that Yahweh told Moses that He was about to punish imaginary beings represented by idols of wood and stone? What would be the point? How would that establish His power and glory?
No, something happened in the spirit realm on the night of the Passover. When Yahweh passed through the land of Egypt, taking the lives of firstborn humans and animals, He simultaneously carried out His sentence on the bene elohim, the entities who had rebelled and made themselves gods in Egypt.
Here’s a fascinating detail we never hear about in church: It appears there was a very old tradition in Egypt, an ancient myth dating back centuries before the Exodus, that a day was coming when the first-born of Egypt would die. The pyramids of the 5th Dynasty king Unas, c. 2350 B.C., and the 6th Dynasty king Teti, c. 2320 B.C., are inscribed with this line from a well-known inscription called the “Cannibal Hymn”:
It is the king who will be judged with Him-whose-name-is-hidden on this day of the slaying of the first-born.1
Similar phrases are found on other coffins from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, including a variant that reads “this night of the slaying of the first-born.” Some scholars believe the context of the Coffin Texts and the Cannibal Hymn points to the first-born belonging to the gods, although that’s not a view shared by all Egyptologists.
What does it mean? Scholars aren’t sure. But it seems that by the time of the Exodus, there was a very old tradition in Egypt of a future nightmare event when the first-born would be killed.
Consider this possibility: Maybe the Coffin Texts and the “Cannibal Hymn” were an ancient warning to Egypt of that coming day of judgment. And forty years earlier on Mount Sinai, Yahweh revealed to Moses that He was Him-whose-name-is-hidden, I AM WHO I AM—the One who would someday fulfill the prophecy of the slaying of the first-born.
That’s speculation, of course, but fascinating. And we’re not at the best part yet.
Scholars today, 3,500 years later, still argue about where the Red Sea crossing occurred. We won’t get into it here. If it hasn’t been settled by now, we’re not going to put the question to bed in a couple of paragraphs. Besides, that’s not important right now. What matters is what Yahweh told Moses to do next.
Then the Lord said to Moses,
“Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea.
Exodus 14:1-2 (ESV, emphasis added)
Okay, this begs some questions: Why did God tell Moses to turn back? Why did He command Moses to camp facing Baal-zephon? What is Baal-zephon? And mostly, what was Ba`al doing in Egypt?
You know Ba`al was the Canaanite storm-god and the king of their pantheon. He’s mentioned in the Bible from the Book of Exodus through the gospels. Ba`al, which is properly pronounced bah-awl with a glottal stop like, “Uh-oh,” was the main thorn in the side of the Israelites, especially those who were faithful to Yahweh, for the next 1,500 years, all the way down to the time of Jesus.
But during the Second Intermediate Period in Egypt, roughly 1750 to 1550 B.C. (give or take a hundred years), foreigners from Canaan called the Hyksos ruled northern Egypt. Their capital was at a city called Avaris in the Nile delta, and they worshipped the gods of the Canaanite pantheon, headed by Ba`al.
That’s why the well-intentioned efforts to identify Egyptian gods as targets for the plagues are looking at the wrong pantheon. During most of the time the Israelites were in Egypt, from about 1665 B.C. to 1450 B.C., the country was divided. Native Egyptian rulers only controlled the southern part of the country, which, oddly enough (to us Americans), was called Upper Egypt. Their capital was at Thebes. Lower (northern) Egypt was under Hyksos control, and their gods were the ones worshipped by the Semitic inhabitants of the Levant and Mesopotamia.
We don’t know whether the Hyksos were still around at the time of the Exodus. At some point, probably while the Israelites were still living in Goshen in the Nile Delta, an Egyptian king decided he’d had enough and brought an army north to drive the Hyksos out of the land. The revolution began under Seqenenre Tao, whose badly battered mummy shows that he probably lost his last battle against the Hyksos. His sons, Kamose and Ahmose, carried on the fight, with Ahmose finally driving out the hated Asiatics after a war that appears to have lasted for at least twenty years.
You’ve noticed the similarity between the names of Seqenenre’s sons and Moses. Yes, Moses is an Egyptian name.
It appears the Hyksos left Avaris under a negotiated truce, but Ahmose apparently changed his mind about the deal. He chased the Hyksos toward Canaan, catching up with them at a Hyksos stronghold called Sharuhen, a town either in the Negev Desert, south of Israel, or near Gaza (Joshua 19:6 puts it in the territory of the tribe of Simeon). After a three-year siege, Ahmose took the town and razed it, ending Canaanite political influence in Egypt once and for all.
As best we can tell, it appears the principalities and powers who influenced the Hyksos brought them to Egypt at precisely the time of the Israelites’ sojourn, and everything else that happened, including the war for Egyptian independence, was part of a bigger plan: Genocide, something the house of Israel has survived many times now.
Consider: Just as Joseph was kidnapped by traders and carried off to Egypt, laying the groundwork for his family to follow and grow into a nation, a group of Jacob’s Semitic-speaking, Ba`al-worshiping neighbors also arrived in Egypt and took over the government from the natives.
No. Analyzing history through a biblical lens, the Second Intermediate Period in Egypt was apparently a plan by the Fallen to bring a specific group to power in the land where Yahweh had led the Israelites. The purpose was to destroy the people that God had chosen for Himself.
Regardless of how it started, the long war between the native Egyptians in the south and the foreign Hyksos in the north could explain why the Israelites fell out of favor. If power changed hands from Semitic overlords to native Egyptian kings, the Semitic-speaking Hebrews would have been seen as potential enemy collaborators. The narrative in Exodus fits the political situation of the mid-15th century B.C.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
Exodus 1:8-10 (ESV)
The dates are uncertain and scholars disagree over which Egyptian king was the pharaoh of the Exodus, although it’s pretty much agreed that it wasn’t Ramesses II, better known as Ramesses the Great—or Yul Brynner, if you’re old enough to remember the movie. Ramesses lived and ruled about two hundred years later, between 1279 B.C. and 1213 B.C.
It may seem counterproductive for Ba`al to lead the Hyksos into Egypt, set them up as kings, and then allow them to be run off again by native Egyptians within a hundred years or so. But the Egyptians’ hatred of the Israelites was a byproduct of the Hyksos intervention. Besides, despite what you’ve seen in movies over the years, the worship of Ba`al and other Semitic gods continued in northern Egypt long after the Hyksos were driven out.
During the reign of the Hyksos, Ba`al was identified with the god Set, the Egyptian god of storms, chaos, the desert and foreigners—a good fit with Ba`al, apparently. The Hyksos adopted Set and blended the two into a single entity.
Today, we think of Set, sometimes called Seth or Sutekh, as an evil god who cut up his brother Osiris into fourteen pieces. He was usually depicted as a bizarre character with a human body and an anteater-like head. But as we’ve mentioned, Set wasn’t always a villain. In the time of the Hyksos and for a few centuries after, Set helped the sun god, Ra, by defeating the evil serpent Apep/Apophis, the embodiment of chaos, which tried to eat Ra’s solar boat every night as it disappeared over the horizon. In this tale, Set’s nightly victory over Apep echoed the Semitic myth in which Ba`al vanquished the chaos god of the sea, Yam, and his sea-dragon servant, Lotan.
Points to you if you noticed the similarity between the name Lotan and the Bible’s Leviathan. It’s a classic PSYOP by the Fallen, claiming the deeds of Yahweh as their own.
When Apep delayed Ra’s boat, there were storms; when he ate it, there was an eclipse. But Apep’s victories were always temporary, and every evening Set was back on the front of the boat to spear the serpent.
Later in Egyptian history, though, after being conquered by the Nubians, Assyrians, and Persians one after another between 800 B.C. and 525 B.C., the god of foreigners was no longer welcome around the pyramids. That’s why later Egyptians considered Set evil.
The worship of Ba`al-Set continued in northern Egypt for at least four hundred years, long after the Hyksos were run out of the country. In fact, the pharaohs of the Ramesside dynasty, who were the first Egyptian kings to be called pharaoh (which means the term wasn’t used in the days of Joseph or Moses), were worshipers of Ba`al-Set. The father of Ramesses the Great was named Seti I—literally, “man of Set.” Several other kings of the Ramesside period, including Seti II and Setnakht (“Set is strong”), were also named for the god.
There is some speculation that because Ramesses the Great was a redhead (true!), his family may have been descendants of the Hyksos invaders. Whatever the reason, Ramesses II set up a stela at Pi-ramesses, near the site of the old Hyksos capital Avaris, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Set doing… something. Scholars aren’t sure of what, exactly. The unimaginatively-named Year 400 Stela portrays Seti I presenting wine to Set, who’s depicted like the images of Ba`al found in the Levant, with a human head instead of the more familiar anteater-head from later Egyptian history.
The Year 400 Stela features Seti I (right), father of Ramesses the Great, and the god Set (left), who was identified with Ba`al in Egypt for most of the 2nd millennium B.C.
Since the stela points back four hundred years to about 1650 B.C., it could mark the arrival of Ba`al-Set in the Nile Delta. Counting back 215 years from the Exodus date of 1450 B.C., this is just about the time Jacob and the family arrived in Egypt.
Again, we ask: Coincidence?
When Yahweh led the Israelites out of Egypt, He ordered them to turn around and camp on the shore of the Red Sea facing something called Baal-zephon all night. Why? Specifically so they’d cross the Red Sea right in front of it.
Here’s the funny part: As worshipers of the desert-god Set, the Egyptian army probably thought they had the Israelites right where they wanted them.
For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’
Exodus 14:3 (ESV)
Caught in front of Baal-zephon between areas controlled by their god, Ba`al-Set, master of the sea and god of the desert—the Egyptians must have figured the Israelites were hopelessly trapped!
Which brings us back to our earlier question: What was Baal-zephon, and why was it so important? Why did God tell Moses to turn around so this confrontation happened right there?
Here’s why: The name of Ba`al’s holy mountain, which is more than five hundred miles north of the Nile delta, was Mount Zaphon.
Hmm. Zephon, Zaphon. Same name, different transliteration into English. Coincidence?
No! The Red Sea crossing was a supernatural smackdown! Ba`al was the god of storms, the god who vanquished the primordial chaos god of the sea, Yam. Because of this, Ba`al was the god of maritime navigation and the patron god of sailors.
So Yahweh didn’t just deliver the Israelites “out of the hand of pharaoh,” He delivered them out of the hand of Ba`al. And to make sure nobody misunderstood the message, He did it in front of a site dedicated to Ba`al, and by mastering the sea—Ba`al’s domain.
This was a called shot! Just like Babe Ruth at Wrigley Field in the 1932 World Series, the confrontation at the Red Sea was engineered by Yahweh to serve notice to the Fallen: My people are freed from their bondage and now we are coming for you.
That was the reason for the crossing. Yahweh used it to demonstrate His power, yes, but for a specific purpose—to make it crystal clear to the Israelites that I AM was unparalleled, unchallenged, and sovereign. It was a demonstration of His authority over the divine entities who’d chosen to abuse the responsibilities He’d given them after Babel. And it was a clear message to the gods that the days of their rebellion were numbered.