Your eyes shall see the King in his beauty. (Isaiah 33:17)
In the ancient cultures that surrounded Israel, from Southern Mesopotamia in 2000BC to Rome in 200AD, their views on reality were formed by observing the natural world around them from the stars, to the moon, to the sky, to the dry land, to rivers, trees animals and so on. This led them to conclude that there were many Gods.
This fact is attested by looking at cultures such as Indian, Chinese Roman and Greek, all of whom worshiped deities related to the natural world. In Acts 17, we find the apostle Paul in the city of Athens. In conversation with the people, he addresses them saying:
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god.” (Acts 17:22,23)
However, Israel’s understanding of reality was radically different from that of all other ancient cultures. “How did the Israelites come to their unique concept of reality? Was it not encounters with the true God in actual events of history?” (NLT Study Bible: ‘The Exodus as History’)
A striking examples of this is found in the Book of Exodus in the account of the ten plagues of Egypt. On the surface of this account, you could wonder if God was exerting some kind of creative revenge against the persecutors of His people. However, when we dig below the surface we see not creative vengeance but divine revelation of the magnificent power of the God of Israel. Each plague was a step-by-step dismantling of the entire Egyptian belief system.
For example, Knhum, Hapti Sobek and Taweri were all believed to be ‘gods’ who were linked to the River Nile. As the river ran red with blood, it would seem to the Egyptians that their Gods had been slain.
It’s hard for us to imagine this, but in Ancient Egypt, amongst other things, flies represented tenacity and courage, (yes really!) and eternal life. Stone carvings and amulets shaped as flies were found in ancient Egyptian tombs. To be attacked by the insect they revered would have been a major blow to the Egyptians.
Heket was the Egyptian goddess of fertility and resurrection and was believed to take the form of a frog. She was looked upon as a protector of the people. As a result of this, frogs were revered in the ancient Egyptian culture and it was forbidden to deliberately kill a frog. So, imagine how the people must have felt when their homes and villages were filled with the creature who was meant to protect them!
And so it went on. For two years, the Egyptians faced plagues that targeted each of their Gods. It was a magnificent display of the supremacy, might and power of the God of Israel! As the song goes, ‘Our God is an awesome God”.
Over the millennia, God has been revealing His greatness to the human race. He revealed His greatness to Joseph in Egypt, Joshua on the eve of entering the Promised Land, Daniel in the Lion’s den, through wonders and miracles in Jesus’ earthly ministry, to name only a few. And, the wonderful thing is that the desire in the heart of God to reveal Himself to mankind has not ceased. In spite of our failures and mistakes, God still wants to demonstrate His power to us.
“Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning, our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful, and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.”
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