As we saw in Parts 1 and 2, Israel’s understanding of Yahweh as the Creator of the universe was foundational for their understanding of who He is and fundamental to how they worshipped Him, and this is the case even when explicit creation references are not present. But it is also important for how they saw their covenant relationship with Him.

Israel’s worship of Yahweh cannot be understood apart from the special covenant relationship He initiated with them. Yahweh was not simply the Creator; He was their God. This was not because Israel was superior to any other nation (in fact, other nations seem to have displayed a lot more loyalty toward their false gods than Israel did to their true God!). Rather, it was simply God’s choice to use them as the instruments through which He would work salvation by bringing about the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

There were many benefits to Israel’s special relationship to the Creator, and the Psalmists emphasize this.

The Exodus

The paradigmatic example of the Creator’s special care for Israel was the Exodus. The Creator showed His special care for Israel by miraculously defeating Egypt and their gods. Each of the plagues was a supernatural miracle to crush and humiliate Egypt’s gods, culminating with Pharaoh himself, who was thought to be a god. Psalm 78 is the longest Exodus psalm, lamenting the fact that Israel has forgotten the mighty works of Yahweh and so have turned away from Him:

They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe, when he performed his signs in Egypt and his marvels in Zoan. He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams (78:42–44).

Each of the plagues was a miraculous and physical display of superiority over an Egyptian god. The Nile was a critically-important source of water, and their harvest cycle depended on the flooding of the Nile. “The Egyptians personified and deified the river Nile as the god Hapi, to whom offerings were made at the time of inundation. The flooding itself was regarded as a manifestation of the god Osiris.” It is also notable that the plague was blood in the river in which the Jewish baby boys were killed; so it may have also been a form of retribution for the great sin which Pharaoh perpetrated against the Jewish people.

He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs which destroyed them (78:45).

The psalmist does not stick to the narrative order of the plagues: in the Exodus narrative, the plague of frogs is the second plague. This shows one of the important differences between poetry, which can be arranged thematically, and narrative, which follows the order of events. “It is possible that this plague, like the first one, was regarded as a judgment on Egyptian polytheism, for a frog-headed goddess named Heqt was the consort of the god Khnum, who was credited with having fashioned man out of clay. She was associated with fertility and was thought to assist women at childbirth. Hence, the plague may have been taken as retribution for the decree ordering the midwives to kill the newborn males at birth.”

Continue Reading