“Allah hu akbar” – God is the Greatest
The last few months have seen a dramatic overturning of despotic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. These momentous events remind us that rulers of this world come and go. Even Muammar Gaddafi, the self proclaimed ‘King of kings,’ has been humbled. He should have known there is only one true King of kings who oversees the kingdoms of this earth. The same God who humbled King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient times, humbles arrogant leaders in our day, such as Gaddafi, who clung to power and oppressed his people for so long. The prophet Daniel recorded how the Lord punished the mighty King of Babylon. Only then did Nebuchadnezzar learn his lesson and admit, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” (Daniel 4:37)
There is another ancient story that throws light on the downfall of a despotic rulers in the Middle East. Notice especially, how Gaddafi resembles Pharaoh who was also oppressive and stubbornly clung to power until the bitter end. We all know how Pharaoh’s rule ended – he died in the Red Sea along with his entire army. The last chapter of Gaddafi's story, has yet to be revealed (at the time of writing).
One hopes other leaders, seeing these events, will be teachable. May they take a page from the stories of Gaddafi and indeed, Pharaoh. We will now take a closer look at Pharaoh's story, as recorded in the writings of the prophet Moses.
Several hundred years after Abraham died his children and grandchildren had grown into a large community of people just as God promised. At this time, they were being oppressed as slaves in the land of Egypt. The LORD heard their cries for help. He raised up the prophet Moses to lead his people out of slavery and take them to a land God had promised to give them.
The LORD told Moses to command Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go free. However, he forewarned Moses that securing their release would not be easy. Pharaoh would harden his heart and become more and more stubborn. The LORD assured Moses that in the end he would break Pharaoh's stubborn resistance. The story has been reenacted many times showing how God struck Egypt with one plague after another including bloody water, gnats, flies, widespread death of livestock, boils. Then the LORD warned Pharaoh,
“If you don't [let the slaves go] I will send more plagues on you ... Then you will know that there is no one like me in all the earth. By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose – to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” (9:14-16)
Finally the time had come for God to send the last and most painful plague.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will strike Pharaoh and the land of Egypt with one more blow. After that, Pharaoh will let you leave this country. In fact he will be so eager to get rid of you that he will force you all to leave.” ... Moses had announced to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says. At midnight tonight I will pass through the heart of Egypt. All the first born sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the eldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the first born of all the livestock will die. Then a loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again. But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark. Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites. ...” (11:1-7)
While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the LORD gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: “From now on, this will be the first month of the year for you. Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the 10th day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat as a sacrifice, one animal for each household. ... The animal you select must be a one year old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.
... Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the door frames of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast.” (12:1-8)
“... Be fully dressed, wear your sandals and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the LORD's Passover. On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every first born son and first born male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD. But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (12:11-13)
“This is a day to remember. Each year from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD. ... Remember, these instructions are a permanent law that you and your descendants must observe forever. When you enter the land the LORD has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. ... When Moses had finished speaking, all the people bowed down to the ground and worshipped.” (12:14-27)
So the people of Israel did just as the LORD had commanded through Moses and Aaron. And that night ... the LORD struck down all the first born sons in the land of Egypt, from the first born son of Pharaoh ... to the first born son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the first born of their livestock were killed. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died.
Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron during the night. “Get out!” He ordered. “Leave my people – and take the rest of the Israelites with you! Go and worship the LORD as you have requested.” ... All the Egyptians urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible, for they thought, “We will all die.” (12:28-33)
Questions for reflection and/or discussion with your friends:
Was God perhaps being unfair and harsh by putting Israelite sons under a death penalty? (Notice: there was a real threat of death over every Israelite home.) This question is underscored when you realize how much suffering the Israelites already had to endure. Furthermore, God fully intended to release the Israelites from their Egyptian oppressors. So why didn't he just kill the Egyptian first born sons? This would have achieved the desired effect, wouldn't it? (i.e. Pharaoh would have been forced to release the Israelites.)
Notice the similarity between the lamb that Moses' people slaughtered and the ram Abraham sacrificed. Isn't it interesting that both situations involved a ransom: the first born son was spared from death by killing an animal in his place. Do you think the Passover lamb confirms the principle of faith in God as seen in Abraham's sacrificial test? (Explain other similarities or differences you may see...)
(The continuation of Moses and Pharaoh's story as found in Exodus 14:5 – 18:12)
Two days after leaving Egypt the Israelites camped near the Red Sea.
The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, so he chased after the people of Israel... The Egyptians chased after them with all the forces in Pharaoh's army – all his horses ... and his troops. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore.
Seeing the Egyptian army about to overtake them, the Israelites panicked,
They cried out to the LORD and said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness ... Why did you make us leave Egypt?”...
But Moses told the people, “Don't be afraid, just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today ... The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops ... all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the LORD!” ...
Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the LORD opened up a path through the water ... So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! Then the Egyptian [army] chased them into the middle of the sea. But just before dawn the LORD looked down on the Egyptian army ... [and] threw their forces into total confusion...
When all the Israelites had reached the other side, the LORD said to Moses, “Raise your hand over the sea again. Then the waters will rush back and cover the Egyptians ...”
So Moses did as the LORD instructed and the water rushed back into its usual place. The Egyptians tried to escape but the LORD swept them into the sea. Then the waters returned and covered the entire army of Pharaoh – not a single one survived.
But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground ... This is how the LORD rescued Israel from the hand of the Egyptians that day. And the Israelites saw the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the seashore. When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the LORD had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
Encouraged by this experience, the Israelites continued their journey toward the promised land. Some weeks later, the opportunity presented itself for Moses' two sons and his wife to visit her father, Jethro. (He lived not too far from where the Israelites were camped.) After enjoying a visit with his daughter and grand children, Jethro brought them back to Moses.
So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law. He bowed low and kissed him. They asked about each other's welfare and then went into Moses' tent. Moses told his father-in-law everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and Egypt on behalf of Israel. He also told about all the hardships they had experienced along the way and how the LORD had rescued his people from all their troubles. Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel ...
Jethro, [a priest of Midian] said, “Praise the LORD, for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt! I know now that the LORD is greater than all other gods, because he rescued his people from the oppression of the proud Egyptians.”
Then Jethro, Moses father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. Aaron and all the leaders of Israel came out and joined him in a sacrificial meal in God's presence.
Questions for reflection and/or discussion with your friends:
Do you notice any similarity between the 1st commandment and Jethro's declaration that “the LORD is greater than all other gods”? Note: in each case, what is highlighted is God's awesome saving power. Remember also that the signs and wonders were a sign of God's “judgment against all the gods of Egypt.” Only a couple of weeks after the meeting between Moses and Jethro, we read about the giving of the Ten Commandments. Think carefully about the 1st command which says, “I am the LORD your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)
Having carefully compiled these stories from the Torah, I would welcome any questions or comments you may have. Write to me here.
All Bible quotations are taken from the New Living Translation.
Another article which explores these themes is: Savior: A Beautiful Name of God.
That Gaddafi's heart is evil and stubborn should be readily apparent to Muslims who know their Ahadith traditions: According to Sahih Bukhari, “Allah's Apostle said, 'The most awful name in Allah's sight on the Day of Resurrection, will be (that of) a man calling himself Malik Al-Amlak (the king of kings)'.” (vol. 8, number 224)