We are going to take a look at the difference between Monotheism and Polytheism and this will give us some insight into why Pharaoh acted the way he did. Monotheism is believed to be a belief in one God by many, and Polytheism is the belief in many gods. That seems to be the biggest difference between the two systems. However, numbers are only part of the equation.
The difference between the two systems are not how many gods, but the quality. How does each system answer the spiritual questions of life? Each system has a “logic” to it. We will start with polytheism and this belief system goes back to ancient history and the basis for this system is “fear.” This belief states that man is alone in the universe and he has seen some very powerful forces at work. Tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, snowstorms and the like can destroy a house in seconds. Too much rain can ruin crops and heat can dry up the crops and vineyards. The land can be devastated after such storms. Earthquakes can not only shake the ground, but your confidence.
Nature is all around and they didn’t know what was going to happen, so man must have some control over all this, but how? Today, we can turn on the Weather Channel or look on our phones to find out about the weather. It is somewhat predictable. Technology has taken the guess work out of what the weather is doing, but anciently that was not the case. How could man understand what was happening? They had to come up with an answer to these “powers” so they could “deal” with them. So, Paganism was the answer. In the pagan mind, there is no creator of the universe. Heaven was made up of competing powers who interacted with humans, and not always to their benefit. These “powers” would send tragedies to torment people because they didn’t care about mankind. But, that didn’t stop mankind in trying to cut some deal with the powers.
None of the powers were “all powerful” and they often “competed” with each other. Rain was powerful, but it could not control the heat of the sun. Weather was always changing and that was evidence in the pagan mind that there was a constant battle going on between these powers. One day would win, the next day wind would win, then heat and so on. Every one of these so called “powers” had their own realm. What mankind needed to do was to look over the environment and decide who they were going to worship. If they lived on the coast and they fished for a living, they would worship the fish god. If they lived in a desert, they worshiped the rain god. If they lived by a river, they worshiped the sun god, not a rain god. So, the first thing a pagan would do was “pick a god.”
The second thing they would do is try to appease that god. These gods were not all powerful and they had “needs.” They could be manipulated and “bought off.” Give the god something it needs. They had to “get the attention” of the god about the dry crops. So, this brings up “sacrifices.” The better the sacrifice, the more the god would see that the person was serious. The more outrageous the sacrifice, the more they would get the attention of a god that didn’t really care. This eventually led to child sacrifice. Now the Torah forbids such things because offerings in the Torah has nothing to do with “bribing” or getting the Lord’s attention. To explain this, we need to look at Monotheism.
Monotheism obviously rejects the idea of multiple gods. It says that there is one God who created everything. Mankind still lived in a world with rain, snow, wind, drought and all the other weather. There was no need to “bribe” this God because there was only one. He is the one to see because there was nobody else. What could you possibly him because he has no needs. How does one worship this God? Belief in a creator God does open up other reasons to worship him.
If the universe just “happened” in a “big bang” and everything is just a random grouping of matter that came together by chance, then that means nothing around us has any meaning. There was no “intent” of a creator and we just go through life the best we can, enjoying what we can and taking what we can. We do not have a relationship with a creator if it is all random.
However, if the universe is not something that is random and just “happened” then that changes everything. There is a logic and a well thought out structure to everything. The universe exists because there was a being that created it. Every person in that creation has a purpose and is part of that plan. Humans have life because there is a creator who desired it to be that way. Some may “fear” this being and be concerned with themselves, but that also means there are many other reasons why a human might want to have a relationship with this being. Some may even reach out to this being because thankfulness, even if that being has no need for that thankfulness.
So, that brings us up to the situation in Exodus. Why was it so important for the Lord that the world know that he was Yehovah, the creator God? Why was it important for Pharaoh to know that? It was about bringing into the world the awareness of what being “spiritual” was. It wasn’t about God’s ego, or getting rid of all the false “powers” or gods in Egypt. It was about being thankful and showing love, mercy and morality to a world that had not seen that before. It was about showing man that there was a one, true creator God that existed, and a God who cared for his people.
There had to be a transition from understanding God as all powerful to a loving Father who cared about his children. He wanted to show his children who he really was, not what they thought he was (El Shaddai). He wanted them to know him. That is what is going on in the Exodus story. This was how God was going to introduce himself to all mankind. The truth is, there is only one God. How was he going to accomplish this? What he did was so awesome that a whole nation would still be taking about it 3500 years later.
The Lord was not only going to set a whole captive nation free, but he was also going to establish the fact that he was the one, true creator God for all mankind. The Lord alludes to this in Exo 7.5 where he says that he is going to show the Egyptians who he was, not just Israel, and that his name was Yehovah.
There was a television show about a drug manufacturer who could make a 99.9 % pure drug, and it was very popular. The people knew he went by the name “Heisenberg.” Nobody ever saw him, but one time he came to negotiate a distribution deal with some new clients. They knew the reputation, but didn’t know who the guy was that was negotiating with them. But Heisenberg said, “You know who I am. Now, say my name.” It was important for him for the people he was negotiating with to connect that name with the product he was producing. It is basically the same thing in the Exodus story. It was important for the Lord for the people to connect what he was going to do in Egypt with his name. It was Yehovah that was bringing all this about. Yehovah was going to teach them to “Say my name.”
Egypt and Pharaoh were the ones God chose to reveal himself to, but why? Egypt was the dominant power at the time and they had numerous gods. If the Lord was going to introduce himself as the creator God, Egypt was a good place to start. If Egypt ever accepted the one, true God it would have reverberated throughout the known world. But, God had to convince Pharaoh he was not a “god” just like all the other gods.
The Exodus had two purposes. First, the Lord wanted to set Israel free from bondage because they were his children. Second, he wanted everyone to know that the power behind it all was the true creator God of the universe. This brings us to Pharaoh. The above two reasons were related, but why did Pharaoh do the things he did?
At one time, Israel prospered and even became numerous in Egypt, and Egypt was even saved through this people. But eventually, a Pharaoh came along and believed they were doing “too well.” They began to think about a scenario that said “What if one of our enemies came along? Who would Israel side with? What if they decided to take over?” So, Egypt decided to enslave Israel, and began killing their male children. Pharaoh was king and he could do whatever he wanted. The civil rights of an enslaved people was of no interest to him. He had the power to do whatever he wanted. He was a true pagan leader. In polytheism, the gods don’t tell others to act morally. Their relationship is based on power. In paganism, the gods constantly fight and the stronger one wins. For a pagan, this was an example of how the world should function. For Pharaoh to enslave Israel, it was no different than a pagan god getting what it wants, using his power to get it.
Now, if we were the Lord, what would we do to release the Israelites, and at the same time reveal yourself as the one, true creator God of the universe? In Part 86, we will pick up here and see how the Lord was going to do just that.