Every year at Passover we recite the ten plagues that God unleashed on the land of Egypt. The second of four cups at the seder meal is filled to represent the complete joy of the Lord we read about in the Psalms. Before anyone drinks from the cup, each participant empties one drop of wine from their cup for each of the ten plagues. We recite a plague for each drop that splatters onto our plates as a symbol of mourning the Egyptians’ suffering. Our cups are no longer full as we remember their loss.

It may seem strange that we choose to chant, “blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn” right before we dig in to our festive meal. Is this unsavory recitation of destruction appetizing? On the contrary, the plagues are a powerful reminder of a sovereign God who keeps His promises to His people. The plagues were sent to redeem the Israelites out of slavery and bring them to the Promised Land. We learn that God saves us through judgment and keeps His covenant forever.

Each blow that struck Egypt from the hand of God had a direct correlation to the false gods they worshiped. The Egyptians revered the Nile and it was turned to blood. The water became unsustainable for frogs and they filled the land. Frogs were a symbol of fertility and their death became an unclean stench in every home. As a consequence, insects abounded and brought pestilence to animals and people. In a land that rarely saw rain, God thundered hail and fire from the sky.

Their gods could no longer provide their needs as locusts devoured their land. Darkness was an obvious encounter with Ra, the sun god they worshiped, and with Pharaoh who was seen as the incarnation of the light. Egyptians could not help but notice that God withheld the plagues from touching the people of Goshen. The Egyptians surely saw this as divine judgment.

When it came to the last plague, the death of the firstborn, everyone living in Egypt was affected. The children of Israel participated through their obedience to God’s command to place the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes so that death would pass over them on that night. By now, there were those in Egypt who took to heart God’s word and were saved by the blood as well. There were many others who left Egypt with the Hebrews. God was extending His plan of redemption through His people to all nations.

Pharaoh asked Moses, “Who is this Lord that I should obey him?” God answered his question definitively through the plagues. He didn’t wipe out Pharaoh and his court with one inexplicable strike. God took the time to demonstrate His power and authority over all His creation and He gave Pharaoh several opportunities to set aside his pretense of divinity and choose the one true God.

Our God desired and still desires that all would be saved through the knowledge of Him. On Calvary’s cross, Jesus our Messiah took all the plagues of earth on His body for us. He was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. Darkness covered the land as God’s firstborn Son, the Light of the world, confronted the Destroyer for us. He loved us so much that while we were still lost in sin, He died for us. We have received the ultimate gift of God—His blood on the doorposts of our hearts that brings us eternal life.

Editor: This is a summary of Laura Barron’s devotional thoughts on what we can learn from the Passover plagues. If you would like to take a more in-depth look at this topic, Laura has prepared ten days of brief, Bible-based devotions on this topic.