Before the final Egyptian plague, God states, “I will execute judgments on all the gods of Egypt” (Exod 12:12; cf. Num 33:4). Yet, it is not only the deaths of the firstborn that undermine Egypt’s deities; much of the divine action against Pharaoh’s land reflects warfare between the God of Israel and the Egyptian pantheon. Unfortunately, sometimes our English translations obscure the original Hebrew so that we miss the specifics of this heavenly battle.
One such translational issue appears in the description of the (eighth) plague of locusts. The vast majority of modern English Bibles follow the King James Version, in which the locusts “covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened” (Exod 10:15 KJV; cf. 10:5). However, the Hebrew does not say that the locusts covered the “face” of the earth—that is, the original language does not describe locusts covering the ground. Instead, the Hebrew states that the locusts “covered the eye (עין; ayin) of all the land, so that the land was darkened.” Our English translations favor “face” rather than “eye” because, to modern readers, the precise meaning of “eye of the land” is not immediately apparent; the ancient Egyptians, however, would have understood the phrase in the context of an attack against their gods.
According to Egyptian theology, the highest of all deities was the sun-god Amun-Ra. As a deification of the sun, Amun-Ra was responsible for all of Egyptian life. More, the sun was said to be the “eye” of Ra—the means by which the deity watched over the people and land of Egypt. The fourth line of the Egyptian Stela of Somtutefnakht summarizes this long-held belief about Egypt’s supreme solar god, “whose rising illuminates the land, whose right eye is the disk of the sun.” When the locusts blot out the sun during the eighth plague, the God of Israel blinds the “eye” (עין; ayin) of Amun-Ra, which was supposed to survey and protect the Egyptians. While the Lord says, “I have surely seen (ראה ראיתי; raoh raiti) the affliction of my people who are in Egypt” (Exod 3:7), Amun-Ra can no longer see the affliction of his people. In this way, the God of Israel shows superiority over Egypt’s gods and brings judgment upon them through the events of the exodus.