Medicine Has Its Limits

Whereas the first five of the ten plagues of the Exodus affected the world around the Egyptians, the sixth plague, the plague of boils, affected them personally. The buzzing flies, annoying gnats, the death of the livestock, and their water turning into blood made life miserable. Still, those were things around them. This was different:

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses (Exodus 9:8 – 12).

The Egyptians worshiped many different gods, and commentators have been quick to correlate the other plagues with attacks on the various deities they worshiped. Ryken and Hughes observe:

The plague of boils was an attack on all the gods and goddesses that the Egyptians trusted for healing. When the Bible says that “the LORD … brought judgment on their gods” (Num. 33:4), it is speaking comprehensively. God defeated the entire pantheon of Egypt—Amon, Thoth, Imhotep, Sekhmet, and all the rest. Perhaps this explains why God sent such a variety of plagues on the Egyptians: He wanted to expose the impotence of their idolatry by causing each and every idol to fail in its area of special expertise. When the Egyptians were covered with painful, oozing sores, they discovered that their gods could not heal.

I am amazed at medical progress just in my short lifetime. Polio and smallpox have all but been eliminated. When faced with a pandemic, we race into the labs to develop new vaccines – and that’s a good thing, but we need to be careful to remember medicine has its limits. The gods and magicians of Pharaoh were powerless. Ryken and Hughes rightly remind us:

As a result of our advanced knowledge of the body and its various ailments, it is tempting to make medicine an object of faith. Most patients go to the hospital believing they will be cured. However, it doesn’t always work out that way. Doctors and nurses sometimes make mistakes. They don’t always make the right diagnosis or prescribe the right treatment. Besides, there is still no cure for death. So medicine has its limits.[1]

There is still a powerful place for prayer!

  [1] Ryken, P. G., & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Exodus: saved for God’s glory (p. 272). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

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