Ten Plagues of Egypt: Things You Might Not Know
The Ten Plagues of Egypt occupy a lot of chapters and verses in the Old Testament Book of Exodus. They are listed in Exodus 7:14 through Exodus 12:36. The plagues were the disasters God inflicted on Egypt in order to force Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to come out of slavery and leave Egypt after Moses arrived. The plagues were inflictions given by God in response to Pharaoh's failure to release the Hebrews.
Even though the plagues are preached in sermons and studied in Sunday school and Bible classes, a lot of details are left out. There are deeper meanings to the plagues that most people don't realize unless they are pointed out. The objective of this article is to point out some of those details that you might have missed.
Most people know that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt where Pharaoh forced them to make bricks made out of straw. God sent Moses there to be a deliverer of His people who had been in slavery for over 400 years. Once Moses arrived to request their release, Pharaoh retaliated and forced the Hebrews to make the same amount of bricks without straw.
As Pharaoh continued to resist Moses, God inflicted a series of ten plagues on Egypt. Each one became more serious than the one before it, but Pharaoh still refused to let the Hebrews leave. The last plague had escalated to the death of the firstborn of everything in Egypt.
Why Ten Plagues?
The number ten is a significant number in the Bible. Ten represents a fullness of quantity. Fewer than ten plagues would not be complete. More than ten plagues would have been more than enough. Ten plagues were just enough for God to display His justice and judgments.
The ten plagues were ten opportunities Pharaoh had to change his mind. God increased the severity of each plague. Pharaoh refused to change his mind until the tenth and final plague.
Egyptians Gods and Goddesses
Egypt was a pagan nation with a few dozens of Egyptian gods and goddesses. The ten plagues were chosen to go against ten of those gods. There are several scriptures to prove that there were many Egyptian gods.
- “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12).
- “Who among the gods is like you, O Yahweh?” (Exodus 15:11).
- "Praise be to Yahweh, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly’” (Exodus 18:8, 10–11).
- “They marched out boldly in full view of the Egyptians … for Yahweh had brought judgment on their gods” (Numbers 33:3–4).
Now that we have established that there were many gods, let's outline the gods that had the authority over the areas that the plagues were inflicted against. Keep in mind that the one God of Israel was more powerful than the combination of all the Egyptian gods.
First Plague: Nile Turned to Blood
The first plague that was inflicted on the Egyptians by God was that the Nile was turned to blood. This was probably the first plague because the Egyptians worshipped the Nile.
Aaron touched the rod of the Lord to the Nile River, and it immediately turned to blood. All the fish died, and the water began to stink. Pharaoh was not impressed because his magicians were able to partially duplicate this miracle. Even so, the water remained bloody for seven days. The Egyptians were deprived of water and fish that were a major part of their diet. Pharaoh's heart became hardened.
The number seven is the biblical number of perfection. That perfect length of time signifies that God is superior to all the gods of Egypt, especially to Hapi, the Egyptian god of the Nile.
Second Plague: Frogs
When Aaron extended the rod over Egypt, the second plague took place. Frogs came up from the river and filled the houses, courtyards, and fields. They got in people's food, among their clothing, and over evert place. No one in Egypt escaped the frogs. Pharaoh's magicians were able to bring more frogs in their attempt to imitate the power of God. However, only Moses was able to make the frogs go away.
This was another attack on the famous Egyptian goddess, Heket, the goddess of water. Pharaoh agreed to let the people go if the frogs were taken away, but later “he hardened his heart” (Exodus 8:8–15).
Third Plague: Lice or Gnats
Aaron was told to stretch forth his rod and smite the dust of the earth. Then the dust became lice throughout all the land on people and beasts. Some Bibles say they were gnats.
Pharaoh's magician failed to duplicate this plague. They even said, "This is the finger of God." Pharaoh's heart was hardened.
This plague was against Geb, the Egyptian god over the dust of the earth.
Fourth Plague: Flies
The fourth Egyptian plague was flies after Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused Moses' request to let the people go.
Only the Egyptians were affected by the plague. The Hebrews were spared. This was the first place that involved destruction as well as discomfort.
Pharaoh gave the Hebrews permission to leave, but he told them they couldn't go very far. Pharaoh reneges on his promise and did not let them go at all. He continued to worship his Egyptian gods, including Khepri, the Egyptian god of creation who had the head of a fly.
Fifth Plague: Death of Cattle and Livestock
A warning was given before this plague was unleased. The Egyptians were given a chance to repent, but they didn't. Therefore, disease and pestilence fell upon cattle and livestock that caused them to die.
Death of cattle and livestock had severe consequences that caused a very big economic disaster that affected the food supply, transportation, military supplies, farming, and everything else that were produced by the livestock. Pharaoh's heart remained hard.
Hathor, the goddess of love and protection had the head of a cow. However, she could not protect the Egyptians from this plague.
Sixth Plague: Boils and Sores
This is the first plague that directly affected the Egyptian people and the animals, including the magicians. Moses did as God instructed and threw dust into the air.
The magicians who have been seen throughout the previous plagues are unable to perform ceremonial rituals because they were affected by boils and sores themselves. God hardened Pharaoh's heart this time.
Isis, the Egyptian goddess of medicine and peace couldn't help the Egyptians who were plagued with boils and sores.
Seventh Plague: Hail
Large hail fell from the sky and turned to fire when it hit the ground. God allowed those who were willing to hear His word and do as He commanded would be saved.
Some of the Egyptians' food supply was destroyed, but the wheat survived. This gave the Egyptians another chance to turn to the One True God and forsake their own Egyptian gods and goddesses.
Pharaoh confessed his sin and promised to let the people go if the hail was stopped, but later he hardened his heart.
Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky couldn't prevent it from raining hail that turned into fire.
Eighth Plague: Locusts
Pharaoh listened to God, but he still relied on his own Egyptian gods and goddesses. In this case, he relied on Seth, the Egyptian god of storms and disorder. The eighth plague issued by the Lord was locusts. Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh with the usual request, "Let my people go so that they may serve me."
The Egyptians' food supply was attacked again. Pharaoh did not let the Hebrews go, and God hardened his heart again.
Ninth Plague: Darkness
The ninth plague was the darkness that fell upon Egypt unannounced. It covered the land of Egypt except in Goshen where the Israelites resided. The darkness lasted three days. Even Ra, the Egyptian sun god could not give light during the days of complete darkness.
Tenth Plague: Death of Firstborn
The tenth plague was the most severe. It was the death of all firstborn of humans and animals. When Pharaoh refused to let God's people go, God pronounced the last plague. Moses stated, "Thus saith the Lord, about midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry."
The Hebrews in Egypt were not affected because they followed God's instruction to sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their houses. Because of this, the death angel passed over.
Pharaoh's Hardened Heart
When God met Moses at the burning bush, He stated that He would harden Pharaoh's heart. He also gave Moses reasons for the ten plagues. Moses saw first hand what God meant when he got to Egypt.
“Yahweh said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what Yahweh says: ‘Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son" (Exodus 4:21–23).
Pharaoh and God were both responsible for Pharaoh's stubbornness, also referred to as having a hardened heart. Pharaoh hardened his own heart six times before God did. God also hardened Pharaoh's heart in order to display His sovereignty.
The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart appears before and after the series of plagues as well as in between each of the judgments. The hardening of Pharaoh's heart is the one thing that is common with all ten plagues.
God hardened Pharaoh's heart because He wanted the Israelites and the Egyptians to see His power through Pharaoh's stubbornness (Exodus 6:1; 7:5).
God was not merely trying to deliver his people from slavery. He could have done that in a single act even without the help of Moses and Aaron. He used the ten plagues to publicly display His power, authority, uniqueness, and faithfulness to His word.
“Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth” (9:13b–15).