What were the Plagues of Egypt in Exodus?

Understanding Plagues

In the Old Testament book of Exodus (the 2nd book of Moses), there are various signs recorded that were meant to persuade Pharaoh to release the Jews from captivity. These signs came in the form of ten plagues that affected the great Egyptian kingdom.

A plague is defined in scripture using the Hebrew word maggephah (mag-gay-few). The Biblical definition of maggephah is a “stroke of affliction or disease”, sent as chastisement or judgment from God. Other uses for the word maggephah include a ‘fatal blow’ and a ‘slaughter’. Maggephah is used numerous times to describe a plague in the books of Exodus, Numbers, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Zechariah.

The plagues recorded in Exodus 7-12 were specifically designed to unsettle the hardened heart of Pharaoh. The plagues of Egypt glorified and exalted God and showed the enslaved Jews a miraculous sign of mercy and protection. Even more important, these Plagues set forth the symbolism of Passover (which took place during the final plague). As we know, the Passover would play a critical role in the life of Jesus Christ as well as his prophetic substitution for sin.

The 10 Plagues

The Nile River turned to Blood

7:19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

By turning the Nile into a river of blood, an important source of food and drinking water was effectively destroyed. However, Pharaoh was unshaken.

The Plague of Frogs

7:19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

The most unusual of the plagues was the plague of frogs. Instead of sending vicious creatures like lions or tigers, God instead chose a plague of a nuisance. Not only were the frogs loud and pervasive, but they were also considered to be sacred by the Egyptians. Because of this, the Egyptians would not kill the frogs, not matter how frustrating their presence was.

The Plague of Lice (gnats or mosquitoes more than likely)

8:16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.

The Plague of Flies (specifically dog-fly)

8:21 Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are.

The plagues of lice and flies may at first seem insignificant. These plagues were not only an annoyance, they also allowed for the spread of disease. Not only would illnesses be spread amongst the Egyptians, but also to their cattle and livestock and leading to the next and more damaging plague.

The Murrain (pestilence which killed cattle and sheep)

9:3 Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.

The Hebrew word used here is ‘deber’ and translated as murrain. Although not a common term used today, murrain literally translates as death. Murrains included a number of infectious diseases that spread from animal to animal including anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease. The animals owned and tended by the Jews remained healthy, where the animals belonging to Pharaoh suffered ultimate death.

The Plague of Boils and Blains (sores and painful skin infection)

9:8 And the LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh.

9:9 And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.

This plague was the first to result in physical pain. Covered in sores and infections, the presence of the multitude of insects would have been unbearable. The Bible also highlights how “the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils.” It is clear that Egyptians magicians were no match for the God of Israel.

The Plague of Hail (with fire and thunder)

9:18 Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now.

The Plague of Locusts (Hebrew, arbeh)

10:4 Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast:

10:5 And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which groweth for you out of the field.

The plagues of hail and locusts were meant to bring the Egyptians to their knees. The hail and fire from heaven would not severely damage structures, but they would also result in the destruction of much-needed food crops. Those plants such as wheat and grain not impacted by the hail would be destroyed by the locusts.

The Plague of Darkness

10:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.

10:22 And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days

The ninth plague brought a great darkness upon the land. No Egyptian would see light for three days. However, God provided light and safety to His people. The darkness would foreshadow the ultimate darkness that would come at the Passover.

The Death of Firstborn Man and Beast

11:4 And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt:

11:5 And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born 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.

It would take an extraordinary and meaningful event by God’s own hand for the Jews to be freed. God provided Pharaoh every opportunity to set His people free. When Pharaoh continued to object, God sent the ‘destroyer’ for the lives of the firstborn of Egypt. So that His own people would not face the same consequence, God ordered His people to paint their doorposts with the blood of a lamb. When the ‘destroyer’ came, He would see the blood on the doorposts and ‘pass over’ the homes of the Jews. Following the first Passover, Pharaoh obeyed and allowed the Jews their freedom. The Passover imagery is reflected in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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Joshua Hill

Blog & Content Director
Growing up outside of the church, Josh was saved at age 16 and was blessed to see multiple family members come to Christ and has held various positions including: Sunday School teacher, small group leader, Sunday School Director, member and chairman of multiple committees, interim youth pastor, ordained deacon and licensed minister.Most recently Josh served as the leader of a College and Career ministry teaching classes and leading service. An avid writer of his own curriculum, Josh took up blogging as a hobby. His hobby has become his newest passion in his current role with BibleSprout.

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