The 10 Plagues of Egypt

The notes in this post come from the Torah portions Va’era and Bo found in Exodus 6:1-13:16.

The story of Passover is one of repentance, restoration, and forgiveness. It begins in the book of Exodus with Moses going before Pharaoh with a message from YHVH: “Let My people go!” When Pharaoh refuses, the ten plagues are sent on the land of Egypt.

For four hundred years, the Hebrews had lived in the midst of the Egyptians. They had been so steeped in the pagan traditions they didn’t even know who YHVH was! Don’t we find ourselves in a similar situation? We too have been so steeped in a pagan culture that we don’t even know who YHVH truly is. If we did, we would know that YHVH does not desire these pagan ways but, instead, desires we live our lives according to His Torah. So, in order to introduce Himself to the Hebrews, He sent the plagues on the Egyptians. Let’s not push YHVH to the point of sending plagues on our “host nation” ok? Perhaps we should just humble ourselves now instead of making Him humble us.

Click here to read “The Myth of Easter and the Redemption of Passover.”

Burning Bush

YHVH uses established/ordinary things in our environment and makes them miraculous by His hand and power;

  • this is what we call a “modern day parable”; don’t disregard every day things that YHVH is using to teach you a lesson or reveal Himself; you see it operating under normal circumstances then to one day see it under extraordinary circumstances makes it more meaningful/miraculous to us
  • Moses; nothing special about Him until YHVH goes with him; just like us, there is nothing special until YHVH fills us up and uses us for His purpose
  • YHVH uses ordinary things to show His glory; that’s even more miraculous because to us these are common things we see every day so when YHVH gets a hold of something/someone you would not expect to be holy, it’s even more of a miracle

 4 Layers to the 10 Plagues

  1. Scientific perspective; a chain of events was triggered by one occurrence
  2. The grouping of three sets of three
  3. Each as an attack on Egyptian gods
  4. Signs to the Hebrews; YHVH revealing/teaching the Hebrews & Egyptians who He really was since neither group really knew Him

3 Sets of Plagues

  • 1st set: to show who YHVH was (Exodus 5:2; Pharaoh said he didn’t know YHVH)
  • 2nd set: to show the uniqueness of YHVH among the Egyptian gods
  • 3rd set: to show the supreme nature of YHVH in all the earth
  • each begins with a public message/spiritual lesson to be learned
  • followed by a private warning in the palace
  • ended with another plague that has no warning/message attached

Set #1: “That you will know that I am YHVH” (Exodus 7:17)

1. Blood Dam  דם

  • the Nile was worshiped as a deity
  • “measure for measure”; retribution for the Hebrew blood that had been spilled
  • makes all water unusable for bathing or drinking and causes smell of dead fish; this would have robbed the Egyptians of peace and comfort
  • Hatmehit: fish goddess; originally a deification of the Nile River

2. Frogs Tsephardeda  צפרדע

  • land stank and made living uncomfortable; no sleep allowed because their beds were also invaded
  • the frog was considered the deification of the goddess Heqet, the wife of the creator of the world and the goddess of birth
  • Heqet was most commonly shown with the head of a frog and body of a woman. Egyptian women wore amulets and scarabs with the image of Heqet to protect them during childbirth. Again, retribution for the death of so many Hebrew babies
  • frogs were so sacred in Egypt that even the involuntary slaughter of one was often punishable by death

3. Gnats/Lice Kinim  כינים

  • irritating and carry disease and bite constantly; bites would have caused itching/irritation of skin
  • the lice originated from the dust of the earth
  • the Egyptian magicians recognized this as “the finger of God” that even the dust of the earth obeyed His command
  • the Egyptians worshiped Ged (or Geb), the earth god
  • his laughter was thought to cause earthquakes and he allowed crops to grow
  • associated with vegetation, land, and the underworld
  • sometimes described as “father of snakes”
  • sometimes depicted as jackal-headed and rising from the ground to bind and punish enemies

Set #2: “I AM YHVH in the midst of the land” (Exodus 8:22)

4. Swarms/Mixture Arov  ערוב

  • there is some debate about what the 4th plague actually was; Rashi, Rabbi Yehudah and others believed this plague was a swarm of wild animals. However, Rabbi Nechemiah believed this plague was a swarm of insects
  • if a swarm of insects, then they would have picked at food, laid eggs in food, and caused disease; again, allowing no rest for the Egyptians
  • this plague may have been targeting the Canaanite god “the lord of the flies” or “lord of the high place/high lord” baal zevuv which may have evolved later into Beelzebub

5. Livestock Pestilence  דבר

  • flies and gnats carrying disease from dead fish and frogs; killed sacred animals and food sources
  • the god Apis was represented as a bull
  • Apis was the most important of all the sacred animals worshiped in Egypt
  • connection to crops, herds, fertility, resurrection, and Pharaoh’s strength and fertility
  • only animal to be worshiped as only an animal; versus half human half animal

6. Boils Shchin  שחין

  • soot; is it like the drinking of ashes to determine if a woman had been unfaithful?
  • the first plague to harm the physical bodies of the Egyptians
  • “measure for measure” the Egyptians had harmed and mistreated the bodies of the Hebrews, so too would they be harmed
  • Thoth, the Egyptian god credited with inventing medicine among many other arts and sciences, was unable to cure the boils; depicted with head of either an ibis (bird) or baboon
  • Nefertem god of healing and beauty; originally a water lily; son of the sky god and earth goddess; would mature to be Ra; Egyptians carried a small statue of him as a good luck charm

Set #3: “There is none like Me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14)

7. Hail Barad  ברד

  • destroys people, animals, crops, land and green things (9:25)
  • combined fire and ice
  • referred to as “all my plagues” in the biblical text equating it to all the others combined
  • Pharaoh says this time I have sinned; what does that show us?
  • flax and barely struck but wheat and spelt not struck; YHVH’s mercy for those Egyptians who did fear the word of YHVH or perhaps to show us the time of year this was happening?
  • Egyptian goddess Nut, goddess of the sky who covers the earth; she was called “she who bore all the gods” and “she who protects Ra” (the sun god) and “she who holds a thousand souls”
  • Tefnut, goddess of moisture and rain; mother of Nut (goddess of the sky); depicted many ways: a lioness with female body, female only, a serpent, or lion headed serpent

8. Locust (Many) Arbeh  ארבה

  • destroyed what hail did not
  • covered the land so no one could even see the land
  • ate every green tree (10:5); filled houses of Egyptians (10:6); would have been very demoralizing
  • the god Nepri (god of grain) could not help
  • Nepri was most often a suckling child; representing sustenance; also called “one who lives after dying”

9. Darkness Hosek  חושך

  • Ra, Egyptian sun god
  • associated with hawk or falcon; thought to rule the sky, earth, and underworld
  • the cult of the Mnevis bull, thought to be the embodiment of Ra; thought to be the creator of all beings by speaking their secret names; humans were formed from tears and sweat and then called themselves “cattle of Ra”
  • there was even a special burial ground for sacrificed bulls of this cult
  • Ra sent his eye (the all seeing eye) in the form of Sekhmet (lioness; warrior goddess of healing) to punish the humans

The final plague brought a true change in Pharaoh shown by his statement Veirakhtem Gam-Oti “And bring blessing on me too!” This shows that Pharaoh finally knew YHVH, saw the uniqueness of YHVH compared to Egyptian gods, and recognized the supreme nature of YHVH. Pharaoh now understood that he too needed to be blessed by YHVH but that the congregation of Israel had such a special relationship with YHVH that their prayers for him would much more effective than his own.

This change in Pharaoh was also necessary and beneficial for the children of Israel. They had been steeped in Egyptian culture for 400 years that to see Pharaoh (a self-proclaimed god) and the other Egyptian gods rendered helpless against YHVH made them more confident in trusting YHVH to lead them out and to make YHVH their only God.

10. Death of the Firstborn Bekor (Firstborn) Makot (Plague)  מכת  בכורות

  • Exodus 12:12 “against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am YHVH”
  • Min: the god of procreation
  • Isis: the goddess of fertility
  • Selket: the guardian of life
  • Renenutet: cobra-goddess who was the guardian of Pharaoh
  • Bastet or Bast: protector of the pharaoh and solar goddess; depicted as a lioness or cat
  • also makes retribution for the killing of Hebrew children

To recap, the plagues have several main things in common:

  • They target an Egyptian god/important part of Egyptian life and culture
  • They allowed no rest, peace, comfort or sense of safety for Egyptians (warfare tactic)
  • They served as signs to both the Hebrews and Egyptians

Are there any areas in your life where you feel you are constantly attacked? If so, why are you being attacked in that area? Is it because you’ve made that area more important than YHVH or because you need strengthening in that area?

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