The Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 8: The Plague on the Livestock

Exodus 9:1-7

The extent of the plague

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” 2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, 3 the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats. 4 But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’ ”

5 The LORD set a time and said, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this in the land.” 6 And the next day the LORD did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. 7 Pharaoh sent men to investigate and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.

This plague affected all of the livestock of Egypt. The KJV uses the word “cattle.” (Exodus 9:2 kjv)”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.”

This word “cattle” is a generic word for livestock which includes cows, sheep, horses, donkeys, and camels. Basically, this refers to all of the domesticated animals which were bought and used as tools for various agricultural uses.

At first glance, there seems to be an inconsistency. According to verse 3, God said that only the cattle that were in the field would die. Verse 6 states that all of the cattle of the Egyptians died. Later in verse 19, the Egyptians are to gather their cattle. The question is this: “If all the Egyptians’ livestock are dead, where did they get the livestock in Exodus 9.19?”

“Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’ ”

Two reasons are given. First, the plague was directed at the “cattle in the field“ (v 3). Therefore, when verse 6 states that “all the cattle of Egypt died” it refers to “all the animals in the field.” The ones in the stables and enclosures were not affected.

Another possibility may be that the Egyptians purchased cattle from the Israelites between  this plague and the next. It makes sense that the Israelites may have sold some of their cattle to the Egyptians. Imagine also the profit the Israelites would have made selling the prized cattle commodity.

Both seem plausible and may have been true.

The miraculous nature of this plague

Some people like to think that the livestock, in the fields, died because of the rotting frogs. Their decomposing bodies would have created anthrax. When we think about the hideous nature of these plagues, we need to keep in mind that all of these dead things were piled on top of each other. It is difficult to think that they had much time to clean up between each plague, especially given the extreme amount of dead carcases.

With that said, this plague was truly miraculous and did not involve a natural/biological reason. Why not? Because the plague was given in unnatural terms.

  • vs 3 “The hand of the Lord” was involved. If you remember, the magicians said the finger of God was involved. Now, the text extends it to the “hand of God.” This is an interesting thing to note in these plagues. Not much is to be made of the “finger” vs. “hand.” The point is… God was DIRECTLY involved.
  • vs 3 “very terrible plague”
  • vs 4. “I will make a distinction.” Only the Egyptians’ livestock would be killed. The Egyptians would be cursed and the Israelites would be blessed in this plague.
  • vs 5 ff The exact time was predicted, the plague occurred.

The plague crippled Egypt economically and militarily. This plague was especially destructive. It struck the core of Egypt’s livelihood. Flies, gnats, and frogs are terrible nuisances, but this particular plague brought an especially difficult hardship on Egypt.

The Egyptians depended on horses, camels, donkeys, and oxen. Egypt introduced the horse to the battlefield. The  horse was much swifter than the camel which made it the superior fighting machine. Without horses, their military strength was crippled. Camels and donkeys were used as load bearing animals. They would carry equipment and supplies for the farmers. Oxen were used for plowing the fields. Without them, they were unable to plow the ground. It may be interesting to note that this plague may have destroyed their agricultural machinery (camels, oxen, and donkeys) at the height of their planting season.

Where do you think the Egyptians would have to go to replace their livestock? Of course, the Israelites. Hence the blessing. The Israelites would have prospered over the bartering and selling of their livestock.

The plague was directed against some of the Egyptian gods. Cattle were sacred animals to the Egyptians. So sacred were these ani- mals that another nation ultimately defeated the Egyptians in battle by using cattle as a screen. The Ptolemies sent them ahead of their army. The Egyptians did not want to hurt the animals. As a result, the Ptolemies capitalized on this weakness and defeated the Egyptians.

At least three gods were directly affected by the plagues. All three gods represented as cattle – the Apis Bull, Hathor, and Mnevis.

Apis Bull: This bull was very sacred to the Egyptians. Egypt was never without an Apis Bull. This was a special bull identified by twenty eight different markings. Whenever a new bull was chosen to replace a deceased bull, the Egyptians would have a special celebration. So sacred was this bull that the Egyptians constructed an elaborate burial chamber for the Apis Bulls.

Hathor: The mother goddess Hathor was in the form of a cow. The queens were often depicted with the horns of Hathor on their head.

Mnevis: A sacred bull at Heliopolis was associated with the sun god Re.

Next Lesson: Lesson 9: The Plague of Boils


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