The Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 9: The Plague of Boils

Exodus 9:8-12

Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”

10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened (“made heavy”) Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.

Why the boils?

The boils showed the impotence of the Egyptian gods. According to Egyptian legend, the goddess Sekhmet had the power over disease. She controlled its extent and severity. The superstitious Egyptians  wore amulets to keep the evil spirits away so Sekhmet would be able to control the diseases.

  • The god Serapis was charged with the responsibility of healing.
  • Imhotep, the god of medicine was the guardian of healing sciences.

These Egyptian gods were shown to be impotent when it came to controlling this plague.


The boils may have been a vivid object lesson to Pharaoh. As one commentator says, “This was a poetic justice.” 1 They would have been illustrative of Pharoah’s harsh treatment on the Israelites. Pharaoh forced the Israelites to slave over the brick making furnaces. Hard long, excruciating days with soot covering the body and pure exhaustion, it was time for God to exact that on Pharoah… causing the furnace dust to create a far more physical problem–festering boils!

“Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land.”

The Egyptians personally endured a direct, painful affliction. Frogs, gnats, swarms of biting insects were terrible conditions. Yet, these could be contained by mosquito netting and other methods. Boils, on the other hand, came from the body, itself. They were excruciatingly painful and unrelenting. They were so debilitating that Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to appear in Pharaoh’s court.

How bad were the boils?

The Hebrew word translated “boil” 13 times throughout the Old Testament. It was a condition which the ANE people dreaded. In Leviticus 13.18–21, boils were akin to leprosy.

“When someone has a boil on his skin and it heals, and in the place where the boil was, a white swelling or reddish-white spot appears, he must present himself to the priest. The priest is to examine it, and if it appears to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has turned white, the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is an infectious skin disease that has broken out where the boil was. But if, when the priest examines it, there is no white hair in it and it is not more than skin deep and has faded, then the priest is to put him in isolation for seven days. (Lev 13.18–21)

In 9.9, the boils were festering. That is, they became blisters. They may have been open, infectious sores similar to what Job suffered in Job 2.7. In that passage, Job found some relief by scraping his skin with pieces of clay. His affliction was so bad that he thought death was the only way to find lasting relief.

Application: When God is obviously at work, you cannot expect the world to understand it, appreciate it or even acknowledge that God was involved. So, the world has developed phrases like “Mother Nature” or “Natural Disasters” to explain our world.

God often does use secondary causes to bring about His plan. What we mean by that is that God uses penicillin, developed by the God-given skills of man, to bring about health. With the plagues, God DIRECTLY and SUPERNATURALLY intervened.

Next Lesson: Lesson 10: The Plague of Hail

  1. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus

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