(31) He spoke, and there came swarms of flies and gnats throughout their country. (32) He gave them hail for rain and fiery lightning bolts in their land. (33) He struck down their vines and fig trees and shattered the trees of their country. (34) He spoke, and there came the locust swarm, young locusts without number, (35) and they devoured all the vegetation in the land and devoured the produce of the ground. (36) He struck down all the firstborn in their land, the first fruits of all their strength.
Five out of these six verses begin with the third person singular pronoun, “he” plus a verb, emphasizing that God was the source of the plagues, sending them as judgments upon the Egyptians. We also find several repetitions in this segment. “Their country” occurs twice (vss. 31 & 33) along with “their land” (used three times in vss. 32, 35, & 36). The phrase, “he spoke and there came,” is found at the beginning of two verses (vss. 31 & 34). “Devoured” is repeated (vs. 35), and “he struck down” occurs twice (vss. 33 & 36).
This litany of horrors climaxed with the tenth plague when the angel of death killed every firstborn male in the land, both human and animal. We can hardly imagine how the Egyptians survived such widespread devastation. Just one or two of these ten plagues would have been enough to humble most nations.
The plagues which God sent to punish the Egyptians brought the nation to its knees:
- flies and gnats (31)
- hail and lightning destroying vines and trees (32 & 33)
- locusts devouring all vegetation (34 & 35)
- the death of all firstborn (36)
The plagues in Egypt wreaked unprecedented devastation as an expression of God’s wrath.
Those who have researched the ten plagues of the Exodus tell us that each one conveyed an appropriate message of God’s supremacy over the deities of Egypt.
#1 - The Nile River turned to blood: the Nile was worshiped as the sustainer of life and Egypt’s greatest geographical asset. The life-giving river became a deliverer of death at God’s command.
#2 - The plague of frogs directed against Isis, a fertility goddess who was pictured as a frog and symbolized new life: frogs also represented good fortune. Now that the “good luck” frogs were dying, they had to be gathered up in rotting piles that filled the land with their stench.
#3 - The infestation of lice, directed against Seth, the earth god, arose from the earth to torment the people. Prayers to Seth did nothing to alleviate their misery.
#4 - The plague of flies directed against Beelzebub, prince of the air: the ever-present flies were considered the ears of Beelzebub. Now that they were attacking in droves, driving the people crazy, the priests could do nothing. The fact that they did not torment the Hebrews set God’s people apart as holy.
#5 - The contagion of livestock disease directed against Apis, the sacred bull: Egypt’s cattle could not stand up to God’s power, showing that he alone is holy.
#6 - The outbreak of boils directed against the medical shamans: boils were considered a punishment for sin. In this affliction God portrayed Egypt’s guilt as well as the powerlessness of Egypt’s healers to provide relief.
#7 - The deluge of hail directed against weather shamans, Egypt’s forecasters, who supposedly could predict and influence the weather: this plague demonstrated that God alone controls the climate.
#8 - The pestilence of locusts directed against agricultural shamans who were said to protect the harvest by their incantations.
#9 - The blanket of darkness shrouding the land undermined the authority of Amen-Re, the sun god, who was considered the greatest deity in Egypt’s pantheon and the father of the Pharaoh: by this plague, God demonstrated his sovereignty over all of Egypt’s gods.
#10 - The death of Egypt’s first born stood as the ultimate catastrophe. All who opened the womb, whether man or beast, were considered favorites of the gods and were consecrated to their service. With the death of Egypt’s firstborn, including Pharaoh’s son, the God of Israel utterly defeated Egypt’s gods. This was this final devastation that convinced Pharaoh at long last to submit to Yahweh’s demand to free the Israelites lest Egypt be completely annihilated by his wrath. Moses’ declaration summarized the message of the Ten Plagues: “(These have taken place) so that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God” (Ex. 8:10).