The ten plagues inflicted on Egypt – Exodus Ch.7-12

In the morning, Pharaoh went out to the water’s edge on the bank of the Nile River. Moses and Aaron came across to him as he stood on the river bank. They said to him: ‘The Lord God of the Hebrews has sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness”; but indeed, until now you would not hear!”. They then told Pharaoh what would happen as a result of his refusal to release the Israelites – the river would be turned to blood. God then commanded Aaron to lift the rod in his hand and strike the water.

So he lifted up the rod and struck the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants. And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. Exodus 7: 21-22

Therefore, on that day, the first plague was started. There were nine more plagues to follow because Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he refused to let the people of Israel go.

Memorable events in Moses life

In other articles, we will consider two other memorable events related to the man called Moses. We will consider Moses at the Red Sea when the waters were parted and we will also look at Moses and the burning bush. The best order to read the three articles:

1st           The burning bush

2nd          The ten plagues

3rd           The parting of the Red Sea

In this article we are going to consider another memorable event in the life of Moses – this time the ten plagues that struck the land of Egypt.

Who was Pharaoh?

Pharaoh was the supreme leader in Egypt. Over the years there had been many Pharaohs (leaders). Who was this pharaoh of Egypt that Moses and Aaron spoke to? There is disagreement amongst scholars as to which leader he was. Some say he was Ramses II (1279-1213BC), some say Merenptah (1213-1203BC), whereas others say Seti I (1294-1279BC). Careful examination of the events recorded in the Biblical record along with archaeological analysis suggests to some that it was the young leader Tutankhamun (1336-1327BC). The photo at the start of this article is Ramses II.

Events leading to the ten plagues of Egypt
Israel in bondage (Egypt)

What lead to this great confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses/Aaron and the one they represented “The Lord God of the Hebrews”?

For a long period the Israelite people had been slaves of the Egyptians. It was God’s purpose that they be freed from Egypt and then become a people who obeyed and worshipped Him. As slaves in Egypt they were probably more familiar with the gods of Egypt than the one true God. Therefore God knew that He must make them aware of Him if they were going to obey Him.

The Egyptians were an idolatrous people and did not know the God of Israel.

And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” Exodus 5:2

The Egyptians were one of the most powerful nations on earth at that time. But as we will see, there is a long struggle between Pharaoh and God. In this struggle the God of Israel would humiliate Pharaoh and the Egyptian nation. He would do this by the ten plagues.

In the article “The bush that was on fire but didn’t burn up” we saw that Moses had been in isolation for forty years. God spoke to him (through an angel) and told him to travel to Egypt and be the leader of the Israelite people. He was instructed to lead them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. He lacked confidence to do this leadership role on his own so Aaron was instructed by God to help Moses. Aaron was the brother of Moses (Exodus 6:20)

As a result, Aaron was promised to be his spokesman and the honour of leadership was divided between them. Aaron travelled to meet Moses in the wilderness. In Midian, Moses took his wife and two sons and put them on a donkey and then they headed towards Goshen in Egypt. God told Moses what he should say to Pharaoh:

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.” Exodus 4: 22-23

When they arrived in Goshen, Moses and Aaron meet the elders of Israel. As a result, the people of Israel believed and bowed their heads and worshipped God. But the biggest challenge was that they had to face Pharaoh and tell him that he must let the Israelite people go. They were to no longer be slaves in Egypt.

The ten plagues

When Moses meet Pharaoh, he spoke the words God told  him to say (see the quote above). Pharaoh refused to be moved by Moses words and he defied God. As a result, by the hand of Moses, God brought ten terrible plagues upon Egypt. These are the ten plagues:

A statue of Heqat – the Egyptian Frog goddess.
The second plague involved frogs coming from the rivers and streams and covering the land. The frogs “shall go up and come into your house, into your bedroom, on your bed, into the houses of your servants, on your people, into your ovens, and into your kneading bowls. And the frogs shall come up on you, on your people, and on all your servants ” (Exodus 8: 3-4)
The second plague was a contest between God and parts of the Egyptian system of superstition. It struck out at the worship of Heqat. She was a frog-headed goddess and the frog was sacred to her. But now the frogs dead bodies were gathered together in piles and they were found everywhere – in the houses, in the food, in the beds, on the people themselves. As a result, the Egyptian people loathed the frogs and regarded them with extreme repugnance. This was another blow to the religious beliefs of the land.
Photo courtesy: The Cleveland Museum of Art
  1. Water turned into blood
  2. Frogs cover the land
  3. The land was smitten with lice
  4. Swarms of flies invaded the land.
  5. Murrain on animals. Murrain is a contagious disease among cattle.
  6. Burning boils on man and beast
  7. A ferocious hail storm
  8. A locust swarm over the land devouring all the herbage that had escaped the hail.
  9. There was complete darkness
  10. The first-born in each house would die.

Ten times God spoke to Moses in Egypt to cause a land that was fertile even during famine, to return to desolation and ruin. The fruitfulness of the land gave way to barrenness as flies, hail and locusts attacked plant life, while lice, Murrain disease, boils and hail attacked animal life. The life giving sun became darkness and life returned to death. God who has the power to create has the power and the right to destroy His creation.

As mentioned above, before the plagues had been inflicted on Egypt, Pharaoh had said:

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” Exodus 5:2

God showed through these ten plagues that he was greater than the Nile River (which the Egyptians worshipped as a god) when it was turned to blood in the first plague. God also showed He was greater than the Egyptian sun god Re (when the sun was blotted out in the ninth plague to give darkness). God was infinitely greater than the conjuring magicians of Pharaoh’s court, who after the third plague confessed:

“This is the finger of God.” Exodus 8:19

In other words, they were saying that this is “an act of God”.

The lesson being taught was that He was the God of the Hebrews. From the fourth plague onwards the Israelites were excluded from the plagues of affliction. God was concerned for their deliverance – he wanted them all to leave Egypt together.

Therefore, Pharaoh slowly learned across the ten plagues about the power of the Lord, and the determination He has that His glory should be declared in the people He had chosen. This determination is expressed in His memorial name (refer to the article “The bush that was on fire but didn’t burn up” for more about the memorial name of God).

God’s salvation – Not a Right but of Grace

As we learned in the verse quoted above (Exodus 4:22), God saw Israel as his son, his firstborn. But was Israel aware of this special relationship? They learned about God as the plagues were inflicted. They realised that they were saved from the affliction of the plagues and therefore were in God’s favour. They saw that the Egyptians suffered with the plagues but from the plague of the flies and onwards they avoided them. They realised that because they were the people of Israel that God was with them. But God needed to teach them that being saved was not a right but rather was of grace. They had to see the power of God both in judgment and salvation – this was clearly shown in the last plague and the Passover (see section below).

They were called to have a covenant relationship with God – they would be His firstborn son and He would be there father. God was inviting them to obey Him and, as a loving Father, He would be there to watch over them. But there was also a threat that disobedience would lead to affliction. In Egypt there was condemnation but in the land they were going to there would be salvation. They just had to obey God and keep His commandments. God’s salvation is not a right but is rather by Grace.

The Passover and the tenth plague

God was determined that the tenth plague would make Pharaoh obey Him.

Then Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals. Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again. But against none of the children of Israel shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast, that you may know that the Lord does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.’ Exodus 11: 4-7
Passover: sprinkle lambs blood on the door post

The tenth plague would lead to the Israelites being released from slavery and allowed to leave Egypt. In this plague, the first born of each family in Egypt would die but the people of Israel would be spared. But to be spared, the Israelites had to do something. The thing they needed to do is known as the “Passover” and it is recorded in Exodus chapter 12. Each family (or group of families) had to choose a lamb without blemish. At the appointed time they were to kill the lamb. They were to then sprinkle the lamb’s blood upon the two side posts and on the upper door post of their house. During the evening they were to remain inside the house and eat the roasted lamb. They were to have everything ready to depart immediately.

While Israel was doing this, the angel of God passed through the land of Egypt. The blood on the door was a sign that the family inside had slain their lamb. The angel (who was sent to destroy the firstborn) would pass by the house if blood was seen on the door. The houses in Egypt that had no blood upon their doors would suffer the terrible punishment of the death of their firstborn. This applied to the first-born of Pharaoh to the first-born of the lowest in the land.

For Israel, their time of deliverance had come. They gathered together their possessions including their flocks and herds. During the evening of the Passover, Pharaoh asked for Moses and Aaron to come to him.

Then he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also.” And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” Exodus 12: 31-33

Israel were saved and allowed to leave Egypt because of the blood of the lamb. It was to be a memorial to them.

Christ – the Passover for believers

What took place on that night in Egypt would point forward to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in the future. Jesus was referred to as the Lamb of God.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1: 29)

It is through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross that believers are redeemed.

knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.1 Peter 1: 18-19

The apostle Paul makes the direct link between the Passover on that night in Egypt and the Lord Jesus Christ.

For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 1 Cor. 5:7

It is by the shed blood of Christ that baptised believers are delivered from the bondage of sin and death, in a similar way to how Israel were delivered from the bondage of Egypt.

…release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. Hebrews 2:15

For more information about how the shed blood of Christ delivers baptised believers, please read the article “Who is Jesus Christ?” in the Bible Fundamentals series.

A memorable event

The ten plagues brought havoc to the Egyptian people. God sent plagues against Egypt because the Pharaoh and the people refused to listen to Him and continued to treat His people, the Israelites, badly. In the modern day, Egypt is a symbol of the World. This World rejects the Lord God and refuses to acknowledge Him and obey Him. As the time of the end approaches there is a great fear as to what the future will bring.

…men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Luke 21: 26)

However, those who accept Christ will find peace and will realise that there is a coming deliverance.

Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28)

In the days of Egypt (at the time of the ten plagues), the people were fearful and worried, whilst in Goshen (where the Israelites lived) there was the knowledge of the coming deliverance from Egypt. The people of Israel felt a great relief. It is the same today, there are those who do not know the will of God, and there are those who do know His will. Isn’t it better to be amongst those who do know His will? For they look forward with confidence to what the future will bring forth.