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Article Info:
published: 10/8/13

The 10 Plagues of Egypt



What were the 10 plagues?

The 10 plagues of Egypt were individual yet sequential supernatural acts that YHWH, the God of the Israelites executed through Moses and Aaron against the Pharaoh of Egypt, as recorded in Exodus, the second book of the Bible. In the literary context of Exodus, the 10 plagues were God's consequence to Pharaoh’s refusal to free the Israelites from bondage so they could worship God. The plagues also demonstrate YHWH's superiority of the gods of Egypt and each plague insulted various Egyptian gods (more below).

It is often observed that the 10 plagues increased in intensity as they progressed. They are sometimes categorized into three "cycles" each cycle containing three plagues, with the climactic plague occurring last. In "Cycle 1," there was the plagues of blood, frogs, and gnats or lice. In "Cycle 2," there was the plagues of flies, livestock, and boils. In "Cycle 3," there was the plagues of hail, locusts, and darkness. And the 10th plague was the death of the firstborn.


Descriptions of the 10 Plagues of Egypt

1. Water turned to blood

Summary: In this plague, the fish die, the river smells, and the people don't have drinkable, usable water. Pharaoh's magicians duplicate this plague.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 7:14-25
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Khnum (guardian of the Nile), Hapi (spirit of the Nile), Orisis (god of the underworld), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? Yes
Who was the immediate agent? Aaron
Was a staff used? Yes
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

2. The plague of frogs

Summary: In this plague, frogs come out of the water and cover the land. Pharaoh's magicians duplicate this plague. (It is the last one they are able to reproduce.)

Where is this plague described? Exodus 8:1-15
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Heqt (associated with fertility and childbirth), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? Yes
Who was the immediate agent? Aaron
Was a staff used? Yes
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

3. The plague of gnats/lice

Summary: In this plague, all the dust of Egypt becomes a swarm of gnats/lice.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 8:16-19
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Seth (an earth god), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? None mentioned
Who was the immediate agent? Aaron
Was a staff used? Yes
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

4. The plague of flies

Summary: In this plague, swarms of flies cover the land of Egypt.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 8:20-32
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Hathor (a goddess represented by a cow), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? Yes
Who was the immediate agent? God
Was a staff used? Not mentioned
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

5. The plague against livestock

Summary: In this plague, all the Egyptian livestock die, but not the Israelites' don't.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 9:1-7
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Ptah (god of Memphis), Hathor (a goddess represented by a cow), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? Yes
Who was the immediate agent? God
Was a staff used?
Not mentioned
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

6. The plague of boils

Summary: In this plague, boils break out on all people in Egypt.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 9:8-12
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? any god represented by an animal, like Hathor
Was there a warning? None mentioned
Who was the immediate agent? Moses
Was a staff used? Not mentioned
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

7. The plague of hail

Summary: In this plague, hailstorms kill all slaves and animals not brought under cover in response to the warning that this calamity was coming. These storms also destroyed vegetation.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 9:13-35
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Seth (an earth god), Nut (the sky goddess), Serapis (the god of fire and water), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? Yes
Who was the immediate agent? Moses
Was a staff used? Not mentioned
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

8. The plague of locusts

Summary: In this plague, locusts cover the land and eat the remaining vegetation not destroyed by the hail.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 10:1-20
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Isis (the goddess of life), Seth (an eath god), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? Yes
Who was the immediate agent? Moses
Was a staff used? Yes
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

9. The plague of darkness

Summary: In this plague, complete darkness covers Egypt for three days.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 10:21-29
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Re (or Amun, the sun god and chief deity of Thebes), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? None mentioned
Who was the immediate agent? Moses
Was a staff used? Yes
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

10. The death of the firstborn

Summary: In this plague, the firstborn of the people and cattle of Egypt die, but the Israelites are spared.

Where is this plague described? Exodus 11:1-10, 12:29-32
Which Egyptian gods were insulted by this? Pharaoh (who was considered divine), perhaps others as well
Was there a warning? Yes
Who was the immediate agent? God
Was a staff used? Yes
Did Pharaoh promise to let the Israelites go? Yes

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Source:

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).