Fifth Plague

Explanation and summary

The fifth plague of the 10 plagues that the God of the Israelites sent as judgment upon Egypt, through Moses, was the death of livestock, as recorded in the book of Exodus. In this plague, all the Egyptian livestock die, but not the Israelites' don't. The Egyptian gods insulted by this plague include Ptah (god of Memphis), Hathor (a goddess represented by a cow), and perhaps others as well. The story is recorded in Exodus 9:1-7 (see text below).

In addition to the separation established between Israel and the Egyptians, a definite time is set for the coming of the 5th plague. It is to be noticed also that diseases of cattle and of men follow quickly after the plague of insects. This is in exact accord with the order of nature as now thoroughly understood through the discovered relation of mosquitoes and flies to the spread of diseases.

Rinderpest is still prevalent at times in Egypt, so that beef becomes very scarce in market and is sometimes almost impossible to obtain. It is a fact, also, that the prevalence eft cattle plague, the presence of boils among men and the appearance of bubonic plague are found to be closely associated together and in this order. The mention of camels as affected by this plague is interesting.

Biblical Text (KJV)

Exodus 9:1-7

1 Then the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.

2 For if thou refuse to let them go, and wilt hold them still,

3 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.

4 And the Lord shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children's of Israel.

5 And the Lord appointed a set time, saying, To morrow the Lord shall do this thing in the land.

6 And the Lord did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.

7 And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

Further explanation

It is doubtful if any clear indication of the presence of the camel in Egypt so early as this has yet been found among the monuments of Egypt. There is in the Louvre museum one small antiquity which seems to me to be intended for the camel.

It would seem likely that the Hyksos, who were Bedouin princes, princes of the desert, would have introduced the beasts of the desert into Egypt. If they did so, that may have been sufficient reason that the Egyptians would not picture it, as the Hyksos and all that was theirs were hated in Egypt.


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