God/Moses give Pharaoh 24 hours to shape up or they will send a “very severe plague upon your cattle which are in the field, the horses, the asses, the camels, the herds, and the flocks” (Exod. 9:3). Predictably, Pharaoh fails to let the people go, so God sends a plague (or murrain, for you KJV enthusiasts) and “all the cattle of the Egyptians died” (Exod. 9:6). Only cattle belonging to the Hebrews were spared.

The Sixth Plague

The Fifth Plague of Egypt by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1800

The Fifth Plague of Egypt by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1800

In the next sequence, God speaks to both Moses and Aaron, but only instructs Moses to perform the magic trick (Exodus 9:8). It’s an interesting deviation from the normal pattern of Moses acting as God’s mouthpiece, being “as God” with Aaron as “prophet”  (Exod. 7:1), so that God speaks exclusively to Moses and Aaron is the one performing on stage.

In any case, Moses takes up handfuls of ash and throws them into the air. These become a “fine dust over all the land of Egypt” (Exod. 9:9) and become boils on all men and beasts. So not only to the Egyptians have nasty skin infections, God also causes them to fail the white glove test.

Now, unlike the last plague where we’re specifically told that the Hebrews are spared, there’s no such note this time. It wouldn’t ordinarily be a big deal and I’d assume that the Hebs are, in fact, spared the boils, but the mention of beasts complicates things. What beasts are we talking about here? All of the Egyptians’ domesticated beasts died in Exodus 9:6. So the only beasts left to be affected by this plague are either wild beasts who happen to have had the misfortune of living in the land the humans call Egypt, or the boils have infected the Hebrews’ cattle. And if the Hebrews’ cattle are infected, it becomes reasonable to conclude that the Hebrews themselves are infected as well.

This is what those in the business call “collateral damage.”

The Seventh Plague

God, who firmly believes that the early bird leads his people to freedom, tells Moses to “rise up early in the morning” (Exod. 9:13) so that he can go see Pharaoh. Apparently, the eleventh and least known plague is the plague of “frequent solicitation” – one that we are still burdened with today.

So Moses is to go to Pharaoh and tell him that God so totally could have killed him and every other Egyptian if he wanted to, but “for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Exod. 9:16). I think that if God were one of us, he wouldn’t be a particularly pleasant guy to hang out with. Is there no middle ground between “I will make you suffer to show you how powerful I am” and “I will kill every last one of your people”? If he really wants to impress the Egyptians, wouldn’t making all the Hebrews poof into thin air and reappear in Israel do the trick? And hey, no dead frogs all over!

He finishes by telling Pharaoh that he would make a huge hailstorm the next day, so Pharaoh had better “get your cattle and all that you have in the field into safe shelter; for the hail shall come down upon every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home, and they shall die” (Exod. 9:19).

Wait a sec, did God just forget that he already killed all the Egyptians’ cattle? ‘Cause if he’s talking about the carcasses, I don’t think the Egyptians are overly worried about them dying…

Well, Pharaoh is clearly not impressed by this incredibly forgetful god, so he leaves his cattle carcases out in the fields.

Moses gets to be the magician again and he calls forth the hail and thunderstorm. Like in the fifth plague, this one spares the land of Goshen where God’s peeps live. As per the pattern, Pharaoh relents and agrees to let the Hebrews leave if the plague is stopped, so God stops the plague and then Pharaoh changes his mind.

So in this chapter, we saw all of the cattle killed, infected with skin lesions, and then killed again. From this, I can only assume that there was some kind of zombie cow thing going on, but it’s okay because God sent the hail to end the z-moo-bie apocalypse. Yay!