18 Observations about Nine Plagues

God brought ten judgments (known as the “plagues”) upon Egypt in Exodus 7-12. The first nine plagues are set apart from the tenth by multiple literary features. While considering the tenth judgment–the death of the firstborn–is a worthy focus, the following comments are limited to Plagues 1-9. Some of these observations can be noted in studies addressing the subject of the Egyptian plagues.

  1. Plagues 1-9 unfold in three series of three plagues each.
    • Plagues 1-3 (7:14–8:19)
    • Plagues 4-6 (8:20–9:12)
    • Plagues 7-9 (9:13–10:29)
  2. Each new judgment section begins with “the LORD said to Moses” (7:14; 8:1, 16, 20; 9:1, 8, 13; 10:1, 21).
  3. Each new judgment section ends with a report about Pharaoh’s heart (7:22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 35; 10:20, 27).
  4. The first set of three plagues (1-3) are performed with Aaron holding the staff (7:19-20; 8:5-6; 8:16-17).
  5. The second set of three plagues (4-6) are performed with no staff involved (8:24; 9:6, 10).
  6. The third set of three plagues (7-9) are performed with Moses holding the staff (9:22-23; 10:12-13, 21-22).
  7. The first plague in each series (1, 4, 7) takes place with Moses going to Pharaoh outside in the morning (7:15; 8:20; 9:13).
  8. The second plague in each series (2, 5, 8) takes place with Moses going into Pharaoh’s palace (8:1; 9:1; 10:1).
  9. The third plague in each series (3, 6, 9) takes place without a warning to Pharaoh at all (8:17; 9:10; 10:22).
  10. Israel is spared from the second series of plagues (4-6).
  11. Israel is spared from the third series of plagues (7-9).
  12. The shortest plague of each series comes third (3, 6, 9).
  13. The third plague of each series (3, 6, 9) doesn’t have the statement “Let my people go, that they may serve me,” which appears in the other plagues.
  14. The plagues serve a polemical purpose by humiliating an Egyptian god (or gods) that is in some way associated with the nature of the judgment.
  15. When each series of three plagues is considered (1-3, 4-6, 7-9), the plagues increase in severity, for judgments 7-9 are the most devastating of the nine plagues.
  16. In the first series of plagues (1-3), the Egyptian magicians attempt to imitate the work of Yahweh. The other series of plagues (4-6 and 7-9) do not report any attempt by the magicians to imitate what they saw.
  17. In the each threefold series of three plagues, Pharaoh tells Moses the Israelites can go.
    • Once in Plagues 1-3 (8:8)
    • Once in Plagues 4-6 (8:28)
    • Three times in Plagues 7-9 (9:28; 10:11, 24)
  18. Pharaoh tries to negotiate with Moses about the Israelites’ departure.
    • None in Plagues 1-3
    • Once in Plagues 4-6 (8:28)
    • Twice in Plagues 7-9 (10:11, 24)

I recently preached through the ten plagues at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, where I serve as the Preaching Pastor. Those sermons can be found here.

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