Dead Animals and Boils

Exodus 9:1-12
1Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them [back], 3behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. 4But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”’ 5And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” 6And the next day the Lord did this thing. All [sorts of] the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. 7And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go. 8And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 9It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” 10So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. 11And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. 12But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.

As we march through the plagues of Egypt we find that God continues to ratchet up the pain until His goals are achieved. Since God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8) we can assume He does the same to us today. That may be good news, it may be bad; depends on your stance with God, I guess. These two plagues mark a turning point in the pain. The first four plagues are annoying. Life was made difficult and no one is happy. Now God made the distinction in His pronouncement that His people are being held back from serving Him. They belong somewhere other than where they are as the slaves of Pharaoh. It’s time for them to be allowed to serve their God only. And clearly God will do whatever is necessary to make that happen as we see the severity of the plagues increase.

First let’s deal with a small problem with the translation of the Hebrew in this passage. In verse 6 the English text states that “all of the livestock” died. This clearly isn’t what happened as there was still more livestock to deal with in upcoming plagues. The Hebrew word kol, usually translated “all,” can mean “all sorts of” or “from all over” or “all over the place.” What we find here is that “all sorts of” Egyptian livestock were struck; enough so that there is a severe impact upon the livelihood and lifestyle of the Egyptians. Domesticated animals were treasured as enormously valuable assets in Bible times as in any time prior to the industrial revolution or any place even today where farming predominates. The pantheistic Egyptians revered all animals but birds and livestock more than fish and amphibians. For them to have lost livestock would constitute a serious blow indeed; for them to have lost livestock while the Israelites retained all theirs represented a nationwide humiliation.

Then we come to the sixth plague which now strikes with personal force. The Egyptian people experience great physical pain themselves. Moses is directed by God to throw some soot into the air and painful sores become the scourge of the land. The Hebrew uses a compound of terms to be sure the reader understands that these were not mere boils or skin eruptions but what are sometimes in English called angry boils and/or putrefying sores and/or skin ulcers. With this plague we have the last mention of the “magicians” of Pharaoh.

“An element of the story that could be considered somewhat unpredictable, however, is the mention of the magicians in v. 11. They were last mentioned in 8:19 at the end of the third plague (gnats/biting insects) where they admitted their inability to replicate the miraculous in that situation with the words, “This is the finger of God!” This present plague account is the last in which they appear; they are not mentioned again in Exodus or the entire Pentateuch for that matter. Why, then, are they brought into the narrative here? Presumably for two reasons; the first is to help the reader appreciate the fact that Pharaoh probably used the magicians as advisors in dealing with the various plagues. To the Egyptians the magical, the medicinal, and the miraculous were all closely linked, and anything the magicians could do to alleviate the effects of a given plague or to show it to be something that they themselves could also do (on a small scale) would help bolster Pharaoh’s resistance to the demands made by Yahweh. The second is that if the physicians could not heal themselves (i.e., the magicians could not make themselves well from the boils) then the power of God over the powers resorted to by Pharaoh was obvious. The magicians need not be mentioned again. They had been proved impotent in the face of real power. The boils were obviously debilitating; so sick and in pain were the Egyptians from them that they were not physically able to be available for any sort of confrontation with Moses of the sort seen in the first three miracle accounts.”
Stuart, D. K. (2006). Exodus (Vol. 2, p. 229). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

These two plagues should have served as a serious warning to the Pharaoh. He’s even taking time to check into conditions in Goshen where the Hebrews are living only to find that they are not suffering along with their slaves masters. They are in fact, thriving. When a heart becomes hard, breaking through the shell is increasingly difficult. As we share Jesus with those in our world who don’t know Him we would do well to remember it is not our job to break through that shell but to only speak of the Jesus of the Bible. He alone can bring what is needed into each person’s heart. What they do with the information is up to them.