Understanding the Plagues in Exodus

Exodus 12

1Now the LORD gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron while they were still in the land of Egypt: 2“From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. 3Announce to the whole community that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice. 4If a family is too small to eat an entire lamb, let them share the lamb with another family in the neighborhood. Whether or not they share in this way depends on the size of each family and how much they can eat. 5This animal must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no physical defects.

6“Take special care of these lambs until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then each family in the community must slaughter its lamb. 7They are to take some of the lamb’s blood and smear it on the top and sides of the doorframe of the house where the lamb will be eaten. 8That evening everyone must eat roast lamb with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast. 9The meat must never be eaten raw or boiled; roast it all, including the head, legs, and internal organs. 10Do not leave any of it until the next day. Whatever is not eaten that night must be burned before morning.

11“Wear your traveling clothes as you eat this meal, as though prepared for a long journey. Wear your sandals, and carry your walking sticks in your hands. Eat the food quickly, for this is the LORD’s Passover. 12On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn sons and firstborn male animals in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD! 13The blood you have smeared on your doorposts will serve as a sign. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12: 1-13, NLT)

The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever wondered about all the plagues in the book of Exodus? For six chapters in Exodus (7-12), Moses squares off with Pharaoh via a series of plagues that the Lord brings upon the Egyptians.

After each plague, it appears that Pharaoh is going to relent and release the Israelites but in each case the text says that Pharaoh hardens his heart and maintains his grip over his Hebrew subjects. The result of Pharaoh’s stubbornness is yet another plague.

Why exactly did God initiate all these plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians? If God can harden Pharaoh’s heart why couldn’t he also soften Pharaoh’s heart and bring an end to this stalemate so that God’s people could be released as soon as possible?

These kinds of questions demonstrate that in our human understanding, we always have a blueprint in our mind regarding how we think things should go and how they WOULD go if WE were in charge. And when things don’t unfold the way we would expect, we can easily question God’s motives or misunderstand His purposes.

The truth is that while my approach is like playing checkers, God’s approach is llike playing 4D chess. In other words, my outline, if I were writing the story, would be pretty simple and basic. Moses would show up and force Pharaoh to release the Israelites and in the next scene, we’d see the Israelites collectively marching to the promised land, and probably singing “Don’t Stop Believing” as they embark on their Journey to the promised land! (Do you see what I did there?)

But God’s approach to the story line is much more complex than mine and it’s because God always has a much bigger purpose to accomplish than what I can imagine.

So the question remains, why does God enact all these plagues instead of just one or two? We know the first plague likely took place in July or August when the Nile flooded and the last plague likely occurred in April. Why make the Israelites wait for nine months to fully realize their rescue?

The key to understanding the plagues and God’s ultimate purpose in this face-off between Moses and Pharaoh is Exodus 12:12, where God states:

On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn sons and firstborn male animals in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD! 

God’s purpose in executing the ten plagues was not just a battle of wits between Him and Pharaoh but it was a statement of His superiority and a display of His power over all the Egyptian gods, of which there were many. God orchestrated this elaborate series of plagues in order to demonstrate to the Israelites and the Egyptians that He alone is the Lord.

If we examine each of the individual plagues with this new understanding, that God was demonstrating His power over the Egyptian gods, we can see that each individual plague was actually a display of power and authority over a specific Egyptian god.

For example, in the first plague, Moses turns the Nile river into blood. This plague was a demonstration of God’s power and authority over Hapi, the Egyptian spirit of the Nile, and Khnum, the Egyptian guardian of the Nile.

The plague of flies was a judgment against Uatchit, an Egyptian god who manifested himself as a fly.

The plague of locusts was a judgment over Isis, the Egyptian goddess of life, and Seth, the Egyptian protector of crops.

Finally, the plague of the death of the first-born, was a culmination of all the plagues and was a judgment over all Egyptian deities, including Osiris, who was seen as the giver of life and Pharaoh himself, who was often regarded as a deity among the people.

NOTE: for more information on the plagues as judgment over Egyptian gods and deities click here and here. Keep in mind that there are so many Egyptian deities that the names and subjects of Egyptian deities may vary slightly depending on the list, but the point still remains – the plagues were intended to show the impotence of the Egyptian gods compared to the God of the Israelites.

So you see, God had a greater plan in bringing about 10 plagues over a period of about 9 months. His plan involved bringing judgment against the Egyptian gods and demonstrating to all His authority and power over them.

So while the Israelites were waiting and wondering for 9 months, questioning the Lord’s abilities and intentions to make good on His promise of deliverance, God was slowly laying the groundwork to demonstrate His superiority over all of the so-called Egyptian gods.

And as a bonus, by the time the final plague comes, the Egyptian people are so weary of the escalating devastation they’ve experienced, and so fearful of what disaster might come next, that they jump at the chance to help the Israelites “pack their bags”, hastening their exit from their presence.

The Israelites end up with clothing and silver and gold from the Egyptians and the text says that it is in this way that the Israelites plundered the Egyptians on their way out of town.

So, the next time you find that God is not responding as quickly as you want, or when you think things aren’t happening in the way that makes sense to you, remember that we tend to think linearly and very one-dimensionally. But God is multi-faceted and He thinks multi-dimensionally. He’s aware of every factor and the purposes that He’s working to accomplish are likely far greater than we can even comprehend.

Perhaps God is working out a story that’s exponentially more amazing than the one we would create for ourselves if we were writing the script. That was certainly true for the Israelites.


When is a time when you thought God wasn’t working out circumstances the way you thought made sense to you? What was the situation? How did things ultimately work out?

What are some examples in your life when things worked out differently than you expected but you came to understand God’s greater purposes in the end?

Why do you think we have such a hard time waiting on God and trusting His ultimate plan even though we have countless examples from the Scriptures and our own lives that demonstrate that God’s plans and purposes are perfect?

What is something that you are struggling to trust God for in your life right now because it’s not working out in a way that would make sense to you or it’s not working out as quickly as you think it should? What can you learn and apply from this passage that will help you to trust the Lord for the outcome?


Photo by Yigithan Bal from Pexels

2 Replies to “Understanding the Plagues in Exodus”

  1. Well im dealing with people who don’t even think Moses existed

    But my answer to that has been there would be no Isreal today if Moses and the exodus were not historical

    Aron Ra can really be difficult to contend with


    1. I find it interesting how some people are selective in how they apply traditional historical evidence. For some, the Bible doesn’t get the same treatment as other ancient documents in terms of its historicity simply because the person has already determined in their mind that it is in the same category as fairy tale.

      But you’re right, the nation of Israel exists and the fact that it exists despite its very turbulent history with many antagonistic neighbors and enemies is itself pretty miraculous.


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