Plagues five through eight negatively impact animals, humans, and plant life. Each of these aspects of creation feature prominently in the first chapter of Genesis. Once again, the plagues undo the work that God did in organizing the world. In choosing these particular plagues to unleash upon Egypt, God makes a very specific point: Israel’s freedom from slavery is so important for God that the Lord is willing to temporarily unravel all of the work that was done in creating the cosmos.

According to Genesis, on the third day “the earth brought forth vegetation, plants (עשׂב; ‘esev) yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind” (Gen 1:12). In the seventh plague, hail, the plants that the earth brought forth at creation are destroyed: “The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, from humans to beasts. And the hail struck down every plant (עשׂב; ‘esev) of the field” (Exod 9:25). Likewise, the locusts of the eighth plague “ate all the plants (עשׂב; ‘esev) of the land and all the fruit of the trees (פרי העץ; peri ha’ets) that the hail had left” (Exod 10:15). This verse echoes God’s creation of vegetation, both “plants” (עשׂב; ‘esev) and “fruit trees (פרי עץ; ets peri) bearing fruit” (Gen 1:11).

Just as the seventh and eighth plagues attack the plants that God made on Day Three, the fifth plague upon the livestock corresponds to God’s creation of animals on Day Six. As a result of the fifth plague “all the livestock (מקנה; miqneh) of the Egyptians died” (Exod 9:6). Similarly, on the sixth day of creation “God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock (בהמה; behemah) according to their kinds” (Gen 1:25). Although the Hebrew words for “livestock” are different in these verses, מקנה and בהמה are equivalent terms to describe animals. Thus, the fifth plague undoes the creation of animal life.

Returning briefly to the plague of hail, notice that the text explicates that the hail struck down “from humans to beasts” (מאדם עד-בהמה me’adam ad-behemah; Exod 9:25). The same phrase appears in the description of the sixth plague, boils: “Moses threw [ashes] into the air, and it became boils breaking out as sores from humans to beasts (מאדם עד-בהמה me’adam ad-behemah; Exod 9:10). The reason that this phrase appears in this grouping of plagues is because it echoes the fact that both humans and animals are created on the same day (see Gen 1:24-26). Moreover, the only facets of creation that God blesses are the humans and the animals (cf. Gen 1:22, 28). Insofar as all the sentient creation, from humans to beasts, is blessed, the phrase used in the context of Exodus shows that God uses the plagues of boils and hail to “un-bless” the humans and beasts of Egypt.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. I think it's because he adopted a 'I created it, I can un-create it' stance in punishing the Egyptians. He gave, and from those who persecuted his chosen people, he took away.
  2. What a timely offering -- God's gift to humanity: the redeeming nature of plagues.
    Will the current coronavirus pandemic be seen years hence, similarly?
  3. It seems the "undoing" is not in the same order as the "doing". Any reason? Great concept. Not see it before in 44 years of study. Thanks for your work.
    • Thanks for reading, Bee. Yes, the out-of-order nature of the plagues adds to the narrative feeling of disorder in Egypt.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

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