The ten plagues against Egypt recall the ten utterances of God at creation: the ten appearances of ויאמר (vayomer; “and he said”) in Genesis 1 underscore the Lord’s creativity, and Exodus presents ten plagues by which God undoes that very creation to free the Hebrews from slavery. Each plague corresponds to and reverses a specific creative act, and the final plagues—darkness and the death of the firstborn—are no exception [for details on how plagues 1-8 fit into this creation schema, click here… and here… and here… and here!]. In fact, the plague of darkness undoes God’s very first act of giving light to a darkened world. Then, the final plague undoes God’s final act of creation; the deaths of the firstborn undo the emergence of the first humans on the sixth day. In sending the plagues, God is willing to cancel creation to ensure emancipation for Israel.
The ninth plague covers Egypt with a darkness that recalls the primordial darkness prior to divine intervention. According to Genesis, “In the beginning… the earth was unformed and void, and darkness (חשׁך; hoshek) was over the face of the deep” (Gen 1:2). God meets the darkness by calling the first light into the world, and then separates “the light from the darkness (חשׁך; hoshek)” (1:4). In Egypt, God allows the darkness to encroach on the light, thereby reversing the first creative act: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the skies that there may be darkness (חשׁך; hoshek) upon the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.’ And Moses stretched out his hand to the skies and there was thick darkness (חשׁך; hoshek) upon all the land of Egypt for three days… but all children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Exod 10:21-22). In allowing light to remain in Israel’s midst, God once again separated the light from the darkness, just as God did at creation. This time, however, God reverses the creative process by bringing darkness into an otherwise enlightened land.
After God sends the tenth and final plague, all the firstborn Egyptians perish, so that “there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house in which there was not death (מת; met)” (Exod 12:30). Along with the firstborn human beings, even the firstborn animals among Egypt’s livestock expire (12:29). This description of death inverts God’s creative work on the sixth day—the day on which God creates both livestock and humanity, and the one day that includes the phrase “the breath of life” (נפשׁ חיה; nefesh hayah; Gen 1:30). More, God breathes “the breath of life” into humanity in Genesis 2:7. Insofar as both animals and humans receive “life” on Day Six, the death at the final plague undoes the initial creation. Finally, when Pharaoh finally orders the Israelites to leave, he adds to Moses and Aaron, “Take your flocks and herds… and be gone, and bless (ברך; barakh) me also!” (Exod 12:32). This pharaonic reference to “blessing” echoes God’s decision to “bless” (ברך; barakh) both humans and animals on the sixth day (Gen 1:22, 28). In Exodus, however, Egypt’s king asks for blessing in the midst of death, whereas God bestows blessing through life. In these ways, the final plagues reverse the first days of Genesis, and underscore God’s willingness to undo creation when it leads to Israel’s salvation.