What Are the 10 Plagues of Egypt?

What might they mean for your life today?

Ten Plagues
The 10 Plagues of Egypt.

Print Collector / Getty Images

The Hebrew people had suffered as slaves in Egypt for decades when God sent them a deliverer named Moses. But Pharaoh, Egypt's arrogant king, wasn't about to let this valuable source of free labor go. After all, Pharaoh believed he was a god, and who could oppose a god? That's when the God of Moses unleashed his unbeatable power. The 10 plagues of Egypt left Pharaoh's country in ruins and showed that there was no one in all the earth like Jehovah.

Key Takeaways: The 10 Plagues of Egypt

  • The 10 plagues are referenced in Exodus 5:3, 7:14-12:36; 1 Samuel 4:8; and Amos 4:10.
  • For more than 80 years, the Hebrew people lived in severe oppression under Pharaoh and the Egyptians until God sent Moses and 10 plagues to pave their way to freedom.
  • The story of the 10 plagues of Egypt reveals two things: the God of Israel is the One True God with complete authority over all the earth, and he hears the cries of his followers.

Summary of the Bible Story

As the book of Exodus opens, the descendants of Israel live in Egypt and continue to prosper, until a pharaoh "who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8) rises to power and forces them into servitude. For decades, the Hebrews labor under deplorable conditions until God raises up Moses to lead them out of bondage and into freedom.

Yahweh sends 10 plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The plagues are both warnings, offering the ungodly an opportunity to repent, and divine judgments that go beyond any natural explanation. Ultimately, the plagues result in salvation and freedom for the people of God.

Seventh Plague of Egypt - Hail
Seventh Plague of Egypt by John Martin (1789-1854). Public Domain 

Before each plague, Moses asks Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go into the desert to worship the Lord. After each plague, Pharaoh's response is the same: he hardens his heart, stubbornly refusing to obey God

Finally, God sends a plague so devastating that Pharaoh releases the enslaved Jews, who escape through the miraculous parting of the Red Sea.

The 10 Plagues of Egypt

The plagues take place over a period of at least a few weeks. Each one lasts a minimum of a day, with a small amount of time elapsing between plagues.

The Waters of the Nile Turn to Blood

In the first plague, Aaron, brother of Moses, strikes the Nile River with his staff, and the waters turn to blood. The fish die, the water stinks, and the people can't drink it. Even water in jars and pots is polluted with blood. By their secret arts, the magicians of Pharaoh manage to duplicate this act.

Frogs Cover the Land

The second plague brings millions of frogs out of the river, canals, and ponds, until they completely cover the land, even entering the homes of the Egyptians. Again, the king's sorcerers use black magic to produce frogs.

The plague of frogs
The plague of frogs begins in Egypt, circa 1475 BC. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Gnat Infestation

In the third plague, Aaron strikes the dust and it becomes gnats, infesting men and beasts. (The King James Version calls this a plague of lice rather than gnats.) The magicians, not able to duplicate this miracle, say, "This is the finger of God." (Exodus 8:19, ESV). Still, Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to let the people go.

Swarms of Flies

The fourth plague brings swarms of flies to invade the homes of the Egyptians and cover the ground, but the insects affect only Egypt and not the land of Goshen where the Hebrews live. Pharaoh asks Moses to intercede and stop the swarm of flies, but he tries to set conditions on how far the people can go into the desert to make sacrifices to God.

Livestock Epidemic

In the fifth plague, all the horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep in Egypt die of pestilence, but the curse does not touch the animals of the Hebrews. Pharaoh still won't back down.

Outbreak of Boils

For the sixth plague, God tells Moses to throw handfuls of soot into the air. The fine dust breaks out into festering boils on all the Egyptians and the animals throughout the land. So painful are the boils that the magicians can no longer stand before Moses.

Violent Hail Storm Mixed With Fire

A severe hail storm mixed with fire falls upon Egypt, killing people, animals, and plants. This plague is the first to cause direct human fatalities.

In the seventh plague, God explains to Pharaoh, through Moses, the reason for the plagues: 

But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16, NIV)

Interestingly, the Bible notes that by now, some Egyptians have begun to fear the word of Yahweh and heed his warning (Exodus 9:20). Pharaoh even admits that he has sinned and that God is in the right. But, as the storm stops, he changes his mind again and will not let the people go.

Swarms of Locusts

With the eighth plague come locusts such as the world has never seen. They smother Egypt, eating plants and trees, so that not a green thing remains. When Pharaoh calls in Moses, the king admits to sinning "once."

Darkness Covers the Land

The ninth plague causes pitch blackness to blanket Egypt for three days. The darkness is so dense that people can't see one another. Remarkably, the Hebrews have light in their part of the land. Once again, Pharaoh tries to dictate conditions on Israel's departure by ordering that their flocks be left behind. 

Death of the First-Born of Egypt
The Death of the First-Born of Egypt, 1838-1839. Found in the collection of Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. Heritage Images / Contributor / Getty Images

Death of the Firstborn

Finally, God warns of a tenth plague, so devastating that Pharaoh will release the enslaved Jews. First, God instructs all the people of Israel to sacrifice lambs to him, paint the blood on their doorposts, and eat the roasted meat before morning. The Lord's avenging angel will see the blood sign and pass over those houses.

This tenth plague marks the observance of the first Jewish Passover, a tradition that continues to this day. The Jews ask the Egyptian people for gold, silver, jewelry, and clothes, and they gladly give it, wanting them to go. God has a plan to use those materials later. During the night, the tenth plague descends, bringing the death of the firstborn child and animal in every Egyptian household. Even Pharaoh's firstborn son dies.

The outcry from the Egyptians is so great that Pharaoh commands Israel to go immediately, and take everything with them.

Purpose of the 10 Plagues

The plagues were designed to discredit the false gods of Egypt and reveal their powerlessness before Jehovah, the mighty God of Israel. This objective is especially evident in the first, second, fifth, and ninth plagues. The Nile, considered sacred, was the first thing to be affected. The frog-headed god, Ptha, and frog goddess, Heka, were no match for Jehovah. Apis, the sacred bull, could not protect his kind from a deadly epidemic. And Ra, the sun god, was unable to pierce the darkness in which God had wrapped Egypt. God exposed the futility of idolatry and worship of false gods.

In addition, the plagues served to discredit the religious leaders of Egypt. All of Pharaoh's magicians, sorcerers, and wise men were helpless against the power of Jehovah. Pharaoh himself showed his total lack of integrity, stubbornness, arrogance, and impotence. The plagues were also God's judgment on the land of Egypt for the years of mistreatment of his people.

God used the plagues to free his people from bondage and convince them of his sovereignty and singular divinity. The plagues were a stunning visual display of God's tremendous power.

Lessons

Egypt's false gods were powerless before the One True God of Israel. Today, as then, anything people put more importance on than the Lord is idolatry, a grave sin.

God used Pharaoh to show the world his omnipotent authority. No matter what happens, the Lord is in control. God directs history to accomplish his supreme plan.

We can trust in God's care. Whether through performing awesome miracles or through quiet, individual intervention, God always helps those who love and obey him.