It’s a showdown of the gods—Yahweh versus Pharaoh and the idols of Egypt. The prize: the nation of Israel.

Yahweh is Israel’s champion, and he fights for his people’s salvation by sending 10 plagues to Egypt. Knowing Pharaoh won’t let the Israelites go unless he has no other choice (Exod 3:19), God lands these “critical hits” on the Egyptians’ physical and spiritual ways of life. They are not just random tricks—they’re strategic displays of Yahweh’s superiority over Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods.  

Although we know the plagues attack the Egyptian gods (12:12), the Bible doesn’t give us details about these gods. However, the Bible does detail the effects of each hit on the nation of Egypt—the nation which was supposed to be Pharaoh’s “divine” responsibility. Each plague exposes Pharaoh as stubborn, weak, and downright inferior to the God of the Hebrews. And each plague brings the Israelites closer to the escape they have been crying out for.

Here’s a look at how God fights for his people—both physically and spiritually—through the plagues.

Plague: Water to Blood
Target: Nile, Water
Shows God’s superiority to: Hapi (god of the Nile’s inundation)
The Egyptians depend on the Nile for drinking water, fish, and irrigation. This plague leaves them with a crippling shortage of water.

Plague: Frogs
Target: Houses, Bakeries
Shows God’s superiority to: Heqet (frog goddess of fertility)1
The frogs get everywhere: in houses, bed, ovens, and kneading bowls. They completely cover the land.

Plague: Gnats
Target: People, Cattle
Shows God’s superiority to: Geb (god of earth)
The dust of the earth becomes a plague of gnats (or possibly lice). The insects bite and irritate the people and animals of the land.

Plague: Swarms
Target: People, Houses, Ground Shows
God’s superiority to: Geb
Huge swarms of insects (most often translated “flies”) raid Egypt—except for the land of Goshen, where the Israelites live.

Plague: Pestilence
Target: Cattle Shows
God’s superiority to: Hat-hot (cow goddess) and Apis (bull god)1
The Lord kills off the Egyptians’ donkeys, camels, horses, and sheep—all the livestock. This plague slows transportation and field work and depletes another food source.

Plague: Boils
Target: People, Cattle Shows
God’s superiority to: possibly Heka (god of magic summoned in Egyptian medicine)2
The Lord fights oppression with oppression, plaguing Israel’s captors with sores so painful that Pharaoh’s magicians cannot stand as they face Moses.

Plague: Fiery Hail
Target: People, Cattle, Crops
Shows God’s superiority to: Nun (sky goddess) and Osiris (god of the underworld, whose rising out of the underworld is linked to the land’s fertility)

God rains down hail mixed with fire on all of Egypt—except Goshen. This time, the Egyptians have a choice: Fear God and stay safe inside, or side with Pharaoh and die in the fields.

Plague: Locusts
Target: Crops Shows
God’s superiority to: possibly Shu (god of air) and Osiris
Yahweh sends a great wind that blows in the largest swarm of locusts in Egypt’s history. They eat everything the other plagues haven’t already destroyed.

Jeffrey Kranz writes, designs, and consults at OverviewBible.com. He’s bent on showing off the whole Bible for how interesting and applicable it is—and getting more people to study it themselves.

Jeffrey Kranz writes, designs, and consults at OverviewBible.com. He’s bent on showing off the whole Bible for how interesting and applicable it is—and getting more people to study it themselves.

Plague: Darkness
Target: Sun
Shows God’s superiority to: Re (sun god)
The Lord sends a terrifying darkness—so dark that the Egyptians can’t even leave their houses. But there’s still daylight in Goshen.

Plague: Death of the Firstborn
Target: The Line of Pharaoh Shows
God’s superiority to: Pharaoh, who was considered a god
The Lord sends the destroyer, an angel of death, to kill every firstborn in the land, unless the household observes Passover. Pharaoh’s heir to the throne dies, and Pharaoh temporarily relents—allowing Israel to leave Egypt.   

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