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All citations are to the King James (Authorised) Version, unless noted otherwise.
6: ‛[O]n the morrow . . . all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.’
19: ‛Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle . . . hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.’
According to verse 6, all of the cattle in Egypt died under the fifth plague. Why then are Egyptian cattle mentioned in verse 19, in connection with the seventh plague, if there were none left?
Answer: To put these events into context, we quote Exodus 9: 3-7.
3 Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain [pestilence – Ed.].
4 And the LORD shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children’s of Israel.
5 And the LORD appointed a set time, saying, To morrow the LORD shall do this thing in the land.
6 And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.
7 And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
In this verse, livestock is enumerated as horses, asses, camels, oxen (including beef cattle), and sheep. The word ‛cattle’ (miqneh) in verses 4, 6, and 7, also denotes livestock. We will use ‛livestock’ instead of ‛cattle’ throughout this article.
When the pestilence was over, Pharaoh sent agents to enquire about the effects in Goshen, where the Israelites lived. He learned that none of their stock had died, just as God had promised they would not (v. 4). But, according to verse 6, ‛all the [livestock] of Egypt died’. Since verse 19 asserts that there were livestock still present in Egypt after the event, the statement of verse 4 – that they ‛all’ died – might appear to be an error, as critics of the Bible assert, as though the narrator had ‛lost the plot’ in the meantime.
The explanation for the discrepancy is that the statement, ‛all the livestock of Egypt died’, is directed at ownership. Of both groups of livestock – Israelitish and Egyptian – only those owned by the Egyptians were affected. To express it another way in a paraphrase: ‛all the livestock that died were of Egypt: but of the livestock of the children of Israel died not one.’
This permutation allows for the presence of ‛livestock’ (miqneh) and ‛beasts’ (bhemah, large quadrupeds) in Egypt during the sixth plague (vs. 9, 10) and the seventh plague (vs. 19-25).
Psalm 78: 48 recounts the Egyptians’ experience in a parallelism:
‛Cattle’ is here the translation of the Hebrew word, b’iyr, and can also be rendered ‛beast’. The word ‛flocks’ refers to ‛livestock’. ‛Hot thunderbolts’ convey in the Hebrew the idea of lightning, figurative ‛burning coals’.
Another proposed solution which has some credence is that ‛all’ the Egyptian livestock which died (v. 6), were all those ‛in the field’ (v. 3), and that those in stalls or houses were not affected.
However, there are at least three difficulties with this approach.
First, verse 19 instructs the Egyptian farmers to
gather thy [livestock], and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die. (Italics added – Ed.)
Now, if we assume that all the animals ‛in the field’ were killed by the murrain in plague number five, and then an unknown number of animals (and men) were afflicted with boils in plague number six, we would have to suppose that shortly after these double catastrophes the Egyptian farmers, under the ‛business as normal’ approach, turned out all their sheltered animals into the field (a smaller number by now, surely), apparently not having learned anything from the previous onslaughts.
Second, since Jehovah here graciously issues notice to the Egyptian farmers before launching plague number seven – He did not issue such notice on the previous two occasions – there is at least a hint that He will now step up the pressure. The implication is that the coming plague of fiery hail would be more devastating than the previous two pestilences. In other words, ‛you will now lose all your animals, unless . . .’ etc.
Third, the reason the animals had to be brought in from the field is that the mechanical damage caused by the hailstones could be protected against only by sheltering them (and the herdsmen). This was not the case with the pestilences of plagues five and six, which, like most diseases, strike at random, and are rarely total in their effects.
It is worth noting that Jehovah condescended to warn the Egyptian farmers to protect their livestock by hurrying them indoors, and that some had sufficient regard for the warning as to heed it (vs. 20, 21).
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