Holiday Traditions, History & Celebrations

The 10 Plagues

Why are the 10 plagues significant?

When the Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt repeatedly refused to grant the Israelites their freedom, God delivered 10 plagues onto the Egyptians to force the Pharaoh’s hand in liberating the Israelites.

What are the 10 plagues?

1. Blood

According to the Book of Exodus, Aaron, the founder of the Israelite priesthood, struck the Nile river with his staff and all the water turned to blood. The river was rendered undrinkable, all the fish inhabiting the river died and the stench exuded from the blood was foul.

2. Frogs

When the Pharaoh refused to grant the Israelites their freedom after the deliverance of the first plague, the second plague was inflicted on Egypt: an endless swarm of frogs. An abundance of frogs emerged from the river and covered every inch of land. There was nowhere for the Egyptians to turn without confronting the frogs. 

3. Lice

To no avail, the Israelites were still refused salvation. Next, Aaron, in accordance with God’s request, struck the lands with dust so that lice crawled out from the ground and buried themselves into every crevice of the Earth, human and animal. 

4. Wild animals or flies 

In different translations of the Book of Exodus, the fourth plague either refers to the release of wild animals or swarms of flies to destroy everything in their path. During this plague, God made sure to distinguish between the lands the Egyptians resided in and where the Israelites lived so that this plague was very clearly his doing and his way of sending a message to free his people. 

5. A plague against livestock

During the fifth plague, God inflicted a severe pestilence onto all the livestock inhabiting the land. The Egyptians’ horses, cattle, camels and sheep all perished while the Israelites’ animals remained untouched. 

6. Boils 

When not even the death of their precious livestock caused the Pharaoh to waiver in his adamance to refuse the Israelites their freedom, God called on Moses to take the soot from furnaces and scatter it towards the Heavens in the Pharaoh’s direction. In doing so, boils broke out on all the Egyptians. 

7. Hail

During the seventh plague, hail rained down on the entire land of Egypt, touching every man and animal. Refuge could only be sought behind closed walls, and anything left to the elements was relentlessly destroyed by the hail. 

8. Locust

Before the eighth plague struck Egypt, Moses went before Pharaoh and once again asked for his people’s freedom. The Pharaoh said he would allow for the men to leave Egypt but the women and children must stay behind. Moses said God would accept nothing less than the complete freedom of all his people, and the Pharaoh refused this. Consequently, God handed down his eighth plague, a swarm of locusts which covered the face of the Earth from the sun to the grounds. Their sight was rendered useless against the locusts that covered the sun and surrounded them, and the locusts devoured every plant that managed to survive the previous plagues. 

9. Three days of darkness

Before the ninth plague struck Egypt, Moses went before Pharaoh to once again ask for his people’s freedom. The Pharaoh said he would grant their freedom if they left behind their livestock. Moses refused and said God would only accept complete, unconditional liberation of the Israelites. When the Pharaoh said no,an impenetrable darkness was cast over all the land for three days and any last wisps of light were squelched. 

10. Death of the firstborn son

Despite the administration of nine brutal plagues on the Pharaoh’s people, he was unrelenting and refused to grant the Israelites their freedom. In response to this, God was to cast one final plague so devastating that it would leave the Pharaoh no choice but to immediately free the Israelites. Before this final plague, God told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and mark its blood across their doors so that God would pass over them when handing down this final plague. On the fifteenth day of Nisan–the first day of Passover–the firstborn of every Egyptian family met their death while the Israelites were protected from such a fate.