Question 20: How did the Egyptian cattle die in Exodus 11 if they already died in Exodus 9?

***DISCLAIMER***The following is far from an exhaustive post. Instead, it make a best effort to try and answer the question.

Recently, someone asked me about an alleged contradiction in Scripture. The relevant texts are Exodus 9 and Exodus 11. What follows is the question followed by my response.

QUESTION

Hi. Please explain how it is possible that The Egyptian livestock died 3 times in Exodus 9:6. “So the Lord did this thing on the next day, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the sons of Israel, not one died.” And then in Exodus 9:20-21, it says, “20 The one among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses; 21 but he who paid no regard to the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.” How could they shelter the livestock when the Lord killed it earlier?

And then in Exodus 11:4-5, it says, “4 Then Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of cattle as well.” Weren’t the cattle already dead? How then is the LORD going to kill all the firstborns of the Egyptian cattle? Thanks.

MY RESPONSE

As it pertains to Exodus 9, one must read the passage in context. For your convenience, I have bolded the verses in question (vv. 6, 20-21; NASB):

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and speak to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For if you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them, behold, the hand of the Lord will come with a very severe pestilence on your livestock which are in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the herds, and on the flocks. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing will die of all that belongs to the sons of Israel.”’” The Lord set a definite time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” So the Lord did this thing on the next day, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the sons of Israel, not one diedPharaoh sent, and behold, there was not even one of the livestock of Israel dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

The Plague of Boils

Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take for yourselves handfuls of soot from a kiln, and let Moses throw it toward the sky in the sight of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and will become boils breaking out with sores on man and beast through all the land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from a kiln, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses threw it toward the sky, and it became boils breaking out with sores on man and beast. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians. 12 And the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses. 13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 14 For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. 15 For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth.16 But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. 17 Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go.

The Plague of Hail

18 Behold, about this time tomorrow, I will send a very heavy hail, such as has not been seen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 19 Now therefore send, bring your livestock and whatever you have in the field to safety. Every man and beast that is found in the field and is not brought home, when the hail comes down on them, will die.”’” 20 The one among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses; 21 but he who paid no regard to the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.

As you can see, the LORD is speaking to Moses (v. 1). The LORD clearly states that He “will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing will die of all that belongs to the sons of Israel” (v. 4). In verse six, the LORD makes clear that “all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the sons of Israel, not one died.” In verses 20-21, it shows that “the one among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses; but he who paid no regard to the word of the LORD left his servants and his livestock in the field.”

The Bible does not quite explain how the Egyptians had livestock available for killing despite verse 6’s clearly stating “all the livestock of Egypt died.” However, several possibilities exist. First, the Bible does not state how much time elapsed between the fifth and seventh plagues. It is possible the Egyptians acquired some of the Israelite flocks during that timeframe. Second, the word “all” in verse 6 might have been used in a restrictive sense to mean “the great majority”, “all in a particular area” or a related phrase. Third, verses 19 and 20 state “that those who “feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh” were told to get their livestock out of the fields. Some scholars mention that these Egyptians may have been warned about the previous plague of pestilence (although it was not recorded), so they still had all of their livestock left. In this scenario, God warned them to put all of their livestock in barns so they wouldn’t be killed by hail. More than one of these possibilities may be correct (in addition to a couple others mentioned in the hyperlink). If that is the case, there really is no contradiction. Furthermore, because some cattle survived the plagues mentioned in chapter 9, the LORD is able to kill the Egyptian cattle mentioned in Exodus 11:5.

I hope you find this helpful.

 

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4 thoughts on “Question 20: How did the Egyptian cattle die in Exodus 11 if they already died in Exodus 9?

  1. Actually it is easier than that. The plague in 9:6 effected all the live stock, but in the Interlinear Bible it lists among the live stock camels, donkeys, horses and cattle, but only cattle died. So later when all of the livestock die it is rest of them. Later when the first born die it says all of the animals which would include sheeps, goats, cats, etc. The reason is that the Egyptians had a god for live stock but cows had an additional god. They were held in high regard so they were the first to be smote by God. I hope this helps.

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      1. The Bible doesnt list the specific gods that were being attacked. It only says the God was showing himself to be above all other gods. Historically speaking you can look at the different gods that the Egyptians worshipped and it gets easy to see why those specific plagues were used. Their was a god for the Nile, for the sun, crops, livestock, bulls, frogs, protection for children, etc. In using those specific events the gods of Egypt were shown to be inferior to the one true God.

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