“I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.” –Exodus 7:4
Okay’s let’s set the stage for the battle about to commence.
First, although we tend to speak of “10 plagues” or “10 strokes” against Egypt, actually there were only 9 plagues or strokes concluded by a capstone 10th plague.
The nine plagues occur in sets of 3 with each set being progressively aggressive in nature.
The 1st Set of Three Strokes
Water to blood
Gnats or lice
What was characteristic of these initial three strokes was that they affected everybody in Egypt without discrimination: Egyptians, Hebrews, and temporary visitors.
These first three plagues were also relatively mild in nature, causing much discomfort to the entire population but nothing life-threatening.
The 2nd Set of Three Strokes
This second set of three plagues were ONLY visited upon the Egyptians.
Thus, we see here that God is dividing and separating His people from everybody else in Egypt.
This would also serve as a strong witness to the common people of Egypt as they realized that this powerful Hebrew God was making a distinction between His people and everyone else.
The 3rd Set of Three Strokes
Thunder and hail
Again these three plagues were only brought upon the Egyptians and were of a much more violent nature than all the preceding plagues.
The Final Stroke
Death of the firstborn
This plague in which God killed ALL of Egypt’s firstborn was the final judgement upon Egypt.
It also commemorated the first Passover.
We notice an interesting pattern in each of these three sets of plagues.
The first two plagues were always preceded by warnings to Pharaoh.
So before plagues 1&2, 4&5, and 7&8 occurred, Moses and Aaron would visit Pharaoh and give him a forewarning.
This would create the illusion before Pharaoh and his men that it was actually Aaron and Moses who were causing the series of disasters.
However, Moses and Aaron did NOT appear to Pharaoh to warn him before plagues 3, 6, and 9 occurred.
Thus, it seems like God was using the 3rd of each series of 3 plagues to demonstrate to Pharaoh that it was YHVH, the God of Israel and NOT His mediator Moses nor His prophet Aaron, who was really the author of these calamities.
Although these plagues were manifestations which could normally occur in nature from time to time, what made them so remarkably different is that they occurred at Moses’s commands and were of a much more severe nature than had ever occurred before.
What God was demonstrating to Egypt is that He was in absolute control of every natural process known to them.
Interestingly, although the plagues did occur one after another, they did NOT occur in rapid succession.
Various scholars have estimated that from the 1st plague to the final killing of the firstborns, anywhere from between eight to ten months passed.
So Pharaoh and his cronies had plenty of time to consider what was happening and whether they should respond with repentance or rebellion.
Now the Hebrew word for plague is NEGA.
It is the generic word for being “struck” as in a blow being inflicted upon someone or something.
However, it carries with it the idea of punishment, that the person or thing being struck is due to retaliation for a prior offense committed.
A NEGA could be the death of a loved one, the loss of one’s wealth, and/or sickness.
And of course, NEGA also includes earthquakes, pestilence and violent storms etcetera, which is what we normally think of when we hear the word plague.