God sent the plagues upon Egypt so that He could show His great might and superiority over all creation.
Because Pharaoh resisted Moses’ and Aaron’s message from GOD to allow the Israelites to go into the wilderness and worship Him, GOD sent a sequence of plagues upon Egypt. The plagues rose in severity until Pharaoh could no longer resist the will of the LORD.
- Water turned to blood — GOD turned all the rivers, ponds, and even water in vessels into blood. The Egyptian sorcerers duplicated the miracle and Pharaoh hardened his heart.
- Frogs — Frogs covered the land, even in the peoples’ houses. The sorcerers duplicated the miracle and Pharaoh hardened his heart.
- Lice — GOD sent lice on all four-footed animals and on people throughout the land. The sorcerers were unable to duplicate the miracle, admitting, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.
- Flies — GOD sent flies upon Egypt except for Goshen where Israel dwelt. Pharaoh sought a compromise, allowing Israel to sacrifice within Egypt’s borders. Moses refused. Pharaoh agreed to let Israel go, but after Moses prayed for GOD to remove the flies, Pharaoh went back on his promise and refused to allow Israel to leave.
- Death of cattle — Cattle owned by Egyptians died, but cattle owned by Israelites was unharmed.
- Boils — Boils broke out upon humans and animals, so badly that the sorcerers couldn’t stand before Moses.
- Hail — Moses warned Pharaoh that GOD was sending future plagues “into your very heart, and on your servants and your people.” GOD told Pharaoh through Moses that Pharaoh had been preserved that, through him, GOD might show His strength, that His name might be declared in all the earth. GOD sent hail so badly that it killed all animals and people that were out in the fields. According to Exodus 9:24 (OSB), fire was mingled in with the hail. Yet in Goshen where Israel resided, there was no hail. Pharaoh claimed repentance but again hardened his heart after Moses prayed for the hail to stop.
- Locusts — Pharaoh tried to negotiate Israel leaving their possessions, and then the women and children behind. Moses declined. Locusts covered the land and consumed what was left of the produce and goodness of the land. They ate every herb and fruit. Nothing green remained. Pharaoh confessed sin but later refused to release Israel.
- Darkness — Darkness kept everyone confined to their beds for three days. Yet Israel had light in their homes. Pharaoh again attempted to negotiate, telling Moses that the people could leave but their cattle had to stay. Moses declined, telling Pharaoh that they needed animals for the sacrifice. Pharaoh told Moses that Moses wouldn’t see his face any longer. Pharaoh was right.
- Death of the Firstborn — GOD warned Moses that Pharaoh would drive Israel out of the land after this final plague. He told Israel to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver, gold, and clothing. At midnight, GOD sent the death angel to kill the firstborn in every Egyptian household. With this, Pharaoh sent word to Moses and Aaron to get out. And they did!
As GOD explained to Moses what would happen with this final plague, He said:
12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute vengeance; I am the Lord.Exodus 12:12 OSB
From Exodus, we can see that there were supernatural forces involved in the opposition to GOD’s plan for Israel. The sorcerers were somehow able to duplicate some of the plagues. From where did they receive this ability? Likewise, Pharaoh seems to be unreasonably bent on preventing Israel from leaving their slavery in Egypt. For whatever reasons, GOD used the plagues as a judgment upon the assigned gods of Egypt.
What GOD did with the plagues made Him famous and feared among all nations.
When Israel invaded Canaan, the Gibeonites used this awareness of GOD’s reputation to deceive Joshua into making a treaty with them:
9 When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard everything the Lord did to Jericho and Ai, 10 indeed they also devised a crafty plan. So they went and supplied themselves with provisions and prepared themselves. They took old sacks on their shoulders and old, torn, and patched bottles of wine. 11 The upper part of their shoes and sandals were old and crudely patched on their feet; and the clothing they wore was worn out. The bread of their provision was dry, dirty, and moldy. 12 Then they came to Joshua at Israel’s camp in Gilgal and said to Joshua and Israel, “We have come from a far land. Now then, make a covenant with us.” 13 The children of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us. How then can I make a covenant with you?‘ 14 So they replied to Joshua, “We are your servants.” Joshua then said to them, “Who are you, and where do you come from?” 15 So they said, “Your servants have come from a very distant land in the name of the Lord your God; for we heard of His name, and everything He did in Egypt, 16 and everything He did to the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon and to Og the king of Bashan, who dwelled in Ashtaroth and Edrei.Joshua 9:9-16 OSB
Much later, Jeremiah prophesied that GOD was going to do such great things that people would no longer even refer to GOD by what He had done to Egypt, but by those greater things:
14 “Therefore behold, days are coming,” says the Lord, “when no more will they say, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ 15 but, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the house of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the countries where they were driven out.’ For I will restore to them their land which I gave to their fathers.Jeremiah 16:14-15 OSB
Arguably, the plagues were more important for Israel than for anyone else. As Israel was about to enter Canaan, Moses warned the people what would happen if they failed to honor their covenant with GOD:
58 “If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law written in this book, to fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will bring upon you and your seed extraordinary plagues—great and marvelous plagues—and evil and chronic diseases. 60 Moreover He will bring back on you all the evil pain of Egypt of which you were in dread, and they shall cling to you. 61 Also every sickness and every plague not written in this book of the law will the Lord bring upon you, until He destroys you. 62 You shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven in multitude, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.Deuteronomy 28:58-62 OSB
In every way, the plagues GOD brought upon Pharaoh and Egypt put the world—the second world, the one ruled by angels—on notice that He was the Boss and everyone else must submit and humble themselves before His hand or else GOD’s hand would force them to kneel in submission, as He had done with Pharaoh. “Easy way or hard way, your choice.”