Scripture: “For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.” Exodus 9:2-4 ESV
Observation: This fifth plague marks the first time the animals of God’s creation would face death—a harbinger of the tenth and final plague and Pharoah’s ultimate fate in the Red Sea. While one could question how any livestock would then remain to face death under the seventh plague (hail that killed both man and beast in the field), this plague does not take the life of all livestock, only those “in the field” (above verse 3). Thus, those in barns remained to face their demise by hail when later grazing outdoors.
Here also, we read that the hand of Yahweh inflicted this plague. While Pharaoh’s magicians understood the finger of God evoked the third plague, in this instance, with greater force, the Lord strikes with his mighty hand. The Bible’s authors use this expression only six other times:
- 1 Samuel 5:11: when the hand of God inflicted the Philistines with tumors and death for defiling the Ark of the Covenant
- 2 Chronicles 3:12: when Hezekiah led the people to repentance and obedience to God’s laws
- Job 19:21 and 27:11: when Job cried out to the Lord in his suffering and later refuted his friends’ presumptuous judgment toward him
- Ecclesiastes 2:24 and 9:1: when Solomon accredited the joys and sorrows of life to the hand of God
There is one other occasion when the finger of a human hand (representing the hand of God) writes on the wall of the palace of King Belshazzar of Babylon as he mocks the Hebrew God and desecrates the sacred cups absconded from the Jerusalem temple. That night, as the writing predicted, Belshazzar dies at the hand of Darius the Mede.
One other important observation, Moses tells Pharaoh in advance that Yahweh will distinguish (set apart) and protect the livestock of his people from the plague. Once all the Egyptian animals die, Pharaoh sends scouts to verify whether the Hebrew God spared the Hebrew cattle from disease. And even with confirmation, Pharoah continues in his stubborn ways.
Takeaway: First, like Pharaoh, when the sins of pride or self-preservation calcify our hearts, it will not go well for us. We will disregard the messengers God brings across our paths to help us make course corrections. And we will ignore the warning signs of danger and potential death, whether it be due to greed, addictions, or any other self-indulgent activity. But there is always redemption for those who repent, who soften their hearts to the Lord.
Secondly, as followers of Christ, even though we will face suffering and death like the rest of humanity in our fallen world, our Father has “distinguished” us from those hardened in heart toward him. Indeed, the Son bore the plague of sin in his body so that the Father might set us apart as his children. And while those who reject the Lord face a second death, through Christ, no harm will come to our eternal spirits. For the mighty hand of God has reached out and rescued us!
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who stretched out his mighty hands on a cross and bore the plague of sin in his body to spare us from certain death. Would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit when he exposes our stubborn pride and machinations of self-preservation that we might love and worship you with gladness of heart all our days? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling