Meditations in Exodus: 32. Fifth Plague – Livestock
Ex 9:2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, 3the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field–on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats
Previously we have noted that each of these plagues have an economic effect upon the country as well as a spiritual effect. The Lord is about the turn the temperature up, so to speak, and if we thought the previous plagues harmed the economy, this one is going to utterly devastate it. It starts out with, yet again, a direct call to let Israel go: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, `This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” (v.1) This is the fourth call to let Israel go (see 5:1, 8:1, 8:20, 9:1). Twice He had brought judgment without a call (blood & gnats) and now three times warned before a plague (frogs, flies and now livestock). It is the one and only thing the Lord asks of Pharaoh but to Pharaoh it is a sign of loosing control over this slave people.
The penalty that is coming is specifically linked to this demand: “If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back…..” (v.2) You will be punished for your refusal to let them go; it is that simple. Then, as previously, comes a very specific description of what will happen. Each time, with the exception of the gnats, there is given this very clear description of what is about to happen: “the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field–on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats.” (v.3) Pharaoh could never say he didn’t know.
Then, for the second time, the Lord makes it clear that this plague will only strike the Egyptians and not His own people: “But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’” (v.4) There is now a double strength, we might call it, to these plagues; first the plague itself, but then, second, the fact that the plague will halt at the boundary of the land where the Hebrews lived. But to that there is added a third thing: “The LORD set a time and said, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this in the land.” And the next day the LORD did it.” (v.5,6a) The specific timing of when the plague will strike must make this even more scary as they waited for the time to run out.
And then it comes: “All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. Pharaoh sent men to investigate and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.” (v.6b,7) The timing of it, the nature of it, and the limitation of it to exclude the Hebrews, all these things screamed out, “this is not a coincidence, this is an act of God!”
If you hadn’t seen it before, surely it must be coming through loud and clear – this man’s pride is just crass stupidity. The fact that Pharaoh can keep on resisting God shows the shear folly of Sin. Blood, frogs, gnats, flies and now the death of all their livestock, this is putting the country into bankruptcy, and all because a king will not give way to God.
Our problem, sometimes, is that we cannot grasp the stupidity of sin. We see it here and we wonder, but in the book of Revelation it is even worse: “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” (Rev 16:9) And it keeps on: “Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” (Rev 16:10,11) As terrible as the conditions were, the people will still refuse to repent and turn back to God. Pride, arrogance, sin, call it what you will, it is crazy that people, in the face of the most terrible plagues, will refuse to turn back to God and cry out to Him for help.
The apostle John wrote, “whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” (1 Jn 2:11) Spiritual ‘darkness’ is sin and that sin blinds the human being from seeing what is going on and the foolishness and futility of it. The apostle Paul wrote, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:4) Satan has conned the unbelieving world to believe lies and one of them is, “I can stand out against these things, no one is going to tell me what to do,” or, “I can get away with this, it will be all right.” Deception, lies, folly. Expressions or outworkings of sin. Perhaps one of the most worrying verses in the Bible is, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer 17:9) If it were not for the love, grace and mercy of God, you and I who are Christians would still be blind. For some reason, beyond the realm of boasting, we surrendered and He took away our blindness, but Pharaoh dug in and refused and refused. How terrible. How crazy!
But what about the gods and superstitions being attacked by this plague? Well, a large number of bulls and cows were considered sacred, and many areas in Egypt chose them as their emblems. Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and joy, was represented by a cow, and was often depicted as a cow suckling the Pharaoh, giving him divine nourishment. There was also Khnum, the ram-god, and Mnevis, a sacred bull, who was also worshiped and was associated with the god Ra. Remember we read, ““All the livestock of the Egyptians died.” Such deaths encompassing all the livestock were a direct challenge to beliefs about deities within the category of livestock. As we said at the beginning, these plagues had economic effects, now devastating economic effects, and perhaps the attack on their spirituality-superstitions was as equally devastating.
Have we ever given thought, I wonder, to the ways that God brings discipline into our lives. It is perhaps a subject we prefer to shy away from but the New Testament says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves.” (Heb 12:6) Different forms of discipline put pressure on different aspects of our lives. We have noted physical discomfort, economic loss, spiritual upset as at least three of the ways these plagues so far will have impacted Egypt. Do we realise the Lord still disciplines in ways that have these same effects today. Ask Him to open your eyes to be aware of what is going on around you – in your own life, in the lives of others around you, and in the nation at large. Become a believer!