Were all of Pharaoh’s horses killed in the fifth plague?

Posted on Oct.12, 2010. Filed in Exodus. Average rating: 3.0 / 10 (Rate It).

When the Israelites were captive in Egypt, God sent a series of plagues on the Egyptians to encourage Pharaoh to free them. The fifth plague was directed against the Egyptians’ livestock, including their horses, but did it kill them all or not?

In the account of the fifth plague, it is clearly stated that all of the horses died:

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, the hand of the Lord will strike with a deadly pestilence your livestock 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 shall die of all that belongs to the Israelites.”‘ The Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” And on the next day the Lord did so; all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not one died. [Exodus 9:1-6, NRSV]

Several plagues later, Pharaoh lets the Israelites go, but then changes his mind and pursues them. What is surprising, given the effects of the fifth plague, is that he pursues them with horses:

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, ‘What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?’ So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pihahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon. [Exodus 14:5-9, NRSV]

So were Pharoah’s horses killed in the fifth plague or not?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    Exodus 9:3 says that all the livestock in the field would perish. Presumably, the 600 surviving teams of horses mentioned in Exodus 14 were in stables at the time of the fifth plague.

    It is true that Exodus 9:6 reports that all the livestock of Egypt died, but only after the scope of the curse had already been limited to the livestock in the field.

  2. 2

    Thanks for the suggestion.

    I think this gets some support from the seventh plague, where it is explicitly stated that animals can be saved by bringing them out of the field:

    ‘Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.’ [Exodus 9:18-19, NRSV]

    On the other hand, it’s clear how shelter would protect the animals from hail, but less clear how it would protect them from disease.

  3. 3

    It might be that there was miraculous intervention by God that specifically picked out Egyptian livestock in the field for smiting. It might also be that there was some systematic, albeit prosaic, reason that only Egyptian livestock in the field would perish. For example, it might be that some poison got into the water supply that the livestock in Egyptian fields drank from. Livestock in stables and livestock in Israelite fields might not have had the same water supply and might have been spared for that reason.

  4. 4

    Now, “the Egyptian.” Does that qualify for ALL Egyptian in the Country? Or just in the area of where the plagues took place? Did the plagues take place in ALL of Egypt?

    And could it have been several years after the plagues and after the Israelites departed from Egypt that during those year, the Egyptian could have bought more livestock?


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