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EXODUS 9:1

Then the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2 For if thou refuse to let them go, and wilt hold them still, 3 Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain. 4 And the LORD shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children's of Israel. 5 And the LORD appointed a set time, saying, To morrow the LORD shall do this thing in the land. 6 And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one. 7 And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

All the cattle of the Egyptians is reported to have died, but then a few verses later...

Exodus 9 cont...

17 As yet exaltest thou thyself against my people, that thou wilt not let them go? 18 Behold, to morrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now. 19 Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die. 20 He that feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses: 21 And he that regarded not the word of the LORD left his servants and his cattle in the field.

Is there a contradiction between these passages?

  • It appears you have not selected a "correct" answer. – Jacob Oct 2 '16 at 5:00
  • It seems that all the cattle of Egypt which were IN THE FIELD died, perhaps they had some in their homes. – shakAttack Jan 26 '18 at 0:14
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The apologetic site, AnswersinGenesis says there are at least five reasonable solutions for this problem, saying "if one or more of these solutions is correct then the alleged contradiction is eliminated":

  1. it is possible that all of the livestock except goats were killed in the first plague on the livestock (fifth plague overall), and in the second instance it was goats that were affected by the plague of hail.

The English language does not have a single word that means 'sheep and goats', and (for example) the KJV translates the Hebrew word וּבַצֹּ֑אן simply as 'sheep', but many other translations are possibly more accurate in saying 'sheep and goats'. It is highly speculative and therefore unlikely that an all-powerful God would have failed to kill the goats as well as the sheep.

  1. Exodus 9:19–20 mentions that those who “feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh” were told to get their livestock out of the fields. Some scholars mention that these Egyptians may have been warned about the previous plague of pestilence (although it was not recorded), so they still had all of their livestock left. In this scenario, God warned them to put all of their livestock in barns so they wouldn’t be killed by hail.

This scenario requires God to be capricious, allowing these Egyptians to save their livestock in the first case, only to destroy them in the following one. As AnswersinGenesis implies, everything is possible, but a capricious God should not be considered a reasonable possibility.

  1. In Exodus 9:6, where it says that all the livestock of Egypt died, this view suggests that the animals belonging to these foreign vassals were spared if they obeyed God and not Pharaoh.

Verse 20, which says "He that feared the word of the LORD *among the servants of Pharaoh* made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses:" thereby saving them from the hail of the second destruction of livestock. This proposal reads a particular meaning into 'servants of Pharaoh' as foreign vassals who feared the word of the LORD, and assumes that their cattle survived not only the second destruction but also the first. So far, so good, but this falls over because this proposal seems to allow no cattle to die in the second destruction. The servants whose cattle survived the first destruction also saved their cattle in the second destruction.

  1. The Egyptians may have taken some of the livestock belonging to Israel. Another possibility is that they bought (or took) livestock from surrounding areas (Libya, Ethiopia, Canaan, etc). The first option would require very little time to complete while the second would probably require at least a few weeks. But since the Bible does not specify how much time passed, either is possible.

In the first of these scenarios, the first destruction punished, not the Egyptians, but the Israelites, since the Egyptians were in a position to take their cattle as recompense for the destruction wrought by the Israelite God. I therefore reject this option because requires God to be unaware of the consequence of his action. In any case, Moses says in 10:26 "Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind."

The second is only a little more likely because the replacement from neighbouring nations of perhaps a million cattle would be impossible in less than a period of years.

  1. The fifth, and perhaps simplest solution, would be to acknowledge the fact that “all” does not always mean exclusively “all.” We must use the context to determine its meaning. In the case of Exodus 9:6, it might be best translated that “all manner of livestock of the Egyptians died.”

This is a more plausible explanation than the previous four, but places the Bible in the position that it is not always literally accurate. If we "must use the context to determine its meaning" we can look at any biblical passage in the same way, an outcome that must concern a conservative group such as AnswersinGenesis.

In the Conclusion, AnswersinGenesis concedes the possibility that none of these proposals is true, and that there may be another solution it has not even addressed. My assessment, as indicated in the above comments, is that we must indeed look for another solution not even addressed here.


Laura Feldt (The Fantastic in Religious Narrative from Exodus to Elisha) says Exodus contains several paradoxes that challenge the mimetic-illusionist assumptions of the reader. She says it is strange that the Egyptian cattle die in Exodus 9:6 and are alive again in verse 9:19, to be killed in another plague in 9:25. She says that in verse 10:25 Moses demanded that the Egyptians provide sacrifices and burnt offerings for the Israelites, even though the Egyptians no longer had any animals to offer.

Alan Silver (Jews, Myth and History, page 233) says that when the firstborn of all the Egyptian cattle are once again killed in Exodus 11:5, it is "a clear case of overkill!"


An alternative explanation

AnswersinGenesis provides a range of possible answers, none of which is very convincing. Feldt and Silver point to further instances in which the Egyptians still have cattle, in spite of the best efforts of God, as reported in the Book of Exodus, making the AnswersinGenesis explanations even more implausible.

Carol A. Redmount says, in 'Bitter Lives', published in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, page 63:

The biblical Exodus account was never intended to function or to be understood as history in the present-day sense of the word. For most occasions, and especially for documents that expressed deeper truths and fundamental values, facts as such were not always valued, consistency was not always a virtue, and specific historical particulars were often irrelevant and therefore variable.

According to Redmount and most modern scholars, the Book of Exodus was written long after the supposed events of the Exodus, with Redmount saying, recent research indicates that even more of the extant Exodus account than previously thought comes from periods during or after the Israelite monarchy or even the Exile.

The Jews of the exilic period needed a to believe in a past in which even the most powerful of their enemies could be defeated, and the Priestly Source provided this in the finalised account of the ten plagues. The Jewish audience would have exulted in the repeated stories of the Egyptians suffering as they themselves were now suffering. In these circumstances, there was no need for the various passages to be free of contradiction.

  • The fifth solution is the simplest and most accurate. There is much evidence that in the ANE exaggeration and boasting was not a big deal and quite the norm. So when such expressions are used in the bible they are not to be taken literally. Furthermore, the author didnt expect anyone to believe his exaggerations to be an exact description of what happened in Egypt, it was an ancient way of saying "this plague was terrible and wiped a huge amount of livestock". Whether everything or most of it perished is insignificant! – Bach Jan 25 '18 at 21:26
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I believe we should let the scripture interpret itself. Look again at Exodus 9:3, it says the destruction is “upon thy cattle which is in the field”. In the field means exactly that, it is on the Egyptian cattle “in the field”, not in the houses (barns).

“Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain”.

By the time we get to verse 19, YHWH would bring the plague of hail upon the cattle. The cattle that had been in the houses (barns) previously would’ve been released back out into the field. It says clearly in verse 20, that those Egyptians who feared the Lord (YHWH), would have brought those remaining animals back into the houses again prior to the great hailstorm that was coming.

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Exodus 9:26=Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail. (assuming "Goshen" was part of Egypt)

It seems no hail fell on the land above....and the verses 17 through 21 seem to be aimed at the "servants" of Pharaoh. Also "obedience" and "trust" in what GOD says may be a factor. Those who trusted HIM obeyed what HE said.

20=He that feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses:

21=And he that regarded not the word of the LORD left his servants and his cattle in the field.

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Matt Slick, from the CARM website says:

There are three possible explanations. First it is possible that the "all" in verse 6 above is meant generically as in "Egypt ruled all the world," and that it did not mean every single animal. Second, it is possible that in the few days between Exodus 9:1-7 and 18-21, the Egyptians acquired cattle from other sources. After all, the Israelites were "owned" by the Egyptians as slaves. Since none of the Israelite livestock died, the Egyptians could quickly have taken some of it for their own. Third, notice that in Exodus 9:3 the prediction covers the livestock "in the field." Therefore, it is possible that the prediction was restricted to cattle in the field, and any livestock in barns or caves would have been spared.

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