The second plague was an abnormal multiplication of frogs. God told Pharaoh to let His people go, and that if he did not, the Lord would bring a plague of frogs upon the country, in the Nile, in Pharaoh’s palace, in every house, even in their ovens and kneading troughs (Ex. 8:1-4). Aaron stretched out his rod over the Nile, and immediately all the frogs began to multiply and spread across the land.
We know that the Egyptians worshipped frogs because amulets have been discovered that are carved in the shape of frogs. These are little objects that are supposed to have magical powers or religious significance. One of the great goddesses of Egypt was Heket, and she was often pictured with the head of a frog, and sometimes with the body of a frog as well. Now if the goddess was symbolized in the frog, it possibly meant that frogs were sacred and couldn’t be killed.
Here you had all these frogs coming up into the houses, into the beds, in the kitchens and the ovens, and jumping into the flour where they were trying to make the bread—and because they were considered sacred they could not be killed. It was just something that had to be endured.
Pharaoh asked his magicians to make frogs too, and they could. But you understand the problem with that. The difficulty wasn’t making frogs; they had plenty of frogs! The problem was to get rid of the frogs, and that’s what the Egyptian magicians couldn’t do. Still, there was no change in Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 8:15).
The third plague is the first of those against the soil, again, one of the most fertile soils in the world. Out of it came all sorts of nourishing vegetables and plants and fruit and grain. But now as part of God’s judgment upon the land it began to produce gnats in great abundance. Where was the god of the earth, whose name was Geb? Where was he to protect the land and keep it from producing these insects which were such trouble for the people? For the very first time in the story, the Egyptian magicians are unable to duplicate the feat, and they wisely said—although it did not require much perception—“This is the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19). Indeed it was! But in spite of that and this confession of impotence on the part of the magicians, Pharaoh refused to obey God and he would not let the people go.
The fourth plague was—to give the literal translation of the word—“swarms” of insects that came up over the land. It’s a multiplication of all kinds of insects. Insects have always been a problem in Egypt, but now they became intolerable. Many of these insects were also associated with the gods and goddesses pictured in that way, and so they couldn’t be killed; they could only be endured.
Pharaoh actually called Moses and he offered the first two of four compromises. First, he said that he would let the people go and worship Jehovah, but they would have to do it here in Egypt. That was unacceptable. Then he said that they could go into the desert, but they would need to stay close to Egypt, in other words, so he can keep an eye on them. That seems to have been acceptable to Moses, and so he prayed and God removed all the swarms of insects. But as soon as he did that, once again Pharaoh hardened his heart.
This is the first time in the story where we’re told explicitly of a distinction between the land of Egypt and the land of Goshen, which is where the Jews were living. The Egyptians and their land were plagued with the insects, but the people of Israel were not. Now it may have been that distinction existed earlier, but this is the first time we’re told that.
The fifth of the plagues was against the domestic animals. It came upon horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats. Although it sounds as if all of them died, later on when the Lord said He was going to send the plague of hail and fire, the people who believed what Moses had to say took their remaining cattle, and put them in the barns where they’d be protected. So a lot of the cattle died in this plague upon the livestock, but presumably not all of them.
Now we have to measure that by the veneration that was paid to animals in Egypt. It’s not just that you had gods of the water and gods of the land and insects; animals were regarded as holy or sacred beings, or at least the incarnation of sacred beings. Probably the object that was worshipped most in ancient Egypt was the bull, which was a symbol of power and potency. Apis was the god who was known as the bull. A myth says that he was conceived when a flash of sunlight came down from heaven and impregnated a cow.
The bull was very highly regarded, and yet, the bulls died! Where was the power of the great Apis? Not only the bulls died, but also the cows. Hathor was the cow goddesses, the symbol of fertility, and yet she couldn’t keep her sacred animals alive either. This happened with all the other animals and the gods they represented. These animals, of course, were of great domestic importance for the people. They, along with the crops, were the wealth of Egypt. So as the animals began to die and the land was being destroyed, it was really the case that, as the official said to Pharaoh later, Egypt is ruined. But we’re told that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let Israel go (Ex. 9:12).