What was the Seventh Plague of Egypt?

The Seventh Plague of Egypt is one of the ten calamities described in the Book of Exodus, by which God, according to the biblical narrative, punished Egypt for refusing to release the Israelites from slavery. This particular plague combined both a meteorological and fiery component: hail mingled with fire.

The Seventh Plague of Egypt: Hail and Fire

“The Seventh Plague” by English painter and illustrator John Martin (1823)

To truly understand the significance of this plague, and its impact, it’s essential to consider its context, description, consequences, and deeper implications.

Context

The story of the plagues is intertwined with the narrative of Moses and Aaron’s confrontation with Pharaoh. God had chosen Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage and to the Promised Land. Yet, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he refused to let the people go. Each plague was designed not merely as a punishment, but also as a demonstration of the Hebrew God’s superiority over the Egyptian deities.

By the time of the seventh plague, Egypt had already endured six other devastating plagues: water turned to blood, frogs, lice, swarms of flies, livestock pestilence, and boils. Yet, Pharaoh’s obstinance persisted.

Victory O Lord!, 1871 painting by English painter and illustrator John Everett Millais, depicts Moses holding his staff, assisted by Aaron and Hur, holding up his arms during the battle against Amalek.

Description of the Plague

The seventh plague was forewarned. Moses, as instructed by God, approached Pharaoh with a message: If he still refused to let the Israelites go, a severe hailstorm, unlike any Egypt had seen before, would strike the land. This wasn’t merely a storm; it was hail mingled with fire. While it’s difficult to ascertain the exact nature of this phenomenon from the text, the description conveys an image of a storm so fierce and unusual that it seemed as though fire rained down with the hailstones.

God, through Moses, provided a warning to Pharaoh, his servants, and the people of Egypt. They were advised to bring their livestock and servants indoors. Those who feared God heeded the warning, but others left their servants and livestock in the field, exposing them to the deadly elements.

The Seventh Plague of Egypt: Hail and Fire

Consequences

The plague was devastating. Every plant and tree exposed to the open sky was damaged or destroyed, and any person or animal caught outside was killed. Egypt, primarily an agrarian society, relied heavily on its crops and livestock. This plague, therefore, was not just an awe-inspiring display of power, but it struck at the heart of Egypt’s sustenance and economy. The flax and barley crops were ruined since they were in season, but the wheat and spelt survived as they ripened later.

Moreover, the psychological and emotional impact of such an event is hard to overestimate. To witness the combined fury of hail and fire from the sky would have been terrifying. This event further showcased the impotence of the Egyptian deities, who were unable to shield their followers from the wrath of the Hebrew God.

Implications and Deeper Meanings

  1. God’s Mercy amidst Judgment: Even in the midst of meting out judgment, God’s mercy is evident. The warning given before the plague allowed for those who believed the word of the Lord to take protective measures. This highlights the Biblical theme that, while God is just, He is also merciful.
  2. Symbolic Defeat of Egyptian Deities: Each plague corresponded, in some form, to an Egyptian deity or religious practice. The seventh plague was an affront to Nut, the sky goddess; Osiris, a deity of crops and fertility; and Seth, the protector of crops.
  3. Pharaoh’s Hardened Heart: Following this severe plague, Pharaoh momentarily relented, admitting his sins and acknowledging God’s righteousness. However, once the storm ceased, his heart hardened once again, and he refused to release the Israelites. This fluctuating stance is a recurring theme until the final, most devastating plague.
  4. A Foreshadowing of Liberation: The plagues, cumulatively, build in intensity and signify a nearing climax. The seventh plague, in its sheer might and devastation, hinted at the impending culmination of this celestial battle – the liberation of the Israelites.

The Seventh Plague of Egypt: Hail and Fire

“The Seventh Plague” by English painter and illustrator John Martin (1823)

“The Seventh Plague” is a painting by the renowned English artist, John Martin, created in 1823. Drawing inspiration from the biblical Book of Exodus (Exodus 9:13-32), Martin vividly depicts the dramatic and catastrophic Seventh Plague of Egypt: hail and fire.

The painting showcases Martin’s signature style, with vast landscapes, tumultuous natural phenomena, and minuscule human figures, emphasizing humanity’s insignificance against nature’s might and divine wrath. The dark stormy sky filled with fiery hail, the lightning striking Egypt’s monumental architecture, and the terrified populace all contribute to a scene of chaos and devastation. Through this artwork, Martin not only portrays a biblical event but also delves into themes of human vulnerability, divine retribution, and nature’s overwhelming power.

In the biblical narrative, Moses invoked ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites. John Martin’s painting captures the seventh: hail and fire, based on Moses’ command. On the left, Moses and Aaron stand firm, while the distraught Egyptians, including Pharaoh, are surrounded by Thebes’ majestic structures. The painting exudes chaos and divine wrath.

Martin frequently painted grand scenes from antiquity or the Bible. For this work, he consulted early illustrations of Egyptian monuments, ensuring the backdrop’s authenticity. The piece is not just a biblical depiction but a testament to human vulnerability against divine power.

Conclusion

The Seventh Plague of Egypt, with its unprecedented combination of hail and fire, was more than a divine demonstration of power. It was a complex event intertwining judgment with mercy, challenging established religious beliefs, and setting the stage for the eventual release of the Israelites.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Seventh Plague of Egypt

The Seventh Plague was a severe hailstorm accompanied by fire that rained down from the sky, causing destruction and death throughout Egypt. Image: Statue of Moses at the Library of Congress

Why did God send the Seventh Plague?

God sent the plagues, including the seventh, as a response to Pharaoh’s refusal to release the Israelites from slavery. Each plague served as a demonstration of God’s power over the Egyptian deities and was intended to compel Pharaoh to free the Israelites.

Were the Egyptians warned about the Seventh Plague?

Yes, Moses delivered a warning from God to Pharaoh, advising that all livestock and people should be brought indoors to avoid the impending calamity. Those who heeded the warning were spared the worst of the plague’s effects.

How did this plague affect the Egyptian crops?

The hail and fire destroyed much of Egypt’s agriculture. Specifically, the flax and barley crops, which were in season, were ruined. However, the wheat and spelt were not destroyed as they ripened later.

How did Pharaoh react to the Seventh Plague?

Initially, Pharaoh admitted his sins and acknowledged the righteousness of the Hebrew God. However, after the plague ceased, he hardened his heart once again and did not release the Israelites.

Was this the final plague?

No, the Seventh Plague was followed by three more plagues: locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborn.

Did the Seventh Plague have any symbolic significance?

Each of the plagues is believed to have symbolically targeted and defeated specific Egyptian deities. The Seventh Plague was a challenge to several gods, including Nut (sky goddess), Osiris (deity of crops and fertility), and Seth (protector of crops).

How is the Seventh Plague relevant to modern readers?

The Seventh Plague, like the others, delves into themes of faith, pride, power, and deliverance. It offers insights into the dynamics of leadership, the consequences of stubbornness, and the balance of judgment and mercy in divine actions.

Are there historical records outside the Bible confirming the Seventh Plague?

The plagues of Egypt, including the Seventh Plague, are primarily recorded in the biblical Book of Exodus. While there are ancient texts and traditions that allude to calamities in Egypt, direct extrabiblical documentation of the specific plagues as described in Exodus is limited.

How long did the Seventh Plague last?

The biblical account in Exodus doesn’t specify the exact duration of the Seventh Plague, but it suggests that the hailstorm continued until Pharaoh requested Moses to pray for its cessation.

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