Couldn’t God have freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage without sending all those plagues?
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“Couldn’t God have freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage without sending all those plagues?” Ensign, Sept. 1980, 64–65

Since God is all-powerful, couldn’t he have freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage without sending all those plagues?

Renee Vorhaus, Jewish convert; special instructor, Brigham Young University; gospel doctrine teacher, Edgemont Ninth Ward, Provo, Utah Of course he could have, but he wanted to do more than just free the children of Israel. The plagues were more than just a dramatic way to convince the pharaoh to let the Israelites go—they were to teach the pharaoh, as well as all men, that the God of Israel is the sole God of this earth, that he is all-powerful, that he is sovereign over all, that “there is none like me in all the earth” (Ex. 9:14), “that my name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Ex. 9:16).

The plagues were also to be a special sign to the people of Israel—to help them remember God throughout all their generations, “that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord” (Ex. 10:2, see also Ps. 78:43–53; Ps. 105:25–36).

In the days of the exodus from Egypt, only the children of Israel believed in the one true and living God whose power extended over the whole earth. Other people made gods of the sun, the moon, the sea, the wind, the mountains, the rivers, the woods, fire, and other forces and elements of nature, as well as considering certain animals sacred. The plagues were a divine protest against this idolatry: “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord” (Ex. 12:12).

Through the plagues, God showed his power over all the principal gods that were worshipped in the Nile valley, discrediting them and their presumed power. The God of Israel showed himself to be God over life, health, property, elements, and agriculture. Through the plagues, every Egyptian god and every sign of the gods became a horror and a torment to the people. And every conceivable part of Egyptian existence was affected.

With the first plague (see Ex. 7:17–25) the Lord turned to blood the precious, life-giving water of the Nile, which the Egyptians deified and worshipped as the source of fertility in their desert country. “In this,” the Lord said, “thou shalt know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 7:17). But it was more than just the water from the Nile that turned to blood—all water, whether in rivers, streams, pools, ponds, or vessels of wood or stone, turned to blood. As a result, all the fish, a principal source of food, died.

In the second plague (see Ex. 8:2–14) frogs, which were considered a divine sign of fruitfulness, became a horror by overrunning everything, including bedchambers, ovens, and kneading troughs.

The third plague (see Ex. 8:16–18) affected every man and beast with lice (or sand flies or gnats), proving that God’s finger could touch everyone, no matter who they were.

In the fourth plague (see Ex. 8:21–32) the fly or beetle—sacred emblem of the sun-god, Ra—became a torment by swarming the Egyptians and their possessions and ruining the land.

The fifth plague (see Ex. 9:1–7) brought a devastating murrain upon all the cattle in the field, killing many Egyptian animals including rams, sheep, goats, and bulls, which were worshipped as sacred.

The sixth plague (see Ex. 9:8–11) afflicted every Egyptian and all remaining beasts with painful boils, showing that Israel’s God even had power over personal health.

The seventh plague (see Ex. 9:18–26) was a hailstorm, accompanied by thunder and fire that destroyed every Egyptian man and beast that were in the field—broke every tree and every vine, and destroyed all flax (a staple product) and barley.

The eighth plague (see Ex. 10:4–19) was a horde of locusts—the land was darkened, and every remaining herb, fruit, or green thing was destroyed.

The ninth plague (see Ex. 10:21–23) was three days of darkness—probably an eclipse of the sun—that directly discredited the power of the Egyptian sun-god Ra. This darkness was so thick that it could actually be felt, and the people couldn’t see each other. But, as before, the Israelites were exempt: “all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Ex. 10:23).

The tenth and last plague was the smiting of the firstborn of all Egyptians, man and beast (see Ex. 12:12, 23, 29–30). It made no difference if one was rich or poor, high-ranking or lowly, master or servant, “there was not a house [of the Egyptians] where there was not one dead” (Ex. 12:30). So powerful was Israel’s God that life itself was subject to him.

Through these ten plagues, every aspect of Egyptian life was touched directly or indirectly. Everything the Egyptians considered divine—either on earth or in heaven—had been discredited. It was obvious that these terrible plagues weren’t mere coincidence: Moses announced most of them before they happened, and Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to intreat God for relief. It was clear that while the Egyptians had suffered because of the plagues, the Israelites had been protected.

But most important, the Egyptian gods had been impotent in the battle with the God of Israel: not only were they unable to help the Egyptians or retaliate against the Israelites, but they, themselves, had been mocked, destroyed, or overpowered. Only the God of Israel could bring good or harm; only he was all-powerful.

But, of great importance to us, the plagues of God aren’t just history; they are also prophesied for the future. Just as God sent plagues before redeeming Israel from the physical bondage of Egyptian slavery, so will he again send plagues in the last days before Israel is redeemed from spiritual bondage. “Plagues shall go forth,” said the Lord, referring to the last days, “and they shall not be taken from the earth until I have completed my work” (D&C 84:97). At that time, “the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn … [and] be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God” (D&C 87:6). There will be bloodshed, the sword, famine, earthquakes, thunder, lightning, sore affliction, flies, maggots, pestilence, plague, vengeance, devouring fire, overflowing rain, great hailstones, brimstones (see D&C 29:18; D&C 87:6; D&C 97:26; Ezek. 38:22).

But here, again, God will not show his power just for the sake of showing power: he will send plagues worldwide in the last days for the same reasons he sent them anciently in Israel—that “all shall know me” (D&C 84:98).

The lesson to be learned from the plagues is that the earth is the Lord’s. God is the ruler of all nature: of water, land, living creatures, light, darkness, hail, wind, and fire. It is God who created “heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (D&C 133:39). The plagues that preceded the exodus and that will come in the latter days teach us and all mankind that God is supreme over all. “Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself,” the Lord said; “and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 38:23).

The Murrain of Beasts, by Gustave Dore.