Ex 7:1-13 God promises Moses and Aaron that he will perform “many miracles” if the Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go (Exodus 7:5). These signs include ten ‘plagues’ that occur over the next three years (c.1449-1447BC).
The Ten Plagues
In order to persuade the pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, God sent ten disasters that plagued the country for three years:
1. Blood. The River Nile turned red and the fish died (see Exodus 7:14-25).
2. Frogs. Frogs left the polluted river and plagued the land (see Exodus 8:1-15).
The River Nile turned red and frogs left the polluted river
3. Gnats. The rotting carcasses brought mosquitoes and flies (see Exodus 8:16-19).
4. Flies. Swarms of flies plagued the royal palace (but not Goshen where the Israelites lived – see Exodus 8:20-32).
5. Cattle pest. Disease was spread to the cattle (see Exodus 9:1-7).
6. Boils. Open sores spread to the Egyptians (see Exodus 9:8-12).
7. Hail. Hail destroyed the plants, flax and barley (Exodus 9:13-35).
8. Locusts. Locust swarms were brought by the easterly winds and consumed what remained of the crops and fruit trees (see Exodus 10:1-20).
9. Darkness. Darkness covered the whole of Egypt for three days (see Exodus 10:21-29).
10. Death of the firstborn. God threatened to destroy every firstborn son in Egypt and the firstborn of the cattle (see Exodus 11:1-10).
Ex12:1-14 The Passover. To escape God’s threat to kill all the firstborn sons in Egypt, the Israelites are told to put blood from a slaughtered lamb (the ‘Passover lamb’) on the doorposts of their houses so the LORD will pass over them and will not kill the firstborn of the Israelites.
Ex 12:15-20 The Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days the Israelites are to eat bread made without yeast. This bread can be prepared quickly, without waiting for the yeast to rise, so the Israelites can leave immediately, as soon as the signal is given.
Ex 12:21-30 Moses gives these instructions to the elders of Israel, and at midnight, the LORD strikes down all the Egyptian firstborn.
Egypt was plagued by death: The Necropolis at Giza (Yasser Nazmi)
The Passover Festival
When God rescued the Israelites from Egypt, he declared that every year, the Jews were to celebrate a religious festival to remember how the Angel of Death passed over their firstborn sons but killed the children of their Egyptian overlords. Blood was seen as a sign of protection (see Exodus 12:13), and a roasted lamb shank was eaten to represent the Passover lamb whose blood was smeared on the doorframes to protect the Israelites from death.
Although it is often referred to as the ‘Passover Festival’, the original name for the festival is the ‘Feast of Unleavened Bread’. This is because, at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites made bread without any ‘leaven’ (in the form of yeast) which, over several hours, causes bread to ‘rise’ and take on a lighter texture. This unleavened bread could be prepared without waiting for the dough to rise, so the Israelites would be ready to leave at short notice.
When Jewish families celebrate the Passover Festival today, they still eat unleavened bread (‘matzos’) to remind them that, at the first Passover, the Israelites didn’t have time to let their bread rise before escaping from Egypt. During the Passover supper, three pieces of unleavened bread are broken symbolically. The middle piece (the ‘aphikomen’) – representing the Passover lamb – is hidden at the start of the meal, but is later searched for by the children, then broken and shared towards the end of the supper.
A hand-made matzo (unleavened bread) (Yoninah)
During the supper, four cups or ‘chalices’ of wine are symbolically passed round, reminding all present of God’s four promises to rescue the Jews from Egypt (see Exodus 6:6-7). They also dip bitter herbs (‘karpas’) or pieces of celery into a dish of ‘haroseth’ - a sugary mixture of apple, walnuts and cinnamon – which is shared symbolically at Passover to sweeten the bitter memories of slavery in Egypt.
Ex 12:31-36 During the night, the Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron and commands them to take the Israelites – and their disastrous curses – away from Egypt.
Archaeological excavations at Avaris have revealed a mass of rapidly dug shallow graves dating from the reign of Pharaoh Dudimose (c.1450-1446BC) where the bodies were thrown in on top of each other – indicating a hasty burial at a time of disaster. The settlement at Avaris was abandoned shortly afterwards.