God said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘God, the God of the Hebrews, says: Release my people so they can worship me. If you refuse to release them and continue to hold on to them, I’m giving you fair warning: God will come down hard on your livestock out in the fields—horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep—striking them with a severe disease. God will draw a sharp line between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. Not one animal that belongs to the Israelites will die.’ ”
Then God set the time: “Tomorrow God will do this thing.”
And the next day God did it. All the livestock of Egypt died, but not one animal of the Israelites died. Pharaoh sent men to find out what had happened and there it was: none of the livestock of the Israelites had died—not one death. But Pharaoh stayed stubborn. He wouldn’t release the people. (Exodus 9:1-7)
Some people think that if only God would perform a miracle, then they would believe him. But Pharaoh was not so easily convinced by Moses. Not until ten plagues had destroyed his nation did Pharaoh reluctantly—and temporarily—grant the request to “let my people go.”
The plagues were not just attacks against farm animals. They were also attacks on the Egyptian gods and goddesses (Exodus 12:12). Why should Pharaoh, himself a god according to Egyptian belief, pay the slightest attention to Yahweh, God of slaves?
But with plague after plague, Egyptian god after Egyptian god, was laid low. The bull was the symbol of Apis, a protector of the diseased. The cow was the symbol of Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and joy. A common title for the Pharaoh was “strong bull of his mother Hathor.” That their animals should be so slaughtered could only be interpreted by the Egyptians as a victory of Yahweh over those gods.
But there were many gods in Egypt. That’s why Pharaoh didn’t give in easily. His attitude was, so what if Yahweh could beat a few of them? A lost battle did not mean a lost war. It took many plagues before Israel’s God could convince Pharaoh of the error of his ways.