Exodus 9:6 states, “
So the Lord did this thing on the next day, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the children of Israel, not one died.” This verse indicates that the fifth plague on Egypt destroyed all of the livestock in that country. Yet Exodus 9:20–25 has livestock in Egypt being protected in houses from the seventh plague. How could Egyptian livestock be protected if it had all been killed earlier in the chapter?
There are at least five reasonable explanations for this apparent contradiction, and it is quite possible that more than one of these is correct to a lesser or greater extent. If one or more of these solutions is correct then the alleged contradiction is eliminated.
First, Exodus 9:3 states, “
Behold, the hand of the Lord will be on your cattle in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the oxen, and on the sheep—a very severe pestilence.” Surprisingly, this verse does not mention one of the most important domestic animals at that time—the goat. 1 Therefore, it is possible that all of the livestock except goats were killed in the first plague on the livestock (fifth plague overall), and in the second instance it was goats that were affected by the plague of hail.
Second, Exodus 9:19–20 mentions that those who “
feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh” were told to get their livestock out of the fields. Some scholars mention that these Egyptians may have been warned about the previous plague of pestilence (although it was not recorded), so they still had all of their livestock left. In this scenario, God warned them to put all of their livestock in barns so they wouldn’t be killed by hail.
The third possibility is similar to the previous explanation except that the survival of their livestock hinges on the phrase “servants of Pharaoh.” Perhaps this means they were not actually Egyptians, but other vassal subjects who were warned of the plagues so that their animals could be spared. So in Exodus 9:6, where it says that all the livestock of Egypt died, this view suggests that the animals belonging to these foreign vassals were spared if they obeyed God and not Pharaoh.
Fourth, the Bible does not reveal how much time passed between the fifth plague and the seventh plague. Following the fifth plague, which wiped out the livestock of Egypt, the Egyptians may have taken some of the livestock belonging to Israel. Another possibility is that they bought (or took) livestock from surrounding areas (Libya, Ethiopia, Canaan, etc). The first option would require very little time to complete while the second would probably require at least a few weeks. But since the Bible does not specify how much time passed, either is possible.
The fifth, and perhaps simplest solution, would be to acknowledge the fact that “all” does not always mean exclusively “all.” 2 We must use the context to determine its meaning. In the case of Exodus 9:6, it might be best translated that “
all manner of livestock of the Egyptians died.” In other words, the plague included all kinds of animals, as clarified in the third verse: “
on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the oxen, and on the sheep—a very severe pestilence.” This is the approach taken in Coverdale’s translation, and the New English Translation includes a footnote with a similar explanation.
All five possibilities have some merit. Perhaps the truth consists of a combination of these views, or there may be another solution not addressed here. In any event, there is no contradiction. God demonstrated He was more powerful than the gods of Egypt, and He showed His wrath to the Egyptians and His mercy toward the Hebrews (and perhaps some other subjugated peoples).