What we want to do here is to begin to observe some of the patterns and to see how the plagues point us back to creation (and thus forward to the new creation), point us forward to the final plague and the Exodus event, and also thus point us forward to the work of Jesus Christ who died the curse of the final plague and began the new creation of the new heavens and earth with His resurrection. You can do the work of seeing Jesus in all of this easily. Pete Enns’ commentary and class discussion at WTS is the source for most if not all of these observations.
The snake incident shares some of the characteristics of the plagues and thus we will discuss it here, but the first nine plagues are each a series of three plagues. You know that this is intentional because they follow a pattern. In each series of three plagues the first two have a warning beforehand and the third comes without warning. Moreover, the first warning is always in the morning. And the instructions given to Moses and Aaron follow the pattern of “station yourself” for the first in each series, “go to Pharaoh” for the second in each series, and no formula for the one without warning. And it is also worth observing that you will see that these plagues are comprehensive — frogs from water, gnats from earth, and flies from the air (for example).
Pharoah’s magicians can imitate the plagues through the frogs, close to their strength at the Nile, but they cannot undo any of the plagues. Only God has the power to bring order out of chaos, but at least for the early plagues they are able to imitate these reversals of creation. It is also worth saying that God needs no magician to do these things.
The reason for the plagues is that Israel may know that there is no one like the LORD our God (Exo 8:10) and Israel’s protection from their effects is so that they may know that He is the LORD in the midst of the earth (Exo 8:22). And they serve the same purpose for the Egyptians — so that you may know that there is none like Him in all the earth (Exo 9:14). Other ways this is put include: “so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exo 9:16), “so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s (Exo 9:29), “that you may know that I am the LORD” (Exo 10:2), and this is the same reason laid out for everything in the book: “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (Exo 14:4) and “you shall know that I am the LORD your God” (Exo 16:12), etc. Thus it is no surprise that the plagues will show us the LORD God as the creator God and show Him defeating the Egyptian pantheon.
While the translation quotes in the paragraph above are from the ESV, for the comments below see the NIV and earlier posts.
The snake incident (Exo 7:8-13) uses a different word for snake or serpent here than it did earlier in Exodus (look back at the instructions). The word here is the same word as “sea monster” from Gen 1:21. The snake was the sign of Egyptian royalty (with their cobra headdress). (As defeats of Pharaoh they were defeats of the one who claimed to be the son of a god.) And it points us forward to the Exodus event because the word “to swallow” is found only here and in Exo 15:12 for the sea swallowing Pharaoh’s army.
The plague transforming water into blood (Exo 7:14-25) uses a word sometimes translated reservoirs (Exo 7:19, NIV), which is the same Hebrew word translated “collected mass” in Gen 1:10. It is a rare word. The Nile was a personified deity for Egypt with the name Hapi. Thus the first Egyptian deity is shown to be powerless. The first Pharaoh had used the Nile to try to kill the children of God. All of these water episodes point us to when God will divide the waters again and dry land appear in the Exodus event.
The plague of frogs (Exo 8:1-15) uses the word “to swarm” of Gen 1:28. It is a creation reversal because the animals are ruling instead of man. Heqet, the goddess of childbirth, was drawn with the head of a frog. Thus another false god is exposed as powerless, with the frogs coming from the Nile. And that she is the goddess of childbirth is interesting. It points us to the exodus event because it comes from the Nile and leaves behind the smell of death.
The plague of gnats (Exo 8:16-19) has these insects come from the ground like how man came from the dust (Gen 2:7). The gnats are the princes of Egypt rather than Pharaoh (cf. 1 Sam 2:6-8 and 1 Kings 16:1-3). Man as a result of the curse returns to the dust upon death. Thoughts about death point us to the Exodus event result for Egypt.
The plague of flies (Exo 8:20-32) again shows us the creation reversal motif. The land is left destroyed. There is no known reference to the Egyptian pantheon but the word “destroyed” in Exo 8:24 is the same as the destroyer in Exo 12:23, thus pointing us to the final plague and therefore to the Exodus event.
The plague on the livestock (Exo 9:1-7) again reminds us of Genesis 1 since they were created on the same day as humankind and the latter was to rule over them. Hathor, the mother and sky goddess, was depicted as a cow. Death of these livestock points us to the final plague and thus the Exodus event, which also kills animals (Exo 11:5 and 12:29).
The plague of boils (Exo 9:8-12) is an obvious blight on the creation of man. This was an attack on Pharaoh who made them make bricks. The dust causing the boils is from the kiln. The bricks were kiln-baked bricks. This skin disease would disrupt Egyptian religious practices. This is the first plague damaging human life.
The plague of hail (Exo 9:13-35) affects the plant world. A word for vegetation in Exo 9:22 is in Gen 1:11-12. The god Seth showed himself in wind and storm. The god Min was tied to the harvest schedule. Hail is often a sign of divine judgment and it does kill the humans who are outside.
The plague of locusts (Exo 10:1-20) mentions the rest of the vegetation of Genesis 1. It is a polemic against Isis and Min like the last plague. The locusts come by an east wind, just like the wind that will divide the Sea and the locusts drown in the same sea where “not one survived” (Exo 10:19 and 14:28). It is called a deadly plague and causes darkness foreshadowing the next two plagues.
The plague of darkness (Exo 10:21-29) reverses Genesis 1:3. It is a polemic against Re, the sun god. Pharaoh claimed to be the son of the sun god. Darkness is symbolic of death in Scripture (i.e. Job 17:13, Psa 143:3).
There are ten plagues, thus the tenth plague is the fullness of the plagues. Many of the first nine plagues foreshadowed it. It reverses the creation of man by bringing their death. It is a defeat of the Egyptian god of the dead Osiris. It destroyed the firstborn cattle too. Cattle were venerated in Egyptian religion. Since this is a plague on the firstborn it represents what will happen to all of the Egyptian men who come out after Israel into the Sea of Reeds. It is really part of the Exodus event and foreshadows the rest of what will happen.
Remember that these plagues also ultimately foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For example, there was darkness before His death.