Did All of Egypt's Livestock Die? Exodus 9:1-7, 9:18-21

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether all of Egypt's livestock died. Exodus 9:1-7 says that it all died, and Exodus 9:18-21 says that it did not all die.
Bible "contradictions"
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Quick answer

There are at least five possible explanations:

  1. "All" may not refer to every single animal (see Matthew 3:5, Mark 1:5).
  2. The Egyptians gained livestock between verses 1-7 and verses 18-21.
  3. Only livestock "in the field" were killed, so some livestock survived.
  4. Verses 1-7 do not mention one important animal: the goat. It is possible that goats were not killed in verses 1-7.
  5. In verses 19-20, those who "feared the word of the Lord" were warned about the coming plague. Perhaps some were warned during the plague in verses 1-7 also.

The argument

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether all of the livestock died in Exodus 9:1-7. Exodus 9:1-7 says that all of the livestock died, but Exodus 9:18-21 implies that not all of the livestock died. Here are the relevant passages:

All of the livestock died

Exodus 9:1-7 - 9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, 3 behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. 4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.” 5 And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” 6 And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. 7 And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

Not all of the livestock died

Exodus 9:18-21 - 18 Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 19 Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.” 20 Then whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, 21 but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slaves and his livestock in the field.

The answer

There are five reasonable explanations that eliminate this alleged contradiction:

1. The word "all" does not refer to every single animal

The word "all" does not always refer to every single person or animals, but sometimes refers to a great majority. For example, take a look at Matthew 3:5 and Mark 1:5.

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him... (Matthew 3:5)
And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5)

Clearly, not "all" Judea went out to Jesus as in every single individual in Judea. These passages are clearly saying that a great majority of the people in Judea was going out to Jesus.

It is entirely possible that "all the livestock" in Exodus 9:1-7 conveys a similar meaning.

2. The Egyptians took livestock from the Israelites, or acquired more livestock through another means

The second possibility is that the Egyptians acquired more livestock between Exodus 9:1-7 and Exodus 9:18-21, whether from the Israelites, who did not lose their livestock, or from another source.

If this was the case, then the hail would have killed all the livestock that the Egyptians had gained between the two plagues.

3. Only the livestock "in the field" were killed

Exodus 9:3 says that the plague would be upon "your livestock that are in the field." So, perhaps only the livestock in the field died, and the livestock that were not in the field did not die that day.

Then, again, in Exodus 9:18-21, any livestock in the field would have died during the hail.

4. Goats did not die during the first plague

Interestingly, verses 1-7 do not mentioned one important animal that was used as livestock: the goat. It is possible that all the livestock mentioned, but not goats, were killed in the fifth plague, and then goats were killed in the following plague.

5. Perhaps those who "feared the word of the Lord" were warned so that their livestock did not die

In verses 19-20, we see that those who "feared the word of the Lord" were warned to get their livestock out of the fields and into "safe shelter" so that their livestock would be spared.

Perhaps there were those who feared God and not Pharaoah who God had mercy on, during both plagues.

Conclusion

Any of these five explanations would resolve the alleged contradiction. There is simply no contradiction between these passages concerning whether all of the Egyptians's livestock died.

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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