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After the plague of livestock devastated the land of Egypt but left the Israelites’ animals untouched, Pharaoh began to recognize the immense power of God. Yet he remained stubborn and refused to release the Israelites from bondage. God said to Moses and Aaron,

“Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”

So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air and festering boils broke out on people and animals. The magicians could not stand before Pharaoh because of the boils that were on them.

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord has said he would do.

What the story means to us today

God’s control over the physical realm

The sixth plague, a painful outbreak of festering boils, is also unannounced. Pharaoh is given no opportunity to avoid God’s wrath. Moses takes ashes and blows it into the air causing painful boils to erupt on the people of Egypt. For the first time, the plague attacks humans. The lesson is unavoidable – God controls everything, including human beings.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The first plague that directly impacts human beings

The plagues now turn from the death of animals and crops to a plague that physically touches human beings. It is a agonizing lesson for the Egyptians. The plague of boils (or blisters, ulcers) was so painful, Pharaoh’s magicians could not stand up to offer their assistance. But God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. There are still lessons to be learned. Despite how horrible the boils must have been, the worst is yet to come.

Tossing dust into the air – a symbolic gesture before Pharaoh

It’s common to think of Moses blowing dust into the air and the dust settling on Egyptians, causing sores on the people throughout the land. But it would be nearly impossible for dust blown by Moses to spread throughout the land. The soot Moses blew into the air was probably symbolic. It may even represent the leftover pain from the Israelites’ forced labor at the brick making ovens.

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Was the plague of boils a natural phenomenon?

Some have proposed the lesions were skin anthrax, but this is purely conjecture. Whether or not God used natural phenomenon to implement the plague, when taken in context with the prior five plagues, it is by now quite clear that the plagues were a supernatural work of God.

Were the Israelites affected by the plague of boils?

The Bible does not tell us whether the Israelites were excluded from this plague or not. If the plague was caused by anthrax from the decaying bodies of livestock, we would presume the Israelites were not impacted since their livestock was exempt from God’s lesson. However, the verses do not tell us either way. Since the plague was excruciatingly painful, we can assume Moses and the Israelites were spared.

Notes on Biblical translation

“Boils”

The word translated to “boils” means hot blisters, pustules, or some type of swelling skin abrasion. Words from other languages that relate to the original Hebrew word imply something burning or becoming hot. The meaning is not entirely clear and could refer to boils, ulcers, blisters, skin abrasions, or sores.

Bible Text

NIV

8 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. 9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”

10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

9:8  Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace, and have Moses throw it into the air while Pharaoh is watching. 9:9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt and will cause boils to break out and fester on both people and animals in all the land of Egypt.” 9:10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh, Moses threw it into the air, and it caused festering boils to break out on both people and animals.

9:11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians. 9:12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had predicted to Moses.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

The fifth plague of Egypt, cattle dying - Artist unknown (1775)New King James Version

8 So the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take for yourselves handfuls of ashes from a furnace, and let Moses scatter it toward the heavens in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 And it will become fine dust in all the land of Egypt, and it will cause boils that break out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” 10 Then they took ashes from the furnace and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses scattered them toward heaven. And they caused boils that break out in sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

8–11 GOD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take fistfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses throw it into the air right before Pharaoh’s eyes; it will become a film of fine dust all over Egypt and cause sores, an eruption of boils on people and animals throughout Egypt.” So they took soot from a furnace, stood in front of Pharaoh, and threw it up into the air. It caused boils to erupt on people and animals. The magicians weren’t able to compete with Moses this time because of the boils—they were covered with boils just like everyone else in Egypt.

12 GOD hardened Pharaoh in his stubbornness. He wouldn’t listen, just as GOD had said to Moses.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

8 And the LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt. 10 And they took ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians. 12 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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