Did all the livestock die in the plague on Egypt?

Question: In Exodus 9:6 if all the livestock died in , why are they still around in verses 19-21? Did a good deal of time separate all the plagues?

Answer: This may sound kind of strange to you, but the word “all” does not always mean “every one or thing without exception” in every context. Occasionally the word “all” means “some of every kind mentioned” and sometimes it means “all of one kind.” There are always clues in the context as to which meaning is intended.

For example, in Exodus 9:3 God says He will bring the plague on Egypt’s “livestock in the field – on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats.” Then in verse 6 the Bible says, “All the livestock of the Egyptians died.” Can you imagine what would have happened to Egypt’s economy if every single animal in the field died? It would have meant the death of innumerable people due to lack of food or the ability to farm or make food. It would have shut down the ability of those in commerce to transport goods and services. We might suggest that the nation would not have survived such an event. But because we see a delineation of the kinds of animals God is talking about killing in verse 2, we may surmise that “all” in this context means “some of every kind.” This makes better sense of verses 19-21 where the livestock are brought in from the field to escape the plague of hail and makes better sense of how Pharaoh was able to chase the Israelites to the Red Sea in chariots (presumably the chariots were pulled by horses, not men).

We see another possible example of this same meaning for “all” in 1 Timothy 2:1-6 where Paul commands “intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority” and then mentions that Jesus Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all men.” Did Jesus ransom all men without exception or did he ransom men from every kind of man, like kings and governors and others in authority as well as those not in authority? This becomes a theological issue related to the extent of the atonement. This passage might indicate that Jesus died for every single human without exception, but it might rather demonstrate that he died for every kind of man.

An example of “all” meaning “all of one kind” is possibly found in Romans 5:18,19:

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Condemnation came to all men of the same kind, that is, men born into the line of Adam and bearing his curse (which happens to be every human being with the exception of Jesus), and justification brings life for all men of one kind, that is, those who believe in Jesus (“those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace,” v.17).

Randall Johnson


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