Again YHWH, probably by means of his representative angel, told Moses to go to Pharaoh, informing him that YHWH, the God of the Hebrews, was requiring that he permit his people, the Israelites, to leave Egypt in order to serve him. Refusal on his part would lead to his witnessing the “hand [or power] of YHWH” directed against cattle, horses, donkeys, camels, and herds (of cattle) and flocks (of sheep and goats) out in the field. The domestic animals would be afflicted with a serious pestilence that would result in a high mortality rate. None of the domestic animals belonging to the Israelites, however, would die. As announced beforehand, the pestilence did strike the next day, with only the animals of the Egyptians dying. Pharaoh apparently sent men in his service to investigate the situation among the Israelites and received a report that not one of their animals had died. Nevertheless, Pharaoh did not change his attitude. He hardened his heart, remaining stubbornly defiant, and refused to let the people of Israel leave. (9:1-7; see the Notes section.)
The word of YHWH, doubtless through his representative angel, directed Moses and Aaron to take handfuls of ashes or soot from a kiln and then for Moses to throw the ashes skyward before the “eyes” (or in the sight) of Pharaoh. By means of this act, the Egyptians and their domestic animals would be stricken with painful boils. The pain proved to be so severe that the magicians of Egypt were unable to stand before Moses. Pharaoh, however, did not change his attitude. YHWH permitted him to remain defiant and thus hardened his heart. Pharaoh, as YHWH had revealed beforehand, refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, remaining unresponsive to the request that he permit the Israelites to leave Egypt in order to serve their God. (9:8-13; see the Notes section.)
YHWH’s purpose in sending the plagues was to make it clear to Pharaoh, his officials, and his subjects that there was no god like him in all the earth. In this case, “earth” includes Egypt and lands far beyond its borders. YHWH could have taken the life of Pharaoh and of his subjects, but he chose to let Pharaoh live, using the opportunity to show his power and to have his name declared “throughout all the earth.” (9:14-16) The name of YHWH did become widely known. About 40 years later, Rahab of Jericho in the land of Canaan recalled what YHWH had done in drying up the water of the Red Sea and liberating his people. (Joshua 2:10) Centuries thereafter, the Philistines still knew about the mighty God who had struck the Egyptians with every kind of plague. (1 Samuel 4:8)
Pharaoh continued to exalt himself over the Israelites, maintaining an arrogant bearing toward them as he refused to let them leave to sacrifice to YHWH their God. Therefore, YHWH decreed that the Egyptians would experience a hailstorm of such severity as had never occurred in the history of their country. The Egyptians were advised to bring all their animals under shelter and to leave no slaves out in the fields. Those who “feared,” or trusted, that the word of YHWH would be fulfilled the next day brought their animals and slaves into the safety of a shelter, but those who had no regard for (literally, “did not set [their] heart on”) YHWH’s word left their slaves and animals out in the open. When Moses, at YHWH’s command, stretched out his rod toward the sky, it began to thunder and hail, and “fire” or lightning struck the ground. All during the time the hail fell, lightning flashes were visible in the midst of it. Every man and every animal out in the field were struck down. All plants were flattened, and all trees were shattered. In Goshen, where the Israelites resided, there was no hail. (9:17-26; see the Notes section.)
Apparently the severity of the hail and the damage it caused prompted Pharaoh to acknowledge that he had been in the wrong when refusing to allow the Israelites to depart for the wilderness to sacrifice to YHWH. After summoning Moses and Aaron, he is quoted as saying to them: “I have sinned this time. YHWH is righteous [just or in the right], and I and my people are guilty [or in the wrong (impious [LXX])].” He requested that they entreat YHWH to bring an end to the thunder (literally, “voices [or sounds] of God”) and hail (“and fire” or lightning [LXX]). Pharaoh also consented to permit the Israelites to depart. (9:27, 28)
Moses agreed to stretch out his hands to YHWH upon being outside the city. This meant that he would lift his arms and open palms skyward in an attitude of prayer, petitioning YHWH to cause the thunder and the hail (“and the rain” [LXX]) to stop. Moses wanted Pharaoh to “know” or to recognize, based on the cessation of the hail, that the “earth” or land belonged to YHWH or that everything was under his control. Nevertheless, Moses revealed that he knew that Pharaoh and his servants or officials did not at that time really fear, or have a proper regard for, YHWH. (9:29, 30)
The plague of hail probably occurred in the middle of February or early in March, for the hail ruined the flax and the barley. Wheat and spelt, grains that matured later, were not destroyed. (9:31, 32)
After Moses made his appeal to YHWH, the thunder (literally, “sounds” or “voices”), the hail, and the rain stopped. Having experienced relief from the hailstorm, Pharaoh and his servants or officials revealed that they had not come to fear YHWH. They hardened their hearts and stubbornly resisted his words that were conveyed to them through Moses. Just as YHWH had made known in advance, Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites depart. (9:33-35)
The deadly pestilence that affected domestic animals (9:3-6) would have revealed the impotence of Apis (the sacred bull deity), Hathor (a goddess represented as a cow, a woman with the head of a cow, or a woman with the ears of a cow), and the sky goddess Nut (represented as a woman or a cow forming the sky over the land and with stars on her body).
Verse 6 refers to “all” the domestic animals of the Egyptians as having died from the pestilence. This may be understood to mean that all the animals the pestilence affected died or that a significantly large number of them died. The Egyptians still had domestic animals that survived the pestilence. Later, before the seventh plague, the Egyptians needed to bring their domestic animals under shelter to escape death from the plague of hail. (9:19) Then, at the time the firstborn died, the Egyptians lost firstborn domestic animals. (12:29)
For the Egyptians there was no cure for their painful boils or sores. (9:10, 11) Deities to which they may have looked for relief could not help them. These deities may have included the goddesses of healing (Heka and Sekhmet), the goddess Isis, and the gods Thoth and Ptah.
Any appeal to the Egyptian deities to cause the hailstorm to end would have been in vain. No aid would have come from Tefnut (the goddess of rain), Set (the god of desert storms), Reshpu (a god who was believed to control lightning) and Thoth (a god to whom power over rain and thunder was attributed). (9:22-25)