Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether all of Egypt’s livestock died. The argument is that Exodus 9:1-7 says that all the livestock died, but Exodus 9:18-21 says that not all of the livestock died. However, there are multiple possible explanations for this apparent contradiction.
1 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.Exodus 9:1-7
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.Exodus 9:18-21
Below are five possible explanations for this apparent contradiction. Because any of these could be true, there is simply no contradiction between these two passages.
Exodus 9:3 says that the plague would be “upon your livestock that are in the field.” This seems to limit the livestock that died, which means that some livestock would have survived through this plague.
Perhaps some Egyptians heard about this plague and took their livestock out of the field, and these animals did not die during the plague.
In Exodus 9:19, the Egyptians were warned to take their livestock out of the field to save them from the coming hail. Perhaps a similar warning was given for the plague in verses 1-7, and those who “feared the word of the Lord” heeded this warning and thus their animals survived.
Exodus 9:3 lists horses, asses, camels, oxen, and sheep, but it does not list goats, which was an important animal. It is possible that goats were spared from the plague, and that the livestock of Exodus 9:19 refers to goats, or another animal that was not included in the list of Exodus 9:3.
Since the Israelites were slaves of the Egyptians, it is reasonable to assume that the Egyptians may have taken livestock from the Israelites after the plague, and that the livestock referred to in Exodus 9:19 refers to livestock that the Egyptians acquired after the plague in verses 1-7.
The word “all” usually does not refer to every single entity without limit. It is likely that the word “all” in verse 6 is saying something like, “All the livestock in the field died,” or “All the livestock listed (in verse 3) died,” and not, “every single animal died.”
There are some foundational principles that apply to all alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible. To read more, see Bible Difficulties: Foundational Principles.
To read more answers to alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible, see “Contradictions” in the Bible Answered.
These books are also excellent resources: