Adam Clarke Commentary
The plague of frogs threatened, Exodus 8:1, Exodus 8:2. The extent of this plague, Exodus 8:3, Exodus 8:4. Aaron commanded to stretch out his hand, with the rod, over the river and waters of Egypt, in consequence of which the frogs came, Exodus 8:5, Exodus 8:6. The magicians imitate this miracle, Exodus 8:7. Pharaoh entreats Moses to remove the frogs, and promises to let the people go, Exodus 8:8. Moses promises that they shall be removed from every part of Egypt, the river excepted, Exodus 8:9-11. Moses prays to God, and the frogs die throughout the land of Egypt, Exodus 8:12-14. Pharaoh, finding himself respited, hardens his heart, Exodus 8:15. The plague of lice on man and beast, Exodus 8:16, Exodus 8:17. The magicians attempt to imitate this miracle, but in vain, Exodus 8:18. They confess it to be the finger of God, and yet Pharaoh continues obstinate, Exodus 8:19. Moses is sent again to him to command him to let the people go, and in case of disobedience he is threatened with swarms of flies, Exodus 8:20, Exodus 8:21. A promise made that the land of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt, should be exempted front this plague, Exodus 8:22, Exodus 8:23. The flies are sent, Exodus 8:24. Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron, and offers to permit them to sacrifice in the land, Exodus 8:25. They refuse, and desire to go three days' journey into the wilderness, Exodus 8:26, Exodus 8:27. Pharaoh consents to let them go a little way, provided they would entreat the Lord to remove the flies, Exodus 8:28. Moses consents, prays to God, and the flies are removed, Exodus 8:29-31. After which Pharaoh yet hardened his heart, and refused to let the people go, Exodus 8:32.
Let my people go - God, in great mercy to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, gives them notice of the evils he intended to bring upon them if they continued in their obstinacy. Having had therefore such warning, the evil might have been prevented by a timely humiliation and return to God.
If thou refuse - Nothing can be plainer than that Pharaoh had it still in his power to have dismissed the people, and that his refusal was the mere effect of his own wilful obstinacy.
With frogs - צפרדעים tsepardeim . This word is of doubtful etymology: almost all interpreters, both ancient and modern, agree to render it as we do, though some mentioned by Aben Ezra think the crocodile is meant; but these can never weigh against the conjoint testimony of the ancient versions. Parkhurst derives the word from צפר tsaphar, denoting the brisk action, or motion of the light, and ידע yada, to feel, as they seem to feel or rejoice in the light, croaking all the summer months, yet hiding themselves in the winter. The Arabic name for this animal is very nearly the same with the Hebrew zafda, where the letters are the same, the ר resch being omitted. It is used as a quadriliteral root in the Arabic language, to signify froggy, or containing frogs: see Golius. But the true etymology seems to be given by Bochart, who says the word is compounded of zifa, a bank, and rada, mud, because the frog delights in muddy or marshy places; and that from these two words the noun zafda is formed, the re being dropped. In the Batrocho myomachia of Homer, the frog has many of its epithets from this very circumstance. Hence Λιμνοχαρις, delighting in the lake; Βορβοροκοιτης, lying or engendering in the mud; Πηλευς, and Πηλβατης, belonging to the mud, walking in the mud, etc., etc.
A frog is in itself a very harmless animal; but to most people who use it not as an article of food, exceedingly loathsome. God, with equal ease, could have brought crocodiles, bears, lions, or tigers to have punished these people and their impious king, instead of frogs, lice, flies, etc. But had he used any of those formidable animals, the effect would have appeared so commensurate to the cause, that the hand of God might have been forgotten in the punishment; and the people would have been exasperated without being humbled. In the present instance he shows the greatness of his power by making an animal, devoid of every evil quality, the means of a terrible affliction to his enemies. How easy is it, both to the justice and mercy of God, to destroy or save by means of the most despicable and insignificant of instruments! Though he is the Lord of hosts he has no need of powerful armies, the ministry of angels, or the thunderbolts of justice, to punish a sinner or a sinful nation; the frog or the fly in his hands is a sufficient instrument of vengeance.
The river shall bring forth frogs abundantly - The river Nile, which was an object of their adoration, was here one of the instruments of their punishment. The expression, bring forth abundantly, not only shows the vast numbers of those animals, which should now infest the land, but it seems also to imply that all the spawn or ova of those animals which were already in the river and marshes, should be brought miraculously to a state of perfection. We may suppose that the animals were already in an embryo existence, but multitudes of them would not have come to a state of perfection had it not been for this miraculous interference. This supposition will appear the more natural when it is considered that the Nile was remarkable for breeding frogs, and such other animals as are principally engendered in such marshy places as must be left in the vicinity of the Nile after its annual inundations.
Into thine ovens - In various parts of the east, instead of what we call ovens they dig a hole in the ground, in which they insert a kind of earthen pot, which having sufficiently heated, they stick their cakes to the inside, and when baked remove them and supply their places with others, and so on. To find such places full of frogs when they came to heat them, in order to make their bread, must be both disgusting and distressing in the extreme.
Stretch forth thine hand - over the streams, over the rivers - The streams and rivers here may refer to the grand divisions of the Nile in the Lower Egypt, which were at least seven, and to the canals by which these were connected; as there were no other streams, etc., but what proceeded from this great river.
The frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt - In some ancient writers we have examples of a similar plague. The Abderites, according to Orosius, and the inhabitants of Paeonia and Dardania, according to Athenaeus, were obliged to abandon their country on account of the great numbers of frogs by which their land was infested.
The magicians did so - A little juggling or dexterity of hand might have been quite sufficient for the imitation of this miracle, because frogs in abundance had already been produced; and some of these kept in readiness might have been brought forward by the magicians, as proofs of their pretended power and equality in influence to Moses and Aaron.
Glory over me - עלי התפאר hithpaer alai . These words have greatly puzzled commentators in general; and it is not easy to assign their true meaning. The Septuagint render the words thus: Ταξαι προς με ποτε, etc., Appoint unto me when I shall pray, etc. The constitue mihi quando of the Vulgate is exactly the same; and in this sense almost all the versions understood this place. This countenances the conjectural emendation of Le Clerc, who, by the change of a single letter, reading התבאר hithbaer for התפאר hithpaer, gives the same sense as that in the ancient versions. Houbigant, supposing a corruption in the original, amends the reading thus: עלי באר אתה attah baar alai - Dic mihi quo tempore, etc., "Tell me when thou wishest me to pray for thee," etc., which amounts to the same in sense with that proposed by Le Clerc. Several of our English versions preserve the same meaning; so in the Saxon Heptateuch; so in Becke's Bible, 1549, "And Moses sayed unto Pharaoh, Appoint thou the time unto me." This appears to be the genuine import of the words, and the sense taken in this way is strong and good. We may conceive Moses addressing Pharaoh in this way: "That thou mayest be persuaded that Jehovah alone is the inflicter of these plagues, appoint the time when thou wouldst have the present calamity removed, and I will pray unto God, and thou shalt plainly see from his answer that this is no casual affliction, and that in continuing to harden thy heart and resist thou art sinning against God." Nothing could be a fuller proof that this plague was supernatural than the circumstance of Pharaoh's being permitted to assign himself the time of its being removed, and its removal at the intercession of Moses according to that appointment. And this is the very use made of it by Moses himself, Exodus 8:10, when he says, Be it according to thy word: that thou mayest know that there is none like unto the Lord our God; and that, consequently, he might no longer trust in his magicians, or in his false gods.
They gathered them together upon heaps - The killing of the frogs was a mitigation of the punishment; but the leaving them to rot in the land was a continual proof that such a plague had taken place, and that the displeasure of the Lord still continued. The conjecture of Calmet is at least rational: he supposes that the plague of flies originated from the plague of frogs; that the former deposited their ova in the putrid masses, and that from these the innumerable swarms afterwards mentioned were hatched. In vindication of this supposition it may be observed, that God never works a miracle when the end can be accomplished by merely natural means; and in the operations of Divine providence we always find that the greatest number of effects possible are accomplished by the fewest causes. As therefore the natural means for this fourth plague had been miraculously provided by the second, the Divine Being had a right to use the instruments which he had already prepared.
Smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice - If the vermin commonly designated by this name be intended, it must have been a very dreadful and afflicting plague to the Egyptians, and especially to their priests, who were obliged to shave the hair off every part of their bodies, and to wear a single tunic, that no vermin of this kind might be permitted to harbor about them. See Herod. in Euterp., c. xxxvii., p. 104, edit. Gale. Of the nature of these insects it is not necessary to say much. The common louse is very prolific. In the space of twelve days a full-grown female lays one hundred eggs, from which, in the space of six days, about fifty males and as many females are produced. In eighteen days these young females are at their full growth, each of which may lay one hundred eggs, which will be all hatched in six days more. Thus, in the course of six weeks, the parent female may see 5,000 of its own descendants! So mightily does this scourge of indolence and filthiness increase!
But learned men are not agreed on the signification of the original word כנים kinnim, which different copies of the Septuagint render σκνιφες, σκνιπες, and σκνηπες, gnats; and the Vulgate renders sciniphes, which signifies the same.
Mr. Harmer supposes he has found out the true meaning in the word tarrentes, mentioned by Vinisauf, one of our ancient English writers; who, speaking of the expedition of King Richard I. to the Holy Land, says, that "while the army were marching from Cayphas to Caesarea, they were greatly distressed every night by certain worms called tarrentes, which crept on the ground, and occasioned a very burning heat by most painful punctures; for, being armed with stings, they conveyed a poison which quickly occasioned those who were wounded by them to swell, and was attended with the most acute pain." All this is far fetched. Bochart has endeavored to prove that the כנים kinnim of the text may mean lice in the common acceptation of the term, and not gnats. 1. Because those in question sprang from the dust of the earth, and not from the waters. 2. Because they were both on men and cattle, which cannot be spoken of gnats. 3. Because their name comes from the radix כון kun, which signifies to make firm, fix, establish, which can never agree to gnats, flies, etc., which are ever changing their place, and are almost constantly on the wing. 4. Because כנה kinnah is the term by which the Talmudists express the louse, etc. See his Hierozoicon, vol. ii., c. xviii., col. 571. The circumstance of their being in man and in beast agrees so well with the nature of the acarus sanguisugus, commonly called the tick, belonging to the seventh order of insects called Aptera, that I am ready to conclude this is the insect meant. This animal buries both its sucker and head equally in man or beast; and can with very great difficulty be extracted before it is grown to its proper size, and filled with the blood and juices of the animal on which it preys. When fully grown, it has a glossy black oval body: not only horses, cows, and sheep are infested with it in certain countries, but even the common people, especially those who labor in the field, in woods, etc. I know no insect to which the Hebrew term so properly applies. This is the fixed, established insect, which will permit itself to be pulled in pieces rather than let go its hold; and this is literally ובבהמה באדם baadam ubabbehemah, in man and in beast, burying its trunk and head in the flesh of both. In woodland countries I have seen many persons as well as cattle grievously infested with these insects.
The magicians did so - That is, They tried the utmost of their skill, either to produce these insects or to remove this plague; but they could not, no juggling could avail here, because insects must be produced which would stick to and infix themselves in man and beast, which no kind of trick could possibly imitate; and to remove them, as some would translate the passage, was to their power equally impossible. If the magicians even acted by spiritual agents, we find from this case that these agents had assigned limits, beyond which they could not go; for every agent in the universe is acting under the direction or control of the Almighty.
This is the finger of God - That is, The power and skill of God are here evident. Probably before this the magicians supposed Moses and Aaron to be conjurers, like themselves; but now they are convinced that no man could do these miracles which these holy men did, unless God were with him. God permits evil spirits to manifest themselves in a certain way, that men may see that there is a spiritual world, and be on their guard against seduction. He at the same time shows that all these agents are under his control, that men may have confidence in his goodness and power.
Swarms of flies upon thee - It is not easy to ascertain the precise meaning of the original word הערב hearob ; as the word comes from ערב arab, he mingled, it may be supposed to express a multitude of various sorts of insects. And if the conjecture be admitted that the putrid frogs became the occasion of this plague, (different insects laying their eggs in the bodies of those dead animals, which would soon be hatched, see on Exodus 8:14; (note)), then the supposition that a multitude of different hinds of insects is meant, will seem the more probable. Though the plague of the locusts was miraculous, yet God both brought it and removed it by natural means; see Exodus 10:13-19.
Bochart, who has treated this subject with his usual learning and ability, follows the Septuagint, explaining the original by κυνομυια, the dog-fly; which must be particularly hateful to the Egyptians, because they held dogs in the highest veneration, and worshipped Anubis under the form of a dog. In a case of this kind the authority of the Septuagint is very high, as they translated the Pentateuch in the very place where these plagues happened. But as the Egyptians are well known to have paid religious veneration to all kinds of animals and monsters, whence the poet: -
Omnigenumque deum monstra, et latrator Anubis,
I am inclined to favor the literal construction of the word: for as ערב ereb, Exodus 12:38, expresses that mixed multitude of different kinds of people who accompanied the Israelites in their departure from Egypt; so here the same term being used, it may have been designed to express a multitude of different kinds of insects, such as flies, wasps, hornets, etc., etc. The ancient Jewish interpreters suppose that all kinds of beasts and reptiles are intended, such as wolves, lions, bears, serpents, etc. Mr. Bate thinks the raven is meant, because the original is so understood in other places; and thus he translates it in his literal version of the Pentateuch: but the meaning already given is the most likely. As to the objection against this opinion drawn from Exodus 8:31, there remained not one, it can have very little weight, when it is considered that this may as well be spoken of one of any of the different kinds, as of an individual of one species.
I will sever in that day - הפליתי hiphleythi, has been translated by some good critics, I will miraculously separate; so the Vulgate: Faciam mirabilem, "I will do a marvellous thing." And the Septuagint, παραδοξασω, I will render illustrious the land of Goshen in that day; and this he did, by exempting that land, and its inhabitants the Israelites, from the plagues by which he afflicted the land of Egypt.
And I will put a division - פדת peduth, a redemption, between my people and thy people; God hereby showing that he had redeemed them from those plagues to which he had abandoned the others.
The land was corrupted - Every thing was spoiled, and many of the inhabitants destroyed, being probably stung to death by these venomous insects. This seems to be intimated by the psalmist, "He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which Devoured them," Psalm 78:45.
In ancient times, when political, domestic, and personal cleanliness was but little attended to, and offal of different kinds permitted to corrupt in the streets and breed vermin, flies multiplied exceedingly, so that we read in ancient authors of whole districts being laid waste by them; hence different people had deities, whose office it was to defend them against flies. Among these we may reckon Baalzebub, the fly-god of Ekron; Hercules, muscarum abactor, Hercules, the expeller of flies, of the Romans; the Muagrus of the Eleans, whom they invoked against pestilential swarms of flies; and hence Jupiter, the supreme god of the heathens, had the epithets of Απομυιος and Μυωδης, because he was supposed to expel flies, and defend his worshippers against them. See Dodd.
Sacrifice to your God in the land - That is, Ye shall not leave Egypt, but I shall cause your worship to be tolerated here.
We shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians - That is, The animals which they hold sacred, and will not permit to be slain, are those which our customs require us to sacrifice to our God; and should we do this in Egypt the people would rise in a mass, and stone us to death. Perhaps few people were more superstitious than the Egyptians. Almost every production of nature was an object of their religious worship: the sun, moon, planets, stars, the river Nile, animals of all sorts, from the human being to the monkey, dog, cat, and ibis, and even the onions and leeks which grew in their gardens. Jupiter was adored by them under the form of a ram, Apollo under the form of a crow, Bacchus under that of a goat, and Juno under that of a heifer. The reason why the Egyptians worshipped those animals is given by Eusebius, viz., that when the giants made war on the gods, they were obliged to take refuge in Egypt, and assume the shapes or disguise themselves under different kinds of animals in order to escape. Jupiter hid himself in the body of a ram, Apollo in that of a crow, Bacchus in a goat, Diana in a cat, Juno in a white heifer, Venus in a fish, and Mercury in the bird ibis; all which are summoned up by Ovid in the following lines: -
Duxque gregis fit Jupiter -
Delius in corvo, proles Semeleia capro,
Fele soror Phoebi, nivea Saturnia vacca,
Pisce Venus latuit, Cyllenius ibidis alis.
Metam., l. v., fab. v., 1. 326.
How the gods fled to Egypt's slimy soil,
And hid their heads beneath the banks of Nile;
How Typhon from the conquer'd skies pursued
Their routed godheads to the seven-mouth'd flood;
Forced every god, his fury to escape,
Some beastly form to take, or earthly shape.
Jove, so she sung, was changed into a ram,
From whence the horns of Libyan Ammon came;
Bacchus a goat, Apollo was a crow,
Phoebe a cat, the wife of Jove a cow,
Whose hue was whiter than the falling snow;
Mercury, to a nasty ibis turn'd,
The change obscene, afraid of Typhon mourn'd,
While Venus from a fish protection craves,
And once more plunges in her native waves
These animals therefore became sacred to them on account of the deities, who, as the fable reports, had taken refuge in them. Others suppose that the reason why the Egyptians would not sacrifice or kill those creatures was their belief in the doctrine of the metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls; for they feared lest in killing an animal they should kill a relative or a friend. This doctrine is still held by the Hindoos.
And sacrifice to the Lord - as he shall command us - It is very likely that neither Moses nor Aaron knew as yet in what manner God would be worshipped; and they expected to receive a direct revelation from him relative to this subject, when they should come into the wilderness.
I will let you go only ye shall not go very far away - Pharaoh relented because the hand of God was heavy upon him; but he was not willing to give up his gain. The Israelites were very profitable to him; they were slaves of the state, and their hard labor was very productive: hence he professed a willingness, first to tolerate their religion in the land, ( Exodus 8:25;); or to permit them to go into the wilderness, so that they went not far away, and would soon return. How ready is foolish man, when the hand of God presses him sore, to compound with his Maker! He will consent to give up some sins, provided God will permit him to keep others.
Entreat for me - Exactly similar to the case of Simon Magus, who, like Pharaoh, fearing the Divine judgments, begged an interest in the prayers of Peter, Acts 8:24.
The Lord did according to the word of Moses - How powerful is prayer! God permits his servant to prescribe even the manner and time in which he shall work.
He removed the swarms - Probably by means of a strong wind, which swept them into the sea.
Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also - See Exodus 8:15. This hardening was the mere effect of his self-determining obstinacy. He preferred his gain to the will and command of Jehovah, and God made his obstinacy the means of showing forth his own power and providence in a supereminent degree.
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