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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Exodus 8


Swift judgment and punishment mark the action in Exodus 8. Plagues II, III, and IV fall in rapid succession; Pharaoh's heart progressively hardens, and God's ultimate victory through Moses and Aaron begins to appear:

  1. in the recognition by Pharaoh of Moses and Aaron as God's spokesmen, not as the malcontent slaves that he at first took them to be,

  2. in Pharaoh's growing acquaintance with Jehovah whom he at first professed not to know, and

  3. in the first of a series of compromises in which Pharaoh sought to avoid the inevitable.

Verse 1

"And Jehovah spake unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Let my people go, that they may serve me."

Bishop Usher who developed the well-known chronology dated all of the Ten Plagues within the space of a month, and, although that appears to be inaccurate, nevertheless, the impression prevails that they did occur in quick succession. "With Pharaoh scorning the first demonstration, Moses and Aaron bring, in swift succession, a series of disasters upon Egypt."[1] The contest in these overwhelming demonstrations was clearly a war between the true God Jehovah and Pharaoh himself a pagan deity and acknowledged head of the complex paganism of ancient Egypt. God's people had been serving Pharaoh, but now God demanded that His people serve Jehovah! "Let my people go, that they may serve me."

Verses 2-7


"And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: and the river shall swarm with frogs, which shall go up and come into thy house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneading-troughs: and the frogs shall come up both upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants. And Jehovah said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thy hand with thy rod over the rivers, over the streams, and over the pools, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt. And the magicians did in like manner with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt."

"Frogs shall go up ... shall come up ... cause frogs to come up ... and brought up frogs ..." These expressions indicate that it was not the mere existence of frogs which constituted the wonder here, but it was what the frogs did. Their numbers also exceeded anything that might have been referred to natural causes. Also, this judgment followed immediately upon its being threatened and the stretching out of the rod of God.

"Let my people go ...!" This is the second occurrence in a sequence of these dramatic demands. See under Exodus 7:16.

"Frogs ..." Why frogs? As many of the older commentators discerned, "How easy is it, both to the justice and mercy of God, to destroy or to save by the most despicable and insignificant of instruments."[2] God did not call forth lions, tigers, deadly serpents, or any of the creatures that men fear. He did not even need a quaternion of soldiers! He did it with frogs, common, harmless, despicable frogs! Furthermore, the frog was the symbol of the goddess of fertility in Egypt; "She was called Hekt,"[3] represented in statues as "a female deity with a frog's head,"[4] and supposed to symbolize, "the renewal of life."[5] That such a respected element of Egyptian paganism should suddenly become a curse instead of a blessing was evidently incorporated into the basic design of this miracle. We must agree with Fields that, "The popularity of the goddess Hekt must have dropped to near zero after this plague!"[6] Not only was the frog a symbol of the goddess, but, "The frog itself was often worshipped as a symbol of Hekt, a form of the goddess Hathor."[7]

"And the Egyptians did in like manner ..." Of what earthly help was this action of Pharaoh's servants? The last thing they needed was more frogs! It shows that even the efforts of God's enemies aid God's purpose. If those magicians had been able to remove the frogs, that would have helped. Their enchantments to produce more frogs was a self-defeating act. It also raises a question of how they did it. One cannot resist the conclusion that their act was nothing but a pretense, for it certainly would have been no miracle to produce a few frogs anywhere from the abundance of frogs everywhere! "The king would never have applied to Moses and Aaron for help if his charmers could have charmed the plague away."[8]

Verses 8-11

"Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Entreat Jehovah, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice unto Jehovah. And Moses said unto Pharaoh, Have thou this glory over me: against what time shall I entreat for thee, and for thy servants, and for thy people, that the frogs be destroyed from thee and thy houses, and remain in the river only? And he said, Against tomorrow. And he said, Be it according to thy word; that thou mayest know that there is none like unto Jehovah our God. And the frogs shall depart from thee, and from thy houses, and from thy servants, and from thy people; they shall remain in the river only."

"Entreat Jehovah ..." This is the first sign of surrender on Pharaoh's part. He, by his actions, demonstrated that he considered his magicians powerless to cope with the situation, that he acknowledged Moses and Aaron as the spokesman for Jehovah, and that he would consent for the Israelites to sacrifice to Jehovah. This indication by Pharaoh stopped short of promising permission for the Israelites to leave the country, but it definitely showed signs of his cracking under the pressure being applied.

"In asking Moses to entreat the Lord, Pharaoh recognizes him as the spokesman of an actual deity. He no longer scorns Yahweh."[9]

"Have thou this glory over me ..." These words are considered difficult by some, but the obvious meaning is that suggested by Harford:

"When Pharaoh prays for relief, Moses concedes him the "glory" or advantage of naming the time when the pests should be removed, that the Divine control of the visitation might be the more conspicuous."[10]

"Thy houses ..." The plural is used in Exodus 8:9,11, and, despite this being usually interpreted as reference to the houses of both Pharaoh and his servants, there remains the possibility that the houses (plural) of Pharaoh himself are meant, and that the reference is to the twin capitals of Pharaoh, one in the south of Egypt, and the other northward in the Delta. The plagues were visited upon the whole of Egypt. "I will smite all thy borders" (Exodus 8:2). This would have prevented Pharaoh's merely moving to his other residence to escape the plague. Rawlinson accepted this view: "It would seem that the frogs had invaded more than one palace of Pharaoh. He had perhaps quitted Tanis and gone to Memphis when the plague came, but the frogs pursued him there."[11]

"That the frogs be destroyed ..." Pharaoh might have felt that he had out maneuvered Moses and Aaron in the first confrontation, as some have alleged that he did, but all that was wiped out completely by Pharaoh's being outmaneuvered here. Moses said, in effect, "You have the honor of telling WHEN the frogs will be destroyed! Destroyed? Pharaoh might have thought that meant they would vanish. But NO, it meant they would all die! And is a dead frog any less a plague than a live one! Pharaoh soon found out. "The removal of the plague in a manner intensified it."[12]

Verses 12-15

"And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto Jehovah concerning the frogs which he had brought upon Pharaoh. And Jehovah did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the courts, and out of the fields. And they gathered them together in heaps; and the land stank. But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them,' as Jehovah had spoken."

These verses recount the removal of the plague. The frogs did not merely vanish, they died! What a smell of death must have gone up from all Egypt! Heaps upon heaps of dead frogs everywhere! No one could deny that the plague had occurred, for the evidence remained afterward, and what a clean up that must have been!

Now Pharaoh had specifically promised that he would let the people go; "But he was more impressed by his own relief than by the power of God, and he forgot his promise."[13]

"But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite ..." This literally means "a taking of breath," or "a breathing place."[14] But Keil captured the full implications of the passage thus: "As soon as he `got air' he hardened his heart."[15] Keil has frequently been quoted by others in this rendition.

Verses 16-19


"And Jehovah said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the earth, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And they did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and there were lice upon many, and upon beast; all the dust of the earth became lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And the Egyptians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: and there were lice upon man, and upon beast. Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God; and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as Jehovah had spoken."

This plague was preceded by no warning, and was therefore more easily related by Pharaoh to his welching on his promise to let the people go. In this quality of being without warning, this plague corresponds to Plagues VI (the boils) and IX (the darkness).

"All the dust of the earth ..." This expression, like many others in the Bible, is hyperbole for the sake of emphasis. No one who endured the plague could possibly have found any fault with this statement of the extent of it.

"And there were lice ..." The term rendered "lice" in our version is actually uncertain in meaning and has been rendered in various ways, as follows:

It is rendered as "gnats" in the RSV, the Catholic New American Bible, and the Berkley version.

It is given as "maggots" in the New English Bible.

It is translated "mosquitoes" in the Jerusalem Bible.

It appears in a word meaning "fleas" in the Septuagint (LXX).[16]

"Adam Clarke was certain that it means the tick, basing his conclusion on (1) their being said to be in man and beast (the tick buries its head in the victim), and (2) the meaning of the root word here, which is to make firm, fix or establish (which ticks most assuredly do).[17] It is interesting that some very recent scholars also favor this view. Ellison also understood the term to mean ticks."[18]

Apparently, one may take his choice as to the meaning of the word here given as lice. Whatever they were, the plague they caused was devastating. The Egyptians did not like it; the magicians could not duplicate it; and it could not possibly be attributed to anything in heaven or on earth except to "the finger of God."

"The finger of God ..." "This need not imply that the magicians recognized Jehovah as the God who wrought the marvel."[19] "This is confirmed by the fact that they speak of [~'ªlohiym], a god, not of Jehovah the God of Israel."[20] Of course, the use of a capital letter for God is misleading. The magicians were merely admitting that the plague was supernatural and beyond their power of imitation.

"Pharaoh's heart was hardened ..." For discussion of this, see under Exodus 4:21, above.

Verses 20-24


"And Jehovah said unto Moses, Rise up, early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Let my people go, that they may serve me. Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are. And I will set apart in that day the land of Goshen, in which roy people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end that thou mayest know that I am Jehovah in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between my people and thy people: by tomorrow shall this sign be. And Jehovah did so; and there came grievous swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants' houses: and in all the land of Egypt the land was corrupted by reason of the swarms of flies."

There is a discernible and reasonable progress in these wonders. Two significant developments distinguish this sign. (1) Moses in Plague III had been courteous to Pharaoh, even offering him the choice and honor of saying when the frogs would be destroyed, but in the announcement of this Plague, the formal obeisance which all men customarily made when appearing before a mighty ruler was forbidden by the Lord. It is not stated in the text that Moses had usually honored such a custom, but the tenor of these words would seem to indicate a change. God said, "Stand before Pharaoh!" Or Ha-Hayyim, a Jewish writer, has this to say:

"Being a man of great humility, Moses was accustomed to bow to all men in greeting. Therefore the Lord found it necessary to command him `to stand before Pharaoh.' `When thou goest before Pharaoh,' the Lord told Moses, `Stand erect before him and do not bow to him in greeting, for thou art not to show him even the slightest sign of respect.'"[21]

A second development (2) appears to have been in response to the statement of the magicians, "This is the finger of God (a god)." Very well, God would make it clear that it was not a god at all who did such wonders, but that it was Jehovah, the God of Israel (Exodus 8:22)!

Observe also that the mention of the "houses" of Pharaoh and the "houses" of the Egyptians (Exodus 8:21) confirms the view expressed above that more than one house of Pharaoh suffered the visitations.

"Lo, he cometh forth to the water (Exodus 8:20) ..." It seems unquestionable that these repeated visits of Pharaoh to the Nile were due to his worship of that river as a god, whose help he sought in the extremity that confronted him. It is especially important that all of these plagues were leveled squarely against the pagan deities of Egypt.

PLAGUE I was against the deified river Nile. "The river was personified and deified, Hapi being the name of the river as a god."[22] Several authors have published drawings of this deity, depicted on the monuments as a man with huge, elongated breasts, in a sitting position, holding a table, or altar, on which were vases for libations, lotus flowers, and fruits, symbolizing the productivity of the Nile.[23] The change of its waters into blood was a forceful attack upon this Egyptian deity.

PLAGUE II, as we have already noted, was a devastating blow delivered against Hekt, the frog-headed goddess of fertility!

PLAGUE III, caused by striking the dust of the earth, was of course a contradiction and discrediting of Osiris, an "agricultural god."[24]

PLAGUE IV, which brought swarms of insects upon the people, was an effective challenge and defeat of a whole host of sacred insects, especially the beetle, especially, "the large, black, dung beetle, held sacred in ancient Egypt, as a symbol of resurrection and fertility."[25]

"Swarms of flies ..." As in the case of the lice in Plague III, it is by no means certain what these swarms were. "The Hebrew word for swarms means a mixture and may signify the increase of all kinds of verminous scourges."[26] Since the Egyptian pantheon included literally dozens of animals, birds, and insects, any increase of living creatures of such dimensions as appeared in the plagues would have been a disgrace to some of their pagan deities. Cook pointed out that this plague was also connected with the atmosphere, in which the swarms appeared, "The atmosphere also being an object of worship."[27] In spite of the general opinion that beetles, especially, were meant here, we are inclined to accept the rendition of the Septuagint (LXX) which translated the swarms as dog-flies, a sharp-biting fly actually capable of killing animals when attacked by sufficient numbers, and which also inflicts very painful bites upon human beings. The ordinary stock-fly in Texas is a species of it. Our preference is based upon the fact that the Septuagint (LXX) was translated in the very part of the world where this plague occurred. That the true meaning of the passage is probably something like, "all kinds of flying insects," appears to be supported by Psalms 78:45, which says, "He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them."

"I will set apart ... the land of Goshen ..." The big thing in this passage, of course, is the distinction which in this plague, for the first time, marks the exemption of Israel from the general suffering. One should read the dissertations of the critics who attempt to tell how this happened. As Ellison said, "Various naturalistic explanations of how Goshen was spared have been offered, but since none carry conviction, they can be ignored."[28]

Verses 25-28

"And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land, And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to Jehovah our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to Jehovah our God, as he shall command us. And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to Jehovah your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: entreat for me."

"Go sacrifice to your God in the land ..." Here is the first of four compromises suggested by Pharaoh as a means of hindering the will of God. The second is in Exodus 8:28, "Ye shall not go very far away." The third is in Exodus 10:11, "Only the men must go." The fourth is in Exodus 10:24, "The flocks and the herds must be left behind." Moses' ultimate answer to these was the stern declaration: "There shall not a hoof be left behind!" (Exodus 10:26). The marvel of these writings is their correspondence with spiritual truth in all ages. Many have pointed out that these compromises are exactly the same as those which Satan and his servants propose to believers who would follow the Lord Jesus Christ in these present times, or in all times. We may paraphrase them thus:

  1. If you must serve Christ, do so in the world. Why bother with belonging to the church? Of course, this is as impossible now as it was when Pharaoh suggested it. The Christian must sacrifice what the world adores!

  2. If you must be religious, then don't be a fanatic. Do not go very far! This is the motto of all lukewarm, indifferent Christians, who fancy that they are serving Christ, but they have not gone very far!

  3. Only the males must go! Leave your families out of it. If you must be a Christian, do not attempt to take others with you. Let everyone make up his own mind. Keep your religion to yourself!

  4. Let the flocks and herds stay behind. If you must be a Christian, go ahead, but don't invest any money in it. Use your wealth for yourself. Of this class of Christians are those whose pocketbooks were never baptized!

Concerning such applications of the Sacred Scriptures here recorded, Unger said:

"In these compromises we read Satan's attempt to keep God's people ensnared by the world, and thus to hold them under his control and power. In this strategy he has highly succeeded in Christendom."[29]

"We shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians ..." Scholars usually interpret this as meaning that the Hebrews would sacrifice cows which were considered sacred in Egypt, but Keil objected to this on the grounds that "cows were not an abomination to them."[30] However, the clause could mean that "the sacrificing of cows" was the abomination spoken of. Fields thought that the best explanation is, "The abomination involved the use of sheep for sacrifice. Every shepherd was an abomination to the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34)."[31] We still favor the common view, because it is illuminated by the spiritual derivative of it, that Christians must sacrifice that which the world worships! Rylaarsdam also preferred this understanding of it, pointing out that:

"The Elephantine Papyri show that Egyptians of a later era actually did react violently to Israel's worship. Most of Israel's animal sacrifices would have offended Egyptians."[32]

Verses 29-32

"And Moses said, Behold, I go out from thee, and I will entreat Jehovah that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow: only let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to Jehovah. And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and entreated Jehovah. And Jehovah did according to the word of Moses, and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one. And Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go."

"And he (Jehovah) removed the swarms of flies ..." Dobson accurately discerned the significance of this:

"As we read the story we see that again, and again, the writer emphasizes the fact that it was not Moses or Aaron who either caused or removed the plagues, but the Lord himself. See Exodus 8:28-33; 9:27-33; 10:15-19; 8:30-31; 9:5,6; and 10:13,33."[33]

The skillful development of this narrative of the Ten Plagues, with its successive gradations, and delicate sensitivity to changing scenes, make it absolutely impossible to suppose that the sacred history here is a hodge-podge scissors-and-paste job of putting together prior documents. Such theories are no explanation whatever of what we see revealed here.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.