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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 9

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter continues the history of the Ten Plagues with Plague V (Exodus 9:1-7), Plague VI (Exodus 9:8-12), and Plague VII (Exodus 9:13-35). As the record unfolds, the student should note the gradation in the severity of the plagues, the decreasing ability of the magicians to stand before Moses, the gradual erosion of the adamant position of Pharaoh, and the increasing numbers of the Egyptians themselves who were led to believe in the reality and supremacy of the God of the Israelites. Such a skillful and perfectly unified narrative is simply impossible from any such scrambling of “J,” “E,” “D,” “P,” etc., (with half a dozen redactors standing by to try to make it fit), as that which is asserted by critical assailants of the Biblical text to have been the case. The documentary hypotheses regarding the origin of the Pentateuch are proof of the bankruptcy of O.T. criticism. Only Moses could have written what is revealed here!

Drowning men catch at straws, and the critics have seized upon the mention of camels in Exodus 9:3, labeling it as “anachronistic”,(F1) but this is merely a critical bias. Even Harford admitted that, “The camels must have been those of the visiting Bedouins, as they were not naturalized in ancient Egypt.”(F2) However, camels were known to the patriarchs centuries earlier as in the travels of Rebekah to be the bride of Isaac, and the thesis that the Jews never took any camels with them to Egypt is untenable. Furthermore, at the investiture of Joseph as the Grand Vizier of Egypt, the herald went ahead of him and cried “Abrek,” which is the very word still used throughout the world as a command for the camel to kneel.(F3) The use of this word by a high official in the court of Pharaoh in the days of Joseph is absolutely incompatible with any theory that denies the existence of camels in Egypt from earliest times. True, there are no representations of camels on the monuments, but, “They are occasionally mentioned in the inscriptions.”(F4) “The camel is one of the oldest of domestic animals,”(F5) and any allegation that the worldwide empire of the Pharaohs was not familiar with that beast rests upon a very precarious assumption. The Biblical references to camels are authentic.

Verses 1-7


“Then Jehovah said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if thou refuse to let them go, and wilt hold them still, Behold, the hand of Jehovah is upon thy cattle which are in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the herds, and upon the flocks: there shall be a very grievous murrain. And Jehovah shall make a distinction between the cattle of Israel, and the cattle of Egypt; and there shall nothing die of all that belongeth to the children of Israel. And Jehovah appointed a set time, saying, Tomorrow shall Jehovah do this thing in thy land. And Jehovah did that thing on the morrow; and all the cattle of Egypt died; but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one. And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not so much as one of the cattle of the Israelites dead, But the heart of Pharaoh was stubborn, and he did not let the people go.”

“Let my people go” This great imperative thunders again and again throughout Exodus like a mighty refrain. See Exodus 5:1; Exodus 7:2; Exodus 7:7; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:1; Exodus 8:20. The entire episode of the Plagues was designed to demonstrate to Pharaoh that the Israelites were not his people at all, despite the fact of his abusing and enslaving them. They belonged to a greater King, and therefore they were required to serve that King.

“Thy cattle which are in the field” Some commentators do not notice this restriction as to which cattle were to be afflicted. Many of the cattle were stall-fed at that season in Egypt, but those were not to be destroyed. The understanding of this avoids the charge of “contradiction” based on Exodus 9:9; Exodus 9:19, where it appears that there yet remained “cattle” subject to subsequent plagues.

“A very grievous murrain” Murrain was a pestilence among cattle, “Derived from the Latin `mori’ (to die). There seems to be no basis upon which one can identify the pestilence, whether anthrax, as some claim, or another disease.”(F6)

If it is objected that there is nothing really miraculous about a fatal epidemic of some cattle disease, the answer lies in the fact that: (1) the onset of this epidemic was pinpointed in advance by Moses; (2) the cattle of the Israelites were spared according to Moses’ promise; and (3) the severe intensity of it exceeded any natural occurrence. (4) Keil cited a fourth miraculous element in the plague’s attacking all kinds of animals, not merely the cattle.”(F7)

Like all the plagues, this one also struck squarely at the pagan deities of Egypt. This one was “Ptah (Apis), the god of Memphis, represented as a bull, as well as other gods represented by the goat, the ram, the cow, and other animals.”(F8) Fields also identified another pagan deity that was discredited by this plague as “Hathor, pictured in the form of a cow … and as suckling one of the kings, giving him divine nourishment.”(F9)

The Egyptian pantheon of pagan deities included the worship of an incredibly large number of creatures, such as:

“The goat, the serpent, the bull, the cow, the lion, the cats (especially female cats), crocodiles, scarab beetles, the ape, the ibis, the hawk, the vulture, the jackal, etc … The sacred animals were in the eyes of the people more or less gods … `Ra’ was the sun god; `Shu’ was the wind god; Nut was the sky goddess; `Geb’ was the earth god; `Thermouthis’ was the goddess of childbirth and of crops; `Nepri’ was the corn god; `Tait’ was the goddess of funerary vestments.”(F10)

And that is merely a very brief summary. It is not hard to see how all of the plagues were leveled squarely against the whole collection of pagan gods. It is true that there was hardly any living creature in Egypt that was not either worshipped or held sacred to some pagan deity.

It is also of great interest that this plague seemed to impress Pharaoh less than some of the previous ones, despite the fact of its inflicting very heavy property damage upon his nation. Rawlinson commented thus:

“The plague affected him less than the others had done, rather than more. He was so rich that an affliction which touched nothing but property seemed a trivial matter. What did he care for the sufferings of the poor beasts, or the ruin of those who depended upon the breeding and feeding of cattle?”(F11)

Verses 8-12


“And Jehovah said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. And it shall become small dust over all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt. And they took ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boils were upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians. And Jehovah hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as Jehovah had spoken unto Moses.”

“Ashes of the furnace” No special furnace is mentioned, but some suppose that the ashes of one of the kilns in Egypt were meant. Fields noted that:

“If these ashes did come from a brick kiln, there is a sardonic twist of vengeance revealed. The Israelites had been enslaved at brick-making, and now the ashes that made the lives of the oppressed bitter smite the oppresser with boils.”(F12)

“Jehovah said to Moses and Aaron … and let Moses sprinkle it” The critics make a big thing out of the variations as to who threw down the rod, or stretched it out, or sprinkled the ashes, alleging different documents, etc., but the real meaning of these variations is that God ordered all the details and that he required the minutest observance of them. When God told Moses to sprinkle the ashes, it was Moses who did it. This prevented either Moses or Aaron from supposing that any of the power belonged to them personally. The reason for the sprinkling of the ashes appears to have been that of visually connecting Moses and the Word of God which he spoke, with the onset of the plague.

“Boils” “This word is from `ulcus’ (Latin) and the Hebrew [~shªchiyn], which occurs 13 times in the O.T.”(F13) It is mentioned again in Exodus 28:27, where it is stated that they, “could not be healed.” If the malady was fatal, it would account for the magicians being no more mentioned in the sacred text. The quality of infecting both man and beast has led some to suppose that this malady was indeed anthrax, and “it may well have been.”(F14) “These boils were the first of the plagues to endanger (perhaps even destroy) the lives of men, and in this respect it was the first foreboding of the death which Pharaoh would bring upon himself by his continued resistance.”(F15)

“And Jehovah hardened the heart of Pharaoh” See under Exodus 4:21 for discussion of hardening. “Any direct action which the Lord may have taken (in this hardening) was consonant with the character of Pharaoh and operated within the framework of Pharaoh’s freedom.”(F16)

Verses 13-18


“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. For I will this time send all my plagues upon thy heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I had put forth my hand, and smitten thee and thy people with pestilence, and thou hadst been cut off from the earth: but in very deed for this cause have I made thee to stand, to show thee my power, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth. As yet exaltest thou thyself against my people, that thou wilt not let them go? Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the day it was founded even until now.”

“Let my people go” (See under Exodus 9:1.)

“I will this time send all my plagues upon thy heart” Notice the progression here. Pharaoh had not been moved in heart by previous plagues, because, as the privileged ruler, he was not really touched by them, but now God will break his heart in the subsequent visitations culminating at last in the death of the firstborn and heir to his kingdom. Following that tragedy, “Never again did Egypt rise to the height of power and glory reached in this dynasty.”(F17)

This Plague VII receives more space in the sacred record than any other, being three verses longer than the next longest (Plague VIII), and nineteen verses in excess of the shortest (Plague III). Part of the reason for this lies in the fact of God’s taking pains to explain to Pharaoh WHY God had not already taken him off the face of the earth.

“For this cause have I made thee to stand” God had “raised up” Pharaoh precisely for the purpose of glorifying God’s name, which purpose would indeed be fulfilled, but it was entirely up to Pharaoh as to just how that would happen. If he had obeyed God, that would have declared God’s name throughout the world, but Pharaoh chose instead to oppose God to the bitter end that led to his perishing in the Red Sea. That event too caused God’s name to be declared throughout all the earth. Esses caught the spirit of Exodus 9:16 thus: “For this cause, I have let you live that you might see my salvation if you would choose to accept it. You have seen all my miracles that I have brought upon you, but you have refused to receive my salvation.”(F18)

Exodus 9:17 is understood by some as an imperative sentence, but we believe that it is properly punctuated here as a question. As a mere statement, it would express amazement on God’s part, something that cannot be imagined, for God had predicted exactly what Pharaoh would do. As a question, however, it stands in the same category as God’s asking Adam, “Where art thou? … This was directed to the conscience and was used for the purpose of bringing conviction.”(F19)

Verses 19-21

“Now therefore send, hasten in thy cattle and all that thou hast in the field; for every man and beast that shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die. And he that feared the word of Jehovah among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses: and he that regarded not the word of Jehovah left his servants and his cattle in the field.”

The dreadful hail had been predicted in Exodus 9:18, but for the first time, there was here injected a means of escaping the plague for those who would heed the word of Jehovah. Jehovah had already made many converts in Egypt. There were many who knew that the God of the Hebrews was indeed the true God, and some of them heeded the warning. It is perhaps unwise to go as far as Esses did, who affirmed that those who did so, “were saved, not just from destruction by the hail, but they were saved for eternal life.”(F20) However, this could have been the source of that “mixed multitude of people” who accompanied Israel into the wilderness, all of whom were, potentially at least, subject to adoption into Israel in the same manner as Ruth, the Moabitess.

Verses 22-26

“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Stretch forth thy hand toward heaven, that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, upon man, and upon beast, and upon every herb of the field, throughout the land of Egypt. And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and Jehovah sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down unto the earth; and Jehovah rained hail upon the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous. such as had not been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail”

“Fire mingled with hail” This is usually interpreted as the type of lightning seen in severe electrical storms, in which fire sometimes runs along on the ground. It might actually have been something beyond this. Hailstorms are among the most destructive and violent events in nature. This writer saw a hailstorm that devastated a section of Rock Creek Park (Washington, D.C.) in the early 1950’s, in which some of the hailstones were five inches in diameter. Hedging against the disbelief anticipated, several of these were preserved in a deep-freeze icebox as a means of convincing the skeptics!

Skeptical comments about “all of the cattle” having already been destroyed (Exodus 9:6) are based solely upon careless and inaccurate reading of Exodus 9:1-7, where “the cattle” were strictly limited to “those in the field” (Exodus 9:3). This type of criticism is typical of Biblical enemies.

“And brake every tree” No tree of any age or size can escape very severe damage by the kind of hailstorm presented in these verses.

Verses 27-29

“And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: Jehovah is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Entreat Jehovah; for there hath been enough of these mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer. And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto Jehovah; the thunders shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know that the earth is Jehovah’s.”

This passage recounts the verbal surrender of Pharaoh, but his stubborn will induced him to repudiate it as soon as the thunderings and the hail ceased.

“I have sinned this time” What could Pharaoh have meant by this? He would have been more accurate if he had said, “I have sinned these seven times! In thus limiting his sin, Pharaoh, in fact, confessed nothing, and also laid a portion of the guilt upon “the people,” as did Aaron regarding the golden calf, saying, “I and my people are wicked.” Although true enough in the general sense that his people were wicked, it is evident that the people were convinced long before Pharaoh was brought to his position here. Had not his magicians already told him that, “This is the finger of God?” A part of the pattern that runs throughout the Bible is here. Pharaoh’s `confession’ of sin was exactly like that of King Saul who said, “I have sinned; return, my son, David” (1 Samuel 26:21). Many another sinner has admitted his wickedness when confronted with God’s judgment, but lip repentance is no substitute for the real thing.

“Jehovah is righteous” Pharaoh was making progress. His first response had been, “Who is Jehovah?” Here, he even promised to let the people go: “I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.”

Why had Pharaoh become willing to make the concessions seen here? “It seems to have been extorted by the terrible nature of the plague, which, instead of passing off, like most storms, continued.”(F21)

This plague, like all the others, was a judgment against the pagan gods of Egypt. Their gods of crops, atmosphere, etc., were here demonstrated to have no control whatever of such things. The thunderings, rain, and hail continued until Jehovah heeded Moses’ plea that they cease. “It was not Pharaoh in control of the earth, nor Pharaoh’s gods; but Yahweh, the God of Israel. He is the Lord of all (Psalms 24:1).”(F22)

Verses 30-35

“But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not fear Jehovah God. And the flax and the barley were smitten: for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was in bloom. But the wheat and the spelt were not smitten: for they were not grown up. And Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread abroad his hands unto Jehovah: and the thunders and hail ceased, and the rain was not poured upon the earth. And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the children of Israel go; as Jehovah had spoken by Moses.”

“I know that ye will not fear Jehovah God” Contrary to all reason and intelligence, Pharaoh stubbornly held to his course of self-destruction. Why? The reason lay in the fact of God’s having hardened Pharaoh’s heart. True, it was Pharaoh himself who hardened his heart initially, but, as in all similar cases, there is a point of no return. An angel of God commanded Balaam to “Go with the men.” Jesus commanded Judas, “What thou doest, do quickly.” Etc. In God’s hardening of a human heart, there is a fundamental loss of intelligence, as if the Heavenly Surgeon (God) had plucked the vital center out of his brain. In this very fact lies the explanation of the terrible truth that some of the world’s intellectual giants cannot comprehend the revelation of God! Despite the glory of their earthly attainments, they are nevertheless intellectual dwarfs, having long previously made the moral decision against God, their ability to think straight concerning Him has been atrophied, hardened, and removed. What fools such men actually are! What an outstanding example of the entire class of hardened souls was Pharaoh!

“And the flax and the barley were smitten” Both of these were important vital crops to the Egyptians. Linen made from flax provided the garments for the priesthood and all wealthy classes; and the barley was used both for men and for animals as food. By these crops being “in the ear” and “in bloom” respectively, the time of this plague can be fixed in late January,(F23) or in early February.(F24)

“The wheat and the spelt were not smitten” Another plague would take care of them later. “Spelt,” mistranslated “rye” in some versions, is a grain somewhat similar to wheat, and it provided the principal food supply of the common citizens of ancient Egypt. More than any other, this grain appears frequently on the sculptures and monuments. In all, it appears that these ten plagues were scattered over about one full year. Honeycutt placed the period of their occurrence at “about eight months, from the annual inundation of the Nile through early spring the following year.”(F25) Esses calculated that, “a full year would have gone by.”(F26)

The mention of “rain” in Exodus 9:33 is curious, and Rawlinson’s comment is helpful:

“Rain had not been previously mentioned, as it was no part of the plague, that is, it did no damage. But Moses, recording the cessation as an eye-witness, recollects that rain was mingled with the hail, and that, at his prayer, the thunder, the hail, and the rain all ceased. This touch is one that no later writer would have introduced.”(F27)

Fields’ commented on the particular Egyptian deities (of which there were at least eighty!) which were exposed and discredited by this wonder:

“The desperate Egyptians were in sorrow and fright. Their sky-goddess Nut could not protect them from hail from the sky. Nut was often pictured as a lanky nude female arching from horizon to horizon across the sky, touching the ground with fingertips and toes. Isis and Seth were also thought to have care over agricultural production, but the pagan gods were silent and helpless.”(F28)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-9.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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