Bible Commentaries
Exodus 8

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And the Lord spake. Again, as if the matter were only now begun, God demands of Pharaoh His own peculiar right, viz., that His people should serve Him, but out of the land of Egypt, that His worship might be separate and pure from all defilement, for He desired (as was before said) by this separation of His people to condemn the superstitions of the Egyptians. Meanwhile there was no excuse for the tyrant, when, with sacrilegious boldness, he presumed to deprive God of His just honor. Therefore, in refusing to let them go, he was declared not only to be cruel, but also a despiser of God. Threatening is also added, that at least he may, however unwillingly, be driven to obey; for thus must the stubborn be dealt with, who never are brought to duty except when forced by fear or punishment. Indeed, God sometimes also threatens His own servants, in order to stimulate their laziness; but especially is He more severe towards the perverse and disobedient. Thus is it said, (Psalms 18:26,)

“With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.”

This is the reason why He sanctions His command with threats (92) when He addresses Pharaoh. In this second plague there are, besides, two things to be remarked by us; for, first, God shews that the Egyptians had hitherto held their lives by a precarious tenure, as it were, because He had protected them from the incursion of frogs by His special mercy. We know that Egypt, on account of its many marshes, and the sluggish and almost stagnant Nile, was full of frogs and venomous animals; now, when great multitudes of them come forth suddenly, cover the surface of the fields, penetrate even to the houses and bed-chambers, and finally ascend even into the royal palace, it plainly appears that they were before only restrained by God’s hand, and thus that the God of the Hebrews was the guardian and keeper of that kingdom. Secondly, God chose not only to inflict a punishment upon the Egyptians, but to expose them to mockery by its ignominious nature; nor can we doubt but that their pain must have been much embittered by this contumely, when they saw that they were thus evil-entreated not by some victorious army, but by filthy reptiles; and besides this, that their calamity had its origin in the Nile, which enriched their country with so many advantages. But let us learn from this history that there are many deaths mixed up with our life, and that it is not otherwise lengthened out to us, except as God restrains the dangers which everywhere beset us; and again, although He may not openly strike us with lightning from heaven, nor arm his angels for the destruction of men, still, at His slightest nod, all creatures are ready to execute this judgments; and, therefore, we must ascribe it to His kindness and long-suffering, if the wicked do not perish at each moment. Finally, if we areever galled by ignominy or disgrace, let us remember that this happens designedly, that the shame itself may mortify our pride.

(92) In the Fr. the word here used is miracles, probably a misprint for menaces.

Verse 5

5.And the Lord spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron. It is questionable whether God thus enjoined Moses in a continuous address, or whether He waited until Pharaoh contumaciously despised His command. It is probable, indeed, that after Pharaoh had paid no attention to the threats, the execution of the punishment was commanded. Meantime, we must recollect what I before said, that Moses moved not even a finger; but, as he had been commanded, transferred the active measures to his inferior minister, that thus Pharaoh might be treated more contemptuously. It was thus that he overwhelmed the whole land, as it were, by a breath. But although in this way God cast down the fierce tyrant in his swelling pride to be trampled beneath their feet, still the wickedness of the magicians did not rest. Thus was it requisite that the servants of God should be exercised by constant contests one after another.

Verse 8

8.Then Pharaoh called for Moses. Pharaoh at last appears to be softened, and to lay aside some of his fierceness; but it will soon appear that he was not really tamed. It may indeed have been that, seized with terror, he seriously took refuge in cries for pardon; but that he lied to God, and to himself, is plain from his very inconstancy; because, as soon as a reprieve was granted, he returned to his natural disposition, nay, he effectively manifested that his malice was only repressed by fear, since it presently began to vent itself again. Thus do hypocrites, when they are beneath God’s afflicting hand, or tremble under the apprehension of His chastenings, humbly and submissively implore His mercy; but when the evil has been withdrawn for a little while, this short truce puffs up their hearts, as if they had attained an eternal peace. The Prophet complains in the psalm, that thus also it happened with the Jews,

“When he slew them, then they sought him; and they returned and inquired early after God; and they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer; nevertheless, they did but flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues; for their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.” (Psalms 78:34.)

In fine, this is a disease common to all hypocrites, that, having found by experience their frowardness to be destructive to them, they feign penitence for the sake of obtaining pardon, because they cannot escape the judgments of God; but, when they fancy themselves escaped, they hasten back to the same pride, they kick against God, and even wantonly insult him; in a word, it is only their trouble that humbles them and that only for a short time. But although Pharaoh’s fear extorted this from him, that he sought for Moses to entreat for him, and was anxious to appease God, yet was it a token of his deceitful and double mind, that he made it, as it were, a bargain, that the frogs should be taken away before he let the people go. His impiety, therefore, lay concealed in his heart, so long as he thought that he could not defy God with impunity; but, relying confidently on impunity, he manifested his deceit and perfidy. Although it was not with any sincere feeling of repentance that he now humbly speaks of Jehovah by name, yet it shews that the stoutness of his spirit was broken, of which mention was made before, when he inquired in mockery, “Who is the Lord?”

Verse 9

9.And Moses said unto Pharaoh. Commentators differ as to the meaning of this passage. They are too speculative who expound it, that this honor was granted to Pharaoh, that he should fix the time in which Moses was to pray. Again, there is a flatness in the exposition, that Pharaoh might glory because the frogs were to die. Those who expound it, that Pharaoh should be freed from the frogs, so that he might glory in safety, express part of the meaning, but not the whole. It rather appears to me that there is an implied antithesis between the perverse boasting, wherewith Pharaoh had exulted, and that pious glowing which he ought to seek for in the mercy of God; as if Moses had said, “Thus far you have exalted yourself improperly, trusting in your power, and afterwards when bewitched by the enchantments; now rather glory, because you have an intercessor and patron to plead for you to God.” For it was needful that the arrogance, which had so falsely elevated him, that he dared to contend with God, should be crushed, and that no hope should be left him, save in the mercy of God. But to “glory over” Moses, means that he should seek his glory in the advocacy of Moses, and should account it a very great happiness that he should deign to interpose for his reconciliation with God. For the particle על, (93) is often so taken. Yet Moses by no means wished to detract at all from the glory of God; but (as I have lately said) desiring to humble the pride of the haughty king, he told him that nothing would be better and more glorious for him than to have a good hope of pardon, when he had obtained as his advocate the servant of the living God, whom he so cordially hated. He only affirms that the frogs should “remain in the river;” as much as to say that they should be content with their ordinary habitation and bounds; for we know that frogs, although they sometimes jump out on the bank, still do not go far from the water, because they are nourished by humidity. Thus he hints that they were let loose by God’s command to cover the ground, and that it was still in His power, if He chose, that they should invade the fields and houses again in new multitudes; and that it must be ascribed to His blessing, if they kept themselves in the waters, and did not make incursions beyond their own boundaries.

(93) על. Instances in which this particle has the meaning attributed to it by C. , may be seen in Psalms 37:4, first clause; and in Job 27:10. Noldius has also observed that עלי, the form in which it here occurs, has the meaning of mihi curae, mihi incumbit, in Judges 19:20, Psalms 116:12, Proverbs 7:14, and 2 Samuel 18:11. Concord. particularum, על, 34. — W

Verse 10

10.And he said, Tomorrow. If you refer this to Moses, there is ambiguity in the sense; but, it being probable that they were Pharaoh’s words, I think that he is asking for a respite till tomorrow, before he lets the people go. For they fall into an absurdity, who think that he asked Moses to drive away the frogs by his prayers on the morrow, as if Pharaoh went quietly to sleep, and put off the remedy of the evil. There is, then, no pretence for understanding it, that Pharaoh, as if his mind were quite tranquil and unmoved, desired to have his land delivered from the frogs on the following day: but rather it means, that if he be released from this difficulty, he promises the discharge of the people, but yet suspends it till the next day, for the purpose of deceit. For there was no other reason for this procrastination, except that, having obtained what he wanted, he might depart from his engagement, as he actually did; but Moses, satisfied with this promise, undertakes to bring it about that God should disperse the frogs; and this, I doubt not, was performed on the same day. For this was the cause of the tyrant’s changing his determination, that, by the interposition of the night, his fear departed. And, certainly, it is gathered from the following words, that the frogs were soon after removed; for it is said that Moses and Aaron prayed after they had gone out; which would be but little in accordance with the notion, that the next day was waited for. It is not by any rash or presumptuous impulse that Moses affirms that Pharaoh should obtain his desire; because it appears from his success that he was assured of its being God’s will. Thus often are the prophets, although no spoken revelation may intervene, directed nevertheless by the secret inspiration of the Spirit. In this confidence, also, Moses declares that Pharaoh should know that there is none other God to be compared with the God of Israel. This, moreover, is the true knowledge of God, when whatsoever lifts itself up to obscure His glory, is reduced to its proper level, and every high thing yields or is cast down, so that He alone may be exalted.

Verse 15

15.Blot when Pharaoh saw. Hence it appears that the wretched tyrant, like a winding serpent, twisted and turned his mind to crooked counsels; for when he was trembling beneath the present feeling of God’s power, he dared not obstinately resist any longer; he only sought a little breathing time; now, being freed from fear, he returns to his former contumacy. But this is a sign of a perverse and crooked disposition, not to submit willingly, but to pay only a temporary deference, when necessity is more than usually urgent. God foreknew, and had foretold to Moses, that this perfidy was hidden in the recesses of his heart; but he was willing to bring it to light, and therefore remitted the punishment; and hence was the opportunity for dissembling.

Verse 16

16.And the Lord said unto Moses. In this place again, as before, Aaron is commanded to act as the inferior of Moses in punishing the tyrant; and this as being more ignominious than as if Moses alone had been employed. The nature of this third plague is very remarkable. God troubles Egypt not only with frogs, but with lice; for although the Hebrews are not entirely agreed as to the כנם, kinim, yet they admit that they were little animals or insects, which produced shame together with annoyance even to the meanest of men. We see then how magnificently God trampled upon the pride of Egypt, by inflicting a punishment full of affront and disgrace; for although it would have been painful to sink under a powerful and warlike enemy, yet was it far more sad to be basely destroyed by lice. Nor can we doubt that God prepared such an army as this, principally that He might openly manifest how easily He can bring to nought in derision all earthly strength and power. And surely, unless the Egyptians had been something more than stupid and beside themselves, this calculation would have come into their minds; what would hereafter happen, if the Maker of heaven and earth should apply Himself to their destruction with all His might, when they perceived themselves to be wasted away in this almost ludicrous contest with Him? But let us learn from this history, that all creatures are ready at God’s lightest command, whenever He chooses to make use of them to chastise His enemies; and again, that no animal is so vile and contemptible as not to have the power of doing injury when God employs it; and, finally, that reprobates obtain this at last by their proud doings, viz., that they are, with the greatest infamy, made to yield to the worms themselves, or to lice.

Verse 18

18.And the magicians did so. They “did” is here put for “they tried to do;” for they did not succeed, as presently appears. They are therefore said to have done, what they in vain attempted, or what they essayed, but without success. And in this way God took away from Pharaoh whatever excuse remained, under pretext of being deceived; for although he had previously himself sought for these deceptions, still his obstinacy was not without color of excuse, as long as the magicians rivaled Moses in the contention; but when he sees their art fail, he professedly sets himself in opposition to God. Although it was not with reference to him alone that God restrained these impostors, but He exposes them to the ridicule of all, in order to assert altogether for Himself alone the glory of perfect power. Hence we gather how well, according to His inestimable wisdom, He represses whatever license He for a time permits to the ministers of Satan; for when, by bearing with their audacity, He has sufficiently proved the faith of His people, He compels them to stop abruptly, as it were, that they may sink in confusion, and “proceed no further,” as Paul says, when recounting this history. (2 Timothy 3:9.)

Verse 19

19.Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh. It is probable that they were reproved harshly, because they had come to a stop in their rivalry with the servants of God; wherefore they excuse themselves by saying, that there is no more room for their wisdom and magical arts. We gather from hence that they had so been able to delude by their sorceries, that they thought themselves very good and praiseworthy artificers of deception. For on no other account had the people accounted them wise than because they had themselves first attained this confidence; therefore they oppose the finger of God to their subtlety and skill, as much as to say, that there is no longer any question as to the excellence of their art, but that whatever could be required from astrologers and masters of juggling, was now brought to nought by the extraordinary power of God. They do indeed contradict themselves; because what could have been their object in contending with Moses and Aaron, except they had boasted that God was on their side? But if they had been acting under the auspices of God, how ridiculous was it to confess that those, whom they had before opposed, were their superiors, and to accord them the praise of the victory, because they were endued with power from God? We see then how infatuated they were with all their cunning. But in the meantime we must recollect what I have lately glanced at, that they not only led others into error, but were also deceived, because they thought there was some science in the deceptions of their magic; as now-a-days we see that the fortune-tellers and other impostors, who call themselves judicial astrologers, so pride themselves in their follies, as to have no hesitation in taking the first rank amongst the learned. Besides, ambition itself impelled the magicians to say, that God wrought by the hand of Moses; for they were ashamed to confess that any human being excelled them in wisdom. But the confession was extorted from them, that they might greatly magnify the glory of the one true God, and at the same time bear witness to the legitimate vocation of Moses; for if the power of God is manifested conspicuously in Moses, it follows that he is a true and divine Prophet. But, because He does not equally work in them, but brings their efforts to confusion, it may thence be concluded that they are enemies of God. That they should have contended unsuccessfully, and have been foiled in the midst of their attempts, was sufficient to restrain their vanity; but this was much worse, that they should make out God to be the enemy of their art. It is true that they spoke this inconsiderately, because they only wished to consult their own fame, and to defend the false honors of their learning; but it pleased God thus to convict them, so that Pharaoh should perceive that he had entered into contention with the living God, and not with two ordinary men. As to the form of expression, it is clearly metaphorical; for in Luke’s Gospel the Spirit is called “the finger of God,” (Luke 11:20;) as likewise, in many passages, the same Spirit is intended by “the hand of God.” Still, we must mark the reason, lest any unlearned person should take it literally, as if the Spirit, who truly is Eternal God, were but some portion of the Divinity. (94) But since the magicians were compelled at length to recognise God’s power in the miracle, our folly will be worse than base if this same consideration does not obtain with us. Although it becomes us to acknowledge the hand of God in two ways; for neither when He acts by means, (as it is called,) does He detract from Himself at all; and, therefore, His hand may be seen with the eyes of faith in the whole course of nature; but, since He stirs up our indifference by miracles, therein it shines forth more conspicuously. Because, however, we shall soon see that the magicians did not therefore repent of their folly, let us learn sincerely and cordially to humble ourselves beneath God’s powerful hand, as soon as it appears. That Pharaoh, when deserted by the magicians, did not cease at all from his obstinacy, is a proof to us that, however wickedness may seek for its support in different directions, still the corruption is implanted within, which is of itself at enmity with God.

(94) In the Fr. there is the following addition: — “C’est dont selon nostre infirmite que la vertu essentielle de Dieu est appellee sa main ou son doigt;” it is then in reference to our infirmity that the essential virtue of God is called His hand, or this finger.

Verse 20

20.And the Lord said unto Moses, Rise up early. As Pharaoh advances in daring rashness, so does God on the other hand proceed to restrain his impetuosity by opposing impediments. This is what the wicked at length obtain by long and multiplied contention, that having received many wounds they perish by various torments. With respect to the command that Moses should meet Pharaoh, when he shall go down in the morning to the river-side for his pleasure, it is uncertain whether God would have the tyrant encountered in public, because the palace was difficult of access; although it seems probable to me, that a place was chosen in which the proceeding would be more manifest, and where the voice of His messenger would be more clearly heard. Therefore, that nothing might be done secretly, Moses proclaims in open day, before the whole multitude, that judgment of God, which immediately afterwards took effect. But here no mention is made of the rod, as in the former plagues; because God sometimes makes use of external instruments, that we may know that all creatures are in His hand, and are wielded according to His will; but sometimes acts independently of them, that we may know that He needs no such assistance. This varied mode of action demonstrates that He subjects all things to His empire as He pleases, and yet that He is contented with His own power. This plague has some affinity to the two previous ones, inasmuch as its infliction is attended with ignominy, which may put the tyrant to shame. The Hebrew word ערב, (95) g narob, means the same as the Latin “ examen insectorum, ” a swarm of insects. Many interpreters think that there was a mixture of various kinds; and this I do not reject, since it is probable that their foul odour was multiplied, so as almost to suffocate the tyrant. Those who explain it as describing bears, lions, tigers, wolves, and other wild beasts, depart without any reason from the genuine meaning of the word.

(95) The root ערב, means commingling, and the producing of confusion thereby. Hence evening is called ערב, from the mingling together of day and night; and the same name is given to a mixed crowd; and possibly to a confused swarm of insects. The LXX. have taken it for the name of some particular kind of fly in this instance; whilst S M. has mentioned certain Rabbies, as affirming that it here means a mingled crowd of wild beasts. — W

Verse 22

22.And I will sever. Although this had not been expressly declared as yet, still it must be extended to the other plagues; for it is certain, that when God inflicted punishment on the Egyptians, He did not proceed promiscuously against all men; and, therefore, that His chosen people, in whose behalf He acted, were free from all inconvenience. But now perhaps for the first time this distinction is made more evident to Pharaoh, whereas before the peculiar grace of God had not been known to him. From hence, however, it was more than plain, that mercies and punishments were in the power of the one God of Israel, so that He might spare His own people, and treat them kindly and paternally, whilst, on the other hand, He exercised vengeance against His enemies. Wherefore He adds, “to the end thou mayest know that I am the Lord God in the midst of the earth.” There is all implied antithesis here, which casts down all idols, and exalts the God of Israel alone. But although “the earth” may be here taken for the whole habitable globe, it will be properly confined to Egypt, as if God affirmed that He was supreme in the midst of Egypt, or everywhere throughout all Egypt, which means the same. The expression which follows, although somewhat harsh, yet contains no ambiguity. God is said to have “put a redemption between his people and the Egyptians; (96) because, as if He had erected barriers, or set up a fence to preserve one corner in safety, He had withholden His favor from the whole surrounding district. Moreover, because the word פלה, (97) phelo, signifies to be admirable, or to be concealed, some interpreters translate it, “I will render admirable (98) the land of Goshen;” but I have preferred following the more usual rendering which appears to be most appropriate. Lastly, it is to be observed that time for repentance is again given to Pharaoh, so that, if he were curable, he might prevent the punishment denounced against him: for God might have sent the insects at the moment; but He assigns the morrow, to prove the wickedness of the tyrant.

(96) Verse 23, “And I will put a division,” marg. , “redemption.” — A. V.

(97) פלה, is to separate, to distinguish by marks of favor, פלא, to be wonderful, or inscrutable The derivatives from these kindred roots are, however, not always.distinguishable; and in this instance S M. and the V. have rendered הפליתי, as C. mentions, assuming it to be irregularly formed from פלא. — W

(98) French, “miraculeuse.”

Verse 25

25.And Pharaoh called for Moses. Pharaoh imagines that he is granting a great thing, if the Israelites are permitted to offer sacrifice to God in Egypt. He and all his people should have humbly embraced the worship of God, and casting away their superstitions should have sought to Moses as their instructor in sincere piety. He departs from none of their common vices; he does not renounce his idols nor forsake his former errors; but only permits God to be worshipped in one part of his kingdom. But this is customary with the reprobate, to think that they have sufficiently done their duty, when they yield ever so little to God. Hence it arises, that when they are conquered and compelled, still they would not hesitate to detract somewhat from the rights of God; nay, if they might do so with impunity, they would willingly rob Him of all. And in fact as long as fortune (99) is propitious, and they enjoy a state of prosperity and safety, they deprive God, as much as may be, of all His glory; but when the power of resisting fails them, they so descend to submission as to defraud Him of half His due honor. God had commanded a free departure to be conceded to His people; Pharaoh does not obey this command, but endeavors to satisfy God in another way, viz., by not forbidding them to offer sacrifice in Egypt. This sin, which was common in all ages, is now-a-days too clearly manifest. Our Pharaohs would altogether extinguish God’s glory, and this they madly set themselves to compass; but when reduced to extremities, if there be no further use in professedly contending with Him, they maim and mutilate His worship by a fictitious course, which they call a reformation. Hence arose that mixture of light and darkness, which was named “the Interim” (100) Nor do the enemies of the truth cease to obtrude thus ridiculously upon God their empty and unreal expiation’s.

(99) Ils ont vent en pouppe, — Fr.

(100) The document called the Interim, drawn up at the suggestion of Charles V., and published at the Diet of Augsburg in 1548, was professedly a measure of mutual concession, prescribing what was to be believed in the interim, “until all could be established by a general council.” In reality, however, it was opposed to the Reformation on all the main points of dispute; and conceded nothing but that married priests should retain their cures, and that, where the cup had been again given to the laity, it might be continued. It is printed at length in Osiander, Ecc. Hist., cent. 16, lib. 2 c. 72; and a copious summary of its contents is given by F1eury, 54:145. See Robertson’s Charles V., and Stokes’s continuation of Milner. See also Calvin’s Tracts, Calv. Soc., vol. 3, on the Adultero-German Interim.

Verse 26

26.And Moses said. The word כון, (101) kon, which Moses here uses, has a wide signification; for the Hebrews say of whatever they do not approve, that it is not right ( rectum.) Therefore almost all the interpreters agree in this, that Pharaoh demanded what was by no means equitable, because he would have exposed the Israelites to be stoned by his people. If this opinion be admitted, we must read the passage connectedly, that it was not in accordance with reason, that the Israelites should sacrifice in Egypt in a strange manner, because the novelty would not be tolerated. There are two clauses in the sentence; one, that it was not right for them to offer in Egypt a sacrifice to God, which was abominable to the inhabitants themselves, or to offer a profane sacrifice of the abominations of the heathen; the other, that there was a danger of the Israelites being stoned, if they provoked the Egyptians by a ceremony, which was detestable to them. As to the second clause, there is no doubt that “the abomination of the Egyptians” is taken actively for the sacrifices which they abominate. The same seems to be the meaning of the first clause; for it would be harsh to interpret the same forms of expression differently within a few words of each other; except that the name of Jehovah, put in opposition as it is to “the abomination,” seems to require a passive signification. For Moses says emphatically, that “it is not right to sacrifice the abomination of Egypt to Jehovah the God of Israel.” If this view be adopted, “the abomination” will be the profanation of true and pure worship, wherewith the sacred ceremonies of the Egyptians were defiled; as much as to say, that it was unlawful to mix up the worship of the true God with such sacrilege. And, in fact, Moses seems to contend with a twofold argument; first, that it was not right, secondly, that it was not expedient. Take this, then, as the first reason, that a sacrifice which should. be polluted by the abominations of Egypt, would neither be lawful nor pleasing to God; the second will follow after, that the Egyptians would not tolerate it; because they would conceive both themselves and their gods to be grievously insulted, if their accustomed mode of sacrificing should be violated. This interpretation is fuller, and contains fuller doctrine, if Moses, first of all, was solicitous as to the honor of God, and did not regard the advantage of the people only; and in this sentiment, that the true God could not be duly worshipped unless when separated from all idols, there is nothing forced. But, since in the same verse “the abomination of the Egyptians” is taken actively, it will be well, in order that the construction may be more easy, to expound it thus in both places. Then the sense of the first clause will be, it is not consistent to expose the worship of our God to the reproaches and sneers of the Gentiles; which would be the case, if the Egyptians should see us honoring a sacrificial ceremony which they abominate. I do not, indeed, assent to their opinion, who will not admit the passage to consist of two clauses, but read it connectedly thus — that it was not right to do this, because the Egyptians would stone the Israelites. For Moses not only had regard to what was best for the people, but primarily to what would please God, viz., that His holy name should not be profaned. I see no foundation in reason for restraining, as is usually done, the word “abomination” to the animals of sacrifice; and, therefore, I extend it to the whole operation of sacrificing. (102)

(101) C. adopts the translation of S. M., instead of that found in the V., and gives his readers the short note of S.M., “Non convenit, sive non est rectum.” — W.

(102) “For the Egyptians worshipped divers beasts, as the ox, the sheep, and such like, which the Israelites offered in sacrifice; which things the Egyptians abhorred to see.” —Geneva Version, in loco.

Verse 27

27.We will go three days’ journey. This is the conclusion that no change must be made in God’s command, but that His injunction must be obeyed simply, and without exception. Nor is there little praise due to the firmness of Moses, who so boldly and unreservedly rejected the pretended moderation of the tyrant, because it would have somewhat interfered with the will of God. He therefore declares that the Israelites would do no otherwise than as God had prescribed.

Verse 28

28.And Pharaoh said, I will let you go. When he sees that his delays and shifts avail him nothing, he professes entire obedience; not that he then proposed to deceive and lie, because he was prevented by fear; but only, because overwhelmed with a present sense of his calamity, he dared not raise his crest against God. Therefore (as I said before) he did not so much wish designedly to conciliate and frustrate Moses by falsehood, as he deceived himself. For we must observe that (like one who has a wolf by the ears) he was constrained to promise the dismissal of the people, whom he retained to his own great injury. And this is why he commends himself to their prayers, for necessity urged him to implore God’s pardon and peace: although it might have been that he desired craftily to engage their affection to himself under the pretext of religion. For by this anxious precaution for himself, he betrays his want of confidence. Finally, by requesting their prayers, he, as it were, throws out a rope by which he may draw them back to himself when the sacrifice was over.

Verse 29

29.And Moses said, Behold I go out from thee. Moses does not reply to this demand, because he knew that the design of God was otherwise; and God had justly left him in ignorance as to what He did not yet wish him to know. There is, then, no reason why Moses should be accused of bad faith when he faithfully fulfilled the charge committed to him; although he was silent as to what he was not ordered to declare, even as to that which God wished to be concealed from the tyrant. But the holy Prophet, aroused to pious indignation by the king’s perfidy, does not immediately remove the plague, but waits till the morrow; and moreover, denounces with severity that, if he should persist in deceit, its punishment awaited him. This great magnanimity he had derived from the miracles, for, having experienced in them the unconquerable power of God, he had no cause for fear. For it was an act of extraordinary boldness openly and before the tyrant’s face to reproach him for his falsehoods, and at the same time to threaten him with punishment unless he desisted from them. But we said before that Moses had not acted from the workings of his own mind, when he promised Pharaoh what he asked, but that he had spoken thus confidently from special impulse. For the general promise in which God affirms that He will grant the prayers of His servants, must not be applied to particular cases, so that they should expect to obtain this or that in a specified manner, unless they have some peculiar testimony from the word or the Spirit of God.

Verse 31

31.And the Lord did according to the word of Moses. “The word” here may be expounded either of the answer, or the prayer, of Moses. The former pleases me best, viz., that by the result God proved that He ratified what Moses had said, whom He had made the proclaimer of His judgment; but if any one prefer to refer it to his prayer, let him retain his opinion. When he adds that the “heart of the king was hardened at this time also,” he aggravates the crime of his obstinacy, since there was no bound to his rebellion under such a series of punishments, by which even an iron heart should have been corrected.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 8". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.