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4. The first three plagues 7:14-8:19
Psalms 78:43 places the scene of the plagues in northern Egypt near Zoan.
The plagues were penal; God sent them to punish Pharaoh for his refusal to obey God and to move him to obey Yahweh. They involved natural occurrences rather than completely unknown phenomena. At various times of the year gnats, flies, frogs, etc., were a problem to the Egyptians. Even the pollution of the Nile, darkness, and death were common to the Egyptians.
Evidence that the plagues were truly miraculous events is as follows. Some were natural calamities that God supernaturally intensified (frogs, insects, murrain, hail, darkness). Moses set the time for the arrival and departure of some. Some afflicted only the Egyptians. The severity of the plagues increased consistently. They also carried a moral purpose (Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:16; Exodus 12:12; Exodus 14:30). [Note: Free, p. 95.]
"The plagues were a combination of natural phenomena known to both the Egyptians and Israelites alike (due to their long sojourn in Egypt) heightened by the addition of supernatural factors." [Note: Ramm, p. 62.]
God designed them to teach the Egyptians that Yahweh sovereignly controls the forces of nature. [Note: See R. Norman Whybray, Introduction to the Pentateuch, p. 72; and Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., pp. 252-53.] The Egyptians attributed this control to their gods.
"Up to now the dominate [sic] theme has been on preparing the deliverer for the exodus. Now, it will focus on preparing Pharaoh for it. The theological emphasis for exposition of the entire series of plagues may be: The sovereign Lord is fully able to deliver his people from the oppression of the world so that they might worship and serve him alone." [Note: The NET Bible note on 7:14.]
Some writers have given a possible schedule for the plagues based on the times of year some events mentioned in the text would have normally taken place in Egypt. For example, lice and flies normally appeared in the hottest summer months. Barley formed into ears of grain and flax budded (Exodus 9:31) in January-February. Locusts were a problem in early spring. The Jews continued to celebrate the Passover in the spring. This schedule suggests that the plagues began in June and ended the following April. [Note: Flinders Petrie, Egypt and Israel, pp. 35-36; and Greta Hort, "The Plagues of Egypt," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 69 (1957):84-103; ibid., 70 (1958):48-59.]
"The Egyptians were just about the most polytheistic people known from the ancient world. Even to this day we are not completely sure of the total number of gods which they worshipped. Most lists include somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty gods . . ." [Note: Davis, p. 86. Cf. Frankfort, p. 4. Other studies have discovered more than 1,200 gods. See E. A. W. Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, pp. ix-x; and B. E. Shafer, ed., Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, pp. 7-87.]
Many students of the plagues have noticed that they appeared in sets of three. The accounts of the first plague in each set (the first, fourth, and seventh plagues) each contain a purpose statement in which God explained to Moses His reason and aim for that set of plagues (cf. Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:22; Exodus 9:14). God had announced His overall purpose for the plagues in Exodus 7:4-5. [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," pp. 348-49. Cf. C. J. Labuschagne, The Incomparability of Yahweh in the Old Testament, pp. 74-75, 92-94.] The last plague in each set of three came on Pharaoh without warning, but Moses announced the others to him beforehand. The first set of three plagues apparently affected both the Egyptians and the Israelites, whereas the others evidently touched only the Egyptians.
Frogs (the second plague) 8:1-15
Before the second plague, Moses gave Pharaoh a warning, for the first time, and for the first time the plague touched Pharaoh’s person.
"The god Hapi controlled the alluvial deposits and the waters that made the land fertile and guaranteed the harvest of the coming season. These associations caused the Egyptians to deify the frog and make the theophany of the goddess Heqt a frog. Heqt was the wife of the great god Khnum. She was the symbol of resurrection and the emblem of fertility. It was also believed that Heqt assisted women in childbirth. . . . The frog was one of a number of sacred animals that might not be intentionally killed, and even their involuntary slaughter was often punished with death." [Note: Davis, p. 100.]
The goddess Heqt ". . . who is depicted in the form of a woman with a frog’s head, was held to blow the breath of life into the nostrils of the bodies that her husband fashioned on the potter’s wheel from the dust of the earth . . . ." [Note: Cassuto, p. 101.]
"This second plague was not completely unrelated to the first, for the Nile and the appearance of the frogs were very much associated. The presence of the frogs normally would have been something pleasant and desirable, but on this occasion quite the opposite was true. The frogs came out of the rivers in great abundance and moved across the land into the houses, the bedchambers, the beds, and even moved upon the people themselves (Exodus 8:3). One can only imagine the frustration brought by such a multiplication of these creatures. They were probably everywhere underfoot bringing distress to the housewives who attempted to clear the house of them only to find that they made their way into the kneading troughs and even into the beds. It must have been a unique experience indeed to come home from a long day’s work, slip into bed only to find that it has already been occupied by slimy, cold frogs! Whatever popularity the goddess Heqt must have enjoyed prior to this time would have been greatly diminished with the multiplication of these creatures who at this point must have tormented her devotees to no end." [Note: Davis, pp. 100-101.]
"Since the frog or toad was deified as the Egyptian goddess Heqt, who was believed to assist women in childbirth, there may be a touch of irony in the statement that large numbers of frogs would invade the Pharaoh’s bedroom and even jump on his bed (Exodus 8:3)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 54.]
The Egyptian magicians were able to bring up frogs, too (Exodus 8:7), but they seem to have lacked the ability to make them go away since Pharaoh asked Moses to get rid of them (Exodus 8:8). Satanic power does not generally work for the welfare of humanity but is basically destructive.
To impress upon Pharaoh that a personal God was performing these miracles (Exodus 8:10) Moses asked the king to set the time when the frogs should depart (Exodus 8:9). Yahweh was in charge of the very territory over which Pharaoh regarded himself as sovereign.
Gnats (the third plague) 8:16-19
The Hebrew word translated "gnats" (kinnim) probably refers not to lice or fleas but to gnats. Kaiser suggested that mosquitoes may be in view. [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 353.] The frogs had invaded the Egyptians’ homes, but the gnats afflicted their bodies.
They were ". . . a species of gnats, so small as to be hardly visible to the eye, but with a sting which, according to Philo and Origin, causes a most painful irritation of the skin. They even creep into the eyes and nose, and after the harvest they rise in great swarms from the inundated rice fields." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:483.]
"The dust . . . became gnats" (Exodus 8:17) probably means that the gnats rose from the dust, resembled the dust in that they were so small, and were as numerous as the dust. Moses evidently used the language of appearance (here a metaphor).
The magicians failed to reproduce this miracle (Exodus 8:18). They had to confess that it was of divine origin and not the result of Moses and Aaron’s human ability. The "finger of God" (Exodus 8:19) is a phrase denoting creative omnipotence in Scripture (Exodus 31:18; Psalms 8:3; Luke 11:20). It is probably another synecdoche as well as an anthropomorphism (a depiction of God in human terms). Here the finger of God, a part, represents the totality, namely, all His power. See 1 Samuel 6:9 and Psalms 109:27 where the "hand of God" also pictures His power.
"The new element introduced in the account of the third of the mighty acts is the realization by Pharaoh’s learned men that God or a god is in the midst of what is happening in Egypt." [Note: Durham, p. 109.]
"At this point in the narrative we, the readers, see that the Egyptian magicians were using tricks in their earlier signs. Their confession plays an important role in uncovering the writer’s real purpose in recounting these events." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 255.]
The magicians gave credit to "God" (Elohim), not Yahweh. They did not ascribe this miracle to the God of the Israelites but were only willing to say it had some supernatural origin.
"It is not clear against what specific deities this particular plague was directed. It is entirely possible, however, that the plague was designed to humiliate the official priesthood in the land, for it will be noted in Exodus 8:17 that these creatures irritated both man and beast, and this included ’all the land of Egypt.’ The priests in Egypt were noted for their physical purity. Daily rites were performed by a group of priests known as the Uab or ’pure ones.’ Their purity was basically physical rather than spiritual. They were circumcised, shaved the hair from their heads and bodies, washed frequently, and were dressed in beautiful linen robes. [Note: Montet, p. 177.] In the light of this it would seem rather doubtful that the priesthood in Egypt could function very effectively having been polluted by the presence of these insects. They, like their worshipers, were inflicted with the pestilence of this occasion. Their prayers were made ineffective by their own personal impurity with the presence of gnats on their bodies.
"The priests in Egypt were a group of people to be reckoned with not only religiously but economically and politically. They controlled to a large degree, the minds and hearts of the people." [Note: Davis, p. 103.]
The Egyptian priests wore animal masks representing various gods to help the people understand the god the mask portrayed and his activities. [Note: Arelene Wolinski, "Egyptian Masks: the Priest and His Role," Archaeology 40:1 (January-February 1987):22-29.] This practice continues in some pagan religions even today.
5. The fourth, fifth, and sixth plagues 8:20-9:12
"As the Egyptian magicians saw nothing more than the finger of God in the miracle which they could not imitate, that is to say, the work of some deity, possibly one of the gods of the Egyptians, and not the hand of Jehovah the God of the Hebrews, who had demanded the release of Israel, a distinction was made in the plagues which followed between the Israelites and the Egyptians, and the former were exempted from the plagues: a fact which was sufficient to prove to anyone that they came from the God of Israel. To make this the more obvious, the fourth and fifth plagues were merely announced by Moses to the king. They were not brought on through the mediation of either himself or Aaron, but were sent by Jehovah at the appointed time; no doubt for the simple purpose of precluding the king and his wise men from the excuse which unbelief might still suggest, viz. that they were produced by the powerful incantations of Moses and Aaron." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:484.]
Flies (the fourth plague) 8:20-32
Moses announced this plague to Pharaoh like the first, in the morning near the Nile River (Exodus 8:20; cf. Exodus 7:15).
These insects were very annoying, even more bothersome than the gnats.
"When enraged, they fasten themselves upon the human body, especially upon the edges of the eyelids. . . . [they] not only tortured, ’devoured’ (Psalms 78:45) the men, and disfigured them by the swellings produced by their sting, but also killed the plants in which they deposited their eggs . . . ." [Note: Ibid., 1:484-85.]
"The blood-sucking gadfly or dogfly was something to be abhorred and may in part have been responsible for the great deal of blind men in the land. . . . It might also be noted that the Ichneuman fly, which deposits its eggs on other living things upon which its larvae can feed, was regarded as the manifestation of the god Uatchit." [Note: Davis, p. 106.]
God demonstrated His sovereignty over space as well as nature and time by keeping the flies out of Goshen and off the Israelites (Exodus 8:22). The exact location of Goshen is still unknown, but its general location seems to have been in the eastern half of the delta region of Egypt (cf. Genesis 46:28-29; Genesis 46:33-34; Genesis 47:1-6; Genesis 47:11). [Note: Durham, p. 114.] Some of the commentators assumed that the first three plagues did not afflict the Israelites either, though the text does not say so explicitly (cf. Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:2; Exodus 8:16-17). God distinguished between the two groups of people primarily to emphasize to Pharaoh that Israel’s God was the author of the plagues and that He was sovereign over the whole land of Egypt (Exodus 8:23).
For the first time Pharaoh gave permission for the Israelites to sacrifice to Yahweh (Exodus 8:25), but he would not allow them to leave Egypt. Pharaoh admitted that Yahweh was specifically the God of Israel ("your God"), but he did not admit that he had an obligation to obey Him. [Note: Meyer, p. 121.]
The Egyptians regarded the animals the Israelites would have sacrificed as holy and as manifestations of their gods. Consequently the sacrifices would have been an abomination. [Note: Cassuto, pp. 108-09. Cf. Cole, p. 95.]
". . . we know from excavations that this Pharaoh, Amenhotep II, worshipped bulls." [Note: Gispen, p. 94.]
The abomination that the Israelites’ sacrifice would have constituted to the Egyptians also may have consisted in the method by which the Israelites would have sacrificed these animals. The Egyptians themselves practiced animal sacrifices, but they had rigorous procedures for cleansing their sacrificial animals before they killed them, which the Israelites would not have observed. [Note: See Ernst Hengstenberg, Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 114; and J. Philip Hyatt, Exodus, p. 112.]
Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites leave Egypt to sacrifice temporarily in the wilderness after Moses reminded him of the problems involved in sacrificing in Egypt (Exodus 8:28). Yet they were not to go very far from Goshen. Again Pharaoh asked Moses to pray that his God would remove the plague (Exodus 8:28; cf. Exodus 8:9-10).
"What is new in this fourth of the mighty acts, apart from the nature of the miracle itself, is the separation of the land of Goshen from the effects of miracle (there has been no mention of Goshen’s fate in the earlier accounts), the negotiations between Pharaoh and Moses, with each of them setting conditions, and the allusion to the antipathy of the Egyptians to Israel worhsip [sic] (or to Israelite ways, and to Israelites in general)." [Note: Durham, p. 115.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany