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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Exodus 9

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.]

Verses 1-7

Murrain (the fifth plague) 9:1-7

This plague, apparently some kind of disease like anthrax, was more severe than the preceding ones in that it affected the personal property of the Egyptians for the first time.

"The whole creation is bound together by invisible cords. None can sin or suffer alone. No man liveth or dieth to himself. Our sins send their vibrations through creation, and infect the very beasts." [Note: Meyer, p. 122.]

All the other plagues had caused the Egyptians irritation or pain to their bodies, but now God began to reduce their wealth.

"The religious implications of this plague are most interesting and instructive. A large number of bulls and cows were considered sacred in Egypt. In the central area of the Delta, four provinces chose as their emblems various types of bulls and cows. A necropolis of sacred bulls was discovered near Memphis which place was known for its worship of both Ptah and a sacred Apis bull. The Apis bull was considered the sacred animal of the God Ptah; therefore, the associated worship at the site of Memphis is readily understood. There was at any one time only one sacred Apis bull. As soon as it died another was chosen to take its place, an event that attracted a great deal of attention in the area of Memphis. [Note: Montet, p. 172.] The sacred bull was supposed to have been recognized by twenty-eight distinctive marks that identified him as deity and indicated that he was the object of worship. [Note: Author not identified, Archaeology and the Bible, p. 181, cited by Davis.]

"Another deity whose worship would have been affected by the impact of this plague was Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and joy represented by the cow. The worship of this deity was centered mainly in the city of Denderah although its popularity is witnessed by representations both in upper and lower Egypt. This goddess is often depicted as a cow suckling the king giving him divine nourishment. In upper Egypt the goddess appears as a woman with the head of a cow. In another town-Hathor was a woman, but her head was adorned with two horns of a cow with a sun disc between them. Another deity associated with the effects of the plague would be Mnevis, a sacred bull venerated at Heliopolis and associated with the god Re." [Note: Davis, pp. 113-15.]

"Amenhotep II [the Pharaoh of the plagues] surpassed all his predecessors in his fanatical devotion to the worship of animals, and especially of the bull. In 1906 a statue made of sandstone was excavated representing a cow and Amenhotep II leaning his head under its head; he is also depicted kneeling under a cow, drinking its divine milk. He is thus seen as child and slave of the cow goddess. What a threat this must have been to him!" [Note: Gispen, p. 96.]

The expression "all the livestock" (Exodus 9:6) evidently refers to all cattle in the fields (Exodus 9:3). Some cattle survived this plague (cf. Exodus 9:19-20; Exodus 9:22).

The only new element in this fifth report is the notice that Pharaoh sent to Goshen to check on the predicted exclusion of the Israelites’ livestock from the epidemic (Exodus 9:7).

Verses 8-12

Boils (the sixth plague) 9:8-12

The "soot from a kiln" (Exodus 9:8) was significant in two respects. First, the soot was black and symbolized the blackness of skin in the disease linking the cause with the effect. Second, the kiln was probably one of the furnaces in which the Israelites baked bricks for Pharaoh as his slaves. These furnaces became a symbol of Israel’s slavery (Exodus 1:14; Exodus 5:7-19). God turned the suffering of the Israelites in the furnace of Egypt so that they and what they produced became a source of suffering to the Egyptians.

"The natural substratum of this plague is discovered by most commentators in the so-called Nile-blisters, which come out in innumerable little pimples upon the scarlet-coloured skin, and change in a short space of time into small, round, and thickly-crowded blisters. This is called by the Egyptians Hamm el Nil, or the heat of the inundation. According to Dr. Bilharz, it is a rash, which occurs in summer, chiefly towards the close at the time of the overflowing of the Nile, and produces a burning and pricking sensation upon the skin; or, in Seetzen’s words, ’it consists of small, red, and slightly rounded elevations in the skin, which give strong twitches and slight stinging sensations, resembling those of scarlet fever’ (p. 209). The cause of this eruption, which occurs only in men and not in animals, has not been determined; some attributing it to the water, and others to the heat." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:487.]

"This plague, like previous ones, most assuredly had theological implications for the Egyptians. While it did not bring death, it was serious and painful enough to cause many to seek relief from many of the Egyptian deities charged with the responsibility of healing. Serapis was one such deity. One is also reminded of Imhotep, the god of medicine and the guardian of healing sciences. The inability of these gods to act in behalf of the Egyptian surely must have led to deep despair and frustration. Magicians, priests, princes, and commoners were all equally affected by the pain of this judgment, a reminder that the God of the Hebrews was a sovereign God and superior to all man-made idols." [Note: Davis, pp. 116-17.]

"In this plague account we learn that the magicians were still hard at work opposing the signs of Moses [Exodus 9:11]. A new twist, however, is put on their work here. Their problem now is not that they cannot duplicate the sign-something which they would not likely have wanted to do; rather, they cannot ’stand before Moses because of the boils.’ This is apparently intended to show that, like the earlier plagues, this plague did not affect the Israelites, represented here by Moses and Aaron. It also provides a graphic picture of the ultimate failure of the magicians to oppose the work of Moses and Aaron. The magicians lay helpless in their sickbed before the work of Moses and Aaron." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 256.]

This is the first time we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12). If a person continues to harden his own heart, God will then harden it further in judgment (cf. Romans 1). It is also the first indication that the Egyptian learned men could no longer resist Moses and his God.

"The lesson here is that when one ignores the prompting of the Lord time and time again (see Exodus 7:13; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:15; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:7), the Lord will confirm that resistance and make belief impossible." [Note: Merrill, in The Old . . ., p. 49. Cf. Hebrews 6:6.]

Verses 13-29

6. The seventh, eighth, and ninth plagues 9:13-10:29

Moses announced the purpose of the following plagues to Pharaoh "in the morning" (cf. Exodus 7:15; Exodus 8:20). This purpose was twofold: that Pharaoh personally might know God’s power (Exodus 9:14) and that the whole world might know it (Exodus 9:16; cf. Romans 9:17).

Verses 13-35

Hail (the seventh plague) 9:13-35

God sent the worst hailstorm Egypt had ever experienced (Exodus 9:18; Exodus 9:24) and accompanied it with thunder, fire (lightning?), and rain (Exodus 9:23; Exodus 9:34). [Note: See Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "The Polemic against Baalism in Israel’s Early History and Literature," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:603 (July-September 1994):271-74.]

"The recurring thunderclaps . . ., the lightning darting back and forth . . ., and the severity of the storm . . . all suggest the advent of Yahweh in theophany . . . and thus the Presence of Yahweh in a more dramatic and intense coming than anywhere in the mighty-act sequence to this point." [Note: Durham, p. 128.]

Pharaoh’s repentance was shallow; he acknowledged only his mistake and unfairness, but he did not repent of his blasphemy of Yahweh (Exodus 9:27). Moses perceived Pharaoh’s true attitude. The king had not yet believed that Yahweh was sovereign (Exodus 9:29). Fearing Him means bowing in submission to Him as sovereign over all the earth (Exodus 9:30; cf. Exodus 10:3).

"What would the worshippers of Nut have thought when they looked skyward not to see the blessings of the sun and warmth, but the tragedy of storm and violence. Nut was the sky goddess. It was from her domain that this tragedy originated. One reflects upon the responsibilities of both Isis and Seth who also had responsibilities relating to agricultural crops. The black and burned fields of flax were a silent testimony to the impotence and incapability of wooden and stone deities." [Note: Davis, p. 120.]

The Egyptians used flax (Exodus 9:31) to make linen cloth that they preferred over wool. The Egyptian priests, among other people, dressed in linen. This plague was a judgment on them, therefore. The Egyptians used barley (Exodus 9:31) to make beer and as animal food, but the poorer people also ate it. [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 363.] These two crops are in bud in late January and early February in lower (northern) Egypt, which enables us to identify the time of year when this plague took place.

This is the first miracle in which we see the presence of death.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 9". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-9.html. 2012.