Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Exodus 9

Verse 1-2

Then the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 3

Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.

Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle. A fifth application was made to Pharaoh in behalf of the Israelites by Moses, who was instructed to tell him that, if he persisted in opposing their departure, a pestilence would be sent among all the flocks and herds of the Egyptians, while those of the Israelites would be spared. Since he showed no intention of keeping his promise, he was still a mark for the arrows from the Almighty's quiver, and the threatened plague of which he was forewarned was executed. But it is observable, that in this instance it was not inflicted through the instrumentality or waving of Aaron's rod, but directly by the hand of the Lord; and the fixing of the precise time tended still further to determine the true character of the calamity.

A very grievous murrain, [ deber (Hebrew #1698), frequently with the article hadeber (Hebrew #1698), destruction, plague, pestilence (Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:21 : cf. 2 Samuel 24:13); Septuagint, thanatos megas sfodra] The English "murrain", expressing pestilence among cattle, is of doubtful origin, and still more doubtful significance. In the 'Twysden Glossarium,' it is defined thus-`Murrena, lues, tabitica lues; vulgo, murraine; a Graeco, marainoo - i:e., tabe facio, ut Casaubonus jam observavit.' The word murrain has been employed to denote epidemic disease among cattle, of every possible character, from the dreadful carbuncular typhus, of which, and of its spread by contagion to animals of every class, Virgil has given a very striking description at the close of his third Georgic, down to the simplest and mildest epidemic catarrh (see Dr. G. Balfour's 'Remarks on Aptha Epizootica,' Edinburgh, 1863). A murrain was the ordinary occurrence of the season. 'The time of the overflow was a season of great suffering for the cattle of ancient Egypt. They were driven forth into the flooded fields to browse the reeds, vetches, and other plants, as they appeared upon the surface of the flood. They are often thus represented deep in the water on the walls of the tombs; and in very many cases, on the same plane or line of picture, is the subject of diseased cattle, tended by men administering medicine to them, signifying plainly the deleterious effects of this mode of pasturage' (Osburn's 'Mon. Hist.,' 2:, p. 584). On this occasion, however, the murrain was a supernatural infliction, and it extended even to the horses and camels in the desert (Jeremiah 12:4).

Verse 4-5

And the LORD shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children's of Israel.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

And the LORD 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.

All the cattle of Egypt died - not absolutely every beast, for we find (Exodus 9:19; Exodus 9:21) that there were still some; but a great many died of each herd-the mortality was frequent and widespread. The adaptation of this judgment consisted in the Egyptians venerating the more useful animals, such as the ox, the cow, and the ram: in all parts of the country temples were reared and divine honours paid to these domesticated beasts; and thus, while the pestilence caused a great loss in money, it struck a heavy blow at their superstition.

Verse 7

And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one ... The despatch of confidential messengers indicates that he would not give credit to vague reports; and we may conclude that some impression had been made on his mind by that extraordinary exemption, but it was neither a good nor a permanent impression. His pride and obstinacy were in no degree subdued.

Verse 8

And the LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh.

Take to you handfuls ... The next plague assailed the persons of the Egyptians, and it appeared in the form of ulcerous eruptions upon the skin and flesh (Leviticus 13:20; Job 2:7; 2 Kings 20:7). That this epidemic did not arise from natural causes was evident from its taking effect from the particular action of Moses done in the sight of Pharaoh. Various explanations have been given of this plague. By one class of writers it is said, the attitude which Moses and Aaron assumed was similar to that of Eastern magicians, who, 'when they pronounce an imprecation on an individual, a village, or a country, take the ashes of cows' dung (that is, from a common fire) and throw them in the air, saying to the objects of their displeasure, such a sickness or such a curse shall come upon you' (Roberts' 'Orient. Illustrations'). But this act is not analogous to that of Moses, who certainly did not utter any imprecations in the manner of pagan soothsayers.

Verse 9

And it shall become small dust in 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 10

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 upon beast.

They took ashes of the furnace, [ piyach (Hebrew #6368) hakibshaan (Hebrew #3536); Septuagint, teen aithaleen tees kaminaias]. It is supposed by others, that there is here a reference to an old Egyptian usage of sacrificing human victims to Typhon, the demon of evil, as a mode of expiating offences, and that, by scattering the debris of the immolated victims into the air, every person and place on which a flake alighted would have an immunity from all danger (Plutarch, quoting Manetho, 'de Is. et Osir.,' p. 380). No occasion, it is alleged, would be more likely to induce a resort to these horrid rites, as the appalling visitations under which Egypt was then suffering; and it was while the Egyptian court and hierarchy were engaged in this extraordinary ceremony for purifying the kingdom, that Moses took of the ashes "in the sight of Pharaoh," and, imitating the customary act of dispersing them, made them an occasion of bringing, not the anticipated exemption from evil, but a new and more formidable calamity than any of the preceding plagues. This explanation of the plague, however, is equally inadmissible as the former; for, not to dwell on the incredibility of a civilized people, as the Egyptians were, sacrificing human victims (see Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' b. 2:, ch. 45; note 3, by Wilkinson), nor to urge the philological objections that the word rendered "furnace" never signifies an altar for consuming sacrifices [and that the sacrificial ashes used in purifying are called 'eeper (Hebrew #665), not piyach (Hebrew #6368) (Numbers 19:10)], there is no evidence that the government of Egypt had been driven to desperation. On the contrary, Pharaoh remained unmoved.

Osburn has suggested a new view ('Mon. Hist.,' 2:, p. 585), that, as the close of the agrarian operations in Egypt is now, as it has been from the remotest antiquity, signalized immediately before the overflow by a burning of the stubble and weeds, which are collected upon heights and set on fire, so that the country far and near exhibits one immense conflagration; and as the calendars of the earliest tombs of Ghizeh record festivals on such occasions, 'Pharaoh and the priests were, doubtless, engaged in some ceremony connected with those feasts, when Aaron threw over them handfuls of the ashes of the consumed stubble, which covered them with ulcers, so that they could not proceed with the rite. The ashes, at the same time, drifted in clouds before the Etesian wind over the land, and inflicted a grievous plague upon the entire population. The king did not himself suffer from them. The fans of his attendants kept off the royal person the white feathery particles which at this time cover everything in Egypt.' [This view, being founded on a common occurrence at the season, might have been received with more favour than the two previously mentioned theories of interpretation, were it not that kibshaan (Hebrew #3536) does not signify, as Osburn supposes, 'a country on fire,' but a furnace (Exodus 19:18; Genesis 19:28) - i:e., a brick or lime-kiln, a furnace for smelting metals.] At both of these the Israelites had been made to toil in the preparations necessary for the erection of those splendid temples, tombs, and other public works from which the Pharaohs derived so much of their glory; and now they were made to see that the God of the Hebrews made the ashes of the kiln, at which his people were forced to labour as slaves, the means not of honour, but of annoyance and distress on their tyrannical masters.

It became a boil, [ sh

Verse 11

And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 12

And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.

The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh. This phrase occurred Exodus 4:21, and it is repeated here, as the historian is entering on a new stage in the progress of the national judgments upon Egypt, to show that miracles, however numerous and striking, had failed to convince Pharaoh: they made no impression on his mind; and it was God by whom these miracles were performed. This, in Hebrew phraseology, is described as "the Lord hardening the heart of Pharaoh."

Verse 13

And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.

Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh. The pointed and monitory character of the address contained in this passage indicates that a longer interval had elapsed since the last interview with Pharaoh than had intervened between the former plagues; and that as the demand for permission to Israel to depart was now renewed, the king's refusal would be followed by a series of increasingly terrible visitations until the judicial climax was reached. Hence, they were announced as "plagues upon his heart" - fitted to astonish, to agitate, and overwhelm both him and all his people. The former plagues having, as we have seen, occurred before or during the early period of the annual overflow, an interval of four or five months probably ensued during the subsidence of the Nile, after which the still moistened soil was prepared for the seed.

Whether the bondage of the Israelites was enforced with unabated rigour, a considerable relaxation had taken place since the commencement of the plagues: certain it is that there is no record of its continuance; and the single condition on which the threatened judgments were suspended was Pharaoh's consent or refusal to "let the Lord's people go, that they may serve me."

Verse 14

For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth.

That thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. This clause would be stripped of all its great significance if viewed as referring to men. The comparison must be between Yahweh and other gods (see the note at Exodus 12:12).

Verse 15

For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth.

For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee. This verse, as it stands in our version, contains an apparent contradiction to facts; because neither Pharaoh nor his people were smitten with pestilence, nor was he by any malignant disorder cut off from the earth. And as yet no premonition was given of the fatal catastrophe which in the end was to befall both the king and his subjects. [ shaalaachtiy (Hebrew #7971) is in the past tense, not the future, and by so rendering it, as a subjoined or conditional clause, all ambiguity is removed. 'For had I stretched out my hand and smitten thee and thy people, thou shouldst have been cut off from the earth. But, truly, on this very account have I caused thee to stand - i:e., set thee up (Septuagint, dieteereethees, hast thou been preserved), that I might make thee see my power, and for the sake of celebrating my name in all the earth (land).']

The superintendence of a particular Providence is here very distinctly declared. Not only is there a preparation made for the approaching nationality and religious education of Israel, as the infant church, but the course of events in the world without is regulated with a view to the same important object. Egypt, within which Israel was to be received for a time, was at the highest pitch of civilization and glory as a world-kingdom; the reigning monarch was distinguished by that imperious temper or iron will that would exhibit despotism in its fullest exercise. The national resources were so great and flourishing, that the guardian deities, to whose special favour these were ascribed, were never worshipped with more ardent and superstitious devotion: so that here was a field for a fair experiment of what human might could do in opposing the declared will and purposes of the Most High. Pharaoh was a type of sinners; and in the forbearance and mercy so long shown to him, viewed in connection with the doom to which, for incorrigible obduracy, he was consigned, the gracious as well as inflexibly righteous character of God was remarkably displayed. This record of it being preserved in the sacred history has led to "His name being declared throughout all the earth."

Verse 16-17

And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 18

Behold, to morrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now.

I will cause it to rain ... The seventh plague which Pharaoh's hardened heart provoked was that of hail-a phenomenon which must have produced the greatest astonishment and consternation in Egypt, as rain and hailstones, accompanied by thunder and lightning were very rare occurrences.

Such as hath not been in Egypt. In the Delta, or Lower Egypt, where the scene is laid, rain occasionally falls between January and March; hail is not unknown, and thunder sometimes heard. But a storm not only exhibiting all these elements, but so terrific that hailstones fell of immense size, thunder pealed in awful volleys, and lightning swept the ground like fire, was an unexampled calamity.

Verse 19

Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 20-21

He that feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses:

He that feared ... regarded not ... Due premonition, it appears, had been publicly given of the impending tempest-the cattle seem have been sent out to graze, which is from January to April, when alone pasturage can be obtained, and accordingly the cattle were in the fields. This storm occurring at that season not only struck universal terror into the minds of the people, but occasioned the destruction of all people and cattle which in neglect of the warning, had been left in the fields, as well as of all vegetation. It was the more appalling that hailstones in Egypt are small, and of little force; lightning also is scarcely ever known to produce fatal effects; and, to enhance the wonder, not a trace of any storm was found in Goshen. It appears from the statement made (Exodus 9:20) that the previous plagues had made a salutary impression in some quarters, if not upon the haughty despot, at least upon many of his respectable and opulent subjects, by undermining their faith in the national idolatry, and convincing them of the existence and mighty power of Yahweh.

Verses 22-26

And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch forth thine 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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 27-30

And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.

Pharaoh ... I have sinned. This awful display of divine displeasure did seriously impress the mind of Pharaoh, and, under the weight of his convictions, he humbled himself to confess he had done wrong in opposing the divine will. At the same time he called for Moses to intercede for a cessation of the calamity.

Verse 30. As for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord God. Pharaoh and his courtiers already acknowledged Yahweh as the God of the Hebrews; but the grand truth which the remarkable judgments brought upon Egypt were designed to teach was, that Yahweh was 'Elohiym (Hebrew #430) - the Lord was the true and only God. A full and abiding conviction of this truth had been so imperfectly attained, that in every instance, as soon as the cause of present alarm was removed, they returned to the old distinction between Yahweh and God, and clung to the hope that they would find in their tutelary divinities a protection from the Deity of the Hebrews (Hengstenberg, 'Christol.;' Macdonald 'Pent.,' 1:, p. 181.

Verse 31-32

And the flax and the barley was smitten: for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was bolled.

The flax and barley was smitten ... The peculiarities that are mentioned in these cereal products arise from the climate and physical constitution of Egypt. In that country flax and barley are almost ripe when wheat and rye (spelt) are green. And hence, the flax must have been "bolled" - i:e., risen in stalk or podded in February, thus fixing the particular month when the event took place. Barley ripens about a month earlier than wheat. Flax and barley are generally ripe in March, wheat and rye [ kucemet (Hebrew #3698); Septuagint, hee olura, spelt] are ripe in April.

That kussemeth cannot be rye is evident from the fact, that this cereal is produced only in northern latitudes, and is unknown in Egypt. This word occurs in two other passages (Isaiah 28:15; Ezekiel 4:9), and in both the margin has spelt. Moses acceded to the king's earnest wishes, and this most awful visitation ended. But his repentance proved a transient feeling, and his obduracy soon became as great as before.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 9". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-9.html. 1871-8.