Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 9

Verses 1-7

Exodus 9:1-7 J. 5°. Murrain upon Cattle.—The word "cattle" is a wide term, and includes all domestic animals. The "camels" must have been those of visiting Bedouins, as they were not naturalised in ancient Egypt. Cattle plagues have been rare in Egypt, but there have been several in the last century. One of the most severe was traced to the Nile; and cattle on land far from the river escaped, as did the cattle of Israel in Goshen. "All the cattle" (Exodus 9:6) may mean "all kinds of cattle," for some survived (Exodus 9:19-21).

Verses 1-35

Exodus 7:14 to Exodus 12:36. The Ten Plagues.—How deeply this series of events imprinted itself on the mind and heart of the nation is shown by the fulness with which the three sources report them.






















1, river turned to blood; 2, frogs; 3, fice (gnats); 4, flies; 5, murrain; 6, boils; 7, hail; 8, locusts; 9, darkness; 10, death of firstborn.

A sound historical judgment will conclude, both from this fact and from the nature of the occurrences mentioned, as well as from the need for some such group of causes to account for the escape of the tribes, that the traditions have a firm foothold in real events. But since not less than four centuries intervened between the events and the earliest of our sources, it is not to be expected that the details of the narratives can all be equally correct. And there are not only literary distinctions between the sources, but differing, and in some points contradictory, representations of matters of fact. The Great European War illustrates the difficulty of weighing even contemporary testimony. But it is important to observe that even such a legend as that a force of Russians was brought through England, though it stated what was incorrect, yet would have conveyed to posterity a true reflection of two fundamental features in the European situation of 1914, viz. that Russia was allied with England, and that powerful reinforcements were needed to meet an enemy across the English Channel. So the general situation in Egypt in 1220 B.C., and the contrasted characters of Pharaoh and Moses, may reasonably be taken as rightly given, while the order, details, and precise nature of the events in which they were concerned may have been more or less distorted by tradition. One of the marks of the shaping power of the reporting process is that each source can still be seen to have had its own uniform skeleton of narration in this section. This phenomenon may be concisely exhibited. It should be contrasted with the form of narratives (such as those in 2 S.) which are more nearly contemporary with the events they relate.

a. JEP: and Yahweh said unto Moses,

b. J: Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go that they may serve me. And if thou refuse to let them go, behold I will . . .

E: Stretch forth thy (i.e. Moses's) hand (with thy rod toward . . . that there may be . . .

P: Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and there shall be . . .

c. J: And Yahweh did so, and there came . . . (or "and he sent")

E: And Moses stretched forth his hand (or his rod) toward . . . and there was . . .

P: And these did so: and Aaron stretched out his rod, and there was . . .

d. P: And the magicians did so (or, could not do so) with their secret arts . . .

e. J: And Pharaoh called for Moses, and said unto him, Entreat for me, that . . . And Yahweh did so, and removed . . .

f. J: But Pharaoh made his heart heavy.

E: But Yahweh made Pharaoh's heart hard.

P: But Yahweh's heart was hardened.

g. J: And he did not let the people go.

E: And he did not let the children of Israel go.

P: and he hearkened not unto them as Yahweh had spoken.

The reader who will mark with letters in the margin of the text the parts assigned to J, E, and P will discern for himself, more fully by the help of the RV references, the points of contrast and resemblance, or he can consult the larger commentaries. In any case he should note that J is fullest and most graphic, and describes the plagues as natural events providentially ordered, Yahweh bringing them after the prophet's mere announcement; that E is briefer, has not been so fully preserved by the editor, heightens the miraculous colouring, and makes Moses bring on the plagues with a motion of his wonder-working rod, or a gesture of his hand; and that P makes Aaron the spokesman and wielder of the rod, and introduces the magicians, the supernatural element transcending the historical throughout. Another feature is that in J the Israelites are apart in Goshen, but in E are mixed up with the Egyptians in Egypt. Each source has its own word for "plague" (Exodus 9:14 J, Exodus 11:1 E, Exodus 12:13 P); and three other words ("signs" and "wonders"—two Heb. words) are also employed. It will appear that the plagues were "miraculously intensified forms of the diseases or other natural occurrences to which Egypt is more or less liable" (Driver).

Verses 8-12

Exodus 9:8-12 P. 6°. Boils on Man and Beast.—Skin diseases are common troubles in Egypt. This may be meant for the Nile-scab, "an irritating eruption, consisting of innumerable little red blisters, which is frequent in Egypt at about the time when the Nile begins to rise in June, and often remains for some weeks upon those whom it attacks" (Driver). The method of infliction is peculiar. Moses and Aaron were to take their two hands full of soot from a lime-burner's or potter's kiln and toss the fine dust into the air, that it might spread as a pestilential cloud of dust. Scots and Yorkshiremen still call a big boil a "blain"! This plague effects the discomfiture of the magicians, who suffer from but cannot inflict the disease.

Verses 13-35

Exodus 9:13 to Exodus 35:7°. A Devastating Hailstorm (Exodus 9:13-21 J, Exodus 9:22 f. E, Exodus 9:24-30 J, Exodus 9:31 f. E, Exodus 9:33 f. J, Exodus 9:35 ab E, Exodus 9:35 c R).—Into the announcement of the coming storm a short passage (Exodus 9:14-16) has been with impressive effect inserted by an early expander of J. It accounts for the series of partial judgments, instead of one overwhelming doom, by the Divine purpose to illustrate more at length the object lesson of the vanity of human pride and resolution. Since Yahweh speaks of "all my plagues," it may have been originally written for some other connexion, and probably should be read, "I will . . . send all these my plagues upon thee, and upon . . .", "thine head" being a misreading of a letter by a scribe. In Exodus 9:15 it would be clearer to render with Driver, "For else I should now have put forth . . . and thou wouldst have been cut off." In Exodus 9:16 "I made thee to stand" means "I preserved thee," not as Paul, possibly following a late meaning of the Heb. verb, took it, "I raised thee up," though the difference does not affect the argument in Romans 9:17. The very power of the Pharaoh makes his subjection to Yahweh's purpose more impressive, and the fame of it more widespread. In Exodus 9:19 the idea is rather, "As yet standest thou in the way of my people . . ." A new feature about this plague is the chance given to Pharaoh and his servants of averting its perils by "fearing the word of Yahweh," and hastening in the cattle. The repetitions in the description of the hailstorm are due to the combination of sources, as the suggested analysis shows. It was peculiarly the function of Yahweh to "send thunder," Exodus 9:23 (Heb. "give voices," see Exodus 9:28 mg.), cf. Psalms 29:3-9, etc.: the cloud was His chariot, the lightning His dazzling robe, and the thunder His mighty voice. The fire was "mingled with" or flashing right through (cf. mg.) "the hail," Exodus 9:24. Goshen again escaped. Pharaoh's admission (Exodus 9:27) that he and his were "wicked" was a politic approach to a powerful but unfriendly deity. He anticipated Nietzsche in the doctrine that weakness is wickedness. Moses in promising to "spread abroad his hands" in prayer for removal of the plague (Exodus 9:29; Exodus 9:35*), was under no illusions: Pharaoh had but half learned his lesson. From Exodus 9:31 f. it may be inferred that the hailstorm was dated in January, the flax being in bud and the barley ripe, but the wheat and spelt still immature. Egyptian flax was often very fine; linen was much used by those who could afford it. Sayce refers to a desolating thunderstorm with hail in the Nile valley in the spring of 1895. The presence of the cattle in the field would agree with the January date.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 9". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.