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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 10

Verse 1

THE EIGHTH PLAGUE LOCUSTS, Exodus 10:1-2.10.20.

1. I have hardened his heart See on Exodus 9:12-2.9.13.

Verses 1-29

THE TEN PLAGUES, Exodus 7:8 to Exodus 12:30.

Moses and Aaron now stand before Pharaoh as ministers of judgment, and the conflict opens between Jehovah and the gods of Egypt. The first contest between the messengers of Jehovah and the magicians, or enchanters, who are regarded as the servants of the false gods, given in Exodus 7:8-2.7.13, is properly the opening scene of the struggle, and is therefore here included in the section with it. Several general observations on the whole subject are most conveniently introduced here for future reference.

(1.) The great and worthy object of these “signs and wonders” is throughout to be carefully held before the mind. There were several secondary purposes met, but the chief aim was, not to inflict retribution upon Egypt, although they did this as judgments, nor to give Israel independence, though they effected this by crushing the oppressor, but to teach the world the nature of God. It was a series of most solemn lessons in the fundamental truths of religion in God’s attributes and government. With perfect distinctness and reiterated emphasis is this declared from the very beginning: “ I am JEHOVAH … Ye shall know… the Egyptians shall know that I am JEHOVAH.” Events were to burn into the national consciousness of Israel, and into the memory of the world, the great truths revealed in the Memorial Name; and the faith of Israel, the sin of Pharaoh, and the might and splendour of Egyptian heathenism, were the divinely chosen instruments to accomplish this work. The rich Nile-land teemed with gods, and was the mother country of the idolatries that, centuries afterward, covered the Mediterranean islands and peninsulas, and filled the classic literature with such manifold forms of beauty. The gods of Greece were born in Egypt, and the Sibyls of Delphos and Cumaea descended from the sorcerers who contended with Moses. In no other land has idolatry ever reared such grand and massive structures as in Egypt. The immense ram-headed Ammun and hawk-headed Ra, the placid monumental Osiris, the colossal Rameses, sitting in granite “with his vast hands resting upon his elephantine knees,” these, and their brother gods of the age of the Pharaohs, have looked down upon the rising and falling Nile through all the centuries of European civilization. In no other land were the manifold forms and productions of nature so deified. In their pantheistic idolatry they offered worship not only to the sun, and moon, and earth, but to bulls, crocodiles, cats, hawks, asps, scorpions, and beetles. They seem to have made to themselves likenesses of almost every thing in “heaven above, in earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth.” The Apis and Mnevis bulls were stalled in magnificent palaces at Memphis and Heliopolis, and were embalmed in massive marble and granite sarcophagi, grander than enclosed the Theban kings. The sepulchres of Egyptian bulls have outlasted the sepulchres of Roman emperors. Nowhere else were kings so deified as here. Pharaoh incarnated in himself the national idolatry, and to crush the king was to crush the gods. The king made his palace a temple, and enthroned himself among the Egyptian deities. He sculptured himself colossal so vast that the Arabs to-day quarry millstones from his cheeks sitting hand in hand and arm in arm with his gods. To-day Rameses sits in the temple of Ipsambul between Ra and Ammun, his tall crown rising between the hawk head of the one and the tiara of the other, looking out from his rock-hewn shrine upon the desert, as he has sat since the Pharaohs. From Cambyses to Napoleon invasion after invasion has swept the Nile valley wave on wave yet here have sat these massive forms, the Nile coming to bathe their feet year by year, as if brothers to the mountains. They mark the graves of Egypt’s vanished gods, while the name of Him who smote these gods to death with Moses’s rod liveth forever.

(2.) But Egypt was the mother-land of philosophies as well as idolatries. Long ages after Moses, Herodotus, Pythagoras, and Plato followed the Hebrew lawgiver to the oldest university in the world. The Egyptian philosophy was inextricably entangled with its religion, and deciphered papyri show that magic and sorcery were esteemed as highly at the court of Pharaoh, as, long after, in the time of Daniel, at the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The dreamy mysticism of Plato and of Philo reveals how hopelessly most precious truths were entangled in priestly juggleries, and how deeply this black art, or illusion, or demonism, left its mark on the ancient world. The heathen idolatry had no more potent allies in the old civilizations than the soothsayers, sorcerers, and magicians, and it was needful that they too should be signally vanquished by the prophet of the true God. Hence Moses in Egypt as, a thousand years later, Daniel in Babylon, and a half thousand years later still, Paul at Salamis and Philippi discomfited the false prophets who aped God’s mighty works with their lying wonders. The sooth-saying and necromancy found in Christian lands to-day belong to the same kingdom of darkness, and can be exorcised only in that “Name which is above every name.” Moses, then, smites for mankind; Israel brings the Sacred Name through the wilderness for the world.

(3.) The weapons and tactics of this warfare were not such as to inflame the pride of the people of Israel, or to awaken in after generations a thirst for military glory, but such as to turn the tides of their faith and hope wholly away from themselves to their God. Hence the Hebrew national anthems glory in Jehovah rather than in Israel. Not the baptism of a war of national independence, but that of the Red Sea redemption, was their great national remembrance. Enthusiasm for Jehovah thus became the national passion. How appropriate was this in the training of a nation which was to teach the world true religion!

The real character of these plagues, or judgment strokes, will, as a general thing, appear from an attentive study of the Egyptian geography and natural history. They arise, as can usually be seen on the face of the narrative, from natural causes supernaturally intensified and directed. In the first and ninth plagues the natural causation is less distinct. They cannot, however, be explained away as natural events; for, if the record is to be believed at all, they were supernatural (1) in their definiteness, the time of their occurrence and discontinuance being distinctly predicted; (2) in their succession; and (3) in their intensity. They were, in their power and direction, threefold: (1) against the Egyptian faith in the diviners, enchanters, and sorcerers, the prophets of a false religion. (2) Against their faith in their deities, their gods of earth, and water, and air powers of nature; and beasts, and birds, and creeping things. Thus Jehovah’s supremacy over idolatry appeared. But (3) they were also punishments for disobedience to God. There is from the beginning a gradually increasing intensity in these supernatural manifestations till the magicians are utterly discomfited, all the gods of Egypt put to shame, and Pharaoh compelled to yield reluctant obedience. At first the magicians seem to display the same power as Moses, (Exodus 7:11; Exodus 7:22,) then come signs beyond their power . (Exodus 8:18;) soon the prophet of Jehovah so smites them that they cannot appear at all, (Exodus 9:11;) and then they vanish altogether . So the weight of the judgments increases as with increasing light the crime of disobedience rises in magnitude beginning with simple though sore annoyances, as blood, frogs, and flies; then advancing to the destruction of food and cattle smiting first their dwelling-place and surroundings, and then themselves; till the locusts swept the earth and the darkness filled the heaven, and only the death stroke was left to fall . Thus we are taught how the consequence of sin is sin, and judgments unheeded inevitably lead on to sorer judgments, till destruction comes .

(4.) Some commentators have found a special application in each plague to some particular idolatry or idolatrous rite, but this we do not find warranted by facts. Some, following Philo, the learned and devout but fanciful Alexandrian Jew, separate the plagues into two groups of nine and one, and then the nine into three groups of three, between which groups they trace what they deem instructive contrasts and correspondences. Origen, Augustine, and others, have traced parallels between these ten judgments and the ten commandments, the succession of the judgments and of the creative days, etc. Most of these interpretations not to dwell on the extravagant conceits of the Rabbies are amusing rather than instructive, and would be appropriate rather to a sacred romance or drama than to a sober history like this. The wild fables of the Talmud, the monstrosities of the Koran, and the often romantically embellished history of Josephus, present here an instructive contrast to the sacred narrative.

(5.) Thus far the Egyptian monuments give us no distinct mention of the plagues and of the exodus. We have, however, Egyptian records of the sojourn and exodus of Israel, although confused and fragmentary, and written more than a thousand years after the events. Chief and most valuable among these is the narrative of the priest Manetho, who wrote his Egyptian history during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, B.C. 283-247, of which a few fragments remain. Josephus has preserved all that we have of this narrative in his work against Apion. It is, as might be expected, a very different history, being the relation of an Egyptian priest many centuries after the events; yet the points of agreement are very striking.

The Israelites appear in Manetho’s story as a nation of lepers, headed by Osarsiph, a priest of Osiris, who had been educated at Heliopolis, but abandoned his order and the Egyptian religion to take the lead of this people. He taught them to abjure idolatry, gave them laws, a constitution and ceremonial, and when he united his fortunes with theirs he changed his name to Moses. The war is described as a religious war, in which, for the time, the Egyptians were discomfited, and obliged, in compliance with prophetic warnings, to abandon the country for thirteen years, and to flee, with their king Amenophis, into Ethiopia, taking with them the bull Apis and other sacred animals, while this leprous nation, reinforced by shepherds from Jerusalem, fortified themselves in Avaris, (Zoan,) a city of Goshen, robbed the temples, insulted the gods, roasted and ate the sacred animals, and cast contempt in every way upon the Egyptian worship. Amenophis afterwards returned with a great army and chased the shepherds and lepers out of his dominions through a dry desert to Palestine. (From Ewald’s trans., Hist. of Israel, 2: 79.) Here, as Ewald shows, the great outlines of the story of the exodus are to be clearly seen; the Mosaic leadership, the war of religions, the uprising of the hostile religion in Egypt itself, the leprous affliction of the revolting people, so pointedly mentioned in the Pentateuch, the secret superstitious dread inspired by Moses, which seems to have shaken the foundations of the Egyptian religion, the confession of defeat in the struggle, and the transformation of the exodus into an expulsion from Egypt these are unmistakable traces of the same history coming down through Egyptian channels. The later Egyptian writers, Chaeremon and Lysimachus, echo the story of Manetho, mingling with it Hebrew traditions. ( Josephus Against Apion, bks. i, 2.)

(6.) The exotic of Israel from Egypt is a fact now universally admitted, whatever differences may exist in its explanation. Bunsen says, in his Egypt, that “History herself was born on that night when Moses led forth his countrymen from the land of Goshen.” That this event resulted from some heavy calamities which at that time befel the Egyptians, or, in other words, that the narrative of the plagues has a solid historical foundation, is also now maintained with unbroken unanimity by Hebrew and Egyptian scholars, even by those who decline to see in these events anything supernatural. Thus Ewald says, that this history, “on the whole, exhibits the essence of the event as it actually happened.” And Knobel says, that “in the time of Moses circumstances had transpired which made it possible for the Hebrews to go forth of themselves, and impossible for the Egyptians to hinder their undertaking or to force them to return.” In other words, they who refuse to recognise here miraculous influence do recognise miraculous coincidence. Without any war, which, had it happened, must, as Knobel says, have left some trace in the history without any invasion from abroad or insurrection from within to weaken the Egyptian power a nation, unified and vitalized by faith in the one Jehovah, went forth unhindered from the bosom of a strong and prosperous empire. This is the event to be explained. The Mosaic record alone gives an adequate cause.

Verse 2

2. And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son See instances of this in Psalms 78, 106 .

Verse 4

4. I bring the locusts into thy coast The destruction of all herbage by locusts is as complete as by fire over all the area which they cover, and they have been known to spread over from one to two thousand square miles . Their numbers and voracity are almost incredible . Indeed, it is said that they consume not merely from appetite, but from love of destruction, and not only vegetable and insect life, but cloth, leather, and even woodwork and furniture of houses. They rise from the horizon in immense columns, darkening the sun by their flight, filling the air with a whirring sound which is compared to the noise of fire or of distant wheels, and when driven in dense masses by winds into the sea, their decay emits a stench which spreads for many miles. In less than half a day they will crop grass and young grains even with the ground, leaving only the bare stalks of older plants, and in a very few hours will strip all trees clean of fruit, leaves, and bark. The noise of their browsing may be heard at quite a distance as they approach, and after they have passed, the trees are reduced to naked trunks and stems. No language more appropriately describes this fearful visitation than that of the prophet Joel: “A fire devoureth before them, and behind them a flame burneth. The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them it is a desolate wilderness… Like the noise of chariots on the tops of the mountains.… Like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble… They shall run like mighty men, they shall climb the wall like men of war… The sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.” Joel 2:1-29.2.11. See the whole passage .

Verse 7

7. Pharaoh’s servants said unto him For the first time the courtiers of Pharaoh venture to plead with him, and for the first time he sends for Moses and Aaron after they have predicted the plague and gone forth to bring it upon the land . This shows how these judgments were more and more profoundly impressing the Egyptian people .

Verse 9

9. We will go with our young and with our old Moses gives a full enumeration of those who must go forth to the feast and sacrifice, and it was simply what would be demanded in the worship of any people . Herodotus relates (ii, 60) that men, women, and children participated in the Egyptian festivals and religious processions, and that, according to the native reports, 700,000 often attended the annual festival at Bubastis, without reckoning the children . It was therefore but pretence when Pharaoh declared (Exodus 5:11) that he had supposed that men only were included in the request of Moses .

Verse 10

10. Let the Lord be so with you This is language of scornful irony; “Jehovah will indeed be with you, when I let you go;” or, more exactly, “just as much with you as I shall let you go . ”

Verse 12

12. That they may come up The locusts appeared like a low hanging cloud in the distance, which rose and spread till it covered the land .

Verse 13

13. An east wind All travellers relate that the wind brings the locusts, but an east wind would have brought them from Arabia across the Red Sea, while the locusts usually come to Egypt from the south or southwest . But Denon (quoted by Knobel) describes a locust cloud which he witnessed coming from the east, producing great havoc in Egypt, and then driven back by a west wind, precisely like the one here mentioned .

Niebuhr describes swarms of locusts coming upon Egypt in December and January, and Lepsius and Tischendorf describe them in March, closely corresponding to the time of this narrative as it is fixed by Exodus 9:31-2.9.32. After the dreadful destruction by the hail this locust plague must have been fearfully calamitous. This was foreseen by Pharaoh’s counsellors, who looked upon a locust visitation as the destruction of Egypt.

Verse 15

15. They covered the face of the whole earth Literally, the eye of the whole earth; so that Egypt could not see sun or sky .

Verses 16-17

16, 17. Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste This awful destruction humbles him to more earnest entreaty than ever before, and it seems to him that if “this death only” be removed, no more dreadful judgment can be inflicted by Jehovah .

Verse 19

19. A mighty strong west wind Literally, wind of the sea, that is, the Mediterranean, which is west from Palestine, but northwest from the Egyptian Delta, which is the scene of this history. This wind would sweep the locusts into the Red Sea.

Verse 21

FIFTH PLAGUE DARKNESS, Exodus 10:21-2.10.29.

21. Stretch out thine hand toward heaven… darkness which may be felt Literally, and one shall feel darkness; a fearfully-expressive figure . Moses raises his hand over Egypt for the last time, and a darkness falls which is the shadow of the death that draws nigh to every house in the doomed land . It was a fitting prelude to the final dreadful visitation, when Jehovah’s messengers had retired from the scene, and himself went forth in the midnight judgment . For three days the pall of silence lay upon Egypt, and no one moved from his place, as if all awaited in terror the final stroke .

Click image for full-size version

In this plague Jehovah revealed himself as the God of the Egyptian sun-god, the Ra, or Re, from whom Pharaoh and many of the Egyptian kings derived their names or titles; who was deemed the father of a whole order or rank of gods, and was worshipped especially at Heliopolis, or the City of the Sun. The obelisk of Egypt is the “finger of the sun” the sunbeam in stone.

The above picture represents the Egyptian god Ammum-Ra enthroned, and above him the sun, each ray ending in a hand, to denote his power over the world. In his right hand he holds the handled cross, the symbol of life; lotus flowers are before him, and a Theban king is worshipping him. The symbolic asp is on the king’s forehead, and his name in the cartouch above.

Verse 22

22. And there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days As all the plagues seem in some way connected with natural causes, this preternatural darkness is by many assigned to a sand-storm, such as accompanies the simoom or the chamaseen, miraculously increased in intensity. Neither of these winds are ever known to produce so deep a darkness as is here described, though they obscure the sun and cause a twilight gloom. The simoom, or samoom, is a hot parching wind, raising clouds of dust and sand, which give the whole air a reddish-yellow tinge, and make the sun at first look like a globe of blood, and then blot it wholly from view. It is painfully suffocating both to man and beast while it lasts, but it is of short duration, especially if extremely hot and violent, generally passing within half an hour. The chamaseen, or khamsin, is less hot and violent, but lasts two or three days at a time, occurring at frequent intervals during a period of fifty days before and after the vernal equinox, that is, during March and the first of April, which corresponds well with the time of the plague of darkness. It darkens the sun with clouds of sand, which fill the air like a yellow fog, or like a heavy storm of snow or hail; men and beasts hide themselves while it rages, the inhabitants taking refuge in the innermost apartments or in subterranean vaults. The streets are deserted, as in the night, and all business ceases. But all these characteristics must have been supernaturally intensified to produce the effects described in the text. Both the simoom and the chamaseen are local, and very limited in range, so that such a wind might have blows up the Nile valley and left Goshen, in the eastern part of the Delta, untouched.

Verse 24

24. Go ye, serve the Lord Now Pharaoh is willing that all the people should go, but insists that the flocks and herds should remain, as hostages for their return .

Verses 25-26

25, 26. Thou must give us also sacrifices That is, Thou must allow our flocks and herds to go for sacrifice . Even up to this moment only a three days’ journey into the wilderness was demanded; and a frank, fair compliance with Jehovah’s will would have saved Pharaoh from destruction and Egypt from disgrace . Pharaoh’s sin was no necessary link in the chain of God’s providences; but the sin being in his heart, God used it for his glory .

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 10". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/exodus-10.html. 1874-1909.