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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 11



( 1.) During the progress of these judgments, which occupied at least several months, there were, of course, constant interviews between Moses and the elders of Israel, and between them and the people, of which we have no account in the narrative, and there was a gathering and a marshalling of the people for the great decisive expedition towards which all these providences were leading them. The history has directed our attention chiefly to the leading actors, Moses and Pharaoh, but now, in the first three verses of this chapter, in order to make clear the following narrative, it glances back to events which were meanwhile transpiring in Israel. The first three verses are, then, parenthetical, and the account of Moses’s final interview with Pharaoh, which commenced Exodus 10:24, is then resumed, and finished Exodus 11:8. The last two verses of this chapter are retrospective of the whole history of these judgments .

( 2.) Adam Clarke, following Kennicott, supposed that there are here several omissions in the Hebrew text which the Samaritan supplies. But the critical examination made by Gesenius has now so completely destroyed the authority of the Samaritan where it is not supported by the Hebrew, that the great expectations once entertained of essential revision of our received text from that Version may now be said to be completely dissipated. The Samaritan variations from the Hebrew are now almost universally admitted to be simply ignorant or meddlesome alterations, No one would see this more clearly than Dr. Clarke were he to write to-day.

Verse 1

TENTH PLAGUE PREDICTED, Exodus 11:1-2.11.10.

1. And the Lord (had) said unto Moses This passage (Exodus 11:1-2.11.3) relates what God had previously said, and describes the influences under which the Egyptian people would be led to comply so readily with the request of the Israelites . It shows how ripe were events for the final scene, and is naturally inserted parenthetically here as showing why Moses had just said so decisively, “I will see thy face no more . ” The author also wished to show the fulfilment of the prophecy of Exodus 3:21-2.3.22, concerning the spoiling of the Egyptians; and probably, also, to make it clear that he had not on his own authority, but by Jehovah’s express direction, closed his interviews with Pharaoh, since he had already revealed that the tenth judgment stroke should be the last.

He shall surely thrust you out Literally, When he shall let you go altogether, he will actually thrust you out hence. He will no more attempt to retain the women and children, or the flocks and herds, as before, nor will he stipulate for your return at all, but will be anxious to be wholly rid of you.

Verses 1-10

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. Let every man borrow שׁאל ask, demand, ( Septuagint, Vulgate, Luther, De Wette, Ewald, Knobel .) See on chap . 52:22 . Of course the Egyptians could have expected no return of the gold and silver, when they urged them to go wholly out of the land . This was no “borrowing” or purloining, but these “spoils” were gifts obtained by moral constraint . The terror-stricken Egyptians were glad to give them any thing so they would but go in peace . If this despoiling the Egyptians were not so particularly described we should find much difficulty in accounting for the quantity of gold and jewelry which we find in the possession of the Hebrews when they went out of servitude . A large amount of gold was used in the manufacture of the calf in Horeb; and, after this idol had been destroyed, we find the men and women bringing freewill offerings of “bracelets, and earrings, and (signet) rings, and tablets, (necklaces,) all jewels of gold,” (Exodus 35:22,) for the ornamentation and furnishing of the tabernacle, whose beams were all plated with gold, and all whose vessels were gold . It would be hard to account for such an extraordinary amount of the precious metal in the possession of a nation just emerged from bondage were not this unusual means of supply set before us . It was fit that the oppressor who had so long luxuriated on their unrequited toil should repay; it was proper that they should go in festal attire to Jehovah’s feast; and it was the crown of their triumph that the Egyptians willingly loaded them with their costly garments and jewels, freely bidding them go, and praying, Bless us also.

Verse 3

3. And the Lord gave the people favour… the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt At this crisis the Egyptians had become so panic-stricken that they gave the Israelites whatever they asked, and Moses, Jehovah’s dread messenger, overwhelmed them with awe and terror . The author does not here refer to any moral or intellectual greatness of Moses, but simply to the impression which he had produced upon the Egyptians .

Verse 4

4. And Moses said Unto Pharaoh, not unto Israel . The speech of Exodus 10:25-2.10.26, interrupted by the parenthesis of Exodus 11:1-2.11.3, is here resumed .

About midnight It is probable that the midnight following this interview is here meant, and that this was the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, when the Passover was afterwards celebrated in Israel . From Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6, we see that the paschal lamb was to be selected on the tenth and killed on the fourteenth of that month . The lamb might have been selected when the plague of darkness commenced, and during those three days that the Israelites alone had light in their dwellings they might have waited in solemn anticipation for the final stroke of deliverance, which on the fifteenth day set them free.

Verse 5

5. And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die Israel consecrated all its firstborn to God, and Egypt’s firstborn were taken in wrath, as were Israel’s in mercy . The firstborn is the flower, the glory, of the nation, and thus the choice victims were taken from all ranks of men and from all kinds of beasts . The maidservant that is behind the mill, behind the two millstones . Here the specified ranks are from the king to the maidservant, and in Exodus 12:29, from the king to the captive .

The handmill in common use in Egypt, as in the East, generally consists now, as then, of two round stones, from one and a half to two feet in diameter, the lower one being convex upon its upper surface, which fits into a corresponding concavity in the upper stone. The corn is dropped through a hole in the upper stone, which is revolved by means of an upright handle. It is usually worked by two women sitting on the ground, facing each other, with the mill between them, both holding the handle and pushing and pulling in alternation. See illustration at Matthew 24:41. The Egyptians had also larger mills worked by asses or cattle .

Verse 6

6. A great cry Awfully typical of that midnight cry which shall sound through all the earth: “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!”

Verse 7

7. Shall not a dog move his tongue The very dogs of Egypt shall respect the people before whom their masters cower in fear .

Verse 8

8. And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down Pharaoh and all his courtiers would be utterly paralyzed with terror, and humbly entreat the people whom they had crushed so long to depart in peace.

In a great anger As Jehovah’s messenger, representing his judicial wrath.

Verses 9-10

9, 10. These verses review and recapitulate the whole series of judgments, recording the fulfilment of the prediction made when Moses was first commissioned . Exodus 7:2-2.7.3.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 11". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.