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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 7

 

 

Verse 1

1. I have made thee a god to Pharaoh — No more was he to come to Pharaoh as a suppliant, but now he was invested with divine authority. To Aaron, Moses was a revealer of God’s will, (Exodus 4:16,) but to Pharaoh he was now to appear clothed with God’s power. Hitherto he had been an advocate, a mediator, and in that position had painfully felt the embarrassment of his slowness of speech; but now his deeds were to speak, and, armed with Jehovah’s thunders, he was to smite down the gods of Egypt. Thus, then, the Lord replies to Moses’s despairing plea — “See, I have made thee a god!” Pharaoh had refused to glorify God by obedience to Moses as a messenger of his mercy; now shall he glorify him by submitting to Moses as a messenger of his wrath. The results of these threatened judgments are now predicted.


Verse 2

2. Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh (the words of authority which I have commanded) that he send the children of Israel out of his land — Rather, and he will send; prediction of the final result.


Verse 3

3. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart — At this stage of history Pharaoh had so far resisted the truth that God’s judgments but increased his obstinacy, and made him plunge into deeper and deeper rebellion. This result is foreseen and predicted, that Moses may be prepared for it. Pharaoh’s sin and its judicial consequences were to be the means of setting forth the attributes of Jehovah before the heathen. See on Exodus 4:21.


Verse 4

4. But Pharaoh shall not hearken — There is nothing imperative or determinative in the use of the verb here; it is a simple future, and the verbs following are to be translated as futures, thus: But Pharaoh will not hearken… and I will lay my hand upon Egypt, and will bring forth mine armies… and the Egyptians will know.


Verse 7

7. Moses was fourscore years old — Here, at the close of the recapitulation, we have the ages of the great actors in this drama set before us. Aaron, it seems, was three years older than Moses; and as we hear nothing of any special apprehensions of danger at the time of his birth, it is possible, though not certain, that the cruel edict which endangered the life of Moses had not then been promulgated. Miriam is not here mentioned, but she is generally supposed to be the sister, older than Moses and Aaron, mentioned in the second chapter. Moses entered on his great mission at fourscore, but as his ancestors Amram, Levi, and Jacob lived beyond the third of their second century, and he himself reached the one hundred and twentieth year, we may regard him as now having the vigour of a man of forty-five. There are nearly contemporary Egyptian records which show similar instances of Egyptian longevity. Stuart Poole gives (in Smith’s Dict.) a translation of a hieratic papyrus containing a discourse of a king’s son of the fifteenth dynasty of Shepherd Kings at Memphis, wherein the author speaks of himself as one hundred and ten years of age, and of his father as still reigning, who must then have been older than Moses, and probably as old as Levi. Yet these must be regarded as exceptional instances, for the ninetieth Psalm, entitled “A prayer of Moses, the man of God,” speaks of seventy or eighty years as the usual length of human life. And in harmony with this, Caleb, the contemporary of Moses, says of himself at eighty-five, “Behold, the Lord hath kept me alive, as he said, these forty and five years, even since the Lord spake this word unto Moses, while Israel wandered in the wilderness: and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet I am strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me.” Joshua 14:10-11. Caleb evidently regards himself as vigorous at eighty-five by God’s special blessing.


Verses 8-30

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 7:8-13, 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 10

OPENING CONTEST WITH THE MAGICIANS, Exodus 7:10-13.

10. And Aaron cast down his rod… and it became a serpent תנין, a dragon or crocodile, not the serpent ( נחשׁ) into which the rod was changed when Moses came before the elders of Israel. Exodus 4:3. The shepherd’s staff is changed into the monster of the Nile. Pharaoh is thus warned, by a symbol clear to the Egyptian mind, that the shepherd race of Israel is to be miraculously transformed into a formidable nation, comparable in might with Egypt. The crocodile’s tail is the hieroglyphic symbol of Egypt.


Verse 11

11. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers — Literally, mutterers, (of magic formulas.)

Now the magicians — Priestly scribes who were skilled in the hieroglyphic wisdom.

They also did in like manner with their enchantments — Their secret arts, the black or hidden arts or tricks which constitute magic or sorcery. The Apostle Paul, doubtless following the Jewish traditions, names these magicians Jannes and Jambres, (2 Timothy 3:8,) and this tradition is found in the Targums and the Talmud.


Verse 12

12. They cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents — Crocodiles, as above. Moses wrought a miracle which they could easily imitate, for all the apparent transformations with which our modern jugglers have made us familiar, and even more wonderful ones than these, have been practised in Egypt and the East from an unknown antiquity. The author describes the transaction just as it appeared to those who saw it, as we would describe similar apparent transformations wrought by a juggler today, but his language cannot fairly be pressed to prove that these magicians possessed any supernatural power. The most famous magicians have always professed to deceive, and declared that their most striking exploits were mere illusions; and how much more than deception there is in magic and sorcery, and whether all their wonders are literally “lying wonders,” must be held as still open questions; but it is certain that Satan has ever used such dark arts and powers to resist the truth. See the Introduction to the History of the Plagues, 2.

But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods — This was prophetic of the religion that was soon to swallow up all the boasted wisdom of Egypt, and the true miracle was thus also distinguished from the “lying wonder.”


Verse 13

13. And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart — Rather, And hard was the heart of Pharaoh. (Samuel, Septuagint, Vulg., Onk., Syr.) The presence of superhuman power, and the solemn symbolic lessons, though they may have created in Pharaoh a momentary awe, yet failed to arouse his torpid conscience. Here, in this “sign,” was no infliction of punishment, but a simple manifestation of power in attestation of the mission of Moses and Aaron, as well as a symbolic prediction hereafter to be more fully understood.


Verses 14-18

FIRST PLAGUE BLOOD, Exodus 7:14-25.

15. Lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river’s brink — Some think that this was the time of the commencement of the annual rise of the river, because that the Nile then assumes a reddish hue produced by the mud of the upper country; but this annual redness of the river is an indication of palatability and wholesomeness. Yet, as all these plagues are found, as far as we understand them, to correspond remarkably with peculiarities of the country, being, as Hengstenberg has shown, specially fitted to the Egyptian geography, climate, soil, vegetable and animal life, it is possible that the very peculiarity of the miracle lay in the fact that the reddish hue, which is usually a sign of wholesomeness in the Nile, then deepened to a bloody tinge, which was the token of loathsomeness and death. The water which is usually drank with such avidity became nauseous and poisonous. If this be so, then the time of the infliction is fixed at about the middle of June. Yet this must be taken as supposition only, the first sure note of time occurring in the account of the hail, (Exodus 9:31-32,) which destroyed the barley in the ear and the flax in blossom, which in Egypt must have been in February. The tenth plague occurred about the middle of April. Now the Nile begins to regularly rise in Lower Egypt, which is the scene of this history, about the summer solstice, or toward the end of June; about the end of August it begins to pour through the canals and fall over the valley in sheets of water, and the inundation then properly commences; toward the end of September it reaches its height, and then sinks to its lowest point at about the Vernal Equinox, or the last of March. If now the first of the plagues took place in the middle of June, it will be seen that the ten ran through the whole Nile period, thus cursing every several part of the Egyptian year. This is the view of Hengstenberg in his Egypt and the Books of Moses.

Probably Pharaoh went forth in the morning to worship, since the Nile was regarded as the embodiment of the god Osiris, of whom the bull Apis was considered the living emblem. On the monuments we find it called the “god Nile,” the “Father of the gods,” the “life-giving Father of all things.” At Nilopolis (Nile-city) there was a temple and an order of priests for the worship of the river. Thus was Pharaoh’s god smitten to death before his eyes as he offered him his morning prayer.


Verse 19

19. Stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt — The language of this verse shows a minute acquaintance with the extensive and complicated water system which was peculiar to Egypt. The streams are the arms which branch out from the Nile, just north of modern Cairo, through the great plain of the delta, carrying the waters down to the Mediterranean. There are two principal and five or more lesser streams. The rivers are the canals running each side of the Nile, and receiving their waters through sluices at the time of the inundation. As the land sloped northward, the water was conveyed through main canals running along the southern or higher side of each field, and thence it spread through branches, straight or curved, down northward over the land. The ponds were the large standing lakes left by the inundation; and the pools — literally, every collection of their waters — were the smaller ponds and reservoirs which they used who lived at a distance from the river.

Wood… stone — This is also a peculiarly Egyptian touch, for the Nile water was kept in large stone tanks for public use, and was also filtered and purified for domestic use in smaller vessels.


Verse 20-21

20, 21. And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood — Also, by implication, (Exodus 7:19,) all the waters that had been drawn from the river into the ponds, tanks, etc., underwent the change. The sweet, beneficent Nile water became red and putrid like stagnant blood, so that it poisoned the fishes and became unfit for use. The red moon of the eclipse is said to be turned into blood, Joel 2:3. Only the Nile water was smitten, for water could yet be obtained from the wells and by digging, as we see from Exodus 7:24.


Verse 22

22. And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened — The two things are connected as cause and effect. He tried to believe that their pretended miracle was as real as Jehovah’s judgment “sign.” They could as easily obtain water for their trick as could the Egyptians for drinking. If they had the power to which they pretended, their part, of course, was to turn back the water as it was before, and so relieve the distress of the Egyptians.


Verse 25

25. Seven days — A week passed while the Nile rolled blood through Egypt, but Pharaoh obstinately shut himself in his house and made no sign of submission.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 7:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/exodus-7.html. 1874-1909.

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Monday, June 1st, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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