Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him:X.
THE EIGHTH PLAGUE.
(1-4) The eighth plague, like the third and fourth, was one where insect life was called in to serve God’s purposes, and chastise the presumption of His enemies. The nature of the visitation is uncontested and incontestable—it was a terrible invasion of locusts. Locusts are an occasional, though not a frequent, scourge in Egypt. They are not bred there, and necessarily arrive from some foreign country. When they descend, their ravages are as severe as elsewhere. “In the present day,” says Mr. Stuart Poole, “locusts suddenly appear in the cultivated land, coming from the desert in a column of great length. They fly across the country, darkening the air with their compact ranks, which are undisturbed by the constant attacks of kites, crows, and vultures, and making a strange whizzing sound, like that of fire, or many distant wheels. Where they alight they devour every green thing, even stripping the trees of their leaves. Rewards are offered for their destruction; but no labour can seriously reduce their numbers” (Dict. of the Bible, vol. ii., p. 887). C. Niebuhr witnessed two invasions—in 1761 and 1762; Denon witnessed another about the year 1800; and Tischendorf saw one recently. They always enter Egypt either from the south or from the east, and necessarily come with a wind, since they cannot possibly fly any considerable distance without one. It is probable that at different times different varieties of the locust visit the country; but all varieties are almost equally destructive. After the loss of their cattle by murrain and hail, and the ruin of the flax and barley crops by the latter agency, nothing was wanting to complete the desolation of the country and the impoverishment of its inhabitants but the ruin of the wheat and doora crops, which the locusts speedily effected.
(1) I have hardened . . . the heart of his servants.—They, too, had first hardened their own hearts (Exodus 9:34), and so deserved a penal hardening. A certain amount of responsibility rested on them. Had they allowed the miracles to have their full natural effect upon their minds, they would have been convinced that resistance was useless, and would have impressed their views upon the Pharaoh. Even in the most absolute governments public opinion has weight, and the general sentiment of the Court almost always carries the sovereign with it.
That I might shew these my signs.—There is nothing derogatory to the Divine Nature in a penal hardening being, as it were, utilised to increase the glory of God, and affect for good future generations of His people. The accumulation of plague upon plague, which the obduracy of Pharaoh and his subjects brought about, was of vast importance in presenting to Israel, and even to the surrounding nations, a manifestation of the tremendous power of God, calculated to impress them as nothing else would have done.
And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the LORD.(2) That thou mayest tell.—Those who experience God’s mercies are bound to hand on the memory of what He has done for them to future generations. Natural gratitude would prompt such action. But, lest the duty should be neglected, the Israelites had it at this time constantly enjoined upon them (Exodus 12:26-27; Exodus 13:14-15; Deuteronomy 32:7; Joshua 4:6, &c):
Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, to morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast:(4) To morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast.—Locusts, as already observed, are not indigenous to Egypt, but only occasional visitants. Consequently they always enter the country from some other, as Nubia, Abyssinia, Syria, or Arabia. On the quarter from which the present plague came, see the comment on Exodus 10:13.
And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which groweth for you out of the field:(5) They shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth.—This is the case almost invariably with all the severer visitations of locusts. “The plain was covered with them,” says Denon (Travels, p. 286), speaking of Egypt. “The ground is covered with them for several leagues,” declares Volney (Travels, vol. i., p. 285).” Over an area of 1,600 or 1,800 square miles,” observes Barrow, “the whole surface might literally be said to be covered with them.” The Hebrew name, which means “multitudinous,” is thus very appropriate.
They shall eat the residue of that which is escaped . . . every tree.—Comp. Exodus 9:32. The description of Joel has never been surpassed: “A fire devoureth before them, and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them” (Joel 2:3). Comp. Volney (50s.100): “When their swarms appear, everything green vanishes instantaneously from the fields, as if a curtain were rolled up; the trees and plants stand leafless, and nothing is seen but naked boughs and stalks.” Very graphic is Joel again in respect of this last feature: “He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig-tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white” (Joel 1:7). Nor is it only shrubs, but even trees, that suffer. “They are particularly injurious to the palm-trees,” says Burckhardt; “these they strip of everv leaf and green particle, the trees remaining like skeletons, with bare branches.”
And they shall fill thy houses, and the houses of all thy servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians; which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers' fathers have seen, since the day that they were upon the earth unto this day. And he turned himself, and went out from Pharaoh.(6) They shall fill thy houses.—“They shall run to and fro in the city,” says the prophet Joel; “they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows, like a thief.” Modern travellers bear abundant witness to the same effect; as Burckhardt: “They overwhelm the province of Nedjd sometimes to such a degree that, having destroyed the harvest, they penetrate by thousands into the private dwellings, and devour whatsoever they can find, even the leather of the water vessels” (Notes, vol. ii., p. 90). And Morier: “They entered the inmost recesses of the houses, were found in every corner, stuck to our clothes, and infected our food” (Second Journey, p. 100). Kalisch is quite correct when he says: “Sometimes they penetrate into the houses; they fly into the mouths of the inmates; they throw themselves on the food; they gnaw leather, and even wood” (Commentary, p. 123).
Which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers’ fathers have seen.—Only one notice of locusts has been found in the native records.
He turned himself, and went out.—It seems to be meant that Moses did not on this occasion wait to see what effect his menace would have on Pharaoh. He “knew that Pharaoh would not yet fear the Lord” (Exodus 9:30).
And Pharaoh's servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?(7) Let the men go.—Though the heart of Pharaoh remained hard, the plagues had a certain effect on the minds of the Egyptians. First, the magicians were impressed, and said, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). Then a certain number of the people “feared the word of the Lord, and made their servants and their cattle flee into the houses” (Exodus 9:20). Now the very officers of the Court, those who were in the closest contact with the king, believed that the words of Moses would come true, and counselled the king to yield, and “let the men go.” It has been supposed that they meant “the men only” (Knobel, Cook); but this is pure conjecture. The word used, which is not that of Exodus 10:11, would cover women and children. The officers of the Court—rich landowners mostly—would dread impending ruin if the wheat and doora crops were destroyed, and would intend to counsel entire submission.
And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve the LORD your God: but who are they that shall go?(8) Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh.—Moses and Aaron had uttered their threat, and had straightway left his presence. The courtiers “brought them again to Pharaoh.” The courtiers, no doubt, supposed that the king would yield; and the king was prepared to yield to a certain extent. But he had conceived of a compromise in his own mind, and this he hoped to impose upon Moses; hence his insidious question—
Who are they that shall go?—Pharaoh had not hitherto raised this question. He had known well enough that the demand extended to all the people (Exodus 8:8); but now he pretends that there had been an ambiguity, and requires that it shall be cleared up. Moses gives him an answer (Exodus 10:9) which takes away all further pretence of doubt.
And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the LORD.(9) With our sons and with our daughters . . . for we must hold a feast.—It was customary in Egypt for children to join in festivals (Herod. ii. 60).
With our flocks and with our herds.—The family of Jacob brought numerous flocks and herds into Egypt (Genesis 47:1). These had, no doubt, increased, notwithstanding the oppression, and at the time of the Exodus must have been very numerous. The requirement to “take a lamb for an house” (Exodus 12:2) on the institution of the Passover involved the killing, on a single day, of 200,000 lambs. Even after this the flocks and herds which went out with them (Exodus 12:38) were “very much cattle.”
And he said unto them, Let the LORD be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you.(10) Little ones.—Heb., families. These would include the children and the dependents. (See comment on Exodus 1:1.)
Evil is before you.—Heb., evil is before your faces—i.e., you contemplate doing me a mischief, by depriving me of the services of so large a body of labourers.
Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the LORD; for that ye did desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence.(11) Ye that are men.—Heb., haggëbarim—i.e., the full-grown males.
That ye did desire.—There was no ground for this reproach. Moses and Aaron had always demanded the release of the entire nation (“let my people go”); and nations are composed of women and children as much and as essentially as they are of adult males.
And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.(13) An east wind.—The LXX. translate by νότον, “a south wind,” probably because locusts most commonly enter Egypt from the south, being bred in Nubia or Abyssinia; but the Hebrew (ruakh kddim) is undoubtedly an east wind; and modern travellers tell us that this is a quarter from which locusts arrive in Egypt occasionally (Denon, Voyages en Egypte, p. 286). In such cases they are bred in Northern Arabia.
And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.(14) The locusts went up over all the land of Egypt.—It is not, perhaps, certain that this is intended literally, since universal expressions are continually used by the sacred writers where something less than universality is meant. But, strengthened as the clause is by the succeeding one, we must suppose a very general visitation to be spoken of. Now Egypt extends, from north to south, a distance of above 500 miles, and the Delta has a width of 150 miles. No column of locusts having nearly such dimensions is recorded in history. Perhaps the visitation was confined to the Delta and the vicinity of Memphis. Even so, it would have covered an area of 7,000 square miles, or one nearly equal to that of Wales.
For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.(15) They covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened.—See the comment on Exodus 10:5, and compare also Clarke’s Travels in Russia, p. 445:—“The steppes were literally covered with the bodies of these insects. . . . The whole face of nature seemed to be concealed as by a living veil.”
They did eat every herb of the land.—“When these animals arrive in swarms,” says Clarke, “the whole vegetable produce disappears. Nothing escapes them, from the leaves of the forest to the herbs of the plain” (Travels, pp. 446, 447). “It is sufficient,” observes a traveller in Spain, “if these terrible columns stop half an hour on a spot, for everything growing on it—vines, olive-trees, and corn—to be entirely destroyed. After they have passed, nothing remains but the large branches and the roots, which, being underground, have escaped their voracity.”
All the fruit of the trees.—Egypt was famous for its fruits, which consisted of figs, grapes, olives, mulberries, pomegranates, dates, pears, plums, apples, peaches, and the produce of the persea, and the nebk, or sidr. The fruit of the nebk would be ripe in March, and the blossom-buds of the other fruit-trees would be formed, or even opening. On the damage which locusts do to fruit-trees, see the comment on Exodus 10:5, and add the following:—“When the weeds in the vineyards do not supply them with sufficient nutriment, they completely strip the bark and buds off the young twigs, so that these shoots remain throughout the summer as white as chalk, without producing fresh foliage” (Pallas, Travels, vol. ii., p. 425).
Which the hail had left.—See Exodus 9:25, and comp. Psalm 105:32-33 :—“He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land; he smote their vines also, and their fig trees, and brake the trees of their coasts.”
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you.(16) Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste.—Heb., hasted to call for Moses and Aaron. The expression “hasted to call” is new, and marks extreme urgency. The visitation of the locusts was felt as far more severe than any previous one. It entirely destroyed all the remaining harvest, both of grain and fruit, and must have produced a terrible famine, had it not been for the Egyptian institution of granaries (Genesis 41:35; Genesis 41:48, &c).
I have sinned . . . —Comp. Exodus 9:27. This confession is an improvement upon the former one: (1) as acknowledging a double fault—“against the Lord and against you; “and (2) as free from any attempt to put the blame, either wholly or in part, upon others. It was probably sincere at the time; but the feeling from which it sprang was short-lived.
Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat the LORD your God, that he may take away from me this death only.(17) This death.—Comp, Exodus 10:7. The entire destruction of the harvest threatened death to large numbers of the poorer class of persons.
And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt.(19) The Lord turned a mighty strong west wind . . . —As locusts come, so they commonly go, with a wind. They cannot fly far without one. It often happens that a wind blows them into the sea. Pallas says, speaking of Crimean locusts in the year 1799:—“Great numbers of them were carried [from the Crimea] by northerly winds into the sea, where they perished, and were afterwards washed on shore in heaps” (Travels, vol. ii., p. 424).
The Red sea.—Heb., the sea of weeds, or of rushes. The Red Sea probably acquired this name among the Hebrews from the fact that in the time of Moses its north-western recess communicated with a marshy tract, extending as far as the Bitter Lakes, and abounding in aquatic plants of a luxuriant growth. (Comp. Exodus 2:3, where the same term designates the water-plants of the Nile.)
There remained not one locust . . . —Niebuhr says of locusts in Arabia:—“Souvent il en reste beaucoup après le départ général” (Description de l’ Arabie, p. 153). But, on the other hand, there are times when the whole swarm takes its departure at once. “A wind from the south-west,” says Morier, “which had brought them, so completely drove them forwards that not a vestige of them was to be seen two hours afterwards” (Second Journey, p. 98).
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.(20) The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.—Comp. above, Exodus 9:12.
(21-23) The ninth plague, like the third and sixth, was sent without any previous warning. It consisted in a “thick darkness,” which may have been brought about by means of the Khamsin, or “Wind of the Desert,” which frequently blows about the time of the vernal equinox, and brings with it such clouds of a fine impalpable sand that the light of the sun is obscured, and an effect produced which some travellers have compared to “the most gloomy night.” Or it may have been a shutting out of the sun’s rays by dense fog and cloud of a more ordinary character; though in that case there must have been something in the visitation very much exceeding any known instance of such darkness. “They saw not one another,” we are told, “for three days” (Exodus 10:23). The darkness was one which “might be felt” (Exodus 10:21). Such a preternatural continuance of absolutely impenetrable “blackness of darkness” would cause to any man a feeling of intense alarm and horror. To the Egyptians it would be peculiarly painful and terrible. Ra, the sun-god, was among the principal objects of their worship, especially in the Delta, where Heliopolis and Pithoni were cities dedicated to him. Darkness was a creation of Set—the Evil Principle, the destroyer of Osiris—and of Apophis, the Great Serpent, the impeder of souls in the lower world. It would have seemed to the Egyptians that Ra was dead, that Set had triumphed over his brother, that Apophis had encircled the world with his dark folds, and plunged it in eternal night. Hence Pharaoh’s early call for Moses, and permission that the people should depart, with their families (Exodus 10:24): a concession which, however, was marred by the proviso, “Only let your flocks and herds be stayed.”
(21) Darkness which may be felt.—Heb., one shall grasp darkness. The Authorised Version seems to give the true meaning, which is found also in the LXX. and the Vulg. The idea is an exaggeration of that instinctive feeling which makes us speak of “thick darkness.” The general voice of mankind confirms the use of the phrase.
They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.(23) They saw not one another.—Heb., man did not see his brother. The darkness was absolute, equal to that of the darkest night.
Neither rose any from his place.—Comp. Exodus 16:29. No one quitted his house. Mr. Millington imagines that they all sat “glued to their seats” (Plagues of Egypt, p. 159), but this savours of over-literalism. It is not necessary to suppose that they had no artificial light, or that they ceased to move from chamber to chamber. What the writer intends to note is that all business and all intercourse with neighbours was suspended. No one quitted the house in which he was when the darkness began.
And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you.(24) Let your little ones also go with you.—Rather, your families. Pharaoh yields another point, but he will not yield all. He has not yet made up his mind really to “let the people go.” He must still keep some hold on them, and the cattle will serve his purpose equally with the “little ones.” If the Israelites depart without their cattle, they will be sure to return for them.
Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the LORD our God; and we know not with what we must serve the LORD, until we come thither.(26) Our cattle also shall go with us.—Once more Moses rejects the proffered compromise—rejects it absolutely and altogether. The cattle shall all go with the people; “not an hoof shall be left behind.” And why? First, because it is theirs (“our cattle,” “our flocks,” “our herds”), and not Pharaoh’s; secondly, because it is God’s—all, to the last head, if He requires it; and He has not said as yet how much of it He will require. The festival to be held in the wilderness is altogether a new thing; its ritual has not at present been laid down. The people will only be told “with what they must serve the Lord” when they are come to the place where they are to serve Him: i.e., to Sinai (Exodus 3:12).
And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die.(28) Get thee from me.—This address is ruds, fierce, uncourteous. That a Pharaoh of the nineteenth (or eighteenth?) dynasty should have so spoken implies extreme and very uncommon excitement. Generally the Pharaohs of this polished period were as imper turbable as Chinese mandarins. We must suppose that up to this time the king had persuaded himself that he would be able to bring Moses to a compromise, but that now at last he despaired of so doing; hence his anger and rudeness.
Thou shalt die.—Egyptian kings had the power of life and death, but rarely exercised it arbitrarily, or without trial. Very long and elaborate judicial processes have been found among the Egyptian remains. Still, no doubt, a monarch could put to death whomsoever he pleased; and so Egyptian courtiers were wont to acknowledge that they had lived to old age “by the favour of the king” (Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. i., p. 92).
And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.(29) The division between Exodus 10 and Exodus 11 is unfortunate. The interview between Pharaoh and Moses was not yet over. It is continued in Exodus 10:4-8 of the next chapter, and only terminates when the prophet “went out from Pharaoh in a great anger.” Exodus 10:1-3 of Exodus 11 are parenthetic.