Exodus 9:8
And the LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh.
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(8-10) Here, again, there is little question of what the plague was. Doubts may be entertained as to its exact character, and its proper medical designation, but all agree, and cannot but agree, that it was a visitation of the bodies of men with a severe cutaneous disorder, accompanied by pustules or ulcers. It was not announced beforehand to the Egyptians, nor were they allowed the opportunity of escaping it. Like the third plague, it was altogether of the nature of a judgment; and the judgment was a severe one. Now, for the first time, was acute suffering inflicted on the persons of men; now, for the first time, was it shown how Jehovah could smite with a terrible disease; and if with a disease, why not with death? No doubt those stricken suffered unequally; but with some the affliction may have resembled the final affliction of Job, when he was smitten with “sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown” (Job 2:7). Its severity is marked by the statement that “the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils” (Exodus 9:11). And it was universal, or quasi-universal (Exodus 9:11). Moreover, it was not confined to men; it was also “upon the beasts”—i.e., upon such of the domesticated animals as had escaped the preceding plague. It does not, however, seem to have been fatal; and it wrought no change upon the Pharaoh, whose heart God is now, for the first time, said to have hardened (Exodus 9:12), as He had declared to Moses (Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3).

(8) Ashes of the furnace.—Furnaces in Egypt were either for the melting of metal, the preparing of lime, or the baking of bricks. It was probably from a furnace of this last kind that the ashes were now taken. Much of Goshen had been converted into a brick-field (Exodus 1:14; Exodus 5:7-13); and though most of the bricks made would be simply dried in the sun, a portion would be subjected to artificial heat in brick-kilns. When ashes from one of these kilns were made the germs of a disease that was a sore infliction, their own wrongdoing became to the Egyptians a whip wherewith God scourged them.

Exodus 9:8-10. Take you handfuls of the ashes of the furnace — Sometimes God shows men their sin in their punishment. They had oppressed Israel in the furnaces, and now the ashes of the furnace are made as much a terror to them as ever their task masters had been to the Israelites. “The matter of this plague,” says Ainsworth, “is from the fire, which also being one of the elements they deified, is here made the instrument of evil to them, and reclaimed by Jehovah to his service, in punishment of its deluded votaries, who worshipped the creature more than the Creator.” A former miracle was from water, and the next from air, to show that God rules in all. It became a bile — A sore, angry swelling, or inflammation; breaking forth with blains — Or blisters, quickly raised; upon man and upon beast —

Thus we see that the men themselves were smitten after the cattle, which is agreeable to the method of Providence in punishing, first sending previous afflictions to warn mankind, that they may shun greater evils by timely repentance. This bile is afterward called the botch of Egypt, (Deuteronomy 28:27,) as if it were some new disease, never heard of before, and known ever after by that name.

9:8-12 When the Egyptians were not wrought upon by the death of their cattle, God sent a plague that seized their own bodies. If lesser judgments do not work, God will send greater. Sometimes God shows men their sin in their punishment. They had oppressed Israel in the furnaces, and now the ashes of the furnace are made a terror to them. The plague itself was very grievous. The magicians themselves were struck with these boils. Their power was restrained before; but they continued to withstand Moses, and to confirm Pharaoh in his unbelief, till they were forced to give way. Pharaoh continued obstinate. He had hardened his own heart, and now God justly gave him up to his own heart's lusts, permitting Satan to blind and harden him. If men shut their eyes against the light, it is just with God to close their eyes. This is the sorest judgment a man can be under out of hell.This marks a distinct advance and change in the character of the visitations. Hitherto, the Egyptians had not been attacked directly in their persons. It is the second plague which was not preceded by a demand and warning, probably on account of the special hardness shown by Pharaoh in reference to the murrain.

Ashes of the furnace - The act was evidently symbolic: the ashes were to be sprinkled toward heaven, challenging, so to speak, the Egyptian deities. There may possibly be a reference to an Egyptian custom of scattering to the winds ashes of victims offered to Typhon.

Ex 9:8-17. Plague of Boils.

8. Take to you handfuls of ashes, &c.—The next plague assailed the persons of the Egyptians, and it appeared in the form of ulcerous eruptions upon the skin and flesh (Le 13:20; 2Ki 20:7; Job 2:7). That this epidemic did not arise from natural causes was evident from its taking effect from the particular action of Moses done in the sight of Pharaoh. The attitude he assumed was similar to that of Eastern magicians, who, "when they pronounce an imprecation on an individual, a village, or a country, take the ashes of cows' dung (that is, from a common fire) and throw them in the air, saying to the objects of their displeasure, such a sickness or such a curse shall come upon you" [Roberts].

Take to you handfuls of ashes, to mind them of their cruel usage of the Israelites in their furnace, of which see Deu 4:20 Jeremiah 11:4. Both were to take them up, but Moses only to sprinkle them, as at other times Aaron only did the work, to show that they were but instruments, which God could use as he pleased, and God was the principal author of it.

And the Lord said unto Moses and unto Aaron,.... This very probably was the day following, on the third day of the month Abib, about the eighteenth of March, that orders were given to bring on the following plague:

take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace; either in which the bricks were burnt, or rather in which food was boiled, since it can scarcely he thought there should be brickkiln furnaces so near Pharaoh's court; though perhaps some reference may be had to them, and to the labour of the children Israel at them, and as a just retaliation for their oppression of them in that way. These ashes were such as were blown off the coals, and though fresh, yet not so hot but that they could take and hold them in their hands:

and let Moses sprinkle it towards the heaven, in the sight of Pharaoh; this was to be done before Pharaoh, that he might be an eyewitness of the miracle, he himself seeing with his own eyes that nothing else were cast up into the air but a few light ashes; and this was to be done towards heaven, to show that the plague or judgment came down from heaven, from the God of heaven, whose wrath was now revealed from thence; and Moses he was to do this; he alone, as Philo (z) thinks, or rather both he and Aaron, since they were both spoken to, and both filled their hands with ashes; it is most likely that both cast them up into the air, though Moses, being the principal person, is only mentioned.

(z) De Vita Mosis, l. 1. p. 622.

And the LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh.
8. Take to you your two hands full of soot from a kiln. The kibshân (also v. 10, Genesis 19:28, Exodus 19:18),—different from both the ‘oven’ of ch. Exodus 8:3, and the kûr, or furnace for smelting metals in (Deuteronomy 4:20, Ezekiel 22:20, Proverbs 17:3),—was a kiln for baking pottery or burning lime (cf. in the Mishna, Kel. viii. 9, ‘the kibshân of lime-burners, glass-makers, and potters’). Cf. DB. ii. 73; Wilk.-B. ii. 192 (illustr.); EB. iii. 3820 f.

sprinkle] toss or throw (in a volume), as from the two filled hands (properly, the hollow of the hand, or fist, as Leviticus 16:12, Ezekiel 10:2, Proverbs 30:4). So Ezekiel 10:2. The word is more commonly used of a liquid: see on Exodus 29:16.

8–12. The sixth plague. The boils on men and cattle. Entirely P.

Verses 8-12. - THE SIXTH PLAGUE. The sixth plague was sent, like the third, without notice given. It was also, like the third, a plague which inflicted direct injury upon the person. There was a very solemn warning in it; for the same power that could afflict the body with "boils and blains," i.e., with a severe cutaneous disease accompanied by pustulous ulcers - could also (it must have been felt) smite it with death. It is uncertain what exactly the malady was. Some have supposed elephantiasis, some "black leprosy," some merely an eruptive disease such as is even now common m Egypt during the autumn. But it is, at any rate, evident that the malady was exceedingly severe - "the magicians could not stand before Moses" because of it (ver. 11). If it was "the botch of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 28:27), as seems probable, since the name in the Hebrew is the same, it was incurable. Pharaoh and his people were warned by it that God's power would be shown on themselves, not in the way of mere annoyance - as with the earlier plagues - but of serious injury - and if so, why not of death? Thus, the sixth plague heralded the tenth, and, except the tenth, was the most severe of all. Verse 8. - Ashes of the furnace. Rather "soot from the furnace." The word commonly used in Hebrew for "ashes" is different. Many recondite reasons have been brought forward for the directions here given. But perhaps the object was simply to show that as water, and earth (Exodus 8:13) and air (Exodus 10:13) could be turned into plagues, so fire could be. The "soot of the furnace" might well represent fire, and was peculiarly appropriate for the preduction of a disease which was in the main an "inflammation." It is not likely that Moses imitated any superstitious practice of the priests of Egypt. Toward the heaven. The act indicated that the plague would come from heaven - i.e. from God. In the sight of Pharaoh. Compare Exodus 7:20 It is probable that the symbolic act which brought the plague was performed "in the sight of Pharaoh" in every case, except where the plague was unannounced, though the fact is not always recorded. Exodus 9:8The sixth plague smote man and beast with Boils Breaking Forth in Blisters. - שׁחין (a common disease in Egypt, Deuteronomy 28:27) from the unusual word שׁחן (incaluit) signifies inflammation, then an abscess or boil (Leviticus 13:18.; 2 Kings 20:7). אבעבּעת, from בּוּע, to spring up, swell up, signifies blisters, φλυκτίδες (lxx), pustulae. The natural substratum of this plague is discovered by most commentators in the so-called Nile-blisters, which come out in innumerable little pimples upon the scarlet-coloured skin, and change in a short space of time into small, round, and thickly-crowded blisters. This is called by the Egyptians Hamm el Nil, or the heat of the inundation. According to Dr. Bilharz, it is a rash, which occurs in summer, chiefly towards the close at the time of the overflowing of the Nile, and produces a burning and pricking sensation upon the skin; or, in Seetzen's words, "it consists of small, red, and slightly rounded elevations in the skin, which give strong twitches and slight stinging sensations, resembling those of scarlet fever". The cause of this eruption, which occurs only in men and not in animals, has not been determined; some attributing it to the water, and others to the heat. Leyrer, in Herzog's Cyclopaedia, speaks of the "Anthrax which stood in a causal relation to the fifth plague; a black, burning abscess, which frequently occurs after a murrain, especially the cattle distemper, and which might be called to mind by the name ἄνθραξ, coal, and the symbolical sprinkling of the soot of the furnace." In any case, the manner in which this plague was produced was significant, though it cannot be explained with positive certainty, especially as we are unable to decide exactly what was the natural disease which lay at the foundation of the plague. At the command of God, Moses and Aaron took "handfuls of soot, and sprinkled it towards the heaven, so that it became dust over all the land of Egypt," i.e., flew like dust over the land, and became boils on man and beast. הכּבשׁן פּיח: soot or ashes of the smelting-furnace or lime-kiln. כּבשׁן is not an oven or cooking stove, but, as Kimchi supposes, a smelting-furnace or lime-kiln; not so called, however, a metallis domandis, but from כּבשׁ in its primary signification to press together, hence (a) to soften, or melt, (b) to tread down. Burder's view seems inadmissible; namely, that this symbolical act of Moses had some relation to the expiatory rites of the ancient Egyptians, in which the ashes of sacrifices, particularly human sacrifices, were scattered about. For it rests upon the supposition that Moses took the ashes from a fire appropriated to the burning of sacrifices - a supposition to which neither כּבשׁן nor פּיח is appropriate. For the former does not signify a fire-place, still less one set apart for the burning of sacrifices, and the ashes taken from the sacrifices for purifying purposes were called אפר, and not פּיח (Numbers 19:10). Moreover, such an interpretation as this, namely, that the ashes set apart for purifying purposes produced impurity in the hands of Moses, as a symbolical representation of the thought, that "the religious purification promised in the sacrificial worship of Egypt was really a defilement," does not answer at all to the effect produced. The ashes scattered in the air by Moses did not produce defilement, but boils or blisters; and we have no ground for supposing that they were regarded by the Egyptians as a religious defilement. And, lastly, there was not one of the plagues in which the object was to pronounce condemnation upon the Egyptian worship or sacrifices; since Pharaoh did not wish to force the Egyptian idolatry upon the Israelites, but simply to prevent them from leaving the country.

The ashes or soot of the smelting-furnace or lime-kiln bore, no doubt, the same relation to the plague arising therefrom, as the water of the Nile and the dust of the ground to the three plagues which proceeded from them. As Pharaoh and his people owed their prosperity, wealth, and abundance of earthly goods to the fertilizing waters of the Nile and the fruitful soil, so it was from the lime-kilns, so to speak, that those splendid cities and pyramids proceeded, by which the early Pharaohs endeavoured to immortalize the power and glory of their reigns. And whilst in the first three plagues the natural sources of the land were changed by Jehovah, through His servants Moses and Aaron, into sources of evil, the sixth plague proved to the proud king that Jehovah also possessed the power to bring ruin upon him from the workshops of those splendid edifices, for the erection of which he had made use of the strength of the Israelites, and oppressed them so grievously with burdensome toil as to cause Egypt to become like a furnace for smelting iron (Deuteronomy 4:20), and that He could make the soot or ashes of the lime-kiln, the residuum of that fiery heat and emblem of the furnace in which Israel groaned, into a seed which, when carried through the air at His command, would produce burning boils on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt. These boils were the first plague which attacked and endangered the lives of men; and in this respect it was the first foreboding of the death which Pharaoh would bring upon himself by his continued resistance. The priests were so far from being able to shelter the king from this plague by their secret arts, that they were attacked by them themselves, were unable to stand before Moses, and were obliged to give up all further resistance. But Pharaoh did not take this plague to heart, and was given up to the divine sentence of hardening.

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