Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and tell him that this is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: 'Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.
I. THE ALTERNATIVE AGAIN (vers. 1, 2). Surely Pharaoh was well warned. The analogy of the third plague would have led us to expect that on this occasion - after a second and glaring breach of faith - there would have been no warning. Yet mercy waits upon him. Faithless though he had been, if even yet he will let the people go, all will be forgiven. If not - then judgments. Mark how sacredly, in all this, the freedom of Pharaoh is respected. "He was not put on the actual rack or held over a slow fire till his cruel hand relaxed, and let the Hebrew bondmen go. The appeal was loud, and each time it was repeated he and his people were shaken more severely than before; but after every demand there was a respite, a pause, an opportunity to ponder, and either yield the point or recall a past concession." (Hamilton.)
II. A MURRAIN OF CATTLE (vers. 3-7). This was the form assumed by the fifth plague. It is to be viewed,
1. As a new blow at Egyptian idolatry. The sacredness of the cow and ox are hinted at in Exodus 8:26. It may well have been that the sacred beasts themselves, the bull Apis, the calf Mnevis, and the rest, were smitten by the pestilence.
2. As a fresh illustration of the manifold resources of Jehovah. The mortality which came upon the cattle was universal in its sweep, carrying off, not only sheep and oxen, but horses, asses, and camels; destructive in its effects, the greater proportion of the cattle of each class falling victims to it; yet carefully discriminative, attacking the cattle of the Egyptians, but leaving unharmed those of the Israelites (ver. 6).
3. As a plague of increased severity. The loss sustained by the Egyptians in this mowing down of their cattle was the greatest they had yet experienced. Cattle constitute a large part of the wealth of every nation. They are of importance for food, for burden, and for the produce of the dairy. What a loss it would be to our own nation were our sheep, cows, oxen, horses, and asses, all suddenly destroyed! In the East the oxen were employed for draught, and in the operations of agriculture. Yet the plague was but the intensification of a natural calamity - one with the effects of which we are not wholly unfamiliar. It may seem "advanced to scoff at the agency of God in cattle-plague visitations, but the truer philosophy will reverently recognise the fact of such agency, and will not regard it as in the least incompatible with any secondary causes which may be shown to be involved in the production and spread of the disorder. God has this weapon equally with others at his command for chastening a disobedient people. Our wisdom, surely, is to be at peace with him.
4. As a forewarning of greater judgment. As yet the persons of the Egyptians had escaped. The plagues, however, were coming nearer and nearer them. Their cattle had been smitten, and what could the next stroke be, but an infliction upon themselves?
III. THIS PLAGUE ALSO INEFFECTUAL (ver. 7). Pharaoh sent to see if any of the cattle of the children of Israel had died. The connection seems to indicate that his hardening was partly the result of the news that they had all escaped. This, instead of softening, maddened and embittered him. Hitherto Pharaoh has been seen hardening himself in spite of the influences brought to bear on him. The fact is to be noted that the plagues here begin to produce a positively evil effect. That which ought to have softened and converted, now only enrages, and confirms in the bad resolution. - J.O.
Numbers 33:4); and Jethro, when he had heard from Moses the history of all that God had done in Egypt, confessed, "Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods; for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly, He was above them" (Exodus 18:11).
The hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle.I. THAT WICKED MEN OFTEN ACT IN REFERENCE TO THE CLAIM'S OF GOD IN SUCH A MANNER AS TO PROVOKE HIS JUDGMENTS.
II. THAT MEN WHO THUS REJECT THE CLAIM'S OF GOD OFTEN INVOLVE THE BRUTE CREATION IN PAIN AND WOE.
III. THAT THE MEN WHO THUS INVOLVE THE BRUTE CREATION IN PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE OFTEN UNMOVED BY THE DEVASTATION THEY OCCASION. "And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened." Lessons:
1. That the retribution of sin does not end with those who occasion it.
2. That the brute world is affected by the conduct of man.
3. That men should endeavour to banish pain from the universe by attention to the commands of heaven.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(T. S. Millington.)
(T. S. Millington.)
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