THE SECOND PLAGUE.
(1-4) It is generally allowed that the second plague was one of frogs. All the ancient versions agree in the interpretation; and the only rival rendering—“crocodiles”—is too absurd to be argued against. We may take it, therefore, as certain that the second infliction upon Egypt was an innumerable multitude of frogs, which came up out of the river, and infested the cities, the houses, the sleeping apartments, the beds, the ovens, and the kneading troughs. There was no escaping them. They entered the royal palace no less than the peasant’s cottage; they penetrated to the inner chambers; they leaped upon the couches and beds; they polluted the baking utensils, and defiled the water and the food. Here, again, the infliction was double. (1) Frogs were sacred animals to the Egyptians, who regarded them as symbols of procreative power, and associated them especially with the goddess Heka (a wife of Kneph, or up), whom they represented as frog-headed. Sacred animals might not be intentionally killed; and even their involuntary slaughter was not unfrequently punished with death. To be plagued with a multitude of reptiles which might not be put to death, yet on which it was scarcely possible not to tread, and which, whenever a door was opened were crushed, was a severe trial to the religious feelings of the people, and tended to bring the religion itself into contempt. (2) The visitation was horrible to the senses—nauseous, disgusting. The frogs were hideous to the eye, grating to the ear, repulsive to the touch. Their constant presence everywhere rendered them a continual torment. If other later plagues were more injurious, the plague of frogs was perhaps of all the most loathsome. We read without surprise in Eustathius (Comment. in Hom. II., p. 35) that the people of Pseonia and Dardania on one occasion, were so plagued by a multitude of frogs, which filled the houses and the streets, infected the water, invaded the cooking utensils, and made all the food uneatable, that after a time, being unable to bear the pest any longer, they “fled from that region altogether.”
(1) Let my people go.—The usual demand, which it was determined to reiterate until Pharaoh yielded. (See Exodus 5:1; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:20; Exodus 9:1-13; Exodus 10:3.)
(2) With frogs.—The particular species intended is thought to be the modern dofka (Rana Mosaica), which i is a large kind, resembling our toad, which crawls more; than it leaps, and croaks perpetually.
(3) The river shall bring forth frogs.—The frogs do not now come up directly out of the river, but rather out of the ponds and marshes which are left by the inundation. (See Exodus 8:5.) These, however, may be viewed as detached portions of the river. Frogs in Egypt are, even at the present day, an occasional annoyance and inconvenience.
Thy bedchamber . . . thy bed.—No nation of antiquity set such a value on cleanliness as the Egyptians. Priests were required to dress entirely in linen, and to wash their entire bodies in cold water twice every day and twice every night (Herod. ii. 37). With other classes ablutions were frequent, and the utmost care was taken to avoid contact with whatever was uncleanly. It is difficult to conceive a greater annoyance to an Egyptian than frogs in the bedchamber and on the bed.
Ovens.—Or, balking-pans—earthenware vessels commonly heated by having a fire lighted inside them, and the dough attached by pressure after the fire had been withdrawn.
Kneading troughs.—Comp. below, Exodus 12:34, which fixes the sense; and for representations of both kneading-troughs and ovens, see Rosellini, Monumenti Civili, pls. 84, 85.
When shall I intreat?—Rather, as in the margin, against when? or for when?—i.e., what date shall I fix in my prayer to God as that at which the plague shall be removed? And so, in the next verse, for “to-morrow” translate against to-morrow. It seems strange that Pharaoh did not say, “To-day, this very instant; “but perhaps he thought even Jehovah could not do so great a thing at once.
He hardened his heart.—Hitherto Pharaoh’s nature had not been impressed; his heart had remained dull, callous, hard. Now an impression had been made (Exodus 8:8), and he must have yielded, if he had not called in his own will to efface it. Herein was his great guilt. (See the comment on Exodus 4:21.)
It is disputed whether this plague was one of lice or of mosquitoes. Josephus and the Jewish commentators generally take the former view, while the latter is supported by the LXX. and Vulgate, by the authorities of Philo, Artapanus, Origen, and St. Augustine in ancient, and by those of Rosenmüller, Michaelis, Œdmann, Gesenius, Keil, and Kalisch in modern times. The word used (kinnim) seems connected with the Greek κίνψ, or κώνωψ, and is reasonably regarded as formed by onomatopoeia, from the sharp tingling sound given out by the insect when on the wing. The trouble caused to the Egyptians of the Delta by mosquitoes is noticed by Herodotus (ii. 95); while moderns, as Forskal (Descript. Anim. p. 85), declare that they amount to an absolute pest at certain seasons. They are most troublesome towards October, and are said to attack not only the exposed parts of the skin, but especially the ears, the nostrils, and the eyes, where they do great damage. Some have thought that mosquitoes do not molest cattle (Exodus 8:17); but Kalisch says, “They molest especially beasts, as oxen and horses, flying into their eyes and nostrils, driving them to madness and fury, and sometimes even torturing them to death.”
 In Egyptian the word for “mosquito” is Khnemms, (Brugsch, Diet. Hierogl. p. 1103).
It is to be noticed that the third plague, whatever it was, came without warning. It was God’s judgment on Pharaoh for hardening his heart and breaking his promise (Exodus 8:15); and he was not given the option of avoiding it by submission to God’s will.
(16) Smite the dust of the land.—Dust prevails in Egypt to an extent that is highly inconvenient. “We travelled to Ashmim.” says one writer, “through clouds of dust, raised by a high wind, which intercepted our view as much as if we had been travelling in a fog.” “There is one great source of discomfort,” says another, “arising from the dryness of the atmosphere, namely, an excessive quantity of dust.” When “all the dust of the land became mosquitoes” (Exodus 8:17), the plague must indeed have been great.
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.—The mosquitoes did not impress Pharaoh as the frogs had done (Exodus 8:8-15). His heart remained hard. He had no need to harden it by an act of his will. Probably the visitation affected him but little, since he would possess mosquito curtains, and could inhabit the loftier parts of his palace, which would be above the height whereto the mosquito ascends (Herod, ii. 95).
Exodus 8:20And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me.THE FOURTH PLAGUE.
(20, 21) There is. again, a doubt as to the nature of the fourth plague. In the original it is called the plague of “the ‘arób.” which is used throughout in the singular number. The LXX. translate ha-’arob by “the dog-fly” (ή κυνόμυιά). The Jewish commentators connect the word with the root ‘ereb or ‘arab, and suppose it to designate either a mixed multitude of all kinds of wild beasts (Josephus and Jonathan), or a mixture of all sorts of insects (Aquila, &c). Moderns generally agree with the LXX. that a definite species of animal—probably an insect—is meant, but doubt about the particular creature. The dog-fly, it is said (Musca canina), is not a pest in houses, as the ‘arôb was (Exodus 8:21; Exodus 8:24), nor does it do any damage to the land (Exodus 8:24). It is therefore suggested that the plague was really one of the kakerlaque, a kind of beetle, which is injurious both to the persons of men, to the furniture and fittings of houses, and to the crops in the fields. It is in favour of the kakerlaque that, like all beetles, it was sacred, and might not be destroyed, being emblematic of the sun-god, Ra, especially in his form of Khepra, or “the creator.” Egyptians were obliged to submit to such a plague without attempting to diminish it, and would naturally view the infliction as a sign that the sun-god was angry with them. They would also suffer grievously in person, for the kakerlaque “inflicts very painful bites with its jaws” (Kalisch); and they would begin for the first time to suffer in their property, which neither the frogs nor the mosquitoes had damaged. The plague was thus—if one of the kakerlaque—an advance on previous plagues, and if less disgusting than some others, was far more injurious.
(20) Early in the morning.—Comp. Exodus 7:15; and on the early habits of an Egyptian king, see Herod. ii. 172.
He cometh forth to the water.—It is conjectured that this was on the occasion of the great autumn festival, when, after the retirement of the Nile within its banks, and the scattering of the grain upon the fresh deposit of mud, the first blades of corn began to appear. It is not improbable that Khepra, “the creator,” was then especially worshipped.
(21) Swarms of flies.—Heb., the ‘arôb. Comp. “the frog” (Exodus 8:13), and “the mosquito” (ha-kinnim) in Exodus 8:17. On the species intended, sec the comment on Exodus 8:20-21.
In the land.—Pretending to grant the request made of him, Pharaoh mars all by this little clause. A three days’ journey into the wilderness had been demanded from the first (Exodus 5:3), and no less could be accepted.
Will they not stone us?—This is the first mention of “stoning” in Scripture or elsewhere. It was not a legalised Egyptian punishment; but probably it was everywhere one of the earliest, as it would be one of the simplest, modes of wreaking popular vengeance. Æschylus mentions it (Sept. 100 Th. 183), also Herodotus (v. 38). It was known in ancient Persia (Ctes. Fr. 50).
Let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more. God’s servants must rebuke even kings when they openly break the moral law (1 Samuel 13:13; 1 Samuel 15:16-23; 2 Samuel 12:7-12; 1 Kings 21:20-22; Matthew 14:4. &c.). Pharaoh had promised unconditionally to let the people go if the frogs were removed (Exodus 8:8), and had. then flagrantly broken his word. Moses was right to rebuke his “deceit.”