THE FIFTH PLAGUE.
(1-3) The nature of the fifth plague is manifest, and admits of no dispute. It was a rinderpest, or murrain upon cattle; which, however, unlike most similar disorders, attacked the greater number of the domesticated animals—horses, asses, camels, oxen, and sheep. Thus it was “very grievous” (Exodus 9:3). Horses were highly prized by the Egyptians, and were a comparatively recent importation, having been unknown before the time of the seventeenth, or “Shepherd” Dynasty. They were at first used only in war; then by rich men, in peace, to draw their chariots. They had now, however, it would seem, come to be employed also in agriculture. (Note the words “in the field.”) Asses were the ordinary beasts of burthen, and abounded in Egypt anciently as indeed they do at the present day. The Egyptian monuments mention cases where a single landowner owned as many as seven or eight hundred of them. Camels are not represented by the Egyptian sculptors, but are mentioned in the inscriptions (Chabas, Etudes sur l’ Antiquité Historique, pp. 400-413), and must have been employed in the trade between Egypt and the Sinaitic peninsula. Both oxen and sheep were numerous, and constituted a great part of the wealth of individuals. The plague fell upon such animals as were “in the field” at the time—i.e., in the open air, and not confined in stables or sheds. It was the Egyptian practice to house a considerable portion of their cattle; but at the probable season of this plague—December or January—the majority would be in the pastures. Thus the Egyptian losses were very heavy, and the king, no doubt, suffered with the rest, for the Egyptian monarchs were large cattle-owners (Genesis 47:6; Genesis 47:17), The Pharaoh was, however, less impressed by this plague than by the fourth, and made no sign of submission.
Tomorrow.—The delay allowed any Egyptians who believed Moses to save their cattle by housing them.
The heart of Pharaoh was hardened.—Even the exact correspondence of the result with the announcement did not soften the heart of the king. It remained dull and unimpressed—literally, “heavy” kâbêd). Loss of property would not much distress an absolute monarch, who could easily exact the value of what he had lost from his subjects.
Exodus 9:8And 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.THE SIXTH PLAGUE.
(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.
A boil breaking forth with blains.—Heb., an inflammation, producing pustules. Diseases of this character are not uncommon in Egypt (comp. Deuteronomy 28:27), but they are not often very severe; nor do they attack indifferently man and beast. The miraculous character of the plague was shown (1) by its being announced beforehand; (2) by its severity (Exodus 9:11); (3) by its universality (Exodus 9:11); and (4) by its extension to animals.
Exodus 9:13And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.THE SEVENTH PLAGUE.
(13-19) The plagues fall into triads, or groups of three. This is the first plague of the third group, and presents to us several new features. (1) It is ushered in with an unusually long and exceeding awful message (Exodus 9:13-19), in which Pharaoh is warned that God is now about to “send all His plagues upon his heart,” and that he has been raised up simply that God may show forth His power in his person. (2) It is the first plague that attacks human life; and this it does upon a large scale: all those exposed to it perish (Exodus 9:19). (3) It is more destructive than any previous plague to property. It not only slays cattle, like the murrain. but destroys plants and trees (Exodus 9:25), and ruins half the harvest (Exodus 9:31). (4) It is accompanied with terrible demonstrations—“mighty thunderings,” huge hailstones, rain, and fire that “runs along upon the ground” (Exodus 9:23). (5) It is made to test the degree of faith to which the Egyptians have attained, by means of a revelation of the way whereby it may be escaped (Exodus 9:20). Though the plagues do not form a regularly ascending series, each transcending the last, yet there is a certain progression observable. The earlier ones cause annoyance rather than injury; those which follow cause loss of property; then God’s hand is laid on men’s persons, so as to hurt, but not to kill; lastly, life itself is attacked. The seventh plague was peculiarly astonishing and alarming to the Egyptians, because hail and thunder, even rain, were rare phenomena in their country; and a thunderstorm accompanied by such features as characterised this one was absolutely unknown. The hailstones must have been of an enormous size and weight to kill men and cattle. The “fire infolding itself amid the hail” must indicate a very unusual form of the electric fluid. It is not surprising that the visitation brought down the pride of Pharaoh more than any preceding one, and made him for the time consent unconditionally to the people’s departure (Exodus 9:28).
(13) Early in the morning.—Comp, Exodus 7:15; Exodus 8:20.
That my name may be declared.—Comp. Exodus 14:17; Exodus 15:14-16, &c.
I have sinned this time—i.e., This time I confess that I have sinned in resisting Jehovah; I do not any more maintain that I have acted right.
The Lord is righteous.—Heb., Jehovah is the Just One—a form of speech implying that Jehovah, and He alone, was just.
Wicked.—Heb., the sinners. “I and my people” stand in contrast with God and His people. Previously Pharaoh had denounced the Israelites as idlers and hypocrites (Exodus 5:8; Exodus 5:17); now he admits that it is only he and his people that are to blame. The confession is satisfactory, except in so far as it divides between Pharaoh and the Egyptians the blame which was almost wholly his.
They were not grown up.—Heb., they were late, or dark. The ear was undeveloped, and lay hid in the low tufts that grew like grass.
Exodus 9:35And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as the LORD had spoken by Moses.