Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me.VIII.
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.”
(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.
And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.(6) The frogs came up.—Hebrew, the frog. The term designates the species.
And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.(7) The magicians did so.—It cannot be concluded from this that the magicians had the power of creating frogs. All that the writer means to express is, that they seemed to Pharaoh and to the Court to do on a small scale what Moses and Aaron had done on the largest possible scale. The means which they employed was probably sleight-of-hand. It has been well observed that they would have shown their own power and the power of their gods far more satisfactorily had they succeeded in taking the frogs away.
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the LORD.(8) Pharaoh called for Moses.—This was the first sign of yielding. Pharaoh had borne the infliction of the water turned to blood without flinching, probably because individually he had suffered but little from it. (See the comment on Exodus 7:23.) But he suffered from the frogs as much as any one else (Exodus 8:3-4); and the personal inconvenience drove him to make a concession. As far as words could go, the concession was complete. (1) He acknowledged the power of Jehovah (“Intreat the Lord, that He may take away, &c.”’); (2) he acknowledged the power of righteous men’s prayers; (3) he made an absolute unreserved promise to “let the people go.”
And Moses said unto Pharaoh, Glory over me: when shall I intreat for thee, and for thy servants, and for thy people, to destroy the frogs from thee and thy houses, that they may remain in the river only?(9) And Moses said . . . Glory over me.—This phrase seems equivalent to—“I submit to thy will,” “I am content to do thy bidding. “It was probably an ordinary expression of courtesy in Egypt on the part of an inferior to a superior; but it was not a Hebrew idiom, and so does not occur elsewhere.
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.
And he said, To morrow. And he said, Be it according to thy word: that thou mayest know that there is none like unto the LORD our God.(10) That thou mayest know.—Comp. Exodus 7:5; Exodus 7:17. Moses is not content that Pharaoh should simply acknowledge Jehovah as he had done (Exodus 8:8), but wishes him to be convinced that no other god can compare with Him.
And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields.(13, 14) The frogs died.—God, who knew the heart of Pharaoh, and its insincerity, or at any rate its changefulness, took the plague of frogs away in a manner that made its removal almost as bad as its continuance. The frogs did not return into the river; neither were they devoured by flights of cranes or ibises. They simply died—died where they were—in thousands and tens of thousands, so that they had to be “gathered upon heaps.” And “the land stank.” In the great plague of frogs mentioned by Eustathius (see the comment on Exodus 8:1-4) it was the stench of the frogs after they were dead which caused the people to quit their country.
But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.(15) When Pharaoh saw that there was respite.—Hebrew, a breathing space.
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.)
And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.THE THIRD PLAGUE. (16, 17)
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.
And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast.(18) The magicians did so—i.e., tried to do so—took moist earth, and dried it, and pulverised it, and tried the effect of their magic charms upon it, but. failed to produce mosquitoes, as Aaron had done. Mosquitoes were things too delicate to be caught, and manipulated, and produced at a given moment by sleight-of-hand. The magicians tried to produce a counterfeit of the miracle, but could not. Then they excused themselves to their master with the words, “This is the finger of a god.”
Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.(19) The finger of God.—Rather, of a goal. The magicians meant to say, “This is beyond the power of man: it is supernatural; some god must be helping Moses and Aaron.” They did not mean to profess a belief in One God.
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).
(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.
And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth.(22) I will sever in that day the land of Goshen.—This was a new feature, and one calculated to make a deep impression both on king and people. The “land of Goshen” can only have been some portion of the Eastern Delta, a tract in unwise different from the rest of Egypt—low, flat, well-watered, fertile. Nature had put no severance between it and the regions where the Egyptians dwelt; so the severance to be made would be a manifest miracle.
And the LORD did so; and there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants' houses, and into all the land of Egypt: the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of flies.(24) The land was corrupted.—Rather, as in the margin, destroyed. Kalisch observes, “These insects”—i.e., the kakerlaque (Blatta Orientalis), “really fill the land, and molest men and beasts; they consume all sorts of materials, devastate the country, and are in so far more detrimental than the gnats, as they destroy also the property of the Egyptians.”
And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land.(25) Pharaoh called for Moses.—Pharaoh suffered from the kakerlaque equally with his subjects, or rather, more than his subjects. It was “upon him,” inflicting its painful bites (Exodus 8:21); it was “upon his palaces” (Exodus 8:21), destroying his rich and magnificent furniture; it was upon his lands, ravaging and devastating them (Exodus 8:24). He therefore gave way before this plague almost at once, and without waiting for any remonstrance on the part of the magicians or others, “called for Moses.”
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.
And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?(26) It is not meet so to do.—Pressed to remain “in the land,” and sacrifice, Moses deemed it right to explain to the king why this was impossible. The Israelites would have to “sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians”—i.e., animals of which the Egyptians abominated the killing; and if they did this in the presence of Egyptians, a riot would be certain to break out—perhaps a civil war would ensue. The animal worship of the Egyptians is a certain, and generally recognised, fact. It seemed to the Greeks and Romans the most striking characteristic of the Egyptian reliction. (See Herod, ii. 65-76; Diod. Sic. i. 82-84; Cic. De Nat. Deor. i. 36; &c.) The sacrificial animals of the Hebrews—sheep, goats, and cattle—were all of them sacred animals, either to the Egyptians generally, or to the inhabitants of certain districts. A Theban could not endure the sacrifice of a sheep, nor a Men-desian that of a goat (Herod. ii. 42). White cows and heifers—perhaps cows and heifers generally—were sacred to Isis-Athor. Any bull-calf might be an Apis; and it could not be known whether he was Apis or not till the priests had examined him (Herod. iii. 28). The extent to which the Egyptians carried their rage when a sacred animal was killed in their presence is illustrated by many facts in history. On one occasion a Roman ambassador, who had accidentally killed a cat, was torn to pieces by the populace (Diod. Sic. i. 83). On another, war broke out between the Oxyrinchites and the Cynopolites, because the latter had eaten one of the fish considered sacred by the former (Plutarch, De Isid. et Osir. § 44). The fear of Moses was thus not at all groundless.
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).
We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, as he shall command us.(27) As he shall command us.—Comp. Exodus 10:26—“We know not with what we must serve the Lord, until we come thither.”
And Moses said, Behold, I go out from thee, and I will intreat the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, to morrow: but let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.(29) And Moses said, Behold . . . I will in-treat the Lord.—Moses accepted Pharaoh’s second promise, and took no special exception to its condition —“only ye shall not go very far away.” He had distinctly stated his own demand, which was for “a three days’ journey into the wilderness” (Exodus 5:3; Exodus 8:27). It was for Pharaoh to settle with himself whether he considered that distance “very far” or not. As he made no clear objection to the distance, Moses was bound to suppose that he allowed it.
Let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more. God’s servants must rebuke even kings when they openly break the moral law (1Samuel 13:13; 1Samuel 15:16-23; 2Samuel 12:7-12; 1Kings 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.”
And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one.(31) There remained not one.—The sudden and entire removal of a plague like this at the word of Moses was almost as great a miracle as its sudden coming at his word, and is therefore, when it happened, carefully recorded. (See Exodus 10:19.) It seems not to have happened with the frogs (Exodus 8:11-13) or with the mosquitoes.
And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.(32) Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also.—Comp, Exodus 8:15. Again, it is after being impressed, and partially relenting, that Pharaoh hardens his own heart.