And the LORD said to Moses, Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt…
This was the third of the great plagues, and it came, as in certain previous instances, unannounced.
I. THE LAST OF THE ADMONITORY PLAGUES (vers. 21-24). The plagues, viewed as trials of Pharaoh's character, end with this one. The death of the first-born was a judgment, and gave Pharaoh no further space for repentance. We may view this last of the nine plagues:
1. As awful in itself. Whatever its natural basis, the preternatural intensity of the darkness now brought upon the land told plainly enough that it was one of the wonders of Jehovah. For three whole days no one human being in Egypt saw another, even artificial light, it would appear, failing them in their necessity. The fearfulness of the plague was heightened to those stricken by it by the fact that the Israelites "had light in their dwellings"; also by the fact that the sun in his different phases was the chief object of their worship. When one reflects on the terrors which accompany darkness in any case; on the singular effect it has in working on the imagination, and in intensifying its alarms, it will be felt how truly this was a plague laid upon the heart (Exodus 9:14). Darkness suddenly descending on a land invariably awakens superstitious fears, fills multitudes with forebodings of calamity, creates apprehensions of the near approach of the day of judgment; what, then, would be the effect on the Egyptians when they "saw their crystal atmosphere and resplendent heavens suddenly compelled to wear an aspect of indescribable terror and appalling gloom"? We may gather how great was the distress from the fact of the king being compelled, after all that had happened, again to send for Moses (ver. 24).
2. As symbolic of a spiritual condition. Egypt was enveloped in the wrath of God. The stroke of that wrath, which might have been averted by timely repentance, was about to descend in the destruction of the first-born. Darkness was in the king's soul. The darkness of doom was weaving itself around his fortunes. Of all this, surely the physical darkness, which, like a dread funeral pall, descended on the land, must be taken as a symbol. When Christ, the sin-bearer, hung on Calvary, a great darkness, in like manner, covered the whole land (Matthew 27:45). The darkness without was but the symbol of a deeper darkness in which Christ's spirit was enveloped. The sinner's condition is one of darkness altogether. He is dark spiritually (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6). He is dark, as under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). God's people are "children of light," but the transgressor's soul is buried in deadliest gloom (Ephesians 5:8). The place of woe is described as "the outer darkness" (Matthew 25:30).
II. PHARAOH'S LAST ATTEMPT (vers. 24-27).
1. It was made under dire compulsion. The darkness had shaken his heart to its foundations. It is noteworthy that each of these three last plagues extorted from him a full or partial consent. The lesser plagues, severe though they were, had not had this effect. He could hold out under two, and in one case under three of them.
2. It was, like the former, an attempt at compromise. He would let the "little ones" go, but the flocks and herds were to be left; an absurd prohibition, when the object was to sacrifice. It is made painfully evident that Pharaoh's judgment has left him; that he has become absolutely reckless; that he is no longer his own master; that he is being driven by his passions in opposition to all right reason and prudence; that the end, accordingly, is very near.
3. It testifies to his increasing hardness.
(1) There is on this occasion no confession of sin.
(2) Neither does Pharaoh concede the whole demand.
(3) He ends the scene with violence, ordering Moses never to appear again before him, under penalty of death.
III. PHARAOH'S REPROBATION (ver. 29). Moses took Pharaoh at his word. "Thou hast spoken well; I will see thy face no more." God's work with this great, bad man was ended, save as the judgment for which he had prepared himself was now to be inflicted upon him. He had not been given up till every conceivable means had been exhausted to bring him to repentance. He had been tried with reason and with threatening; with gentleness and with severity; with mercy and with judgments. He had been reproved, expostulated with, warned, and frequently chastised. His prayers for respite had in every case been heard. He had been trusted in his promises to let Israel go, and when he had broken them was still forborne with and trusted again. Plagues of every kind had been sent upon him. He had suffered incalculable loss, had endured sore bodily pain, had been shaken in his soul with supernatural terrors. His first plea, of ignorance, and his second, of want of evidence, had been completely shattered. He had been made to confess that he had sinned, and that Jehovah was righteous. Yet under all and through all he had gone on hardening himself, till, finally, even God could wring no confession of sin from him, and his mind had become utterly fatuous, and regardless of consequences. What more was to be done with Pharaoh? Even that which must be done with ourselves under like circumstances - he was rejected, reprobated, given over to destruction. "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?" (Luke 13:7). It was the same fate which overtook Israel when the nation became finally corrupt and hardened. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.