Bible Commentary: Exodus 8:20-10:20

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Exodus 8:20-10:20

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Flies to Locusts

Before sending the fourth plague, God says that He will prevent it and the remainder of the plagues from afflicting the Israelites in Goshen. Thus, the first three plagues had been experienced by everyone, including the Israelites. But the seven last plagues (out of 10) afflict the Egyptians only. That the “seven last plagues” are distinct is quite interesting in light of the fact that we actually find this phrase in Revelation 15:1 Revelation 15:1And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.
American King James Version×
, in reference to the final plagues poured out on rebellious mankind—following a period of suffering that will come on God’s people (physical and spiritual) and on the rest of the world. And, just as in Egypt, God’s people of the end time will be spared the seven last plagues.

4. Flies: Concerning the word “flies,” the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary states that these were “not ‘flies’, such as we are accustomed to [or perhaps not only such flies, as Egypt had and still has those too] but diverse sorts of flies [i.e., flying, buzzing insects] (Psalms 78:45 Psalms 78:45He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
American King James Version×
), the gad-fly, the cockroach, the Egyptian beetle, for all these are mentioned by different writers…. The worship of flies, particularly of the beetle [in the form of the scarab god Kheper], was a prominent part of the religion of the ancient Egyptians” (1961, note on Exodus 8:20-31 Exodus 8:20-31 [20] And the LORD said to Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; see, he comes forth to the water; and say to him, Thus said the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. [21] Else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you, and on your servants, and on your people, and into your houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground where on they are. [22] 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 you may know that I am the LORD in the middle of the earth. [23] And I will put a division between my people and your people: to morrow shall this sign be. [24] 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. [25] And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go you, sacrifice to your God in the land. [26] And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: see, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? [27] We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, as he shall command us. [28] And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away: entreat for me. [29] And Moses said, Behold, I go out from you, and I will entreat 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. [30] And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and entreated the LORD. [31] 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.
American King James Version×
). Furthermore, as the flies crawled all over them, flew into their eyes, covered their food and buzzed incessantly around them, adding to their misery, where was the supreme Amun, helper of the pious and god of the wind, to blow away this plague? Where was the guardian goddess Mafdet and the protector god Sed? Finally, the “divine” pharaoh begins to bargain, agreeing to let the Israelites sacrifice to God in Goshen. But Moses points out that this would be an abomination to the Egyptians, since they considered it detestable to sacrifice sheep (see Genesis 43:32 Genesis 43:32And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 46:34 Genesis 46:34That you shall say, Your servants’ trade has been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.
American King James Version×
), and that—now really hating the Israelites—they might stone them. So, with flies still buzzing around him, Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites travel a short way into the wilderness to sacrifice. But once again, the stubborn ruler changes his mind.

5. Death of livestock: As in most pagan societies, oxen had strong attachments to various deities in Egypt. Apis, the bull god, was the living personification of the creation god Ptah. The creator sun gods Atum and Re, later syncretized into a single deity, were represented by the black bull Mnevis of Heliopolis. Nut and Neith were both depicted as the great celestial cow who gave birth to the cosmos and other deities. Mehet-Weret, another goddess associated with creation, was depicted as a cow. The mother goddesses Hathor and Nekbet were both pictured with the form of a cow. Hesat, the goddess of birth, was depicted as a cow. And the foster mother of Horus, the cow goddess Sekhet-Hor, was even invoked to safeguard cattle—a prayer that now availed nothing in the face of the true God’s power. It should also be noted here that the Egyptians did possess some sheep (Exodus 9:3 Exodus 9:3Behold, the hand of the LORD is on your cattle which is in the field, on the horses, on the asses, on the camels, on the oxen, and on the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.
American King James Version×
), though apparently not for food or sacrifice (compare  Exodus 8:26 Exodus 8:26And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: see, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?
American King James Version×
). And ram gods figure prominently in the Egyptian pantheon—Ba, Banebdjedet, the primeval Heryshaf, and the Nile god Khnum. Even the supreme god Amun was symbolized by a ram with curved horns. The statement that “all the livestock of Egypt died” (Exodus 9:6 Exodus 9:6And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.
American King James Version×
) must actually mean that the vast majority of their animals died, as livestock are still alive in Exodus 9:19-21 Exodus 9:19-21 [19] Send therefore now, and gather your cattle, and all that you have in the field; for on every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down on them, and they shall die. [20] He that feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses: [21] And he that regarded not the word of the LORD left his servants and his cattle in the field.
American King James Version×
and horses in Exodus 14:7-9 Exodus 14:7-9 [7] And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them. [8] And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand. [9] But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon.
American King James Version×
. Even so, we can imagine that this was a major blow to the economy and military strength of Egypt. Once again, God spares the Israelites, as Pharaoh discovers. But still he refuses to let God’s people go.

6. Boils: Once again, the false deities of Egypt are of no help, including Sakhmet, a guardian goddess against disease (besides her major role as war goddess), Imhotep, the god of medicine, and Isis, goddess of life and healing. Pharaoh’s magicians are now too afflicted to be present; yet Pharaoh’s heart is still hardened. Interestingly, the narrative for the first time states that God actually hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12 Exodus 9:12And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he listened not to them; as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
American King James Version×
)—an intent God had earlier stated (Exodus 4:21 Exodus 4:21And the LORD said to Moses, When you go to return into Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
American King James Version×
; Exodus 7:3 Exodus 7:3And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×
). Yet before this, Pharaoh is seen as hardening his own heart (Exodus 8:15 Exodus 8:15But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and listened not to them; as the LORD had said.
American King James Version×
, Exodus 8:32 Exodus 8:32And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.
American King James Version×
). God, then, is now reinforcing Pharaoh’s stubborn inclination—for the purpose described in verse 16 (see Romans 9:14-24 Romans 9:14-24 [14] What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. [15] For he said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. [16] So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. [17] For the scripture said to Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. [18] Therefore has he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens. [19] You will say then to me, Why does he yet find fault? For who has resisted his will? [20] No but, O man, who are you that reply against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? [21] Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor? [22] What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: [23] And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had before prepared to glory, [24] Even us, whom he has called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
American King James Version×
). To better understand this, please refer to the article “Twist of Fate” at http://bible.ucg.org/bible-reading-program/materials/fate.pdf.

7. Hail: This plague killed servants, animals and cattle if they were not under shelter. Plants and trees were also destroyed, including crops in the field. That this was an extremely severe thunderstorm of icy hail and that the “fire” darting to the ground was lightning is apparent from Psalm 78: “He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamore trees with frost. He also gave up their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to fiery lightning” (Psalms 78:47-48 Psalms 78:47-48 [47] He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost. [48] He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
American King James Version×
). These destructive elements, of course, had a devastating impact on the nation’s food supply. And still the gods of Egypt were shown to be powerless: the sky goddesses Nut and Hathor; the sky god Horus; Shu, the god of air and bearer of heaven; Seth, the god of storms and protector of crops; Neper, the god of grain crops; Osiris, the ruler of life and vegetation; Isis, the goddess of life; and all the cow and ram deities mentioned above proved impotent before the true God. Pharaoh now relents—for the time being. Of course, once the plague subsides, he again changes his mind.

8. Locusts: By this point, Pharaoh’s servants are attempting to impress on him that “Egypt is destroyed” (Exodus 10:7 Exodus 10:7And Pharaoh’s servants said to him, How long shall this man be a snare to us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: know you not yet that Egypt is destroyed?
American King James Version×
). So he resorts to bargaining with Moses once again. But as he will not accede to God’s demands, a mighty wind brings an infestation of locusts on the land. The results are horrible to behold. Whatever vegetation had been left after the hail is now devoured by the locusts. The land is stripped bare. It must have been a wonder to look out over what was once a fertile, bountiful land and to no longer see the color green among the plants (verse 15). Again, Seth, Neper, Osiris and Isis are all defied—as are Shu, god of the air, and Amun, god of the wind. This terrible plague must have left the nation on the brink of starvation. In desperation, Pharaoh even confesses sin and asks forgiveness—outwardly. But his contrition is short-lived. By now, Moses may have become accustomed enough to Pharaoh’s stubbornness so as to not be surprised when, once again, Pharaoh changes his mind about releasing the Israelites.

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