Plagues Of Egypt

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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

The design of these visitations, growing more awful and tremendous in their progress, was to make Pharaoh know, and confess, that the God of the Hebrews was the supreme Lord, and to exhibit his power and his justice in the strongest light to all the nations of the earth,  Exodus 9:16;  1 Samuel 4:8 , &c; to execute judgment upon the Egyptians and upon all their gods, inanimate and bestial, for their cruelty to the Israelites, and for their grovelling polytheism and idolatry,  Exodus 7:14-17;  Exodus 12:12 . The Nile was the principal divinity of the Egyptians. According to Heliodorus, they paid divine honours to this river, and revered it as the first of their gods. They declared him to be the rival of heaven, since he watered the country without the aid of the clouds and rain. His principal festival was at the summer solstice, when the inundation commenced; at which season, in the dog days, by a cruel idolatrous rite, they sacrificed red-haired persons, principally foreigners, to Typhon, or the power that presided over tempests, at Busiris, Heliopolis, &c, by burning them alive, and scattering their ashes in the air, for the good of the people, as we learn from Plutarch. Hence Bryant infers the probability, that these victims were chosen from among the Israelites, during their residence in Egypt. The judgment then inflicted upon the river, and all the waters of Egypt, in the presence of Pharaoh and of his servants, as foretold,—when, as soon as Aaron had smitten the waters of the river, they were turned into blood, and continued in that state for seven days, so that all the fish died, and the Egyptians could not drink of the waters of the river, in which they delighted as the most wholesome of all waters, but were forced to dig wells, for pure water to drink,—was a significant sign of God's displeasure for their senseless idolatry in worshipping the river and its fish, and also "a manifest reproof of that bloody edict whereby the infants were slain," Wis_11:7 .

In the plague of frogs, their sacred river itself was made an active instrument of their punishment, together with another of their gods. The frog was one of their sacred animals, consecrated to the sun, and considered as an emblem of divine inspiration in its inflations.

The plague of lice, which was produced without any previous intimation to Pharaoh, was peculiarly offensive to a people so superstitiously nice and cleanly as the Egyptians; and, above all, to their priests, who used to shave their whole body every third day, that neither louse, nor any other vermin, might be found upon them while they were employed in serving their gods, as we learn from Herodotus; and Plutarch informs us, that they never wore woollen garments, but linen only, because linen is least apt to produce lice. This plague, therefore, was particularly disgraceful to the magicians themselves; and when they tried to imitate it, but failed, on account of the minuteness of the objects, (not like serpents, water, or frogs, of a sensible bulk that could be handled,) they were forced to confess that this was no human feat of legerdemain, but rather "the finger of God." Thus were "the illusions of their magic put down, and their vaunting in wisdom reproved with disgrace," Wis_17:7 . "Their folly was manifest unto all men," in absurdly and wickedly attempting at first to place the feats of human art on a level with the stupendous operations of divine power, in the first two plagues; and being foiled in the third, by shamefully miscarrying, they exposed themselves to the contempt of their admirers. Philo, the Jew, has a fine observation on the plagues of Egypt: "Some, perhaps, may require, Why did God punish the country by such minute and contemptible animals as frogs, lice, flies, rather than by bears, lions, leopards, or other kinds of savage beasts which prey on human flesh? Or, if not by these, why not by the Egyptian asp, whose bite is instant death? But let him learn, if he be ignorant, first, that God chose rather to correct than to destroy the inhabitants; for, if he desired to annihilate them utterly, he had no need to have made use of animals as his auxiliaries, but of the divinely inflicted evils of famine and pestilence. Next, let him farther learn that lesson so necessary for every state of life, namely, that men, when they war, seek the most powerful aid to supply their own weakness; but God, the highest and the greatest power, who stands in need of nothing, if at any time he chooses to employ instruments, as it were, to inflict chastisement, chooses not the strongest and greatest, disregarding their strength, but rather the mean and the minute, whom he endues with invincible and irresistible power to chastise offenders." The first three plagues were common to the Egyptians and the Israelites, to convince both that "there was none like the Lord;" and to wean the latter from their Egyptian idolatries, and induce them to return to the Lord their God. And when this end was answered, the Israelites were exempted from the ensuing plagues; for the Lord severed the land of Goshen from the rest of Egypt; whence the ensuing plagues, confined to the latter, more plainly appeared to have been inflicted by the God of the Hebrews,  Exodus 8:20-23 , to convince both more clearly of "the goodness and severity of God,"  Romans 11:22; that "great plagues remain for the ungodly, but mercy embraceth the righteous on every side,"  Psalms 32:10 .

The visitation of flies, of the gad fly, or hornet, was more intolerable than any of the preceding. By this, his minute, but mighty army, God afterward drove out some of the devoted nations of Canaan before Joshua,  Exodus 23:28;  Deuteronomy 7:20;  Joshua 24:12 . This insect was worshipped in Palestine and elsewhere under the title of Baal-zebub, "lord of the gad fly,"  2 Kings 1:1-2 . Egypt, we learn from Herodotus, abounded with prodigious swarms of flies, or gnats; but this was in the heat of summer, during the dog days; whence this fly is called by the Septuagint κυνομυια , the dog fly. But the appointed time of this plague was in the middle of winter; and, accordingly, this plague extorted Pharaoh's partial consent, "Go ye, sacrifice to your God, but in the land;" and when Moses and Aaron objected the offence they would give to the Egyptians, who would stone them for sacrificing "the abomination of the Egyptians," namely, animal sacrifices, he reluctantly consented, "only ye shall not go very far away;" for he was apprehensive of their flight, like his predecessor, who first enslaved the Israelites,   Exodus 1:10; and he again desired them to "entreat for him." But he again dealt deceitfully; and after the flies were removed so effectually that not one was left, when Moses "entreated the Lord, Pharaoh hardened his heart this fifth time also, neither would he let the people go."

This second breach of promise on the part of Pharaoh drew down a plague of a more deadly description than the preceding. The fifth plague of murrain destroyed all the cattle of Egypt, but of "the cattle of the Israelites died not one." It was immediately inflicted by God himself, after previous notification, and without the agency of Moses and Aaron, to manifest the divine indignation at Pharaoh's falsehood. And though the king sent and found that not one of the Israelites was dead, yet his heart was hardened this sixth time also, and he would not let the people go,  Exodus 9:1-7 .

At length, after Pharaoh had repeatedly abused the gracious respites and warnings vouchsafed to him and his servants, a sorer set of plagues, affecting themselves, began to be inflicted; and Moses now, for the first time, appears as the executioner of divine vengeance; for in the presence of Pharaoh, by the divine command, he sprinkled ashes of the furnace toward heaven, and it became a boil, breaking forth with blains upon man and upon beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boil, which affected them and all the Egyptians,  Exodus 9:8-11 . This was a very significant plague: the furnace from which the ashes were taken aptly represented "the iron furnace" of Egyptian bondage,  Deuteronomy 4:20; and the scattering of the ashes in the air might have referred to the usage of the Egyptians in their Typhonian sacrifices of human victims; while it converted another of the elements, and of their gods, the air, or ether, into an instrument of their chastisement. And now "the Lord," for the first time, "hardened the heart of Pharaoh," after he had so repeatedly hardened it himself, "and he hearkened not unto them, as the Lord had foretold unto Moses,"  Exodus 9:12 . Though Pharaoh probably felt the scourge of the boil, as well as his people, it did not soften nor humble his heart; and when he wilfully and obstinately turned away from the light, and shut his eyes against the luminous evidences vouchsafed to him of the supremacy of the God of the Hebrews, and had twice broken his promise when he was indulged with a respite, and dealt deceitfully, he became a just object of punishment; and God now began to increase the hardness or obduracy of his heart. And such is the usual and the righteous course of his providence; when nations or individuals despise the warnings of Heaven, abuse their best gifts, and resist the means of grace, God then "delivers them over to a reprobate" or undiscerning "mind, to work all uncleanness with greediness,"  Romans 1:28 .

In the tremendous plague of hail, the united elements of air, water, and fire, were employed to terrify and punish the Egyptians by their principal divinities. This plague was formally announced to Pharaoh and his people: "I will at this season send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I could stretch out my hand, and smite thee and thy people with pestilence," or destroy thee at once, like thy cattle with the murrain, "and thou shouldest be cut off from the earth; but, in truth, for this cause have I sustained thee, that I might manifest in thee my power, and that my name might be declared throughout the whole earth,"

 Exodus 9:13-16 . This rendering of the passage is more conformable to the context, the Chaldee paraphrase, and to Philo, than the received translation, "For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence;" for surely Pharaoh and his people were not smitten with pestilence; and "they were preserved" or kept from immediate destruction, according to the Septuagint, διετηρηθης , "to manifest the divine power," by the number and variety of their plagues. Still, however, in the midst of judgment, God remembered mercy; he gave a gracious warning to the Egyptians, to avoid, if they chose, the threatened calamity: "Send, therefore, now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; every man and beast that shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die." And this warning had some effect: "He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh, made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses; and he that regarded not the word of the Lord, left his servants and his cattle in the field,"  Exodus 9:17-21 . But it may be asked, If all the cattle of the Egyptians were destroyed by the foregoing plague of murrain, as asserted  Exodus 9:6 , how came there to be any cattle left? Surely the Egyptians might have recruited their stock from the land of Goshen, where "not one of the cattle of the Israelites died." And this justifies the supposition, that there was some respite, or interval, between the several plagues, and confirms the conjecture of the duration of the whole, about a quarter of a year. And that the warning, in this case, was respected by many of the Egyptians, we may infer from the number of chariots and horsemen that went in pursuit of the Israelites afterward. This was foretold to be "a very grievous hail, such as had not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof: and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along the ground; and the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, there was no hail." Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, "I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked: entreat the Lord," for it is enough, "that there might be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer." But when there was respite, Pharaoh "sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants; neither would he let the people go,"  Exodus 9:27-35 . In this instance, there is a remarkable suspension of the judicial infatuation. Pharaoh had humbled himself, and acknowledged his own and his people's guilt, and the justice of the divine plague: the Lord, therefore, forbore this time to harden his heart. But he abused the long sufferance of God, and this additional respite; he sinned yet more, because he now sinned wilfully, after he had received information of the truth; he relapsed, and hardened his own heart a seventh time. He became, therefore, "a vessel of wrath, fitted to destruction,"  Hebrews 10:26;  Romans 9:22 .

The design of the eighth and the ensuing plagues, was to confirm the faith of the Israelites: "That thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord." This plague of locusts, inflicted on the now devoted Egyptians and their king, completed the havoc begun by the hail; by this "the wheat and rye were destroyed, and every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any verdure in the trees, nor in the herbs of the field, throughout the land of Egypt. Very grievous were they; before them were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall there be such,"

 Exodus 10:3-15 .

The awful plague of darkness over all the land of Egypt, for three days, "a thick darkness which might be felt," in the emphatic language of Scripture, was inflicted on the Egyptians, and their chief god, the sun; and was, indeed, a most significant sign of the divine displeasure, and of that mental darkness under which they now laboured. Their consternation thereat is strongly represented by their total inaction; neither rose any from his place for three days, petrified, as they were, with horror. They were also "scared with strange apparitions and visions, while a heavy night was spread over them, an image of that darkness which should afterward receive them. But yet, they were unto themselves more grievous than that darkness," Wis_17:3-21;  Psalms 78:49 . This terrific and horrible plague compelled Pharaoh to relax; he offered to let the men and their families go; but he wished to keep the flocks and herds as security for their return; but Moses peremptorily declared, that not a hoof should be left behind. Again "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let them go,"

 Exodus 10:21-27 . "And the Lord said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the Lord" ultimately "hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land,"  Exodus 11:9-10 . This passage forms the conclusion to the nine plagues, and should properly follow the preceding; for the result of the tenth and last plague was foretold, that Pharaoh should not only let them go, but surely thrust them out altogether,  Exodus 11:1 .

The tenth plague was announced to Pharaoh with much solemnity: "Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt, and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maid- servant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of cattle. And there shall be a great cry throughout the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be any more. But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast; that ye may know, how that the Lord doth make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee. And after that I will go out,"  Exodus 11:4-8 . Such a threat, delivered in so high a tone, both in the name of the God of Israel and of Moses, did not fail to exasperate the infatuated Pharaoh, and he said, "Get thee from me; take heed to thyself; see my face no more: for in the day thou seest my face thou shalt die. And Moses said, Be it so as thou hast spoken; I will see thy face again no more. And he went out from Pharaoh in great anger,"

 Exodus 10:28-29;  Exodus 11:8 . "And at midnight the Lord smote all the first- born in the land of Egypt; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house in which there was not one dead,"  Exodus 12:1-30 . This last tremendous judgment is described with much sublimity in the book of Wis_18:14-18 .

"For when all things were wrapt in still silence,

And night, in her proper speed, holding her mid course, Thy all powerful oracle leapt down from heaven,

Out of the royal throne, a fierce warrior,

Into the midst of the land of destruction, Wielding a sharp sword, thine unfeigned command,

And standing up, he filled the whole with death,

He touched the heavens, indeed, but trod upon the earth!"

"And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and he called for," or sent to, "Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye said; take also your flocks and your herds, and be gone; and bless me also. And the Egyptians also were urgent upon the people, to send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We shall all be dead." It is evident from the extreme urgency of the occasion, when all the Egyptians apprehended total destruction, if the departure of the Israelites was delayed any longer, that Pharaoh had no personal interview with Moses and Aaron, which would have wasted time, and was quite unnecessary; he only sent them a peremptory mandate to be one on their own terms. "And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment. And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they freely gave what they required, and they spoiled the Egyptians,"  Exodus 12:31-36 , as originally foretold to Abraham,  Genesis 15:14; and to Moses before the plagues began. This was an act of perfect retributive justice, to make the Egyptians pay for the long and laborious services of the Israelites, whom they had unjustly enslaved, in violation of their charter.

The Israelites were thrust out of Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month, "about six hundred thousand men on foot, beside women and children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks and herds, even very much cattle,"  Exodus 12:37-38;  Numbers 11:4;  Numbers 33:3 . "And they went out with a high hand; for the Lord went before them by day, in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, to go by day and night. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people,"  Exodus 13:22;  Numbers 9:15-23 . And the motion or rest of this divine guide regulated their marches, and their stations or encampments during the whole of their route,  Numbers 10:33-36 . See Red Sea .

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [2]

It may not be unacceptable to the readers of this work to have brought before them in one short view the account of the plagues of Egypt, in order to take into a comprehensive manner the judgment of God over the Egyptians, while manifesting grace to his Israel.

There were ten different sorts of plagues which the Lord brought upon Egypt, all succeeding one another, with only the intermission of a few days; and each rising in succession with more tremendous judgments, until in the last of them the Egyptians began to discover that if the Lord persisted in the infliction, all Egypt was destroyed.

The first was that of turning the waters of their famous river the Nile into blood. It is worthy remark that the first miracle wrought by Moses was this of turning water into blood; but the first miracle of the Lord Jesus Christ was that of turning water into wine. ( John 2:11) And was it not in both instances figurative of the different dispensations of the law and the gospel? Every thing under the law, like the full flowing streams of the Nile turned into blood, is made a source of condemnation: it is called indeed the ministration of death, ( 2 Corinthians 3:7) Every thing under the gospel brings with it life and liberty. Jesus puts a blessing into our most common comforts, and the whole is sanctified.

The second plague of Egypt was that of the frogs. ( Exodus 8:1-2; Exo 8:14) There was somewhat particularly striking in this progression of Egypt's torments. The first was remote and distant, confined to the rivers and water; but this second is brought nearer home, and comes near their persons, in their houses, and their chambers, "Their land, (saith the Psalmist,) brought forth frogs in abundance in the chambers of their kings." ( Psalms 105:30) When one affliction loseth its effect, a second and a greater shall follow. If distant corrections are not heard, the stroke shall be both seen and felt within our houses. This progressive punishment of the Lord, even upon his own people, is set forth in the most finished representation. (See  Leviticus 26:3-46.)

In the third plague, that of lice, the punishment is heightened. Now the Lord is come home indeed by his afflictions on the person of the Egyptians. Before, the judgment was confined to the river and to the land; but here the Lord made a marked distinction from the former, so as to compel the magicians of Egypt to acknowledge in it the finger of God. (See  Exodus 8:16-19)

The plague of flies was the fourth judgment with which the Lord smote Egypt. And here I beg the reader to remark how every visitation became more and more distressing, rising, as it did, in circumstances heightened with misery. The plague of lice was great, but this of flies abundantly more. Even in our own climate, in hot summer-seasons, when passing through narrow lanes and hedges in the country not much frequented, where insects of the winged kind increase unmolested, the horse and his rider sometimes feel their sting, and are almost made mad. But in hot countries the swarms of those creatures are at times destructive indeed. And what must the plague of flies in Egypt have been when purposely armed and sent by the Lord. We may form some conjecture of the dreadful effect that this plague wrought on Pharaoh and his people, for he called for Moses, and in his fright consented to the Israelites' departure. I beg the reader to consult the account of this plague, as recorded in Scripture. ( Exodus 8:20-32) And I beg him also to observe how the Lord, concerning this plague, called upon both the Egyptians and the Israelites to observe the tokens of his discriminating grace over his people; for we are told that the Lord marked the land of Goshen, where Israel dwelt, that no swarm of flies should be there. Let the reader pause over this account; and let him say, what must Israel have felt in this marked distinction. Oh, what an evident token of the Lord's love! And is it not so now, and hath been through all ages of the church? Yea, are we not told that thus we are "to return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not?" ( Malachi 3:18) I beg the reader to turn to the article: Flies, for a farther illustration of this subject.

The fifth plague of Egypt, rising still in terror, was that of the pestilence and mortality among all the cattle of the Egyptians; in which, as a continuance of the same discrimination as had been shewn before in the plague of the flies, while all the cattle of Egypt died, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. (See  Exodus 9:1-7) Beside the very tremendous judgment on Egypt as a nation by this plague, we may remark somewhat leading to the gospel dispensation in this appointment. "The whole creation (we are told) groaneth and travaileth in pain together." ( Romans 8:22) The earth bore part in the curse for man's disobedience; hence therefore in man's redemption, of which the bringing Israel out of Egyptian bondage is a type, the inferior creatures are made to bear part in punishment. It is more than probable also, that some among the cattle that were destroyed were included in the idols of Egypt; for certain it is, that from the Egyptians the Israelites learnt the worship of the calf, which afterwards they set up in the wilderness. (See  Exodus 32:1-6) What contempt, therefore, by the destruction of cattle, was thrown upon the idols of Egypt!

In the view of the sixth plague of Egypt, "the boils breaking forth with blains upon man and upon beast,"we behold the hand of the Lord falling heavier than ever. The persons of Pharaoh and his people in those boils and ulcers were most dreadfully beset. It should seem to have been not only one universal epidemic malady, but a malady hitherto unknown—bodies covered with running sores. When Moses afterwards in the wilderness was admonishing Israel to be cautious of offending the Lord, and threatening punishment to their rebellion, he adverts to those boils as among the most dreadful of divine visitations. "The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed." ( Deuteronomy 28:27) The imagination cannot form to itself, in bodily afflictions any thing more grievous; and when to the sore of body, the corroding ulcer of soul is joined, and both beheld as coming from the Lord, surely nothing this side hell can be wanting to give the most finished state of misery! (See  Exodus 9:8-12) And if the reader will read also Moses's account of a corrosive mind, he will behold the awful state of having God for our enemy. ( Deuteronomy 28:15-68.)

The seventh plague of Egypt was the "thunder, lightning, rain, and hail." ( Exodus 9:13-35.) This tremendous storm was ushered in with a solemn message from the Lord to Pharaoh, that there should be a succession of plagues until that the Lord had cut him off from the face of the earth; and that the Lord had indeed raised him up for this very purpose, to shew in him the Lord's power, and that the Lord's name should be declared throughout all the earth. But what I particularly beg the reader to remark in these plagues of Egypt is, the progressive order from bad to worse, leading on to the most finished and full state of misery.

In this we mark also distinguishing grace to some of the servants of Pharaoh. We are told that they, among them that feared the word of the Lord, called home their servants and their cattle to places of shelter before the storm came. And as when Israel went up afterwards with an high hand out of Egypt, a mixed multitude went with them, were not these such as grace had marked for the Lord's own? May we not consider them as types of the Gentile church given to the Lord Jesus, as well as the Jewish church? ( Isaiah 49:6)

The eighth plague is introduced by the Lord with bidding Moses, the man of God, to remark to Israel that the Lord had hardened the heart of Pharaoh purposely, that he might set forth his love to Israel in shewing these signs and wonders before them. The Lord delights in distinguishing grace, and the Lord delights that his people should know the proofs of it also. "That thou mayest tell it, (saith the Lord) in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them, that ye may know how that I am the Lord." The plague of locusts succeeded that of thunder, lightning, rain and hail. ( Exodus 10:1) This was so grievous that the very earth was covered with them, and the whole land was darkened. (See Locusts.) We read these transactions, and form an idea that the suffering of the people must have been great: but all apprehension must fall short of what was the reality of the evil. (See  Exodus 1:1 -  Exodus 20:26.)

The ninth plague was that of "darkness covering Egypt," while Goshen, the habitation of Israel, had light. ( Exodus 10:21) And this both in duration and extent exceeds all that was ever heard of in the history of the world. Three days it continued in Egypt, so that they saw not one another, neither did any arise from his place; and to aggravate the horrid gloom, it was a darkness which reached to feeling also, though through mercy we know not what that means. Such perhaps as the torments of the damned. Every misery is increased, be it what it may, when the hand of an angry God is felt in it.

The tenth and last plague which the Lord inflicted upon Egypt, preparatory to Israel's departure, was that of the destruction of the first-born both of man and beast; and so universal was it, that it reached from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat upon his throne, to the first-born of the maid servant which ground at the mill. And to aggravate this finishing stroke of misery, the Lord appointed it at midnight. The imagination, can hardly conceive with what horrors the Egyptians arose to the death of their first-born when the midnight cry was so great, because there was not an house where there was not one dead. ( Exodus 12:29-30) I must refer the reader to the sacred Scriptures for the wonderful account of this tremendous judgment, for it would too largely swell the pages of this work, to enter into the relation of it here. But I beg the reader, when he hath read the Holy Scriptures on this subject, as contained in the eleventh and twelfth chapters of Exodus, to pause over the history, and to remark with me whether there is not somewhat typical in the destruction of Egypt's first-born, and the salvation of Israel. The lamb the Israelites were commanded to have slain, and which was called by the Lord himself the Lord's Passover was typical of Christ. The sprinkling of the blood on their houses was also typical, and the eating of it was typical; in short, the whole of this service, and appointed in such a moment, while Egypt was destroying, was wholly typical of Christ, and Israel's alone salvation by him. And though in our present twilight of knowledge our greatest researches go but a little way, yet certain it is, the destruction of Egypt, the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, and the heart of his people, and the delivery of Israel, all pointedly preached the same solemn truth, as it is the whole, tenor of revelation to declare, that the distinguishing grace of God is the sole cause wherefore Israel is saved and the Egyptians destroyed. The apostle Paul, commenting on this history, and taught by the Holy Ghost, hath said all that can be said in confirmation of the doctrine itself, and all that can be said by the most unbelieving mind against it, in one of his chapters to the Romans. But the issue of Paul's reasoning finisheth the subject in the most decided manner, by referring the whole to the sovereignty and good pleasure of God. I cannot better close the subject on the history of the plagues of Egypt, than by referring the reader to the apostle's divine conclusions on the same, and very earnestly begging the reader to go over, with suitable diligence and attention, and with prayer to God the Holy Ghost attention, and with prayer to God the Holy Ghost to bless him in the perusal, the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans ( Romans 9:1-33).

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

Plagues Of Egypt . There are not many references in the Bible to the plagues outside the Book of Exodus. They are epitomized in   Psalms 78:44-51;   Psalms 105:28-36 . In   Romans 9:14-24 God’s treatment of Pharaoh is dwelt upon, to show His absolute right to do what He will with the creatures of His own handiwork. And in   Revelation 8:1-13;   Revelation 9:1-21;   Revelation 16:1-21 much of the imagery in the visions of the trumpets and the bowls is based upon the plagues hail and fire (  Revelation 8:7;   Revelation 16:17 f.), water becoming blood, and the death of the creatures that were in it (  Revelation 8:8 f.,   Revelation 16:3 f.), darkness (  Revelation 8:12 ,   Revelation 16:10 ), locusts (  Revelation 9:1-11 ), boils (  Revelation 16:2 ), frogs (  Revelation 16:13 ).

The narratives of the plagues demand study from three points of view: (1) their literary history; (2) the relation of the several plagues to natural phenomena; (3) their religious significance.

1. The sources . For a full discussion of the reasons for the literary analysis reference must be made to commentaries. The analysis, on which critics are in the main agreed, is as follows:

J 7:14 15 17a 18 21a 24 25 8:1 4 8 15a E 15 17b 20b 23 P 19 20a 21b 22 5 7 R J 20 32 9:1 7 13 17 18 23b 24b J Jahwist.

E Elohist.

P Priestly Narrative.

R Redactor.

J Jahwist

If the sources have here been rightly separated, it becomes probable that the original account of JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] contained eight and not ten plagues. The 3rd and 4th are insect pests, the former kinnîm, kinnâm , i.e. gnats or mosquitoes (P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ), the latter ‘ârôbh , i.e. swarms of flies (J [Note: Jahwist.] ). These may with probability be considered duplicates. And similarly the 5th and 6th, murrain (J [Note: Jahwist.] ) and boils (P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ). If this is so, all the eight were originally contained in J [Note: Jahwist.] ’s narrative; E [Note: Elohist.] has elements in the 1st, 7th, 8th, and 9th, and in the 9th E [Note: Elohist.] ’s narrative has largely displaced that of J [Note: Jahwist.] .

2. Relation to natural phenomena . The hostility which used to exist between religion and natural science is rapidly passing away, as it is becoming more clearly recognized that science is concerned solely with the observation of physical sequences, while religion embraces science as the greater includes the less. Nothing can lie outside the activity of a God who is both a transcendent Person and an immanent sustaining Power in the universe. And therefore to point out a connexion between some of the ‘miracles’ of Scripture and ‘natural phenomena’ does not eliminate from them the Divine element; it rather transfigures an unreasoning ‘faith in the impossible’ into a faith which recognizes the ‘finger of God’ in everything. Thus the following discussion of the plagues may claim to be entirely constructive; it seeks to destroy nothing, but aims at showing it to be probable that the providence of God worked in Egypt by means of a series of natural phenomena, upon which the religious instinct of the Hebrew writers unerringly seized as signs of God’s favour to their forefathers, and of punishment to their oppressors. This religious conviction led in process of time to accretions and amplifications; as the stories were handed down, they acquired more and more of what is popularly called the miraculous. The earliest stage at which they emerge into writing is in J [Note: Jahwist.]; In the remains of E [Note: Elohist.] the wonders have increased, while in P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] they are greatly multiplied.

1 st Plague . According to J [Note: Jahwist.] , this consisted in the smiting of the river by J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , and the consequent death of the fish, causing the necessity of obtaining water by digging in the neighbourhood of the river. Nothing is here said of blood , but that is introduced in the next stage of development. In E [Note: Elohist.] the marvel is performed not directly by J″ [Note: Jahweh.] in the ordinary course of nature, but through Moses’ wonder-working staff, and the river is turned to blood. Two suggestions have been made as to the natural phenomena which might give rise to the story. When the Nile rises in June, its waters become discoloured from fragments of vegetable matter, which gradually turn to a dull red colour as the river rises to its height in August. This is confirmed by many travellers, who also speak of offensive odours emitted at the later stage. Others refer the reddening of the water to enormous quantities of minute organisms. Whatever may have been the actual cause, J [Note: Jahwist.] comes the nearest to the natural fact; a fetid exhalation killed the fish, or in Hebrew language J″ [Note: Jahweh.] smote the river. And the ease with which the belief could arise that the water was turned to blood is illustrated in   2 Kings 3:23 . In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ’s final amplification, every drop of water in Egypt was turned to blood.

2 nd Plague . From whatever cause the river became fetid, a mass of organic matter and of animal life would be collected. And these conditions would be suitable to the rapid multiplication of frogs. In J [Note: Jahwist.] , J″ [Note: Jahweh.] foretells that He will Himself smite Egypt with frogs; in the ordinary course of nature ‘the river shall swarm with frogs.’ In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , Aaron (as usual) is bidden by Moses to bring the plague by stretching out his staff. Plagues of frogs were not unknown in ancient times; and Haggard tells of a plague in the upper Nile valley in modern times ( Under Crescent and Star , p. 279). Frogs are most plentiful in Egypt in September.

3 rd and 4th Plagues . The mass of dead frogs collected in heaps (  Exodus 8:14 ) would lead to the breeding of innumerable insects. In J [Note: Jahwist.] , J″ [Note: Jahweh.] Himself sends ‘swarms of flies ’; in P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , through the stretching out of Aaron’s staff, ‘all the dust of Egypt became mosquitoes’ (EV [Note: English Version.] lice [wh. see]). The ‘mosquitoes’ cannot have been, according to any natural sequence, distinct from the ‘swarms’; P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] particularizes the general statement of J [Note: Jahwist.] . Stinging gnats of various kinds are common in Egypt about October. The insects come to maturity after the waters of the Nile inundation have receded, and the pools in which the larvæ have lived have dried up. Note that in   Psalms 105:31 the ‘swarm’ and the ‘mosquitoes’ are coupled in one sentence; and   Psalms 78:45 omits the ‘mosquitoes’ altogether.

5 th and 6 th Plagues . The decomposing bodies of the frogs would produce pestilential effects; and bacteriological research shows that some insects, especially mosquitoes, are a serious factor in the spread of disease. Thus the murrain (J [Note: Jahwist.] ) is amply accounted for. In the preceding narrative J [Note: Jahwist.] relates that Goshen enjoyed complete immunity from the insects. It is not impossible that the direction of the wind or other natural causes, under God’s guidance, prevented them from reaching the Israelite territory. And if the insects, which spread disease, did not enter Goshen, the statement that the murrain did not touch the cattle of the Israelites is also explained. P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , on the other hand, departs from natural causes. Moses and Aaron flung soot into the air, which became boils on man and beast. Cattle plagues, causing enormous mortality, are reported in Egypt. One such in a.d. 1842 killed 40,000 oxen.

7 th Plague . Thus far the series of plagues have followed one another in a natural sequence. But at this point a new series begins with a destructive thunderstorm, accompanied by hail . Such storms are rare in Egypt, but are not without example. Those which have been reported in modern times have occurred about January; and that is the point of time defined in   Exodus 9:31 f., ‘the barley was in the ear, and the flax was in bud, but the wheat and the vetch … were not grown up.’ Thus the cattle plague had lasted about two months and a half (Nov. to the middle of Jan.) when the storm came; and the first five plagues (reckoning 3, 4 and 5, 6 as duplicates) occupied a period of about five months.

8 th Ptague . The atmospheric conditions which resulted in the storm also led to other plagues. A strong east wind (the sirocco) was sent by J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , and brought a dense mass of locusts (J [Note: Jahwist.] ). In E [Note: Elohist.] , Moses brought them by lifting his staff. The lightness and fragility of the locusts render them helpless before a wind (cf.   Psalms 109:23 b). And when the wind shifted to the west, they were completely swept away into the Red Sea (J [Note: Jahwist.] ); cf.   Joel 2:20 .

9 th Plague . Only a fragment of J [Note: Jahwist.] ’s narrative has been preserved, which relates the effect of the ‘ darkness ’ upon Pharaoh. E [Note: Elohist.] , as before, says that it was due to the lifting of the staff by Moses. But it is not impossible that it was a further consequence of the west wind. Dr. A. Macalister (art. ‘Plagues of Egypt’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iii.) writes: ‘The condition of darkness referred to is strikingly like that brought about by the severer form of the electrical wind hamsin . This is a S. or S.W. wind that is so named because it is liable to blow during the 25 days before and the 25 days after the vernal equinox ( hamsin = 50). It is often not so much a storm or violent wind as an oppressive hot blast charged with so much sand and fine dust that the air is darkened. It causes a blackness equal to the worst of London fogs, while the air is so hot and full of dust that respiration is impeded.… Denon says that it sometimes travels as a narrow stream, so that one part of the land is light while the rest is dark.’ And he adds that three days is not an uncommon duration for the hamsin .

10 th Plague . Malignant epidemics have at all times been the scourge of Bible lands; and it is worthy of note that many authorities state that pestilence is often worst at the time of the hamsin wind. In the Hebrew narratives, however, all thought of a ‘natural’ occurrence has passed away. Only the firstborn are smitten, as a just retribution for Pharaoh’s attempt to destroy the firstborn of the Israelites.

3. Religious value . This is manifold. Considered from the point of view of natural phenomena, the narratives teach the all-important truth that God’s providential care of men is not confined to ‘miracles’ in the commonly accepted sense of the term, else were God’s providential actions unknown to-day. The lifting of Moses’ staff to bring the plagues, and his successive entreaties for their removal, teach that prayer is not out of place or unavailing in cases where natural laws can be co-ordinated and guided by God to bring about the wished-for result. And from whatever point of view the plagues are regarded, the same great facts shine through the narratives that J″ [Note: Jahweh.] is supreme in power over the world which He made; that He has an absolute right, if He so wills, to punish Pharaoh in order to show forth in him His power; that He does so, however, only because Pharaoh is impenitent, and consequently ‘fitted for destruction,’ for J″ [Note: Jahweh.] is a God who hates sin; that if a man hardens his heart, the result will be as inevitable as results in the natural world so inevitable that it may truly be said that J″ [Note: Jahweh.] hardens his heart; that the sin of Pharaoh, and so of any other man, may entail sufferings upon many innocent men and animals; and finally, that J″ [Note: Jahweh.] is mindful of His own, and delivers them from the ‘noisome pestilence,’ ‘the pestilence that walketh in darkness,’ and ‘the destruction that wasteth at noonday,’ so that ‘no plague can come nigh their dwelling’ (  Psalms 91:1-16 ).

A. H. M‘Neile.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [4]

These were wrought by God to show to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians His great power, and that all the elements of creation were at His disposal.  Exodus 7 —   Exodus 12 .

1. THE Plague Of Blood The water of the Nile and of the canals and pools was turned into blood. The water stank, and the fish died. This was a real punishment; for it was the water they all drank, and which was highly esteemed. The fish too was abundant: the Israelites in the wilderness could not forget the fish of which they had eaten freely, or 'for nothing.' The magicians also were able to turn water into blood: where then was the great power of the God of Israel? Pharaoh hardened his heart.

2. FROGS. The land swarmed with them: they were in their bedchambers, their ovens, and their bread pans. The magicians also were able to bring up frogs on the land. The presence of the frogs was so insufferable that Pharaoh called for Moses, and begged him to entreat Jehovah for their removal, and he would let the people go. The frogs died and were gathered in heaps; but with the relief, Pharaoh hardened his heart, and would not let the people go.

3. LICE, ken, kinnam. The dust of the land became lice in man and in beast. It has been supposed that the word signifies gnats, because the LXX has σκνίφες, which some translate 'mosquito-gnats.' But these may be included in the next plague. It is more probable that the louse or the tick is alluded to. It is described as being ' in man and in beast.' The magicians could not imitate this: it was a communication of life. They acknowledged, "This is the finger of God." Yet Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not let Israel go.

4. Flies In the A.V. the words 'of flies' are added, and the 'swarms' may refer to swarms of insects of different sorts. They were to come into the houses and also to corrupt the land. Gesenius gives 'gad-fly' for arob , but in  Psalm 78:45;  Psalm 105:31 , the same word is translated 'divers sorts of flies.' There is an insect that is exceedingly destructive to property, ruining the wood of a house in a short time. No doubt the common fly of Egypt is included: they are very troublesome; soon defiling food, and persistently attacking the body. One thing that characterises this plague is that these pests were not sent into the land of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt. The plague was felt so much that Pharaoh hastened to call Moses, and proposed that they should have their sacrifice, but have it in Egypt. To this Moses could not accede, for the Israelites would have to sacrifice the animals which the Egyptians worshipped. Pharaoh at length consented to their going; but they were not to go very far away. However no sooner was the plague removed than Pharaoh again refused to let Israel go.

5. Murrain Of Beasts It fell upon the cattle, horses, asses, camels, and sheep, that were in the fields, and all that were attacked died. Of the cattle of the children of Israel none were stricken. Pharaoh sent to certify this, and one would have thought that, finding they were all safe, it would have convinced him that it was the Almighty he was fighting against. But he would not let Israel go.

6. Boils upon man and beast. The magicians were now smitten, so that they could not stand before Pharaoh as at other times. But Pharaoh hardened his heart, and refused to let the people go.

7. HAIL, with thunder and lightning. The fire ran along upon the ground. There had not been a storm of such violence since Egypt had been a nation. This also had not fallen upon Goshen. The king said, "I have sinned this time: Jehovah is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Entreat Jehovah (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer." The hail and thunder ceased; but Pharaoh would not let Israel go.

8. Locusts Moses threatened these, and Pharaoh's servants now begged him to let the people go. He called for Moses and Aaron, and said, "Go, serve the Lord your God: but who are they that shall go?" All must go, and the flocks and herds. Pharaoh again refused, but said the men might go. The devastation of the locusts was such that Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron 'in haste,' confessed that he had sinned against Jehovah, and begged that 'this death' might be removed. A west wind carried away the locusts but Pharaoh's heart was hardened; and he again refused.

9. Darkness "They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings." It was a darkness that might be felt, and Pharaoh called for Moses, and bade the Israelites to depart with their wives and their little ones; but they must leave their flocks and herds behind. Moses could not agree: all must go: not a hoof must be left behind, it was God's redemption. Pharaoh was angry, saying, "Take heed to thyself, see my face no more: for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die." Moses replied, "Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more." This is in  Exodus 10:29; but in  Exodus 11:4-8 it is clear that Moses told Pharaoh of the death of the firstborn, which might have been on the same occasion by a message direct from God. We read that Moses, though the meekest of men, went out from Pharaoh in great anger.

10. Death Of The Firstborn "From the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle." The Israelites had prepared the paschal lamb, and had sprinkled its blood upon the lintel and door-posts, and the destroyer passed them by. This was typical of the precious blood of Christ, which is the testimony that judgement on man has been executed, and is the basis of all God's subsequent dealings in grace. Moses and Aaron were called for, and told to depart with flocks and herds. The Egyptians were urgent upon them to make haste, exclaiming, "We be all dead men." Thus did God bring His sore judgements upon Egypt, to let Pharaoh know that He was the mighty God, and to redeem His chosen people with a high hand.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [5]

Plagues of Egypt. The ten plagues narrated in  Exodus 7:1-25;  Exodus 8:1-32;  Exodus 9:1-35;  Exodus 10:1-29;  Exodus 11:1-10;  Exodus 12:1-51 stand in close connection with the natural phenomena of Egypt, still they maintain their character as miracles. They are introduced and performed by Moses; they cease at his request.  Exodus 8:5, etc, These ten plagues were doubtless spread over a long time, and probably they followed, as much as possible, the order of the seasons; for some of them were not only distinctively Egyptian, but really only an aggravation of yearly maladies. Canon Cook, in the Bible Commentary, distributes them thus: The first was toward the end of June, when the Nile begins to overflow. The second came three months later, at the time of the greatest inundation, in September, and was an attack on a native worship. The third was early in October, and the fourth after the subsidence of the inundation. The fifth was in December or January; the sixth, shortly after; the seventh, at the time when hailstorms occur now in Egypt, from the middle of February to early March. The eighth was when the leaves are green, toward the middle of March. The ninth was peculiarly Egyptian, and was the immediate precursor of the tenth. During this time the Israelites had frequent opportunities to gather, and thus were prepared for their exodus.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [6]

(for the use of the Hebrew word, (See Plague) ), the term usually applied to the series of divine visitations of wrath with which Jehovah punished the Egyptians, and especially their king, for their refusal to let Israel go. In considering the history of the Ten Plagues we have to notice the place where they occurred and the occasion on which they were sent, and to examine the narrative of each judgment, with a view to ascertain what it was and in what manner Pharaoh and the Egyptians were punished by it, as well as to see if we can trace any general connection between the several judgments; and we shall thus be prepared to estimate their providential character, as well as to determine how far they were miraculous events, and how far natural or simulated. In this discussion we combine the Scriptural information with that derived from modern investigations. (See Egypt); (See Moses).

I. The History Of The Occurrences.

1. The Place. Although it is distinctly stated that the plagues prevailed throughout Egypt, save, in the case of some, the Israelitish territory, the land of Goshen, yet the descriptions seem principally to apply to that part of Egypt which lay nearest to Goshen, and more especially to "the field of Zoan," or the tract about that city, since it seems almost certain that Pharaoh dwelt in the Delta, and that territory is especially indicated in  Psalms 78:43. That the capital at this time was not more distant is evident from the time in which a message could be sent from Pharaoh to Moses on the occasion of the Exodus. The descriptions of the first and second plagues seem especially to refer to a land abounding in streams and lakes, and so rather to the Lower than to the Upper country. We must therefore look especially to Lower Egypt for our illustrations, while bearing in mind the evident prevalence of the plagues throughout the land.

2. The Occasion. When that Pharaoh who seems to have been the first oppressor was dead, God sent Moses to deliver Israel, commanding him to gather the elders of his people together, and to tell them his commission. It is added, "And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand. And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go" ( Exodus 3:18-20). From what follows, that the Israelites should borrow jewels and raiment, and "spoil Egypt" ( Exodus 3:21-22), it seems evident that they were to leave as if only for the purpose of sacrificing; but it will be seen that if they did so, Pharaoh, by his armed pursuit and overtaking them when they had encamped at the close of the third day's journey, released Moses from his engagement.

When Moses went to Pharaoh. Aaron went with him, because Moses, not judging himself to be eloquent, was diffident of speaking to Pharaoh. "And Moses said before the Lord, Behold, I [am] of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me? And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet" ( Exodus 6:30;  Exodus 7:1;  Exodus 4:10-16). We are therefore to understand that even when Moses speaks it is rather by Aaron than himself. It is perhaps worthy of note that in the tradition of the Exodus which Manetho gives, the calamities preceding the event are said to have been caused by the king's consulting an Egyptian prophet; for this suggests a course which Pharaoh is likely to have adopted, rendering it probable that the magicians were sent for as the priests of the gods of the country, so that Moses was exalted by contrast with these vain objects of worship.

It has been, asked, What period of time was occupied in the infliction of these successive plagues? In answer to this, some contend for a year; but they have no better reason for this than that it enables them to compare the plagues with certain natural phenomena occurring at fixed seasons of the year in Egypt. This has been done with considerable ingenuity, though not without some rather violent straining in particular cases; but without some better reason than this we should not feel justified in accepting a hypothesis which the general tone of the narrative does not suggest. Each plague, according to the historian, lasted only for a short time; and unless we suppose an interval of several weeks between each, a few months or even weeks would afford sufficient time for the happening of the whole. We may now examine the narrative of each plague.

3. The Plagues Themselves. We here notice first a preliminary phenomenon of the same general character with the "plagues." When Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh a miracle was required of them. Then Aaron's rod became a "serpent" (A.V.), or rather "a crocodile" ( תִּנַּין ). Its being changed into an animal reverenced by all the Egyptians, or by some of them, would have been an especial warning to Pharaoh. The Egyptian magicians called by the king produced what seemed to be the same wonder, yet Aaron's rod swallowed up the others ( Exodus 7:3-12). This passage, taken alone, would appear to indicate that the magicians succeeded in working wonders, but if it is compared with those others relating their opposition on the occasions of the first three plagues, a contrary inference seems more reasonable. In this case the expression "they also did in like manner with their enchantments" (Exodus  Exodus 7:11) is used, and it is repeated in the cases of their seeming success on the occasions of the first plague (Exodus ver; 22), and the second ( Exodus 8:7), as well as when they failed on the occasion of the third plague ( Exodus 8:18). A comparison with other passages strengthens us in the inference that the magicians succeeded merely by juggling. Yet, even if they were able to produce any real effects by magic, a broad distinction should be drawn between the general and powerful nature of the wonders wrought by the hand of Moses and Aaron and their partial and weak imitations. (See Magic).

(1.) The "Plague" Of Blood. When Pharaoh had refused to let the Israelites go, Moses was sent again, and, on the second refusal, was commanded to smite upon the waters of the river, and to turn them and all the waters of Egypt into blood. The miracle was to be wrought when Pharaoh went forth in the morning to the river. Its general character is very remarkable, for not only was the water of the Nile smitten, but all the water, even that in vessels, throughout the country. The fish died, and the river stank. The Egyptians could not drink of it, and digged around it for water. This plague appears to have lasted seven days, for the account of it ends, "And seven days were fulfilled, after that the Lord had smitten the river" ( Exodus 7:13-25), and the narrative of the second plague immediately follows, as if the other had then ceased. Some difficulty has been occasioned by the mention that the Egyptians digged for water, but it is not stated that they so gained what they sought, although it may be conjectured that only the water that was seen was smitten, in order that the nation should not perish. It appears that the water, when filtered through the soil of the banks, regained its salubrity. This plague was doubly humiliating to the religion of the country, as the Nile was held sacred, as well as some kinds of its fish, not to speak of the crocodiles, which probably were destroyed. It may have been a marked reproof for the cruel edict that the Israelitish children should be drowned, and could scarcely have failed to strike guilty consciences as such, though Pharaoh does not seem to have been alarmed by it. He saw what was probably an imitation wrought by the magicians, who accompanied him, as if he were engaged in some sacred rites, perhaps connected with the worship of the Nile. Events having some resemblance to this are mentioned by ancient writers; the most remarkable is related by Manetho, according to whom it was said that, in the reign of Nephercheres, seventh king of the second dynasty. the Nile flowed mixed with honey for eleven days. Some of the historical notices of the earliest dynasties seem to be of very doubtful authenticity, and Manetho seems to treat this one as a fable, or perhaps as a tradition. Nephercheres, it must be remarked, reigned several hundred years before the Exodus. Those who have endeavored to explain this plague by natural causes have referred to the changes of color to which the Nile is subject, the appearance of the Red Sea, and the so-called rain and dew of blood of the Middle Ages; the last two occasioned by small fungi of very rapid growth. But such theories do not explain why the wonder happened at a time of year when the Nile is most clear, nor why it killed the fish and made the water unfit to be drunk. These are the really weighty points, rather than the change into blood, which seems to mean a change into the semblance of blood. The employment of natural means in effecting a miracle is equally seen in the passage of the Red Sea; but the divine power is proved by the intensifying or extending that means, and the opportune occurrence of the result, and its fitness for a great moral purpose. (See Nile).

(2.) The " Plague" Of Frogs. When seven days had passed after the smiting of the river, Pharaoh was threatened with another judgment, and, on his refusing to let the Israelites go, the second plague was sent. The river and all the open waters of Egypt brought forth countless frogs, which not only covered the land, but filled the houses, even in their driest parts and vessels, for the ovens and kneading-troughs are specified. The magicians again had a seeming success in their opposition; yet Pharaoh, whose very palaces were filled by the reptiles, entreated Moses to pray that they might be removed, promising to let the Israelites go; but, on the removal of the plague, again hardened his heart ( Exodus 7:25;  Exodus 8:1-15). This must have been an especially trying judgment to the Egyptians, as frogs were included among the sacred animals, probably not among those which were reverenced throughout Egypt, like the cat, but in the second class of local objects of worship, like the crocodile. The frog was sacred to the goddess Hekt, who is represented with the head of this reptile. In hieroglyphics the frog signifies "very many," "millions," doubtless from its abundance. In the present day frogs abound in Egypt, and in the summer and autumn their loud and incessant croaking in all the waters of the country gives some idea of this plague. They are not, however, heard in the spring, nor is there any record, excepting the Biblical one, of their having been injurious to the inhabitants. It must be added that the supposed cases of the same kind elsewhere, quoted from ancient authors, are of very doubtful authenticity. The species of reptile which was made the instrument of this infliction was probably the small frog of Egypt called by the natives dofda, the Rana Mosaica of Seetzen (Reisen, 2, 245, 350 sq.). (See Frog).

(3.) The "Plague" Of Lice. The account of the third plague is not preceded by the mention of any warning to Pharaoh. We read that Aaron was commanded to stretch out his rod and smite the dust, which became, as the A. V. reads the word, "lice" in man and beast. The magicians again attempted opposition; but, failing, confessed that the wonder was of God ( Exodus 8:16-19). There is much difficulty as to the animals meant by the term כנם . The Masoretic punctuation in  Exodus 8:13-14 is כַּנָּם , kinnoam, which would probably make it a collective noun with ם formative; but the pointing כַּנַּם ( Exodus 8:12) and the more decided plural form כַּנַּים , Kinnim, also occur ( Exodus 8:13-14;  Psalms 105:31), of which we once find the singular כֵּן in  Isaiah 51:6. It is therefore reasonable to conjecture that the first form should be punctuated כַּנַּם , as the defective writing of כַּנַּים ; and it should also be observed that the Samaritan has כנים . The Sept. has Σκνίφες , and the Vulg. Sciniphes, mosquitoes, mentioned by Herodotus (2, 95) and Philo (De Vilt Mosis, 1, 20, p. 97, ed. Mang.) as troublesome in Egypt. Josephus, however, makes the כנם lice (Ant. 2, 14, 3), with which Bochart agrees (Hieroz. 2, 572 sq.). The etymology is doubtful, and perhaps the word is Egyptian. The narrative does not enable us to decide which is the more probable of the two renderings, except, indeed, that if it be meant that exactly the same kind of animal attacked man and beast, mosquitoes would be the more likely translation. In this case the plague does not seem to be especially directed against the superstitions of the Egyptians; if, however, it were of lice, it would have been most distressing to their priests, who were very cleanly, apparently, like the Moslems, as a religious duty. In the present day both mosquitoes and lice are abundant in Egypt: the latter may be avoided, but there is no escape from the former, which are so distressing an annoyance that an increase of them would render life almost insupportable to beasts as well as men. It is therefore probable that some species of gnat or mosquito is meant. (See Lice).

(4.) The "Plague" Of Flies. In the case of the fourth plague, as in that of the first, Moses was commanded to meet Pharaoh in the morning as he came forth to the water, and to threaten him with a judgment f he still refused to give the Israelites leave to go and worship. He was to be punished by עָרֹב , Aro'B, which the A.V. renders "swarms [of flies]," "a swarm [of flies]," or, in the margin, "a mixture [of noisome beasts]." These creatures were to cover the people, and fill both the houses and the ground. Here, for the first time, we read that the land of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt, was to be exempt from the plague. So terrible was it that Pharaoh granted permission for the Israelites to sacrifice in the land, which Moses refused to do, as the Egyptians would stone his people for sacrificing their "abomination." Then Pharaoh gave them leave to sacrifice in the wilderness, provided they did not go far; but on the plague being removed broke his agreement ( Exodus 8:20-32). The proper meaning of the word עָרֹב is a question of extreme difficulty. The explanation of Josephus (Ant. 2, 14, 3), and almost all the Hebrew commentators, is that it means "a mixture," and here designates a mixture of wild animals, in accordance with the derivation from the root עָרִב , "he mixed." Similarly, Jerome renders it Onune Genus muscarum, and Aquila Πάμμυια . The Sept., however, and Philo (De Vita Mosis, 1, 23; 2, 101, ed. Mang.) suppose it to be a dog-fly, Κυνόμυια . The second of these explanations seems to be a compromise between the first and the third. It is almost certain, from two passages ( Exodus 8:29;  Exodus 8:31; Hebrew, 25, 27), that a single creature is intended. If so, what reason is there in favor of the Sept. rendering? Oedmann (Verm. Sammlunegen, 2, 150, ap. Gesen. Thesaur. s.v.) proposes the Blatta Orientalis, a kind of beetle, instead of a dog-fly; but Gesenius objects that this creature devours things rather than stings men, whereas it is evident that the animal of this plague attacked or at least annoyed men, besides apparently injuring the land. From  Psalms 78:45, where we read, "He sent the עָרֹב , which devoured them," it must have been a creature of devouring habits, as is observed by Kalisch (Comment. On Exodus p.,138), who supports the theory that a beetle is intended. The Egyptian language might be hoped to give us a clew to the rendering of the Sept. and Philo. In hieroglyphics a fly is Af, and a bee Sheb, or Kheb, Sh and Kh being interchangeable in different dialects; and in Coptic these two words are confounded in Aaf, Ar; Ab, Haf, meaning Musca, Apis, Scarabceus. We can therefore only judge from the description of the plague; and here Gesenius seems to have too hastily decided against the rendering "beetle," since the beetle sometimes attacks men. Yet modern experience does not bear out the idea that any kind of beetle is injurious to man in Egypt; but there is a kind of gadfly found in that country which sometimes stings men, though usually attacking beasts. The difficulty, however, in the way of the supposition that a stinging fly is meant is that all such flies are, like this one, plagues to beasts rather than men; and if we conjecture that a fly is intended, perhaps it is more reasonable to infer that it was the common fly, which in the present day is probably the most troublesome insect in Egypt. That this was a more severe plague than those preceding it appears from its effect on Pharaoh, rather than from the mention of the exemption of the Israelites, for it can scarcely be supposed that the earlier plagues affected them. As we do not know what creature is here intended, we cannot say if there were any reference in this case to the Egyptian religion. Those who suppose it to have been a beetle might draw attention to the great reverence in which that insect was held among the sacred animals, and the consequent distress that the Egyptians would have felt at destroying it, even if they did so unintentionally. As already noticed, no insect is now so troublesome in Egypt as the common fly, and this is not the case with any kind of beetle, which fact, from our general conclusions, will be seen to favor the evidence for the former. In the hot season the flies not only cover the food and drink, but they torment the people by settling on their faces, and especially round their eyes, thus promoting ophthalmia. (See Fly).

(5.) The "Plague" Of The Murcrin Of Beasts. Pharaoh was next warned that, if he did not let the people go, there should be on the day following "a very grievous murrain," upon the horses, asses, camels, oxen, and sheep of Egypt, whereas those of the children of Israel should not die. This came to pass, and we read that "all the cattle of Egypt died, but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one." Yet Pharaoh still continued obstinate ( Exodus 9:1-7). It is to be observed that the expression "all the cattle" cannot be under-stood to be universal, but only general, for the narrative of the plague of hail shows that there were still at a later time some cattle left, and that the want of universal terms in Hebrew explains this seeming difficulty. The mention of camels is important, since it appears to favor, our opinion that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was a foreigner, camels apparently not having been kept by the Egyptians of the time of the Pharaohs. This plague would have been a heavy punishment to the Egyptians as falling upon their sacred animals of two of the kinds specified, the oxen and the sheep; but it would have been most felt in the destruction of the greatest part of their useful beasts. In modern times murrain is not an infrequent visitation in Egypt, and is supposed to precede the plague. A very severe murrain occurred in that country in 1842, which lasted nine months, during the latter half of that year and the spring of the following one, and was succeeded by the plague, as had been anticipated (Mrs. Poole, Englishwoman in Egypt, 2, 32; 1, 59, 114). A very grievous murrain,' forcibly reminding us of that which visited this same country in the days of Moses, has prevailed during the last three months" the letter is dated Oct. 18, 1842, "and the already distressed peasants feel the calamity severely, or rather (I should say) the few who possess cattle. Among the rich men of the country the loss has been enormous. During our voyage up the Nile," in the July preceding, "we observed several dead cows and buffaloes lying in the river as I mentioned in a former letter; and some friends who followed us, two months after, saw many on the banks; indeed up to this time "great numbers of cattle are dying in every part of the country" (ibid. 1, 114,115). The similarity of the calamity in character is remarkably in contrast with its difference in duration: the miraculous murrain seems to have been as sudden and nearly as brief as the destruction of the first-born (though far less terrible), and to have therefore produced, on ceasing, less effect than other plagues upon Pharaoh, nothing remaining to be removed. (See Murrain).

(6.) The "Plague" Of Boils. The next judgment appears to have been preceded by no warning, except, indeed, that when Moses publicly sent it abroad in Egypt, Pharaoh might no doubt have repented at the last moment. We read that Moses and Aaron were to take ashes of the furnace, and Moses was to "sprinkle it toward the heavens in the sight of Pharaoh." It was to become "small dust" throughout Egypt, and "be a boil breaking forth [with] blains upon man and upon beast." This accordingly came to pass. The magicians now once more seem to have attempted opposition, for it is related that they "could not stand before Moses because of the boil; for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians." Notwithstanding, Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites go ( Exodus 9:8-12). This plague may be supposed to have been either an infliction of boils, or a pestilence like the plague of modern times, which is an extremely severe kind of typhus fever, accompanied by swellings. (See Plague). The former is, however, the more likely explanation, since, if the plague had been of the latter nature it probably would have been less' severe than the ordinary pestilence of Egypt has been in this 19th century, whereas with other plagues which can be illustrated from the present phenomena of Egypt: the reverse is the case. That this plague followed that of the murrain seems, however, an argument on the other side, and it may be asked whether it is not likely that the great pestilence of the country, probably known in antiquity, would have been one of the ten plagues; but to this it may be replied that it is more probable, and in accordance with the whole narrative, that extraordinary and unexpected wonders should be effected than what could be paralleled in the history of Egypt. The tenth plague, moreover, is so much like the great Egyptian disease in its suddenness, that it might rather be compared to it if it were not so wholly miraculous in every respect as to be beyond the reach of human inquiry. The position of the magicians must be noticed as indicative of the gradation of the plagues: at first they succeeded, as we suppose, by deception, in imitating what was wrought by Moses, then they failed, and acknowledged the finger of God in the wonders of the Hebrew prophet, and at last they could not even stand before him, being themselves smitten by the plague he was commissioned to send. The boil ( שְׁחַין , Shechin) was a scab or pustule, which might of might not break out into an ulcerous sore ( Leviticus 13:18 sq.). With this, in one of its worst forms, Job was afflicted ( Job 2:7), and by this Hezekiah was brought to the verge of the grave ( 2 Kings 20:7;  Isaiah 38:21): it was an eruption of a very painful kind, accompanied with a burning itch, and tending to produce a permanent state of foul and wasting disease. One species of it which seized upon the legs and knees, and was regarded as incurable, was peculiar to Egypt, and was hence called "the botch of Egypt" ( Deuteronomy 28:27;  Deuteronomy 28:35). In the case before us, this eruption had a tendency to break out into larger swellings ( אנעבעת , from unused בוע , To Boil Up, To Swell), and became probably the disease called elephantiasis, a disease said to be peculiar to Egypt, or the black leprosy, a disease which also affects cattle under the name of Melandria (Jahn, Arch Sol. I, 1, 381 sq.). It was something evidently more severe and deadly than the endemic Nile-fever, or eruption which visits Egypt periodically about the time of the overflowing of the Nile; and with which some writers would identify it. (See Boil).

(7.) The "Plague" Of Hail. The account of the seventh plague is preceded by a warning, which Moses was commanded to deliver to Pharaoh, respecting the terrible nature of the plagues that were to ensue if he remained obstinate. First of all of the hail it is said, "Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now." He was then told to collect his cattle and men into shelter, for everything hailed upon should die. Accordingly, such of Pharaoh's servants as "feared the Lord," brought in their servants and cattle from the field. We read that "Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground." Thus man and beast were smitten, and the herbs and every tree broken, save in the land of Goshen. Upon this Pharaoh acknowledged his wickedness and that of his people, and the righteousness of God, and promised if the plague were withdrawn to let the Israelites go. Then Moses went forth from the city, and spread out his hands, and the plague ceased, when Pharaoh, supported by his servants, again broke his promise ( Exodus 9:13-35). The character of this and the following plagues must be carefully examined, as the warning seems to indicate an important turning-point. The ruin caused by the hail was evidently far greater than that effected by any of the earlier plagues; it destroyed men which those others seem not to have done, and not only men, but beasts and the produce of the earth. In this case Moses, while addressing Pharaoh, openly warns his servants how to save something from the calamity. Pharaoh for the first time acknowledges his wickedness. We also learn that his people joined with him in the oppression, and that at this time he dwelt in a city. Hail is now extremely rare, but not unknown, in Egypt, and it is interesting that the narrative seems to imply that it sometimes falls there. Thunder- storms occur, but, though very loud and accompanied by rain and wind, they rarely do serious injury. Those long resident in Egypt do not remember to have heard while there of a person struck by lightning, nor of any ruin excepting that of decayed buildings washed down by rain. (See Hail).

(8.) The "Plague" Of Locusts. Pharaoh was now threatened with a plague of locusts, to begin the next day, by which everything the hail had left was to be devoured. This was to exceed any like visitations that had happened in the time of the king's ancestors. At last Pharaoh's own servants, who had before supported him, remonstrated, for we read, "And Pharaoh's servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" They suggested a compromise with Moses, proposing that the men should be allowed to go with him to offer sacrifice to Jehovah in the wilderness, while by retaining the females they made sure of the men's returning to their servitude. Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and offered to let the people go, but refused when they required that all should go, even with their flocks and herds. "And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all [that] night; [and] when it was morning the east wind brought the locusts. And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous [were they]; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh hastily sent for Moses and Aaron, and confessed his sin against God and the Israelites, and begged them to forgive him: "Now, therefore, forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and entreat the Lord your God that he may take away from me this death only." Moses accordingly prayed. "And the Lord turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red Sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt." The plague being removed, Pharaoh again would not let the people go ( Exodus 10:1-20). This plague has not the unusual nature of the one that preceded it, but it even exceeds it in severity, and so occupies its place in the gradation of the more terrible judgments that form the later part of the series. Its severity can be well understood by those who have been in Egypt in a part of the country where a flight of locusts has alighted. In this case the plague was greater than an ordinary visitation, since it extended over a far wider space, rather than because it was more intense; for it is impossible to imagine any more complete destruction than that always caused by a swarm of locusts. So well did the people of Egypt know what these creatures effected, that when their coming was threatened Pharaoh's servants at once remonstrated. In the present day locusts suddenly appear in the cultivated land, coming from the desert in a column of great length. They fly rapidly across the country, darkening the air with their compact ranks, which are undisturbed by the constant attacks of kites, crows, and vultures, and making a strange whizzing sound like that of fire, or many distant wheels. Where they alight they devour every green thing, even stripping the trees of their leaves. Rewards are offered for their destruction, but no labor can seriously reduce their numbers. Soon they continue their course, and disappear gradually in a short time, leaving the place where they have been a desert. The following careful description of the effects of a flight of locusts is from Mr. Lane's manuscript notes. He writes of Nubia:

"Locusts not infrequently commit dreadful havoc in this country. In my second voyage up the Nile, when before the village of Bust Á n, a little above Ibrim, many locusts pitched upon the boat. They were beautifully variegated, yellow and blue. In the following night a southerly wind brought other locusts in immense swarms. Next morning the air was darkened by them, as by a heavy fall of snow; and the surface of the ground was thickly scattered over by those which had fallen and were unable to rise again. Great numbers came upon and within the boat, and alighted upon our persons. They were different from those of the preceding day, being of a bright yellow color, with brown marks. The desolation they made was dreadful. In four hours a field of young durrah [millet] was cropped to the ground. In another field of durrah more advanced only the stalks were left. Nowhere was there space on the ground to set the foot without treading on many. A field of cotton-plants was quite stripped. Even the acacias along the batiks were made bare, and palm-trees were stripped of the fruit and leaves. Last night we heard the creaking of the sekiyehs [water-wheels], and the singing of women driving the cows which turned them: today not one sakiyeh was in motion, and the women were going about howling, and vainly attempting to frighten away the locusts. On the preceding day I had preserved two of the more beautiful Kind of these creatures with a solution of arsenic: on the next day some of the other locusts ate them almost entirely, poisoned as they were, unseen by me till they had nearly finished their meal. On the third day they were less numerous, and gradually disappeared. Locusts ate eaten by most of the Bedawin of Arabia, and by some of the Nubians. We ate a few, dressed in the most approved manner, being stripped of the legs, wings, and head, and fried in butter. They had a flavor somewhat like that of the woodcock, owing to their food. The Arabs preserve them as a common article of provision by parboiling them in salt and water, and then drying them in the sun."

The parallel passages in the prophecy of Joel form a remarkable commentary on the description of the plague in Exodus, and a few must be here quoted, for they describe with wonderful exactness and vigor the devastations of a swarm of locusts: "Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for [it is] nigh at hand; a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, [even] to the years of many generations. A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land [is] as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them. The appearance of them [is] as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run. Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array.... They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks.... The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining" (2:1-5, 7, 10; see also 6:8 & 9, 11- 25;  Revelation 9:1-12). Here, and probably also in the parallel passage of Revelation, locusts are taken as a type of a destroying army or horde, since they are more terrible in the devastation they cause than any other creatures. (See Locust).

(9.) The "Plague" Of Darkness. After the plague of locusts we read at once of a fresh judgment: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, that [one] may feel darkness. And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings." Pharaoh then gave the Israelites leave to go if only they left their cattle; but when Moses required that they should take these also he again refused ( Exodus 10:21-29). The expression we have rendered "that [one] may feel darkness," according to the A.V. in the margin, where in the text the freer translation "darkness [which] may be felt" is given, has occasioned much difficulty. The Sept. and Vulg. give this rendering, and the moderns generally follow them. It has been proposed to read "and they shall grope in darkness," by a slight change of rendering, and the supposition that the particle בְּ is understood (Kalisch, Comment. On Exodus p. 171). It is unreasonable to argue that the forcible words of the A. V. are too strong for Shemitic phraseology. The difficulty is, however, rather to be solved by a consideration of the nature of the plague. It has been illustrated by reference to the simuim and the hot wind of the khamsin. The former is a sandstorm which occurs in the desert, seldom lasting, according to Mr. Lane, more than a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes (Mod. Eg. 5th ed. p. 2); but for the time often causing the darkness of twilight, and affecting man and beast. Mrs. Poole, on Mr. Lane's authority, has described the sim Û m as follows:

"The simfir,' which is a very violent, hot, and almost suffocating wind, is of more rare occurrence than the khamsin winds, and of shorter duration; its continuance being more brief in proportion to the intensity of its parching heat and the impetuosity of its course. Its direction is generally from the southeast, or south southeast. It is commonly preceded by a fearful calm. As it approaches, the atmosphere assumes a yellowish hue, tinged with red; the sun appears of a deep blood color, and gradually becomes quite concealed before the hot blast is felt in its full violence. The sand and dust raised by the wind add to the gloom, and increase the painful effects of the heat and rarity of the air. Respiration becomes uneasy, perspiration seems to be entirely stopped; the tongue is dry, the skin parched, and a pricking sensation is experienced, as if caused by electric sparks. It is sometimes impossible for a person to remain erect, on account of the force of the wind; and the sand and dust oblige all who are exposed to it to keep their eyes closed. It is, however, most distressing when it overtakes travelers in the desert. My brother encountered at Kus, in Upper Egypt, a sim Û m, which was said to be one of the most violent ever witnessed. It lasted less than half an hour, and a very violent sim Û m seldom continues longer. My brother is of opinion that, although it is extremely distressing, it can never prove fatal, unless to persons already brought almost to the point of death by disease, fatigue, thirst, or some other cause. The poor camel seems to suffer from it equally with his master; and will often lie down with his back to the wind, close his eyes, stretch out his long neck upon the ground, and so remain until the storm has passed over" (Englishwoman in Egypt, 1, 96, 97).

The hot wind of the khamsin usually blows for three days and nights, and carries so much sand with it that it produces the appearance of a yellow fog. It thus resembles the sim Û m, though far less powerful and far less distressing in its effects. It is not known to cause actual darkness; at least residents in Egypt mention no example either on experience or hearsay evidence. By a confusion of the sim Û m and the khamsin wind it has even been supposed that a sim Û m in its utmost violence usually lasts three days (Kalisch, Comment. on Exodus p. 170), but this is an error. The plague may, however, have been an extremely severe sandstorm, miraculous in its violence and its duration, for the length of three days does not make it natural, since the severe storms are always very brief. Perhaps the three days was the limit, as about the longest period that the people could exist without leaving their houses. It has been supposed that this plague rather caused a supernatural terror than actual suffering and loss, but this is by no means certain. The impossibility of moving about, and the natural fear of darkness which affects beasts and birds as well as men, as in a total eclipse, would have caused suffering; and if the plague were a sandstorm of unequalled severity, it would have produced the conditions of fever by its parching heat, besides causing much distress of other kinds. An evidence in favor of the wholly supernatural character of this plague is its preceding the last judgment of all, the death of the first-born, as if it were a terrible foreshadowing of that great calamity. (See Simum).

(10.) The Death Of The First-Born. Before the tenth plague Moses went to warn Pharaoh: "And Moses said, Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that [is] behind the mill; and all the first-born of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more." He then foretold that Pharaoh's servants would pray him to go forth. Positive as is this declaration, it seems to have been a conditional warning, for we read, "And he went out from Pharaoh in heat of anger," and it is added that God said that Pharaoh would not hearken to Moses, and that the king of Egypt still refused to let Israel go ( Exodus 11:4;  Exodus 11:10). The Passover was then instituted, and the houses of the Israelites sprinkled with the blood of the victims. The first-born of the Egyptians were smitten at midnight, as Moses had forewarned Pharaoh. "And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for [there was] not a house where [there was] not one dead" ( Exodus 12:30). The clearly miraculous nature of this plague, in its severity, its falling upon man and beast, and the singling out of the first- born, puts it wholly beyond comparison with any natural pestilence, even the severest recorded in history, whether of the peculiar Egyptian plague, or other like epidemics. The Bible affords a parallel in the smiting of Sennacherib's army, and still more closely in some of the punishments of murmurers in the wilderness. The prevailing customs of Egypt furnish a curious illustration of the narrative of this plague. It is well known that many ancient Egyptian customs are yet observed. Among these one of the most prominent is the wailing for the dead by the women of the household, as well as those hired to mourn. It was thus in the great cholera of 1848 at Cairo. This pestilence, as we all know, frequently follows the course of rivers. Thus, on that occasion, it ascended the Nile, and showed itself in great strength at Bulak, the port of Cairo, distant from the city about a mile and a half to the westward. For some days it did not traverse this space. Every evening at sunset it is the custom to go up to the terrace on the roof of the house. There, in that calm, still time, might be heard each night the wail of the women of Bulak for their dead borne along in a great wave of sound a distance of two miles, the lamentation of a city stricken with pestilence. So, when the first-born were smitten, "there was a great cry in Egypt." (See First-Born).

The history of the ten plagues strictly ends with the death of the first-born. The pursuit and the passage of the Red Sea are discussed elsewhere. (See Passage Of Red Sea). Here it is only necessary to notice that with the event last mentioned the recital of the wonders wrought in Egypt concludes, and the history of Israel as a separate people begins. (See Exode).

II. General Considerations. Having examined the narrative of the ten plagues in detail, we can now speak of their character and relations as a whole.

1. Miraculous Nature Of The Inflictions. In the above account we have constantly kept in view the arguments of those who hold that the plagues were not miraculous, and, while fully admitting all the illustration that the physical history of Egypt has afforded us, both in our own observation and the observation of others, we have found no reason for the naturalistic view in a single instance, while in many instances the illustrations from known phenomena have been so different as to bring out the miraculous element in the narrative with the greatest force, and in every case that element has been necessary, unless the narrative be deprived of its rights as historical evidence. Yet more, we have found that the advocates of a naturalistic explanation have been forced by their bias into a distortion and exaggeration of natural phenomena in their endeavor to find in them an explanation of the wonders recorded in the Bible. As miraculous the historian obviously intends us to regard them, and they are elsewhere spoken of as the "wonders" ( מופתים ) which God wrought in the land of Ham ( Psalms 105:27), as his miracles ( נפלאותים ) in Egypt ( Psalms 106:7), as his signs and prodigies ( אתות ומפתים ) which he sent into the midst of Egypt ( Psalms 135:9), etc. It is only under this aspect that we can accept the narrative as historical. It is true that many of them appear to have been of the same kind with phenomena natural to the country; but this cannot be said of all of them; and in the case of those of which it can be said, the presence of the supernatural is seen not only in the unparalleled degree to which the infliction reached, but still more in the complete command which was exercised by Moses as the agent of Jehovah over the coming and going of the visitation. The exemption of the Israelites from the general calamity is also clearly assigned to the miraculous. The only alternative, therefore, allowed to us is to reject the whole narrative as mythic, or to accept it as miraculous. The attempts made by Eichhorn and the older rationalists to give natural explanations of these plagues, only exhibit the deplorable expedients to which an unsound hypothesis may compel able men to resort. They were evidently nearly all miraculous in time of occurrence and degree rather than essentially, in accordance with the theory that God generally employs natural means in producing miraculous effects. They seem to have been sent as a series of warnings, each being somewhat more severe than its predecessor, to which we see an analogy in the warnings which the providential government of the world often puts before the sinner. The first plague corrupted the sweet water of the Nile and slew the fish. The second filled the land with frogs, which corrupted the whole country. The third covered man and beast with vermin or other annoying insects. The fourth was of the same kind, and probably a yet severer judgment. With the fifth plague, the murrain of beasts, a loss of property began. The sixth, the plague of boils, was worse than the earlier plagues that had affected man and beast. The seventh plague that of hail exceeded those that went before it, since it destroyed everything in the field, man and beast and herb. The eighth plague was evidently still more grievous, since the devastation by locusts must have been far more thorough than that by the hail, and since at that time no greater calamity of the kind could have happened than the destruction of all remaining vegetable food. The ninth plague we do not sufficiently understand to be sure that it exceeded this in actual injury, but it is clear from the narrative that it must have caused great terror. The last plague is the only one that was general in the destruction of human life, for the effects of the hail cannot have been comparable to those it produced, and it completes the climax, unless indeed it be held that the passage of the Red Sea was the crowning point of the whole series of wonders, rather than a separate miracle. In this case its magnitude, as publicly destroying the king and his whole army, might even surpass that of the tenth plague.

2. Their Historical Character. These events, though supernatural, all find a foundation in the natural phenomena of Egypt, and stand in close connection with ordinary occurrences. Hence the rationalist Bohlen says that "Moses, in order to avoid the suspicion of self-deception, was at least obliged to express himself in the mildest manner possible among his contemporaries, who were so well acquainted with Egypt, if he wished to make the commonly observed natural phenomena avail as miracles." To this remark Hengstenberg replies (Egypt and the Books of Moses, in English, Edinb. 1851):

"But it is perfectly clear that these occurrences, as they are related, In withstanding their foundation in nature, always maintained their character as miracles, and consequently are sufficient to prove what they are intended to prove, and to accomplish what they did accomplish. Indeed, the unusual force in which the common exhibitions of nature here manifest themselves, and especially their rapid succession, while at other times only am single one exhibits itself with unusual intensity-if we at the same time consider these events in connection with the changing cause of them, and also take into account the exemption of the land of Goshen bring us to the limits of the miraculous; for the transition to the miraculous is reached through the extraordinary in its highest gradation. But we are brought into the sphere of the miraculous itself, by the circumstance that these things are introduced and performed by Moses, that they cease at his request, and a part of them at a time fixed upon by Pharaoh himself ( Exodus 8:5 sq.). Hence the connection with natural phenomena can be made to avail against the Pentateuch only when, going beyond the present narrative, we limit what in it can be explained by the natural occurrences of Egypt, and establish the presumption that the remainder belongs to fiction. But this assumption wants all foundation. The supernatural presents generally, in the Scriptures, no violent opposition to the - natural, but rather unites in a friendly alliance with it. This follows from the most intimate relation in which natural events also stand to God. The endeavor to isolate the miraculous can aid only impiety. But there was here a particular reason also for uniting the supernatural as closely as possible with the natural. The object to which all of these occurrences were directed, according to  Exodus 8:20, was to show that Jehovah is Lord in the midst of the land. Well-rounded proof of this could not have been produced by bringing suddenly upon Egypt a succession of strange terrors. From these it would only have followed that Jehovah had received a momentary and external power over Egypt. On the contrary, if their annual return were placed under the immediate control of Jehovah, it would be appropriately shown that he was God in the midst of the land, and the doom of the false gods which had been placed in his stead would go forth, and they would be entirely driven out of the jurisdiction which was contested as belonging to them."

Some objectors have affected to throw discredit upon the Mosaic narrative by remarking that no traces of any allusion to these plagues of the Egyptians are discoverable upon the monuments of that country. To this the reply is easy. The monuments in question were reared under the superintendence of the heathen priesthood, and miracles such as these were too humbling to their pride, and too destructive of their influence with the people, to render it likely that they would allow them to be recorded in any manner. Victories triumphs, religious processions, and whatever was calculated to exalt the gods and kings in the minds of the people, were the only subjects permitted to be sculptured on the walls of the temples; and the usages of domestic life furnish the subjects of the paintings of the tombs. In the examination we have made it will have been seen that the Biblical narrative has been illustrated by reference to the phenomena of Egypt and the manners of the inhabitants, and that, throughout, its accuracy in minute particulars has been remarkably shown, to a degree that is sufficient of itself to prove its historical truth. This in a narrative of wonders is of no small importance. (See Moses).

3. The Egyptian Counterfeits. Of the deeds performed by Moses some were imitated by the magicians of the Pharaoh. To account for this, various hypotheses have been resorted to.

1. It has been supposed that they were enabled to do this by diabolic aid. But this assumes the position that men can enter into agreement or compact with evil spirits so as to receive their aid-a position which has never been proved, and consequently cannot be legitimately assumed to explain an actual phenomenon. This hypothesis assumes also that evil spirits can work miracles, a position no less gratuitous and improbable.

2. It has been maintained that the magicians were aided by God to do what they did; that they were instruments in his hand, as was the witch who raised Samuel, and were therefore as much surprised at their own success as she was; and that God thus employed them probably to show in the most decisive manner that the agency at work was his, and that it was just as he gave the power or withheld it that the miracle was performed. For this hypothesis there is much to be, said. At the same time it is open to objection, for

(1) While Moses distinctly asserts that it was by divine power that he and Aaron wrought, he never hints, even in the most distant way, that it was by this that the magicians succeeded in their attempts; and

(2) It is expressly said, on the contrary, that what they did they did by means of their "enchantments." The word here used ( להט ) means a secret art-hence magical arts, enchantments; and may be properly used to designate the covert, tricks or juggling artifices by which practicers of legerdemain impose upon others. This leads to the 3rd hypothesis, which is that the achievements of the magicians were merely clever tricks by which they imposed upon the people, and tended to confirm the Pharaoh in his obduracy. This hypothesis has in its favor the fact that the magicians of Egypt, and of the East generally, have always, down: to our own day, possessed an unparalleled and almost incredible dexterity in artificial magic (see Lane, Modern Egyptians, p. 352 sq.). It is to be borne in mind, also, that in the cases before us these magicians were allowed time: to prepare themselves, and to go through those introductory processes by means of which jugglers mainly succeed in cheating the beholders; and, moreover, it is important to keep in view that they performed before witnesses who were interested in believing in their success. Above all, in the three feats in which they succeeded, there was really nothing but what the jugglers of the present day could easily do. The jugglers- of India will, for a few pence, do tricks with serpents far more wonderful than making them rigid so as to resemble staves; and any juggler could make water in a basin or a tank resemble blood, or, when the country was already swarming with frogs, could cover some place that had been cleared for the purpose with these reptiles, as if he had suddenly produced them. The performances of these magicians are really below par as compared with those which may be witnessed in the room of any travelling conjurer among ourselves. Let it be noted, also, that they failed as soon as they were required to perform the miracle on the instant, as in the case of the plague of lice, for their attempts to imitate which no time was allowed; and, as a consequence of this it is emphatically said, "they could not." When to all this it is added that they were impotent not only to remove the infliction, but even to exempt themselves from it, there seems abundant reason for concluding that these magicians attained to nothing beyond the performance of a few successful tricks (Scot, Congregational Lecture, p. 210-226; Wardlaw, On Miracles, p. 231 sq.). (See Jannes And Jambres).

4. The Design Of These Inflictions. This-is a most important inquiry. That their ultimate object was the effecting of the liberation of the Israelites from their cruel bondage lies on the surface of the narrative; but with this there may have been, and probably were, other ends contemplated. We may suppose.

1. That God designed to produce an effect on the mind of Moses himself, tending to educate and discipline him for the great work on which he was about to enter the conduct and rule of the people during their passage through the wilderness. For such a task great fortitude and implicit confidence in the power and majesty of Jehovah were required; and as Moses, timid at first, and ready to retire on the first rebuff, gradually acquired courage and determination as the manifestations of God's power in the chastisements inflicted on the Pharaoh and his land proceeded, it is very probable that the series of inflictions of which he was the instrument were designed to confirm him in faith, obedience, and confidence, and so fit him for his great work.

2. We may suppose that a salutary effect was intended to be produced on the minds of the Israelites, the mass of whom had, under their long protracted debasement, sunk low in religious and intellectual life. The marvelous manner in which God interposed for their deliverance, and the mighty power by which he brought them forth, could not but arouse them to thought, and elevate and quicken their religious emotions.

3. It appears that a salutary religious effect was, produced on many of the Egyptians themselves, as is evidenced by the multitudes who united themselves to the Israelites when they made their escape; and also on the surrounding nations, as is attested by Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses ( Exodus 18:10-11). We may presume, therefore, that this also was part of the design of these inflictions, especially as we

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [7]

plāgz ( נפלאת , niphle'ōth , "wonders "from פּלא , pālā' , "to be separate," i.e. in a class by themselves; also called נגף , negheph , "plague," from נגף , nāghaph , "to smite" (  Exodus 9:14 ), and נגע , negha‛ , "a stroke," from נגע , nāgha‛ , "to touch" ( Exodus 11:1; compare  Joshua 24:10 )):


I. Natural Phenomena

1. Water Turned to Blood

2. The Plague of Frogs

3. The Plague of Lice

4. The Plague of Flies

5. The Plague of Murrain

6. The Plague of Boils

7. The Plague of Hail

8. The Plague of Locusts

9. The Plague of Darkness

10. Death of the Firstborn

II. Miraculous Use Of The Phenomena

1. Intensification

2. Prediction

3. Discrimination

4. Orderliness and Increasing Severity

5. Arrangement to Accomplish Divine Moral Purpose

III. Divine Moral Purpose

1. Discrediting of the gods of Egypt

2. Pharaoh Made to Know that Yahweh Is Lord

3. Revelation of God as Saviour

4. Exhibition of the Divine Use of Evil



The Hebrew words are so used as to give the name "plagues" to all the "wonders" God did against Pharaoh. Thus, it appears that the language in the account in Exodus puts forward the wondrous character of these dealings of Yahweh with Pharaoh. The account of the plagues is found in  Exodus 7:8 through 12:31;   Psalm 78:42-51;  Psalm 105:27-36 . These poetical accounts of the plagues have a devotional purpose and do not give a full historical narrative. Ps 78 omits plagues 4, 6, 9; Ps 105 omits plagues 5 and 6. Both psalms change the order of the plagues. Account of the preparation which led up to the plagues is found in the narrative of the burning bush (see Burning Bush ), the meeting of Aaron with Moses, the gathering together of the elders of Israel for instruction and the preliminary wonders before Pharaoh (Ex 3; 4). This preparation contemplated two things important to be kept in view in considering the plague, namely, that the consummation of plagues was contemplated from the beginning ( Exodus 4:22 ,  Exodus 4:23 ), and that the skepticism of Israel concerning Moses authority and power was likewise anticipated ( Exodus 4:1 ). It was thus manifestly not an age of miracles when the Israelites were expecting such "wonders" and ready to receive anything marvelous as a divine interposition. This skepticism of Israel is a valuable asset for the credibility of the account of the "wonders." The immediate occasion of the plagues was the refusal of Pharaoh to let the people have liberty for sacrifice, together with the consequent hardening of Pharaoh's heart. No indication of any localizing of the plagues is given except in  Psalm 78:12 ,  Psalm 78:43 , where the "field of Zoan" is mentioned as the scene of the contest between Yahweh and the Egyptians. But this is poetry, and the "field of Zoan" means simply the territory of the great capital Zoan. This expression might be localized in the Delta or it might extend to the whole of Egypt. Discussion of the plagues has brought out various classifications of them, some of which are philosophical, as that of Philo, others fanciful, as that of Origen. Arrangements of the order of the plagues for the purpose of moralizing are entirely useless for historical consideration of the plagues. The only order of any real value is the order of Nature, i.e. the order in which the plagues occurred, which will be found to be the order of the natural phenomena which were the embodiment of the plagues.

Much elaborate effort has been made to derive from the description of the plagues evidence for different documents in the narrative. It is pointed out that Moses (E) declared to Pharaoh that he would smite the waters ( Exodus 7:17 ), and then the account, as it proceeds, tells us that Aaron smote the waters ( Exodus 7:19 ,  Exodus 7:20 ). But this is quite in accord with the preceding statement ( Exodus 4:16 ) that Aaron was to be the spokesman. Moses was to deal with God, Aaron with Pharaoh. Again it is noticed that some of the plagues are ascribed to the immediate agency of Yahweh, some are represented as coming through the mediation of Moses, and still others through the mediation of Moses and Aaron. Certainly this may be an exact statement of facts, and, if the facts were just so, the record of the facts affords no evidence of different documents.

An examination of the account of the plagues as it stands will bring them before us in a most graphic and connected story.

I. The Natural Phenomena.

All the "wonders" represented anywhere in Scripture as done by the power of God are intimately associated with natural phenomena, and necessarily so. Human beings have no other way of perceiving external events than through those senses which only deal with natural phenomena. Accordingly, all theophanies and miraculous doings are embodied in natural events.

The presence of Yahweh with the sacrifice by Abraham was manifested by the passing of a "smoking furnace and a burning lamp" between the pieces of the offerings ( Genesis 15:17 the King James Version). The majesty and power of God at Sinai were manifested in the "cloud" and the "brightness," the "voice" and the "sound of a trumpet" (  Hebrews 12:19 ). The Holy Spirit descended "as a dove" ( Matthew 3:16 ). The Deity of Jesus was attested on the mountain by a "voice" ( Matthew 17:5 ). Jesus Himself was "God ... manifest in the flesh" ( 1 Timothy 3:16 the King James Version). He was "found in fashion as a man' (  Philippians 2:8 ). And all the miracles of Jesus were coupled with sensible phenomena: He spoke to the sea and it was calm; He touched the leper and he was clean; He called to Lazarus and he came forth.

Yet in all these natural events, the miraculous working of God was as clearly seen as the natural phenomena. It is thus to be expected that the "wonders" of God in the land of Pharaoh should also be associated with natural events as well as manifest miraculous elements. The "blood" in the river, the "frogs" hopping about on the land, the "lice," the "flies," the "murrain," the "boils," the "hail," the "locusts," the "darkness," and the "pestilence" are all named as natural phenomena. Long familiarity with the land of Egypt has made it perfectly plain to many intelligent people, also, that nearly, if not quite, all the plagues of Egypt are still in that land as natural phenomena, and occur, when they do occur, very exactly in the order in which we find them recorded in the narrative in Exodus. But natural events in the plagues as in other "wonders" of God embodied miraculous doings.

1. Water Turned to Blood:

The first of the plagues ( דּם , dām , from אדם , 'ādham , "to be red" (  Exodus 7:19-25 )) was brought about by the smiting of the water with the rod in the hand of Aaron, and it consisted in the defilement of the water so that it became as "blood." The waters were polluted and the fish died. Even the water in vessels which had been taken from the river became corrupt. The people were forced to get water only from wells in which the river water was filtered through the sand. There are two Egyptian seasons when, at times, the water resembles blood. At the full Nile the water is sometimes of a reddish color, but at that season the water is quite potable and the fish do not die. But a similar phenomenon is witnessed sometimes at the time of the lowest Nile just before the rise begins. Then also the water sometimes becomes defiled and very red, so polluted that the fish die ( Bib . Sacra , 1905, 409). This latter time is evidently the time of the first plague. It would be some time in the month of May. The dreadful severity of the plague constituted the "wonder" in this first plague. The startling character of the plague is apparent when it is remembered that Egypt is the product of the Nile, the very soil being all brought down by it, and its irrigation being constantly dependent upon it. Because of this it became one of the earliest and greatest of the gods (Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Egypt , 3-47; "Hymn to the Nile," Records of the Past , New Series, III, 46-54). The magicians imitated this plague with their enchantments. Their success may have been by means of sleight of hand or other devices of magic, as may be seen in the East today, with claim of supernatural aid, and as used in western lands for entertainment, as mere cleverness. Or it may be, as has been suggested, that they counted upon the continuance of the plague for at least a time, and so took advantage of the materials the "wonder" had provided.

2. The Plague of Frogs:

Frogs ( צפרדּעים , cepharde‛ı̄m , probably "marsh-leapers" (  Exodus 8:1-15 )) are very abundant just after the high Nile when the waters begin to recede. Spawn in the mud is hatched by the sun, and the marshes are filled with myriads of these creatures. The frog was the hieroglyph for myriads. The frogs usually remain in the marshes, but in this case they came forth to the horror and disgust of the people. "Frogs in the houses, frogs in the beds, frogs baked with the food in the ovens, frogs in the kneading troughs worked up with the flour; frogs with their monotonous croak, frogs with their cold slimy skins, everywhere - from morning to night, from night to morning - frogs." The frog was also associated with Divinity, was the symbol of Heqt, a form of Hathor, and seems also at times to have been worshipped as divinity. This plague created such horror that thus early Pharaoh came to an agreement ( Exodus 8:8-10 ). A time was set for the disappearance of the frogs that he might know that "there is none like unto Yahweh our God," but when the frogs were dead, Pharaoh hardened his heart ( Exodus 8:15 ). In this plague "the magicians did in like manner with their enchantments" ( Exodus 8:7 ). Frogs were plentiful, and it would not seem to be difficult to claim to have produced some of them.

3. The Plague of Lice:

It is impossible to determine what particular troublesome insect pest of Egypt is meant by the 3plague, whether body-lice or mosquitoes or sandflies or ticks or fleas ( כּנּם , kinnı̄m , "gnats" (  Exodus 8:16 )). Those who have experience of these pests in Egypt are quite ready to accept any of them as adequate for the plague. Lice seem rather to be ruled out, unless different kinds of lice were sent, as there is no one kind that torments both man and beast. All the other insect pests appear in incredible numbers out of the "dust" when the pools have dried up after the receding of the waters. The assertion that the account of this plague is not complete, because it is not recorded that Pharaoh asked its removal or that Moses secured it, is amazing. Perhaps Pharaoh did not, in fact, ask its removal. There seems also at this time some difficulty in Moses having access to Pharaoh after this plague ( Exodus 8:20 ). Perhaps the plague was not removed at all. The Egyptians are disposed to think it was not! Certainly that season of the year spent in Egypt, not in a dahabiyeh on the Nile, but in a native village, will furnish very satisfying evidence that stinging and biting insects are a very real plague in Egypt yet. The magicians failed with their enchantments and acknowledged that divine power was at work, and seem to have acknowledged that Yahweh was supreme ( Exodus 8:19 ), but Pharaoh would not heed them.

4. The Plague of Flies:

As the seasons pass on, after the recession of the waters, the flies ( ערב , ‛ārōbh , "swarms," probably of flies (  Exodus 8:20-32 )) become more and more numerous until they are almost a plague every year. The increased severity of this plague, and the providential interference to separate between Israel and the Egyptians, drove Pharaoh and his people to such desperation that Pharaoh gave a half-promise of liberty for Israel to sacrifice "in the land." This called out the statement that they would sacrifice the "abomination of the Egyptians." This may have referred to the sacrifice of sheep, which were always held in more or less detestation by Egyptians, or it may have had reference to the sacrifice of heifers, the cow being the animal sacred to the goddess Hathor. The new element of separation between the Israelites and the Egyptians introduced into this plague was another step toward establishing the claims of Yahweh to be the God of all the earth and to have taken Israel under His especial care.

5. The Plague of Murrain:

In addition to the separation established between Israel and the Egyptians, a definite time is now set for the coming of the 5th plague. It is to be noticed also that diseases of cattle ( דּבר , debher , "destruction" (  Exodus 9:1-7 )) and of men follow quickly after the plague of insects. This is in exact accord with the order of Nature as now thoroughly understood through the discovered relation of mosquitoes and flies to the spread of diseases. Rinderpest is still prevalent at times in Egypt, so that beef becomes very scarce in market and is sometimes almost impossible to obtain. It is a fact, also, that the prevalence eft cattle plague, the presence of boils among men (see 6, below) and the appearance of bubonic plague are found to be closely associated together and in this order. The mention of camels as affected by this plague is interesting. It is doubtful if any clear indication of the presence of the camel in Egypt so early as this has yet been found among the monuments of Egypt. There is in the Louvre museum one small antiquity which seems to me to be intended for the camel. But Professor Maspero does not agree that it is so. It would seem likely that the Hyksos, who were Bedouin princes, princes of the desert, would have introduced the beasts of the desert into Egypt. If they did so, that may have been sufficient reason that the Egyptians would not picture it, as the Hyksos and all that was theirs were hated in Egypt.

6. The Plague of Boils:

In the plague of boils ( שׁחין , sheḥı̄n , and אבעבּעת , 'ăbha‛bu‛ōth , "boils" (  Exodus 9:8-17 )) ashes were used, probably in the same way and to the same end as the clay was used in opening the eyes of the blind man ( John 9:6 ), i.e. to attract attention and to fasten the mind of the observer upon what the Lord was doing. This plague in the order of its coming, immediately after the murrain, and in the description given of it and in the significant warning of the "pestilence" yet to come ( Exodus 9:15 ), appears most likely to have been pestis minor , the milder form of bubonic plague. Virulent rinder-pest among cattle in the East is regarded as the precursor of plague among men and is believed to be of the same nature. It may well be, as has been thought by some, that the great aversion of the ancient Egyptians to the contamination of the soil by decaying animals was from the danger thereby of starting an epidemic of plague among men (Dr. Merrins, Biblical Sacra , 1908, 422-23).

7. The Plague of Hail:

Hail ( בּרד , bārādh , "hail" (  Exodus 9:18-35 )) is rare in Egypt, but is not unknown. The writer has himself seen a very little, and has known of one instance when a considerable quantity of hail as large as small marbles fell. Lightning, also, is not as frequent in Egypt as in many semi-tropical countries, yet great electric storms sometimes occur. This plague is quite accurately dated in the seasons of the year ( Exodus 9:31 ,  Exodus 9:32 ). As the first plague was just before the rising of the Nile, so this one is evidently about 9 months later, when the new crops after the inundation were beginning to mature, January-February. This plague also marks another great step forward in the revelation of Yahweh to Israel and to the Egyptians. First only His power was shown, then His wisdom in the timing of the plagues, and now His mercy appears in the warning to all godly-disposed Egyptians to save themselves, their herds and their servants by keeping all indoors ( Exodus 9:19-21 ). Pharaoh also now distinctly acknowledged Yahweh ( Exodus 9:27 ).

8. The Plague of Locusts:

The plague of locusts ( ארבּה , 'arbeh , "locust" (  Exodus 10:1-20 )) was threatened, and so frightened were the servants of Pharaoh that they persuaded him to try to make some agreement with Moses, but the attempt of Pharaoh still to limit in some way the going of Israel thwarted the plan ( Exodus 10:7-10 ). Then devouring swarms of locusts came up over the land from the eastern desert between the Nile and the Red Sea. They devoured every green thing left by the hail. The desperate situation created by the locusts soon brought Pharaoh again to acknowledgment of Yahweh ( Exodus 10:16 ). This was the greatest profession of repentance yet manifested by Pharaoh, but he soon showed that it was deceitful, and again he would not let the people go. When the wind had swept the locusts away, he hardened his heart once more.

9. The Plague of Darkness:

The progress of the seasons has been quite marked from the first plague, just before the rising of the waters, on through the year until now the khamsin period ( חשׁך , ḥōshekh , "darkness" from any cause (  Exodus 10:21-29 )) has come. When this dreadful scourge comes with its hot sand-laden breath, more impenetrable than a London fog, it is in very truth a "darkness which may be felt." The dreadful horror of this monster from the desert can hardly be exaggerated. Once again Pharaoh said "Go," but this time he wished to retain the flocks and herds, a hostage for the return of the people ( Exodus 10:24 ). Upon Moses' refusal to accept this condition, he threatened his life. Why had he not done so ere this? Why, indeed, did he let this man Moses come and go with such freedom, defying him and his people in the very palace? Probably Moses' former career in Egypt explains this. If, as is most probable, he had grown up at court with this Merenptah, and had been known as "the son of Pharaoh's daughter," heir to the throne and successor to Rameses II, instead of Merenptah, then this refugee had undoubtedly many friends still in Egypt who would make his death a danger to the reigning Pharaoh.

10. Death of the Firstborn:

No intimation is given of the exact character of the death inflicted on the firstborn ( בּכור , bekhōr , "firstborn," "chief" or "best"; compare   Job 18:13;  Isaiah 14:30 (Ex 11 through 12:36)) by the angel of the Lord, or its appearance. But it is already foretold as the "pestilence" (  Exodus 9:15 ). The pestis major or virulent bubonic plague corresponds most nearly in its natural phenomena to this plague. It culminates in a sudden and overwhelming virulence, takes the strongest and best, and then subsides with startling suddenness.

Thus, it appears that probably all the plagues were based upon natural phenomena which still exist in Egypt in the same order, and, when they do occur, find place somewhere during the course of one year.

II. Miraculous Use of the Phenomena.

The miraculous elements in the plagues are no less distinctly manifest than the natural phenomena themselves.

1. Intensification:

There was an intensification of the effect of the various plagues so much beyond all precedent as to impress everyone as being a special divine manifestation, and it was so. There was national horror of the blood-like water, disgust at the frogs, intolerable torture by the stinging insects and flies, utter ruin of the farmers in the loss of the cattle, the beating down of the crops by the hail, and the devouring of every green thing by the locusts, the sufferings and dread of the inhabitants by reason of the boils, the frightful electric storm, the suffocating darkness and, finally, the crushing disaster of the death of the firstborn. All these calamities may be found in Egypt to the present day, but never any of them, not to say all of them, in such overwhelming severity. That all of them should come in one year and all with such devastation was plainly a divine arrangement. Merely natural events do not arrange themselves so systematically. In this systematic severity were seen miracles of power .

2. Prediction:

The prediction of the plagues and the fulfillment of the prediction at the exact time to a day, sometimes to an hour (as the cessation of the thunder and lightning): There was first a general prediction ( Exodus 3:19 ,  Exodus 3:20;  Exodus 7:3;  Exodus 9:14 ,  Exodus 9:15 ) and an indication as the plagues went on that the climax would be pestilence ( Exodus 9:15 ). Then several of the plagues were specifically announced and a time was set for them; e.g. the flies ( Exodus 8:23 ), the murrain ( Exodus 9:5 ), the hail ( Exodus 9:18 ), the locusts ( Exodus 10:4 ), the death of the firstborn ( Exodus 11:4 ). In some cases a time for the removal of the plague was also specified: e.g. the frogs ( Exodus 8:10 ), the thunder and lightning ( Exodus 9:29 ). In every instance these predictions were exactly fulfilled. In some instances careful foresight might seem to supply in part this ability to predict. Perhaps it was by means of such foresight that the magicians "did so with their enchantments" for the first two plagues. The plague being in existence, foresight might safely predict that it would continue for a little time at least, so that, if the magicians sought for bloody water or called for frogs, they would seem to be successful. But the evidence which Yahweh produced went beyond them, and, at the third plague, they were unable to do anything. These things postulate, on the part of Moses and Aaron, knowledge far beyond human ken. Not only magicians could not do so with their enchantments, but modern science and discoveries are no more able so to predict events. Even meteorological phenomena are only predicted within the limits of reasonable foresight. Such wonders as the plagues of Egypt can in no wise be explained as merely natural. The prediction was a miracle of knowledge .

3. Discrimination:

The discrimination shown in the visitation by the plagues presents another miraculous element more significant and important than either the miracles of power or the miracles of knowledge. God put a difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites, beginning with the plague of flies and continuing, apparently, without exception, until the end. Such miracles of moral purpose admit of no possible explanation but the exercise of a holy will. Merely natural events make no such regular, systematic discriminations.

4. Orderliness and Increasing Severity:

The orderliness and gradually increasing severity of the plagues with such arrangement as brought "judgment upon the gods of Egypt," vindicating Yahweh as Ruler over all, and educating the people to know Yahweh as Lord of all the earth, present an aspect of events distinctly non-natural. Such method reveals also a divine mind at work.

5. Arrangement to Accomplish Divine Moral Purpose:

Last of all and most important of all, the plagues were so arranged as to accomplish in particular a great divine moral purpose in the revelation of God to the Israelites, to the Egyptians and to all the world. This is the distinctive mark of every real miracle. And this leads us directly to the consideration of the most important aspect of the plagues.

III. Divine Moral Purpose.

1. Discrediting of the Gods of Egypt:

This discrediting of the gods of Egypt is marked at every step of the progress of the plagues, and the accumulated effect of the repeated discrediting of the gods must have had, and, indeed, had, a great influence upon the Egyptians. The plagues did 'execute judgment against the gods of Egypt' ( Exodus 12:12 ), and the people and princes brought great pressure to bear upon Pharaoh to let the people go ( Exodus 10:7 ). The magicians who claimed to represent the gods of Egypt were defeated, Pharaoh himself, who was accounted divine, was humbled, the great god, the Nile, was polluted, frogs defiled the temples and, at last, the sun, the greatest god of Egypt, was blotted out in darkness.

2. Pharaoh Made to Know That Yahweh Is Lord:

Pharaoh was made to know that Yahweh is Lord, and acknowledged it ( Exodus 9:27;  Exodus 10:16 ). To this end the issue was clearly drawn. Pharaoh challenged the right of Yahweh to command him ( Exodus 5:2 ), and God required him then to "stand" to the trial until the evidence could be fully presented, in accordance with the fundamental principle that he who makes a charge is bound to stand to it until either he acknowledges its utter falsity or affords opportunity for full presentation of evidence. So we see God made Pharaoh to "stand" ( Exodus 9:16 ) (while the Bible, which speaks in the concrete language of life, calls it the hardening of Pharaoh's heart) until the case was tried out (compare Lamb, Miracle of Science , 126-49).

3. Revelation of God as Saviour:

A more blessed and gracious moral purpose of the plagues was the revelation of God as the Saviour of the world. This began in the revelation at the burning bush, where God, in fire, appeared in the bush, yet the bush was not consumed, but saved. This revelation, thus given to the people, was further evidenced by the separation between Israel and the Egyptians; was made known even to the Egyptians by the warning before the plague of hail, that those Egyptians who had been impressed with the power of God might also learn that He is a God that will save those who give heed unto Him; and, at last, reached its startling climax when the angel of the Lord passed over the blood-marked door the night of the death of the firstborn and the institution of the Passover.

4. Exhibition of the Divine Use of Evil:

Last of all, the plagues had a great moral purpose in that they embodied the divine use of evil in the experience of men in this world. As the experience of Job illustrates the use of evil in the life of the righteous, so the plagues of Egypt illustrate the same great problem of evil in the lot of the wicked. In the one case, as in the other, the wonders of God are so arranged as "to justify the ways of God to men."

The minutely accurate knowledge of life in Egypt displayed by this narrative in the Book of Exodus is inconceivable in an age of so little and difficult intercommunication between nations, except by actual residence of the author in Egypt. This has an important bearing upon the time of the composition of this narrative, and so upon the question of its author.


The literature of this subject is almost endless. It will suffice to refer the reader to all the general comms., and the special commentaries on Ex, for discussion of doctrinal and critical questions. Two admirable recent discussions of the plagues, in English, are Lamb, Miracle of Science , and Merrins, "The Plagues of Egypt," in Bibliotheca Sacra , 1908, July and October.