Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The eighth plague; the Locusts. - Exo 10:1-6. As Pharaoh's pride still refused to bend to the will of God, Moses was directed to announce another, and in some respects a more fearful, plague. At the same time God strengthened Moses' faith, by telling him that the hardening of Pharaoh and his servants was decreed by Him, that these signs might be done among them, and that Israel might perceive by this to all generations that He was Jehovah (cf. Exo 7:3-5). We may learn from Ps 78 and 105 in what manner the Israelites narrated these signs to their children and children's children. אתת שׁית, to set or prepare signs (Exo 10:1), is interchanged with שׂוּם (Exo 10:2) in the same sense (vid., Exo 8:12). The suffix in בּקרבּו (Exo 10:1) refers to Egypt as a country; and that in בּם (Exo 10:2) to the Egyptians. In the expression, "thou mayest tell," Moses is addressed as the representative of the nation. התעלּל: to have to do with a person, generally in a bad sense, to do him harm (Sa1 31:4). "How I have put forth My might" (De Wette).
As Pharaoh had acknowledged, when the previous plague was sent, that Jehovah was righteous (Exo 9:27), his crime was placed still more strongly before him: "How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before Me?" (לענת for להענת, as in Exo 34:24).
To punish this obstinate refusal, Jehovah would bring locusts in such dreadful swarms as Egypt had never known before, which would eat up all the plants left by the hail, and even fill the houses. "They will cover the eye of the earth." This expression, which is peculiar to the Pentateuch, and only occurs again in Exo 10:15 and Num 22:5, Num 22:11, is based upon the ancient and truly poetic idea, that the earth, with its covering of plants, looks up to man. To substitute the rendering "surface" for the "eye," is to destroy the real meaning of the figure; "face" is better. It was in the swarms that actually hid the ground that the fearful character of the plague consisted, as the swarms of locusts consume everything green. "The residue of the escape" is still further explained as "that which remaineth unto you from the hail," viz., the spelt and wheat, and all the vegetables that were left (Exo 10:12 and Exo 10:15). For "all the trees that sprout" (Exo 10:5), we find in Exo 10:15, "all the tree-fruits and everything green upon the trees."
The announcement of such a plague of locusts, as their forefathers had never seen before since their existence upon earth, i.e., since the creation of man (Exo 10:6), put the servants of Pharaoh in such fear, that they tried to persuade the king to let the Israelites go. "How long shall this (Moses) be a snare to us?...Seest thou not yet, that Egypt is destroyed?" מוקשׁ, a snare or trap for catching animals, is a figurative expression for destruction. האנשׁים (Exo 10:7) does not mean the men, but the people. The servants wished all the people to be allowed to go as Moses had desired; but Pharaoh would only consent to the departure of the men (הגּברים, Exo 10:11).
As Moses had left Pharaoh after announcing the plague, he was fetched back again along with Aaron, in consequence of the appeal made to the king by his servants, and asked by the king, how many wanted to go to the feast. ומי מי, "who and who still further are the going ones;" i.e., those who wish to go? Moses required the whole nation to depart, without regard to age or sex, along with all their flocks and herds. He mentioned "young and old, sons and daughters;" the wives as belonging to the men being included in the "we." Although he assigned a reason for this demand, viz., that they were to hold a feast to Jehovah, Pharaoh was so indignant, that he answered scornfully at first: "Be it so; Jehovah be with you when I let you and your little ones go;" i.e., may Jehovah help you in the same way in which I let you and your little ones go. This indicated contempt not only for Moses and Aaron, but also for Jehovah, who had nevertheless proved Himself, by His manifestations of mighty power, to be a God who would not suffer Himself to be trifled with. After this utterance of his ill-will, Pharaoh told the messengers of God that he could see through their intention. "Evil is before your face;" i.e., you have evil in view. He called their purpose an evil one, because they wanted to withdraw the people from his service. "Not so," i.e., let it not be as you desire. "Go then, you men, and serve Jehovah." But even this concession was not seriously meant. This is evident from the expression, "Go then," in which the irony is unmistakeable; and still more so from the fact, that with these words he broke off all negotiation with Moses and Aaron, and drove them from his presence. ויגרשׁ: "one drove them forth;" the subject is not expressed, because it is clear enough that the royal servants who were present were the persons who drove them away. "For this are ye seeking:" אתהּ relates simply to the words "serve Jehovah," by which the king understood the sacrificial festival, for which in his opinion only the men could be wanted; not that "he supposed the people for whom Moses had asked permission to go, to mean only the men" (Knobel). The restriction of the permission to depart to the men alone was pure caprice; for even the Egyptians, according to Herodotus (2, 60), held religious festivals at which the women were in the habit of accompanying the men.
After His messengers had been thus scornfully treated, Jehovah directed Moses to bring the threatened plague upon the land. "Stretch out thy hand over the land of Egypt with locusts;" i.e., so that the locusts may come. עלה, to go up: the word used for a hostile invasion. The locusts are represented as an army, as in Joe 1:6. Locusts were not an unknown scourge in Egypt; and in the case before us they were brought, as usual, by the wind. The marvellous character of the phenomenon was, that when Moses stretched out his hand over Egypt with the staff, Jehovah caused an east wind to blow over the land, which blew a day and a night, and the next morning brought the locusts ("brought:" inasmuch as the swarms of locusts are really brought by the wind).
"An east wind: not νότος (lxx), the south wind, as Bochart supposed. Although the swarms of locusts are generally brought into Egypt from Libya or Ethiopia, and therefore by a south or south-west wind, they are sometimes brought by the east wind from Arabia, as Denon and others have observed (Hgstb. p. 120). The fact that the wind blew a day and a night before bringing the locusts, showed that they came from a great distance, and therefore proved to the Egyptians that the omnipotence of Jehovah reached far beyond the borders of Egypt, and ruled over every land. Another miraculous feature in this plague was its unparalleled extent, viz., over the whole of the land of Egypt, whereas ordinary swarms are confined to particular districts. In this respect the judgment had no equal either before or afterwards (Exo 10:14). The words, "Before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such," must not be diluted into "a hyperbolical and proverbial saying, implying that there was no recollection of such noxious locusts," as it is by Rosenmller. This passage is not at variance with Joe 2:2, for the former relates to Egypt, the latter to the land of Israel; and Joel's description unquestionably refers to the account before us, the meaning being, that quite as terrible a judgment would fall upon Judah and Israel as had formerly been inflicted upon Egypt and the obdurate Pharaoh. In its dreadful character, this Egyptian plague is a type of the plagues which will precede the last judgment, and forms the groundwork for the description in Rev 9:3-10; just as Joel discerned in the plagues which burst upon Judah in his own day a presage of the day of the Lord (Joe 1:15; Joe 2:1), i.e., of the great day of judgment, which is advancing step by step in all the great judgments of history or rather of the conflict between the kingdom of God and the powers of this world, and will be finally accomplished in the last general judgment.
The darkening of the land, and the eating up of all the green plants by swarms of locusts, have been described by many eye-witnesses of such plagues. "Locustarum plerumque tanta conspicitur in Africa frequentia, ut volantes instar nebulae solis radios operiant" (Leo Afric). "Solemque obumbrant" (Pliny, h. n. ii. 29).
This plague, which even Pliny calls Deorum irae pestis, so terrified Pharaoh, that he sent for Moses and Aaron in haste, confessed his sin against Jehovah and them, and entreated them but this once more to procure, through their intercession with Jehovah their God, the forgiveness of his sin and the removal of "this death." He called the locusts death, as bringing death and destruction, and ruining the country. Mors etiam agrorum est et herbarum atque arborum, as Bochart observes with references to Gen 47:19; Job 14:8; Psa 78:46.
To show the hardened king the greatness of the divine long-suffering, Moses prayed to the Lord, and the Lord cast the locusts into the Red Sea by a strong west wind. The expression "Jehovah turned a very strong west wind" is a concise form, for "Jehovah turned the wind into a very strong west wind." The fact that locusts do perish in the sea is attested by many authorities. Gregatim sublatae vento in maria aut stagna decidunt (Pliny); many others are given by Bochart and Volney. ויּתקעהוּ: He thrust them, i.e., drove them with irresistible force, into the Red Sea. The Red Sea is called סוּף ים, according to the ordinary supposition, on account of the quantity of sea-weed which floats upon the water and lies upon the shore; but Knobel traces the name to a town which formerly stood at the head of the gulf, and derived its name from the weed, and supports his opinion by the omission of the article before Suph, though without being able to prove that any such town really existed in the earlier times of the Pharaohs.
Ninth plague: The Darkness. - As Pharaoh's defiant spirit was not broken yet, a continuous darkness came over all the land of Egypt, with the exception of Goshen, without any previous announcement, and came in such force that the darkness could be felt. חשׁך וימשׁ: "and one shall feel, grasp darkness." המשׁ: as in Psa 115:7; Jdg 16:26, ψηλαφητὸν σκότος (lxx); not "feel in the dark," for משׁשׁ has this meaning only in the Piel with בּ (Deu 28:29). אפלה חשׁך: darkness of obscurity, i.e., the deepest darkness. The combination of two words or synonyms gives the greatest intensity to the thought. The darkness was so great that they could not see one another, and no one rose up from his place. The Israelites alone "had light in their dwelling-places." The reference here is not to the houses; so that we must not infer that the Egyptians were unable to kindle any lights even in their houses. The cause of this darkness is not given in the text; but the analogy of the other plagues, which had all of them a natural basis, warrants us in assuming, as most commentators have done, that there was the same here - that it was in fact the Chamsin, to which the lxx evidently allude in their rendering: σκότος καὶ γνόφος καὶ θύελλα. This wind, which generally blows in Egypt before and after the vernal equinox and lasts two or three days, usually rises very suddenly, and fills the air with such a quantity of fine dust and coarse sand, that the sun loses its brightness, the sky is covered with a dense veil, and it becomes so dark that "the obscurity cause by the thickest fog in our autumn and winter days is nothing in comparison" (Schubert). Both men and animals hide themselves from this storm; and the inhabitants of the towns and villages shut themselves up in the innermost rooms and cellars of their houses till it is over, for the dust penetrates even through well-closed windows. For fuller accounts taken from travels, see Hengstenberg (pp. 120ff.) and Robinson's Palestine i. pp. 287-289. Seetzen attributes the rising of the dust to a quantity of electrical fluid contained in the air. - The fact that in this case the darkness alone is mentioned, may have arisen from its symbolical importance. "The darkness which covered the Egyptians, and the light which shone upon the Israelites, were types of the wrath and grace of God" (Hengstenberg). This occurrence, in which, according to Arabian chroniclers of the middle ages, the nations discerned a foreboding of the day of judgment or of the resurrection, filled the king with such alarm that he sent for Moses, and told him he would let the people and their children go, but the cattle must be left behind. יצּג: sistatur, let it be placed, deposited in certain places under the guard of Egyptians, as a pledge of your return. Maneat in pignus, quod reversuri sitis, as Chaskuni correctly paraphrases it. But Moses insisted upon the cattle being taken for the sake of their sacrifices and burnt-offerings. "Not a hoof shall be left behind." This was a proverbial expression for "not the smallest fraction." Bochart gives instances of a similar introduction of the "hoof" into proverbial sayings by both Arabians and Romans (Hieroz. i. p. 490). This firmness on the part of Moses he defended by saying, "We know not with what we shall serve the Lord, till we come thither;" i.e., we know not yet what kind of animals or how many we shall require for the sacrifices; our God will not make this known to us till we arrive at the place of sacrifice. עבד with a double accusative as in Gen 30:29; to serve any one with a thing.
At this demand, Pharaoh, with the hardness suspended over him by God, fell into such wrath, that he sent Moses away, and threatened him with death, if he ever appeared in his presence again. "See my face," as in Gen 43:3. Moses answered, "Thou hast spoken rightly." For as God had already told him that the last blow would be followed by the immediate release of the people, there was no further necessity for him to appear before Pharaoh.