5 And Yahweh appointed a set time, saying, Tomorrow Yahweh shall do this thing in the land.
Moses waited upon Pharaoh - a thoroughly unwelcome visitor, but not to be denied. He delivered his message. Pharaoh probably received the message with all royal composure, as is the manner with those accustomed to unbounded authority, but dreading it in his heart. Moses, by divine direction, specified a date for the new infliction-that no evidence might be wanting that it was a divine doing, and no mischance that was about to occur. *
6 And Yahweh did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.
The cattle in the field v3 died. There were other cattle elsewhere in barns etc which evidently remained alive v19.
7 And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
Pharaoh was curious on the latter point. He seemed to hope that, by some possibility, the district where the Israelites were located might be no exception to the fell scourge that had destroyed
"all the cattle in the field."
He sent to ascertain how the case stood.
Had he found the cattle of the Israelites dead, he would have felt some comfort. He would have concluded that a common derangement of nature had befallen all alike, under an incomprehensible combination of the gods - (for he was a pagan and believed in "gods many": a myth probably originating in human acquaintance with the angels in the beginning). But he found no such comfort. The Israelite stock were peacefully and healthily grazing in the pastures. The fact did not produce the effect it was calculated to produce. His natural obstinacy was in full play. *
8 And Yahweh said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh.
9 And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.
Proud men can stand a good deal so long as they themselves (sound in wind and limb) are able to cope with difficulties; but when trouble invades their own persons, especially in the humiliating form of boils, it makes a considerable difference to their mood. Here was a curious case impending-not only themselves, but all their servants disabled in the same way-not able to use their beasts for help in getting about even, because of the extension of the trouble to them.
To what straits can God reduce man, even as to what extent and varieties He can and does bless him, without man realising that his well-oiled joints and pleasure-yielding faculties are all of His contrivance and carrying on.
What was there in the throwing of a few handfuls of ashes into the air to cause the dreadful infliction? Nothing as a human performance, but everything as a divine arrangement: for God can do anything and in any way.
He willed this mode in this case for the sake of connecting Moses with the result, that the result might be estimated in connection with the demands made by Moses concerning Israel in the name of God, who wills to be known as the God of Israel. The operation (which has been bunglingly copied by conjurers of all sorts ever since)-the throwing of a few ashes into the air took its terrible effect. *
10 And they took ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast.
11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians.
Ha! ha! ye cunning magicians! ye were not only baffled in your career of imitation by the turning of dust into lice; but now your own personal movements are arrested by this wonder-working Moses. Ye cannot come into his presence to measure your pretensions and deceive Pharaoh. Ye must "keep your rooms": ye must nurse your boils; ye must groan with pain: because Moses sprinkled a few innocuous ashes towards heaven-because you are fighting against the Creator and upholder of heaven and earth. There will be a wonderful repetition of this, by and by, when marvellous things will again be shown
"according to the days of the coming out of the land of Egypt" (Micah 7: 15).
"The nations shall see and be confounded at all Israel's might; they shall lay their hand upon their mouth: their ears shall be deaf. They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth; they shall be afraid of Yahweh Elohim":
so the same oracle testifies.*
12 And Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as Yahweh had spoken unto Moses.
His firmness in such a situation was something superhuman. The explanation:
'Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh'
16 And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.
The divine object required another state of things. It required an obstinate, dark-minded, pagan Pharaoh. There is a time for everything. This was the time for such a man. Here he was, raised up for the purpose. And who shall deny the prerogative of the potter to work the clay into any shape he pleases? *
That my name may be declared
The prominence of this object in the Egyptian transactions cannot be too distinctly pointed out. It forms the key of the whole matter. If anyone read or attempt to understand the Mosaic narrative of Israel's deliverance apart from it, he will attempt the solution of an inconquerable puzzle. Read as a narrative of human action with human aims, the affair is impenetrable-inconceivable. With the key, all is plain: the means employed, reasonable and intelligible: the difficulties surmounted, manifestly accounted for.
And yet this key-principle (forming also the essential principle of the whole Scriptural record, from Genesis to Revelation-furnishing the raison d'etre of all its transactions, and all its maxims) is the one principle for which nearly all mankind have the greatest disrelish.
That God be known-that He be exalted-that His excellence and irresponsible prerogative, and unsearchable power and wisdom be recognised, is reasonable; and to the highest faculties of man, this recognition effectually accorded, is the highest and most ennobling and enduring of the mental delights of which he is capable.
But the highest faculties of man are scarcely developed in the majority of men. Long disuse, unfavourable surroundings, and the predominant activity of other stronger likes, have dwarfed the power to grasp and delight in God. Themes appealing to human interests or human honour, especially self-honour, are alone powerful to stir the heart of public life as now constituted.
The object formulated to Pharaoh in the words under consideration has no interest: is positively nauseating: has become inconsistent with the popular conception of intelligent manly life. This fact is symptomatic of the moral insanity that fills the world, and which will only be dissipated by the means applied in the Egyptian age. The means were effectual then and they will be again.
When the nations see omnipotence against them under the manifest control of a directing intelligence, they will open their eyes to the fact forced upon the world's attention in the days of Pharaoh: that God exists, and that His worship, and His fear, and His love, and obedience are the paramount duties of man. A surrender to the power of this perception will quickly follow its palpable demonstration. *
The Visible Hand of God Ch 12
I Raised Thee Up
God could have manifested His power by hurling the mountains from their base, or cleaving the earth with terrible chasms, or rending the air with deafening tempests of thunder, or filling the heavens with terrific conflagration. But this would not have got at the understanding of the people. It would have scared without instructing, and would have passed out of memory as a mere freak of nature. It was necessary that intelligence should be manifestly at work, and this necessity could only be met by a situation that all could understand, and that would allow of the works of God being seen in intelligible relation thereto.
It would not have been possible to have devised a more effective combination of circumstances for such a purpose that what existed when Moses was commanded to address himself to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. The combination had been slowly developed for the purpose by the incidents of the previous three centuries. Israel, beloved for their father's sake, were enslaved, and not only enslaved, but enslaved in the midst of the most civilised nation of the world of that age.
To demand their release was at once to raise a simple and powerful "question"; and to fight such a question with Egypt was to conduct a struggle that would be visible to the eyes of all the world-much more so than if it had taken place with any other nation at that time in the world's history.
But, for the effectual accomplishment of its object, it was needful that the government of Egypt should be firm in its opposition. This depended upon the character of the man in whom the government was vested. Is it a marvel, then, that the preparation of that man should be a divine work?
Nay, would it not have been evidence of the absence of a divine supervision in the whole situation if the right sort of man had not been on the throne at such a time? The state of the case declared in the words divinely addressed to Pharaoh, through Moses, was in harmony with the requirements of the situation.
Ways of providence Ch 10
19 Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.
But mercy would be mixed with this visitation, on the one condition which characterises all Yahweh's relations with man, as becomes His greatness - an honouring of Him in the recognition of His word in the case, and faith therein.
Though this offer of mercy on condition of faith with works had no effect upon Pharaoh, it evidently operated powerfully with some of the Egyptians, among whom, or a limited section of them at all events. Moses had doubtless caused it to be promulgated: for we read-
20 He that feared the word of Yahweh among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses:
24 So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.
25 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.
The appalling combination of hail, fire, thunder, and tempest, coming so punctually to the arrangement of Moses, had a terrifying effect on Pharaoh. The rage of the elements is awe-inspiring in the Eastern lands in ordinary circumstances; but this was no ordinary disturbance of the atmosphere. It was a disturbance specifically produced under angelic manipulation.
It must have been as dreadful of aspect as it was destructive in its effects. The darkened sky poured down a continuous torrent, in which were largely mingled hailstones of abnormal size-hailstones large enough to kill every living thing out of doors, and work havoc on all the works of man; the dull roar of the descending storm (sufficient to drown every other sound) was itself drowned every minute by earth-shaking thunder-peals which crashed upon the startled ear with increasing rapidity, shaking Pharaoh's palace to its foundation and causing man and beast to tremble in their shelters everywhere.
In the midst of the terrific roar of the elements, blinding light was every instant sent into every nook and corner by the forked lightnings which shot from the frowning heavens, and which, with an abnormal coherence, retained their form and power on striking the surface of the ground, running and scattering in all directions, until the earth seemed enveloped in fire. *
27 And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: Yahweh is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.
Momentary self awareness - but this would fail once more
30 But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear Yahweh Elohim.
Before Moses took leave of Pharaoh, at the interview to which Pharaoh had summoned him (to implore a cessation of the awful hail and thunderstorm, offering to let Israel go), Moses relieved his mind of the feeling which was naturally gathering in him - a feeling of the uselessness and mockery of Pharaoh's penitential professions. He told Pharaoh that he (Moses) was well aware that neither he, nor his servants, would fear Yahweh though quailing before His judgments.
Their compliances had only been in the nature of a creature accommodation to circumstances. A dog will get out of the way of stones thrown at him. Evil men will tack in another direction, to avoid calamity. It is not the spirit of understanding that moves them, but the mere impulse to get out of the way of harm.
It is the spirit of understanding that God desires in man. He tells them not to be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding (Psalm 32: 9); and as to the sort of understanding, he wishes them to be
"wise unto that which is good and simple concerning evil" (Romans 16: 19).
If Pharaoh had possessed this understanding, he would have recognised the hand of Yahweh at the outset and felt only the solicitude expressed by Saul of Tarsus, in similar circumstances:
"Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
The Visible Hand of God Ch 12
35 And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as Yahweh had spoken by Moses.
The issues involved in Moses' appeal to Pharaoh for the release of Yahweh's People were therefore momentous. God's universality and omnipotence were at stake. If Pharaoh would not acknowledge willingly the -sovereignty of Yahweh, he would be forced to admit it against his will, and at bitter cost to himself and his nation.
"In very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth" (v16).
The shaming of the gods of Egypt in their own sphere of influence would be signal and decisive proof of the claims made for Israel's God, and of His special interest in them as His chosen People.
How vain then was Pharaoh's resistance, and how foolish he proved to be for withholding recognition of the supremacy of Yahweh. The plagues assume a special significance in the light of that issue of principle as to who was Lord, Pharaoh or Yahweh.
Law and Grace Ch 4