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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 10

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Here we have Plagues VIII and IX and the continued development of the account toward its inevitable climax. Like all of the preceding signs, these also sprang out of nature, but conspicuously under the control and at the direction of Jehovah. The gradations and subtle changes in the situation noticed in the previous wonders appear here also in (1) the fact of Pharaoh’s attempting to negotiate with Moses before the plague came, and (2) in the insistence of Pharaoh’s own people that he let the men go.

Verses 1-6


“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I may show these my signs in the midst of them, and that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s sons, what things I have wrought upon Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them,’ that ye may know that I am Jehovah. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah the God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me. Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow will I bring locusts into thy border: and they shall cover the face of the earth, so that one shall not be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remained unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree that which groweth for you out of the field: and thy house shall be filled, and the houses of all thy servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians; as neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers’ fathers have seen since the day that they were upon the earth unto this day. And he turned and went out from Pharaoh.”

“I have hardened his heart” See under Exodus 4:21, above.

“What things I have wrought upon Egypt” The RSV has rendered Exodus 10:2 thus:

“And that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son how I have made sport of the Egyptians and what things I have done among them; that you may know that I am the Lord.”

This must qualify as one of the most ridiculous and reprehensible translations in the entire RSV. Yes, it is true that the clause here rendered “I have made sport of them can have the bad meaning of immoral wantonness (See Judges 19:25), but here it pinpoints the sovereign power of the Lord, before which the Egyptian Pharaoh and his servants are mere playthings. It does not, of course, ascribe wantonness or thoughtless cruelty to God.”(F1) This is another glaring example of the critical scholars’ continual efforts to discredit and destroy the Word of God by their false renditions. It is a standard procedure with them, in the case of a clause with multiple meanings, to deliberately choose the worst possible meaning, and we cannot allow for one moment that there is uprightness of intention in such procedures. This clause is just as well, in fact much better translated in the rendition before us, and in practically all of the great versions of history, including KJV, the Douay, and even the Good News Bible. Johnson’s comment was that: “God was not amusing himself, but there was divine irony in the fact that the antagonism of Pharaoh was simply leading to the greater manifestation of the glory of Jehovah.”(F2)

“In the ears of thy son, and thy son’s son” “Moses was not the only one who was to tell all these wonders… We ourselves still also exult in God’s triumphs in Egypt.”(F3) Psalms 78 and Psalms 105 extol those wonders, and they have been celebrated in song and story throughout all time since they occurred.

“How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me…?” “This question shows that Pharaoh was responsible for hardening his heart,”(F4) “We may rest assured that there was always a time when he might have relented; and it was because he hardened his heart at such times, that God is said to harden him.”(F5)

“Behold, tomorrow will I bring locusts into thy border” There is no more dreadful scourge in nature than that of locusts. Repeatedly, during recent years, the National Geographic Magazine has given extensive coverage to this disaster. When climatic and soil conditions are exactly right, there is a relatively common type of grasshopper that multiplies fantastically into millions, or billions, or trillions of locusts. In this explosion, they change color, with red, yellow, and black markings, and increase fantastically in size and appetite! They have been known to obscure the sun in their flight. “In Angola, July 1031, swarms of locusts completely obscured the sun for some hours.”

National Geographic Magazines which have carried articles on this plague are to be found in December, 1915, April, 1953, and August, 1969.

Although the Egyptians doubtless knew by hearsay about the devastating nature of a locust plague, their country was relatively free of such visitations.

Just as this mighty locust plague was the harbinger of the ultimate judgment and destruction of Pharaoh, “It is also a type of the plagues which will precede the last judgment.”(F6) The prophet Joel (Joel 1 and Joel 2) thus interpreted a severe locust plague that struck Judah. Keil’s further comment on this, we feel, is true:

“The locust plague forms the groundwork for the description in Revelation 9:3-10, just as Joel discerned it as the day of the Lord, 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.”(F7)

There are historical instances of areas of 1,600 to 1,800 square miles being covered with locusts to a depth of four or five inches.(F8)

“And they shall cover the face of the earth.,.” The Hebrew here has, “cover the eye of the land.”(F9) There are two ideas as to what this means. Dobson thought that, as the Egyptians regarded the sun and the moon as the eyes of the earth, “It meant to obscure the light of the sun.”(F10) Keil was of the opinion that, “It came from the ancient and truly poetic idea that the earth, with its covering of plants, looks up to man… It was in the swarms that actually hid the ground that the fearful character of the plague consisted.”(F11) It appears to us that either of these explanations is acceptable, since the plague probably obscured the sun and hid the earth with a thick carpet of locusts also.

Verses 7-11

“And Pharaoh’s servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare to us? let the men go, that they serve Jehovah their God; knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed? And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve Jehovah your God,’ but who are they that shall go? And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old’ with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto Jehovah. And he said unto them, So be Jehovah with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it, for evil is before you. Not so; go now, ye that are men, and serve Jehovah; for that is what ye desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.”

“How long shall this man be a snare to us…?” “This man” is a reference to Moses, and this intercession of Pharaoh’s servants was to change the monarch’s mind and to let the people go is a breakthrough, and shows that a great many people in Egypt were opposed to the Pharaoh’s further refusal of God’s demand through Moses that he “let my people go.” The idea that only the men would be released was Pharaoh’s, not that of the servants who pleaded for him to “let the men go.” Keil assures us that they meant, “Let the people go.”(F12)

“Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed…?” We can only marvel that Pharaoh was either ignorant of the ruin of his nation, or insensible to it.

“Who are they that shall go…?” Gordon commented on Moses’ full and dramatic answer thus:

Moses’ words ring with Churchillian defiance. He knows that the king presents no threat, and that the denouement cannot be long delayed.(F13)

Moses’ triumphant declaration that the whole nation, young, old, men, women, flocks, herds, cattle, everything would leave Egypt, infuriated Pharaoh. He said, “So be Jehovah with you” His words in our version are a little ambiguous; but several writers have given these insights into what he meant: “May the Lord be with you if I ever let you go.”(F14) “Pharaoh hoped that the divine protection on the journey would be as nonexistent as his permit to go.”(F15) Rawlinson has this:

“Pharaoh’s reply is full of scorn and anger, as if he would say, `When was ever so extravagant and outrageous a demand made? How can it be supposed that I would listen to it? So may Jehovah help you, as I will help you in this.’“(F16)

“Look to it, for evil is before you” This means, “Watch out, for you are contemplating evil.” Cook gave the meaning as, “Your intentions are evil,” adding that, “Great as the possible infliction might be, Pharaoh held it to be a less evil than the loss of so large a population.”(F17) Moses’ flat and dogmatic declaration that ALL Israel, with all their property would leave completely frustrated Pharaoh’s intention of retaining the women and children as a pledge that his nation of slaves would all return to their labors. Of course, Pharaoh knew that he would not consent for the people to go, and he did not believe that Jehovah could deliver them. As Fields said, “This kind of a put-down is the kind that cruel people enjoy.(F18)

“Go now, ye that are men, and serve Jehovah” This is another of the great compromises proposed by Pharaoh. See under Exodus 8:28 for a discussion of all of these. One of the great preachers of another era delivered a great sermon in Philadelphia, entitled, “Ye that are men now serve Him!” (Taking the text out of context); but that preacher during that meeting visited a newly-invented threshing machine, lost his arm in the cylinder, and died at the scene. His last words were, “Ye that are men now serve Him! Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!” The well known hymn “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” has these lines recalling the event:

“Stand up, Stand up for Jesus;
Stand in his strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you;
Ye dare not trust your own.
Ye that are men now serve Him;
Against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger;
And strength to strength oppose.”

Verses 12-15

“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Stretch out thy hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, they they may come up upon the land of Egypt, and eat every herb of the land, even all that the hail hath left. And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and Jehovah brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all the night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts. And the locusts went up over all the land 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, either tree or herb of the field, through all the land of Egypt.”

“Stretch out thy hand… Moses stretched forth his rod” As should be expected, some shriek “contradiction” here, but, of course, as God had already commanded Moses, the rod was his instrument, and the stretching out of Moses’ hand naturally included the instrument held in his hand. Another troublesome point in this paragraph regards “face of the whole earth” (Exodus 10:15), which is merely a metaphor (hyperbole) for Egypt. The extent of the devastation is specifically given in the final clause, “through all the land of Egypt”; and, also the land of the Hebrews (Goshen) was exempted.

“And Jehovah brought an east wind” Locusts do not normally appear in Egypt, the climatic conditions being unfavorable for it, and thus it was necessary for God to bring them into Egypt from a great distance. If the east wind was at 25 m.p.h., a distance of some 600 miles would have been traversed in the 24-hour period. Two things of great significance are visible here. The wind began at once with the stretching out of Moses’ rod, indicating the certainty of the developing plague, and the vast distance from which the locusts came showed that Jehovah’s power was by no means restricted to Egypt, but that it reached over the whole world. One may wonder if these facts were discerned by Pharaoh. This capacity of vast locust swarms to travel long distances on the wind is the basis for the designation given to them in the East, “The Teeth of the Wind!”(F19)

Harford pointed out that the end of locust plagues also generally turns on the wind. “In 1865, near Jaffa, several miles were covered inches deep. When an army of locusts invades a locality, the end is usually that it is blown into the sea (as in Exodus 10:19) or the desert.”(F20)

Verses 16-20

“Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against Jehovah your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive. I pray thee, my sin only this once, and entreat Jehovah your God, that he may take away from me this death only. And he went out from Pharaoh, and entreated Jehovah. And Jehovah turned an exceeding strong west wind, which took up the locusts, and drove them into the Red Sea; there remained not one locust in all the border of Egypt. But Jehovah hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go.”

“In haste” Pharaoh had called for Moses and Aaron previously, but never before with the haste indicated here. This could have been due to the fact that Pharaoh considered this plague worse than any that had preceded it, which is another indication of the gradation and progression in the narrative, as further proved by Pharaoh’s actually asking to be forgiven (Exodus 10:17).

“This death” was a reference by Pharaoh to the locust plague which had brought the death of every green thing in Egypt.

“Therefore forgive” Pharaoh was making real progress at this point, but, alas, his stubborn will would remain supreme until, finally, his destruction concluded the contest.

“Exceeding strong west wind” This destroyed the locusts by casting them into the Red Sea, the same place where God would dispose of Pharaoh and his army. One of the very greatest wonders in this whole series of visitations against Egypt lies in the common, ordinary instruments by which they came. Wind, frogs, lice, flies, locusts, hail, murrain of cattle, etc., such things were as ordinary as sunrise and frost, or rain and swallows. This amazing fact is the principal basis for the conclusion that the “darkness” about to be inflicted was also a dust storm. Nevertheless, the divine and miraculous nature of these plagues is just as evident as God’s use of simple and ordinary things to accomplish them.

“The Red Sea” Some scholars make a big thing out of the double meaning of the word “Red,” which is also capable of being translated “Reed,” the purpose of this emphasis being that of rationalizing the Red-Sea crossing by Israel, making it merely a stroll through marshland covered with reeds! The answer to this not only lies in the Biblical account itself, but appears also in the fact that the meaning of “Red Sea” is absolutely “uncertain.”(F21) It may not mean “Reed Sea” at all. Scholars do not agree on why this word is featured in the name of that arm of the ocean. It has been supposed that the name came from “large quantities of seaweed in it,”(F22) or because of the name of an ancient city at its northwest extremity,(F23) or to large quantities of a red coral found along its shores, or from some other source; but the significant truth is that, “No commentator doubts that the Red Sea is here meant.”(F24) “This is the same sea that we now refer to as the Red Sea.”(F25) It should be remembered that an entire army was drowned in it.

Verses 21-24


“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Stretch out thy hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt. 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 one from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve Jehovah; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you.”

This ninth wonder, like the third wonder and the sixth wonder, fell without warning. The curiosity here is the statement that it was a darkness that could be “felt.” This may have a double meaning:

(1) it would be taken to heart by the Egyptians, as God indicated when he promised to send his plagues “upon the heart” of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:12);

(2) and it may mean that the darkness would be caused by something discernible in the sense of touch. We think the latter is most likely. This, and the fact of the land of Goshen being spared, almost force the conclusion that an extremely dense dust storm was the source of this darkness. If it had been a case of the sun’s light failing, as in Luke 23:44, the land of Goshen also would have been darkened. If that is what caused it, it would be exactly in keeping with most of the other plagues which were intensifications of things ordinary, directed and controlled circumstantially by the word of Jehovah through Moses.

“Severe sandstorms occur in Egypt in the spring.”(F26) “At times, the wind blows off the desert to the south, producing an immense sandstorm known as Khamsin.”(F27) “This terrible wind, called Khamsin, prevails twenty-five days before and twenty-five days after the vernal equinox.”(F28)

A very dense dust storm can be a terrible and frightening thing. This writer, on May 24, 1930, was teaching English and History in the high school at Abilene, Texas. The school lay only 100 feet south of the right-of-way of the Texas and Pacific railway; and that day there was so severe a dust storm that trains blowing their whistles for the crossing could be heard roaring past, but were absolutely invisible, even from the third floor of the high school. All lights in the building were turned on, for without them, students could not even see the blackboard, much less read!

The fright that fell upon the Egyptians was greatly intensified because of their worship of sun gods, Ra and Amon. The storm blacked out the sun, but left light in the land of Goshen. Of course, all of the plagues were leveled against Egypt’s false gods. Previously, we listed the first four plagues and noted which gods they discredited and exposed. See under Exodus 8:24. Here are the other six:

V. The murrain of cattle. “This one struck squarely at Ptah (Apis), represented as a bull, as well as at other animals; gods like the goat, the ram, the cow, etc.”(F29) “Hathor, represented as a cow, nursing the king with divine nourishment,”(F30) was also affected.

VI. Boils and blains on man and beast. This also brought shame and dishonor to the gods mentioned under V, above, but also reflected most unfavorably upon the Nile itself (also personified and deified), the waters of which were believed to assure health.

VII. The hail. This plague came out of the sky, showing that their sky-goddess, “Nut,” had no ability to bless or protect the people. “She was pictured as a lanky, nude female arching across the sky, touching the horizons with her toes and fingertips.”(F31)

VIII. The locusts. These also, coming out the sky, were a contradiction of everything Nut was supposed to be. Besides, the insect kingdom provided several pagan deities in Egypt!

IX. The darkness. Earth, sky, atmosphere, and the waters of the Nile - all these were shown to be, not under the control of Pharaoh and his gods, but directly and solely under the control of Jehovah the God of the Hebrews. None of them, whether gods of crops, or agriculture, or land or sea or sky were able to stand against Jehovah.

X. The death of the firstborn. Pharaoh himself, a pretending deity, was humbled and ultimately destroyed in this the final visitation.

“Only let your flocks and your herds be stayed” This was the final of the compromises already discussed. Moses immediately thundered God’s answer:

Verses 25-29

“And Moses said, Thou must also give into our hand sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice unto Jehovah our God. Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not a hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve Jehovah our God; and we know not with what we must serve Jehovah, until we come thither. But Jehovah hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. And Pharaoh said unto him, 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, Thou hast spoken well; I will see thy face no more.”

The dramatic and triumphant answer of God through Moses to the proposal of Pharaoh that the flocks and herds remain in Egypt is a marvel of blunt, powerful affirmatives.

Our cattle shall go with us.

Not a hoof shall be left behind.

Thou must also give (us) sacrifices.

“Thou must also give into our hand sacrifices and burnt offerings” This is usually understood as meaning merely that Pharaoh would do this by permitting the Israelites to take with them their flocks and herds; but the “NEB translates this verse so as to mean that Pharaoh must not only let the Israelites take their flocks and herds, but that he must also himself provide animals suitable for sacrifice.”(F32) The RSV skirts the question by an ambiguous rendition. It turned out to be true, in fact, that the Egyptians did enrich the Hebrews by giving them costly jewels, gold, silver, and other gifts on the night of their departure. Johnson interpreted the place thus:

That is, you must give us the means of sacrificing and therefore (Exodus 10:26) we must take all our cattle.(F33)

Rylaarsdam’s excellent comment on Moses’ answer here is perceptive:

Moses says, in effect, that all the cattle belong to the Lord (Psalms 5; Psalms 10). His objection that only upon arrival at the place of sacrifice will they know what is wanted is not just a ruse; it is also, and more significantly, an explication of what it means to be the people of God. In Israel all of life is held in trust under a single trusteeship. The God of Israel is one Lord.(F34)

“Moses said, “I will see thy face no more” This seems to terminate the interview here, but it does not. Exodus 11:4-10 relates what immediately followed, with Exodus 11:1-3 standing between as a parenthesis. Both critical and conservative scholars alike accept this. Davies alleged a slightly disarranged text here, asserting that, “Probably Exodus 11:4-10, once followed Exodus 10:29.”(F35) Dummelow wrote that: “The present interview does not terminate with these words, but is continued in the next chapter. Moses leaves the presence of Pharaoh at Exodus 11:8. Exodus 11:1-3 may be regarded as a parenthesis.”(F36)

Thus, it is not to be supposed that Moses bolted out of Pharaoh’s presence because of the vicious words in Exodus 10:29. Moses accepted Pharaoh’s words without fear, calmly waited until the final plague was announced, and told Pharaoh plainly:

“After just one more plague, Pharaoh’s servants would come to him, bow down, and plead with the Israelites to leave.”(F37) As it turned out, even Pharaoh himself did this (Exodus 12:30-31).

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 10". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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