« PreviousContinue »
which accompany the Chamsin, though very different in degree, are so similar in kind, that we are inclined to agree with those who regard the Chamsin as its natural basis. It must, however, at the same time be acknowledged, that none of the earlier plagues were raised so decidedly or to such an extent above their natural basis, through the peculiar character imparted by the miracle; and that none were so completely dissevered in some respects from that basis, as was the case here. In the present instance not only was the plague extended and intensified to a degree unheard of before, but in many respects it was entirely removed from the natural foundation, and passed over into the sphere of the pure miracle, in which no known power of nature is in any way employed. This is particularly seen in the fact, that it continued perfectly light in the houses of the Israelites, some of which immediately adjoined those of the Egyptians, whilst the Egyptians were unable to escape in any way from the darkness, by which they were surrounded. For when it is said in the biblical account, that the darkness was so great that they could not see one another, and therefore that no one could rise up from the place in which he was: the meaning undoubtedly is, that even in their houses the ordinary means of procuring artificial light were entirely useless. It may also be inferred from the express statement, to the effect that no one moved from his place during the three days' darkness, and from the nature of the interview which Pharaoh had with Moses, that the latter was not sent for till the plague was over. On the meaning of this plague Hengstenberg correctly observes, that the darkness which covered the Egyptians, and the light which the Israelites enjoyed, represented the wrath and the mercy of God.
§ 32. (Ex. xi. 1-10).-All possibility of further negotiation was now, apparently, for ever gone. For Pharaoh had threatened Moses with death, if he should dare to let him see him again, and Moses had replied with equal wrath, "so let it be, I will never come into thy presence again” (x. 28, 29, xi. 8). And yet the promise of Jehovah immediately followed : "I will bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence, and not merely let you go, but will himself entreat and force you to depart.” Of the previous plagues some (viz., the first and second) had come, at a signal from Moses, from the beneficent river of Egypt, others (the third and fourth) from the fertile soil of the country, and others from the pure air, which pervaded the land; all the elements, which were at work in Egypt, had been one after another turned into a curse. And when that which was peculiarly Egyptian had been all exhausted, the countries round about sent their plagues into Egypt also; locusts came from the desert of Arabia, and the Sirocco with its impenetrable darkness from the Sahara Yet all was apparently in vain. But this had been merely introductory and preparatory to the last decisive stroke. The tenth plague did not rest upon any natural basis, as all the rest had done. It was not called forth by either the rod or hand of Moses, nor did it proceed from the water, the earth, or the air ; but the hand of Jehovah himself was stretched forth : “at midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt, and smite all the firstborn in Egypt, both of man and beast (1), and I will execute judgment against all the gods of the Egyptians (2), I Jehovah (xii. 12)-but against the children of Israel not a dog shall move his tongue, that ye may learn how that Jehovah doth put a difference between Egypt and Israel.” In the tenth plague the idea and intention of all the plagues were embodied and fulfilled. It was thought of first (chap. iv. 22, 23), but it was necessarily the last to appear. If it had also been the first to appear, the fact would not have been so completely and universally displayed, that Jehovah was the Lord in the midst of the land (chap. viii. 22), the Lord over the water, the earth, and the air, over gods and men, cattle and plants, and that there was
none like him in all the earth (ix. 14). For this purpose it was necessary, that there should be many miracles wrought in the land of Egypt (xi. 9); and it was also requisite, that they should have both sharply defined natural features and an unmistakeably miraculous character, in order that freedom of choice might be left for faith or unbelief. But the tenth plague bore upon the face of it a purely supernatural character, and because it was the tenth, i.e. the one which gave a finish and completeness to the whole, it exhibited in a clear and unequivocal manner, the design of all the plagues from the very commencement; for the last furnished the key to the entire series. And inasmuch as Pharaoh's resistance was overcome by the tenth plague, although the hardness of his heart was complete ; this fact alone was sufficient to prove, that the obstinacy of his refusal had only served to glorify the name of Jehovah, and that the words of Jehovah were fulfilled : “For this cause have I raised thee up, to show in thee my power, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth." (ix. 16).
(1). On the importance of the first-born, Hofmann says (Weissagung und Erfüllung i. 122): "The first-born opens the mother's womb, and thus renders all succeeding births possible; and hence the power, which deprived all the first-born of life, was also a proof of ability to control the future history of the existing generation, and the perpetuation of its life by means of posterity The same power, which punished the existing generation, could also have annihilated all its prospects for the future.” We cannot possibly comprehend, how this acute writer can have hit upon so mistaken an explanation. The notion, with which he starts, that the first birth renders all succeeding births possible, is completely wrong. No doubt the predicate, “that which openeth the womb,” implies a precedence on the part of the first-born over the rest. But assuredly no Israelite ever explained this as meaning, that the first-begotten alone as such possessed the power "to open the womb," and that the possibility of any subsequent births depended entirely upon him. But the rest of Hofmann's
remarks are at variance with this fundamental thought. The first-born, on whom the plague fell, were already born, they had already opened the way for further births. How then could their death appear to threaten the prospect of other births ? The real importance of the first-born may be thus explained: the first-born naturally enjoyed both precedence and pre-eminence over the rest, he was the firstling of his father's strength (Gen. xlix. 3), the first-fruit of his mother. As the first-boru, he stood at the head of the others, and was destined to be the chief of whatever family might be formed by the succeeding births. As he stood at the head of the whole, he represented the entire nation of the Egyptians. Hence the power, which slew all the first-born in Egypt, was exhibited as a power, which could slay all, that were born then, and, in the slaughter of the whole of the first-born, the entire body of the people were ideally slain.
(2). The question arises in connexion with chap. xi. 12: how could the death of all the first-born, of both man and beast, be regarded as a judgment upon all the gods of Egypt? One might be inclined to think, that the previous signs and wonders could have been much more correctly described as a victory over all the gods of Egypt, and a judgment upon them, than the tenth plague, which was not nearly so closely connected with the objects which the Egyptians worshipped as gods. But the fact, that this plague was intended as a judgment upon the gods of Egypt in a more eminent degree than any of the rest, is evident from the repetition of this same view in Num. xxxiii. 4: "the Egyptians buried all their first-born, for upon their gods also Jehovah executed judgment." And here we may clearly see, in what relation the death of all the first-born stood to the gods of Egypt. The gods of Egypt, as the passage before us clearly shows, were among those who were smitten by this plague. And we agree with J. D. Michaelis (Anmerkungen für Ungelehrte iii. 35) in the opinion, that reference is made to the animal-worship of Egypt (cf. J. C. Prichard, Egyptian mythology). A large number of animals were regarded by the Egyptians as sacred, probably because they looked upon them as incarnations of the deity. If any of these animals were found dead, there was lamentation and mourning on every hand. It was a capital offence to slay or injure them. A few specimens of them were kept in the temples, and were objects of public
worship. Such was the importance generally attached to primogeniture in the whole of the ancient world, that it is very probable that the first-born were most frequently, if not invariably, chosen for that purpose. Fancy, then, what an effect must have been produced, what alarm it must have caused, what unbounded lamentation there must have been, if all the sacred animals in the temples, and thousands of them outside the temples, were struck dead in one night. Such an occurrence would be truly a judgment on the gods of Egypt; and for Egyptians at least, a judgment of a more fearful character, and one more calculated to produce despair, could not possibly have occurred. But the expression contained in chap. xii. 12 must not be restricted to this. The strong emphasis laid upon the fact, that judgment was to be executed upon all the gods of Egypt, when taken in connexion with the announcement so constantly made, that this plague would fall upon all the first-born of men and cattle, leads to the conclusion that men were also reckoned among the gods, who were to be slain. Our thoughts are naturally directed first of all to Pharaoh ; not, however, in the sense in which the princes of the earth are described as gods, but rather in that sense in which, as the vain-glorious inscriptions on the monuments prove, the Egyptian kings prided themselves upon being sons of the gods, or incarnations of the deities. This explanation derives all the more weight from the fact, that during the whole of the negotiations with Moses, Pharaoh takes an independent stand in opposition to Jehovah. Moreover, the circumstance, that it was not merely the first-born of the god-king Pharaoh and of the sacred animals, that were slain, but all the first-born of man and beast, from the son of Pharaoh, who sat upon his throne, to the son of the slave-woman, that stood behind the mill, from the Apis, that was kept in the temple, and worshipped as a god, to the most common and unclean of the beasts, was the most humiliating part of the whole to the gods of Egypt, for it was a practical declaration of the absolute equality of both of them. In contrast with the great significance of the announcement, when thus explained, we notice the interpretation given by the Jewish expositors, who institute a comparison between this plague and the miracle wrought on the image of Dagon in the temple at Ashdod (1 Sam. v.): an interpretation which must be rejected as without foundation, and thoroughly