Verse 51. "By their armies." - ”tabx tsibotham, from abx tsaba, to assemble, meet together, in an orderly or regulated manner, and hence to war, to act together as troops in battle; whence twabx tsebaoth, troops, armies, hosts. It is from this that the Divine Being calls himself twabx hwhy Yehovah tsebaoth, the LORD OF HOSTS or armies, because the Israelites were brought out of Egypt under his direction, marshalled and ordered by himself, guided by his wisdom, supported by his providence, and protected by his might. This is the true and simple reason why God is so frequently styled in Scripture the Lord of hosts; for the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their ARMIES.
ON this chapter the notes have been so full and so explicit, that little can be added to set the subject before the reader in a clearer light. On the ordinance of the PASSOVER, the reader is requested to consult the notes on verses 7, 14, and 27. For the display of God's power and providence in supporting so great a multitude where, humanly speaking, there was no provision, and the proof that the exodus of the Israelites gives of the truth of the Mosaic history, he is referred to ver. 37. And for the meaning of the term LAW, to ver. 49.
On the ten plagues it may be but just necessary, after what has been said in the notes, to make a few general reflections. When the nature of the Egyptian idolatry is considered, and the plagues which were sent upon them, we may see at once the peculiarity of the judgment, and the great propriety of its being inflicted in the way related by Moses. The plagues were either inflicted on the objects of their idolatry, or by their means.
1. That the river Nile was an object of their worship and one of their greatest gods, we have already seen. As the FIRST plague, its waters were therefore turned into blood; and the fish, many of which were objects also of their adoration, died. Blood was particularly offensive to them, and the touch of any dead animal rendered them unclean. When then their great god, the river, was turned into blood, and its waters became putrid, so that all the fish, minor objects of their devotion, died, we see a judgment at once calculated to punish, correct, and reform them. Could they ever more trust in gods who could neither save themselves nor their deluded worshippers? 2. Mr. Bryant has endeavoured to prove that frogs, the SECOND plague, were sacred animals in Egypt, and dedicated to Osiris: they certainly appear on many ancient Egyptian monuments, and in such circumstances and connections as to show that they were held in religious veneration.
These therefore became an awful scourge; first, by their numbers, and their intrusion into every place; and, secondly, by their death, and the infection of the atmosphere which took place in consequence.
3. We have seen also that the Egyptians, especially the priests, affected great cleanliness, and would not wear woollen garments lest any kind of vermin should harbour about them. The THIRD plague, by means of lice or such like vermin, was wisely calculated both to humble and confound them. In this they immediately saw a power superior to any that could be exerted by their gods or their magicians; and the latter were obliged to confess, This is the finger of God! 4. That flies were held sacred among the Egyptians and among various other nations, admits of the strongest proof. It is very probable that Baal-zebub himself was worshipped under the form of a fly or great cantharid. These, therefore, or some kind of winged noxious insects, became the prime agents in the FOURTH plague; and if the cynomyia or dog-fly be intended, we have already seen in the notes with what propriety and effect this judgment was inflicted.
5. The murrain or mortality among the cattle was the FIFTH plague, and the most decisive mark of the power and indignation of Jehovah. That dogs, cats, monkeys, rams, heifers, and bulls, were all objects of their most religious veneration, all the world knows. These were smitten in a most singular manner by the hand of God; and the Egyptians saw themselves deprived at once of all their imaginary helpers. Even Apis, their ox-god, in whom they particularly trusted, now suffers, groans, and dies under the hand of Jehovah. Thus does he execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt. See ver. 12.
6. The SIXTH plague, viz., of boils and blains, was as appropriate as any of the preceding; and the sprinkling of the ashes, the means by which it was produced, peculiarly significant. Pharmacy, Mr. Bryant has observed, was in high repute among the Egyptians; and Isis, their most celebrated goddess, was considered as the preventer or healer of all diseases. "For this goddess," says Diodourus, Hist., lib. i., "used to reveal herself to people in their sleep when they laboured under any disorder, and afford them relief.
Many who placed their confidence in her influence, paradoxwv ugiainesqai, were miraculously restored. Many likewise who had been despaired of and given over by the physicians on account of the obstinacy of the distemper, were saved by this goddess. Numbers who had been deprived of their eyes, and of other parts of their bodies, were all restored on their application to Isis." By this disorder, therefore, which no application to their gods could cure, and which was upon the magicians also, who were supposed to possess most power and influence, God confounded their pride, showed the folly of their worship, and the vanity of their dependence. The means by which these boils and blains were inflicted, viz., the sprinkling of ashes from the furnace, was peculiarly appropriate. Plutarch assures us, Deuteronomy Iside et Osiride, that in several cities of Egypt they were accustomed to sacrifice human beings to Typhon, which they burned alive upon a high altar; and at the close of the sacrifice the priests gathered the ashes of these victims, and scattered them in the air: "I presume, says Mr. Bryant, "with this view, that where an atom of their dust was wafted, a blessing might be entailed. The like was done by Moses with the ashes of the furnace, that wherever any, the smallest portion, alighted, it might prove a plague and a curse to this cruel, ungrateful, and infatuated people. Thus there was a designed contrast in these workings of Providence, an apparent opposition to the superstition of the times." 7. The grievous hail, the SEVENTH plague, attended with rain, thunder, and lightning, in a country where these scarcely ever occur, and according to an express prediction of Moses, must in the most signal manner point out the power and justice of God. Fire and water were some of the principal objects of Egyptian idolatry; and fire, as Porphyry says, they considered megan einai qeon, to be a great god. To find, therefore, that these very elements, the objects of their adoration, were, at the command of a servant of Jehovah, brought as a curse and scourge on the whole land, and upon men also and cattle, must have shaken their belief in these imaginary deities, while it proved to the Israelites that there was none like the God of Jeshurun.
8. In the EIGHTH plague we see by what insignificant creatures God can bring about a general destruction. A caterpillar is beyond all animals the most contemptible, and, taken singly, the least to be dreaded in the whole empire of nature; but in the hand of Divine justice it becomes one of the most formidable foes of the human race. From the examples in the notes we see how little human power, industry, or art, can avail against this most awful scourge. Not even the most contemptible animal should be considered with disrespect, as in the hand of God it may become the most terrible instrument for the punishment of a criminal individual or a guilty land.
9. The NINTH plague, the total and horrible darkness that lasted for three days, afforded both Israelites and Egyptians the most illustrious proof of the power and universal dominion of God; and was particularly to the latter a most awful yet instructive lesson against a species of idolatry which had been long prevalent in that and other countries, viz., the worship of the celestial luminaries. The sun and moon were both adored as supreme deities, as the sole dispensers of light and life; and the sun was invoked as the giver of immortality and eternal blessedness. Porphyry, Deuteronomy Abstin., l. 4, preserves the very form used by the Egyptian priests in addressing the sun on behalf of a deceased person, that he might be admitted into the society of the gods: w despota Æhlie, kai qeoi pantev, oi rhn zwhn toiv anqrwpoiv dontev, prosdexasqe me, kai paradote toiv aidioiv qeoiv sunoikon, "O sovereign lord the sun, and all ye other deities who bestow life on mankind! Receive me, and grant that I may be admitted as a companion with the immortal gods!" These objects of their superstitious worship Jehovah showed by this plague to be his creatures, dispensing or withholding their light merely at his will and pleasure; and that the people might be convinced that all this came by his appointment alone, he predicted this awful darkness; and that their astronomers might have the fullest proof that this was no natural occurrence, and could not be the effect of any kind of eclipse, which even when total could endure only about four minutes, (and this case could happen only once in a thousand years,) he caused this palpable darkness to continue for three days! 10. The TENTH and last plague, the slaying of the first-born or chief person in each family, may be considered in the light of a Divine retribution: for after that their nation had been preserved by one of the Israelitish family, "they had," says Mr. Bryant, "contrary to all right, and in defiance of original stipulation, enslaved the people to whom they had been so much indebted; and not contented with this, they had proceeded to murder their offspring, and to render the people's bondage intolerable by a wanton exertion of power. It had been told them that the family of the Israelites were esteemed as God's first-born, chap. iv. 22; therefore God said: Let my son go, that he may serve me; and if thou refuse-behold, I will slay thy son, even thy FIRST-BORN, chap. iv. 23. But they heeded not this admonition, and hence those judgments came upon them that terminated in the death of the eldest in each family; a just retaliation for their disobedience and cruelty." See several curious and important remarks on this subject in a work entitled, Observations upon the Plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, by Jacob Bryant, 8vo., 1810.
On the whole we may say, Behold the goodness and severity of God! Severity mixed with goodness even to the same people. He punished and corrected them at the same time; for there was not one of these judgments that had not, from its peculiar nature and circumstances, some emendatory influence. Nor could a more effectual mode be adopted to demonstrate to that people the absurdity of their idolatry, and the inefficacy of their dependence, than that made use of on this occasion by the wise, just, and merciful God. At the same time the Israelites themselves must have received a lesson of the most impressive instruction on the vanity and wickedness of idolatry, to which they were at all times most deplorably prone, and of which they would no doubt have given many more examples, had they not had the Egyptian plagues continually before their eyes. It was probably these signal displays of God's rower and justice, and these alone, that induced them to leave Egypt at his command by Moses and Aaron; otherwise, with the dreadful wilderness before them, totally unprovided for such a journey, in which humanly speaking it was impossible for them and their households to subsist, they would have rather preferred the ills they then suffered, than have run the risk of greater by an attempt to escape from their present bondage. This is proved by their murmurings, chap. xvi. 2, 3, from which it is evident that they preferred Egypt with all its curses to their situation in the wilderness, and never could have been induced to leave it had they not had the fullest evidence that it was the will of God; which will they were obliged, on pain of utter destruction, to obey.