THE SECOND PLAGUE. After an interval which there are no means of estimating, the second plague followed the first. Again, while the main purpose of the plague was to punish the nation by which Israel had been so long oppressed, the secondary object of throwing contempt upon their, religion was main-rained. Frogs were among the Egyptian sacred animals. One of their deities, Heka, was a frog-headed goddess; and they seem to have regarded the frog as a sacred emblem of creative power. The great multiplication of frogs, whereby they became an annoyance and a curse, was a trial and strain to the entire Egyptian religious system. The Egyptians might not kill them; yet they destroyed all their comfort, all their happiness. Their animal-worship was thus proved absurd and ridiculous. They were obliged to respect the creatures which they hated—to preserve the animals they would fain have swept from the face of the earth. It is perhaps somewhat difficult for modern Europeans to imagine the plague that frogs might be. The peculiar kind, which has the scientific name of Rana Mosaica, resembles our toad, and is a disgusting object, which crawls rather than leaps, and croaks perpetually. To have the whole country filled with these disgusting reptiles, to be unable to walk in the streets without treading on them, to find them not only occupying one's doorstep but in possession of one's house, in one's bed-chamber, and upon one's bed, to hear their dismal croak perpetually, to see nothing but their loathsome forms whithersoever one looked, to be in perpetual contact with them and feel the repulsion of their cold, rough, clammy skin, would be perhaps as severe a punishment as can well be conceived. Nations are known to have deserted their homes, and fled to a foreign land to escape from it. "In Paeonia and Dardania,"says Phoenias, a disciple of Aristotle, "there appeared once suddenly such a number of frogs, that they filled the houses and the streets. Therefore—as killing them, or shutting the doors, was of no avail; as even the vessels were full of them, the water infected, and all food uneatable; as they could scarcely set their foot upon the ground without treading on heaps of them, and as they were vexed by the smell of the great numbers which died—they fled from that region altogether". In Egypt, the young frogs come out of the waters in the month of September, when the inundation is beginning to subside. Even now they sometimes amount to a severe visitation.
Go unto Pharaoh. The second plague is given simply as a plague, not as a sign. It is first threatened (Exodus 8:2), and then accomplished (Exodus 8:6), an interval being allowed, that Pharaoh might change his mind, and escape the plague, if he chose.
Frogs. The word used for "frog," viz. tseparda, is thought to be Egyptian, and to remain (abbreviated) in the modern dofda, which is in common use, and designates the species known to naturalists as "Rana Mosaica."
The river shall bring forth frogs. The frogs do not often come directly out of the river. They are bred in the pools and marshes which the Nile leaves as it is retiring. These, however, may be viewed as detached fragments of the river. Thine house … thy bed-chamber … thy bed. The extreme cleanliness of the Egyptians (Herod. 2:37) rendered this visitation peculiarly disagreeable to them. The frogs under ordinary circumstances do not think of entering houses. Ovens in Egypt were probably baking-pans. These were heated from within by a fire of wood, which was withdrawn after a time and the dough attached by pressure to the interior of the vessels. Kneading-troughs were vessels in which the dough was prepared. Both these and ovens are represented in the Egyptian tombs. (See Rosellini,' Mon. Civ.' pl: 84, 85.)
Over the streams … rivers … ponds. See the comment on Exodus 7:19.
The frogs came up. Literally, "The frog came up," the word being used to designate the class or species.
The magicians did so … and brought up frogs. Here again, as in their imitation of the first plague (Exodus 7:22), sleight of hand may have been the means employed by the magicians; or possibly they may have merely claimed that their enchantments "brought up" frogs, which were in reality the consequence of Aaron's act (Exodus 8:2).
God can scourge men beyond endurance with a whip of straw.
A frog seems an innocent and harmless reptile enough, not pleasing nor attractive, but scarcely calculated to cause much suffering. When the Egyptians made frogs sacred, they had no notion of one day finding them an intolerable annoyance. But God can make, of the least of his creatures, a weapon to wound, a whip to scourge men. Minute microscopic fungi and entozoa destroy crops and wither up the human frame. Huge ships are utterly ruined by the working of the Teredo navalis. White ants bring down houses. And so, on this occasion, poor weak frogs made the lives of the Egyptians a burthen to them. Forced to tread on them as they walked, to feel them crawling upon their naked feet, to see them covering the floors of their chambers and the soft cushions of their beds, finding them in their ovens, their kneading-troughs, the culinary and other vessels, scarcely able to keep them out of their food, always hearing their melancholy croak, the unfortunate wretches had not a moment's comfort or peace. Constant dropping wears out a stone. A trivial annoyance becomes intolerable by repetition and persistence. Thus, even the obdurate Pharaoh, who had borne the first plague till God chose to remove it without a symptom of yielding, is cowed by the second plague, and "calls for Moses and Aaron"(Exodus 8:8).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Exodus 8:1 -39
Three plagues-frogs, lice, flies.
On the precise character of these three plagues, see the exposition. They are to be viewed in their relation to the Egyptians.—
1. As an intensification of the natural plagues of the land.
2. As a proof of the almightiness of Jehovah (see on Exodus 7:17), and of the folly of further contest with him (Exodus 8:10, Exodus 8:22).
3. As a demonstration of the vanity of the idols. The Egyptian gods were utterly powerless to aid their worshippers. There was not the shadow of help to be derived from them. This was the more remarkable that several of the gods were worshipped as protectors from the very classes of plagues which were here brought upon the country. There were fly-gods, to protect against flies, deities to protect against frogs, etc. And the defeat of the idols was remarkable from this other fact, that several of the agents employed as scourges of Egypt were themselves ranked as deities. This was the case with the river, and with many of the creatures, e.g. the beetle, probably included under "flies."
4. The removal of the plagues when Pharaoh showed signs of submission, was a proof of God's mercy, and a token to the monarch of his sincerity in his dealings with him generally. Taken in connection with Pharaoh's behaviour under them, the three plagues read us valuable lessons. They teach—
I. THE SUPREMACY OF GOD in THE KINGDOM OF NATURE. All creatures, all agencies, are under his control. They come and go, march and countermarch, act in separation or combination, at his pleasure. He sent the hornets before the Israelites to drive out the Amorites from their strong castles (Exodus 22:28). He frequently punished Israel by sending armies of locusts to devour the produce of the fields (Joel 1:1-20, Joel 2:1-32; Amos 4:1-13.). Jehovah was at the head of these armies (Joel 2:11), and so was he at the head of the armies of frogs, gnats, flies, and other noxious insects that drove the Egyptians to a state of desperation. This is a striking thought, in as full accordance with a sound philosophy and with the facts presented to us in nature, as with the teaching of Christ, who bids us see the Father's hand even in the fall of a sparrow. What account can be given, e.g; of the minatory instincts of birds, save that suggested by this thought of Jehovah's rule, regulating their motions, and guiding them in their long and perilous journeys (Jeremiah 8:7). He rules. He alone rules. "An idol is nothing"(1 Corinthians 8:4).
II. THE IMPOTENCE OF MAN IN THE HANDS OF JEHOVAH.
1. God's entire control of all things in creation gives him command of exhaustless resources for the punishment of his enemies. When the river was healed at the end of seven days, Pharaoh may have thought that his trouble had blown past—that the plagues were at an end. But lo! a new plague is brought upon him, of which he had never dreamed, a plague of "frogs," also from the river. Then in swift successive strokes came the plagues of gnats, of mixed insects, of murrain of beasts, of boils, etc; each breaking out from some new and totally unexpected quarter. If ever the Egyptians thought, Surely the arrows in the quiver of this mighty god are at length all spent, they were speedily undeceived by the breaking forth upon them of some fresh plague. The Almighty's quiver is not thus easily exhausted. There is at every stage in his chastisements an infinite reserve of power to chastise us further, and in new forms.
2. Natural agents are a frequent means by which God chastises the rebellious. It is really a truer philosophy which sees God behind all action of natural force, and all movements of the irrational creatures, than that which sees only second causes, only laws and instincts, and refuses to recognise the Supreme Orderer in their movements and combinations. There need be no scruple in acknowledging second causes, or even, in a sense, a reign of unvarying law; but the "laws" of nature are one thing, and the "course" of nature another, and this latter the Theist believes to be no more of chance than the former, while the Christian is taught to trace a Divine purpose and end in its minutest ramifications. Hail, snow, fire, and vapour; stormy wind; rain and thunder; insect and reptile life; plague and famine; disease in its myriad forms—all are weapons in the hands of God by which he can fulfil his. righteous will to punish.
3. The minutest forms of life are used by God as his sorest scourges. Thomas Scott acutely remarks that the plagues would have been easier to bear, and would not have been felt to be so humiliating, had the agents in them been lions and tigers, or other animals of the nobler sort; or perhaps foreign enemies. There would at least have been dignity in succumbing to the attacks of hordes of powerful foes. But how intolerably humiliating to be conquered by shoals of frogs or by insignificant and contemptible creatures like lice and flies! Yet Pharaoh could more easily have contended with the former classes of enemies than with these latter. One army can charge another with at least some chance of success; and protection is possible against enemies that are of a size which admits of their being shot, hunted, trapped, or kept out by walls and defences; but nothing of this kind is possible with the minuter creatures. It was impossible to erect defences against locusts; and to this hour, man is helpless against their ravages. A stray Colorado beetle may be put to death; but if that form of life were developed to but a small extent among us, it would be impossible to shield ourselves effectually from its destructive operations. Numbers of diseases have now been traced to the presence of germs in the atmosphere and in our food and drink, and it is the very minuteness of these germs—their microscopic and infinitesimal character—which makes them so deadly and so difficult to cope with. When the potato disease appeared in 1846, nothing could be done to check its spread, and little can be done yet to guard against its assaults! The fungus is of a kind which eludes our efforts to deal with it. Plague and pestilence (Plague of London, Black Death, Cholera, etc.), while depending to a very large extent on material conditions for their development, yet seem connected in their origin with similar organic germs. In this whole wide region, accordingly, God has under his control potent invisible agencies, which ordinarily his providence keeps in check, but which at any hour might be converted into most terrific scourges. He has at command a literally exhaustless array of weapons with which to assail us, if we provoke his chastisements; armies countless in numbers, invisible in form, unseen in their modes of attack, and against which no weapons can be forged likely to secure safety. As knowledge advances, means are discovered for partially protecting ourselves against this or that disorder (sanitary science, vaccination, etc.); but just as, perhaps, we are beginning to think with the Egyptians that the evil day is past, some new plague develops itself (e.g. the potato murrain) of which formerly we had no conception. We are still in God's hands and as helpless as ever. The "last days" will probably be marked by a singular intensification of natural plagues (Luke 21:25; Revelation 16:1-12).
III. THE POSSIBILITIES OF RESISTANCE TO GOD THAT LIE IN HUMAN NATURE. It might have been judged impossible that, after being convinced, as Pharaoh at an early stage in these proceedings must have been, of the reality and power of the Being with whom he was contending—that he was indeed Jehovah, the God of the whole earth—the monarch should still have persevered in his mad resistance. Twice, in the course of this chapter, he is brought to the point of acknowledging the futility of further opposition; yet, immediately on the plague being removed, he reverts to the policy of non-submission. He must have known that he had nothing to gain by it. If he was infatuated enough at first to think that the Almighty, having removed one plague, could not, or would not, send another, he must have been speedily disabused of that impression. It was no longer a question of self-interest with him, for the loss and pain caused by these successive plagues more than counterbalanced any gain he could hope to derive from the retention of the Israelites. Neither had he on his side, in opposition to this command of the Hebrews' God, the least shadow of right or reason, with which to sustain himself. Yet without one conceivable motive save that furnished by his own pride and obstinacy, and by hatred of the Being who was thus coercing him, Pharaoh continued to resist. Conquered for the moment, he returned to his defiant attitude the instant pressure was removed. And this defiant attitude he maintained, with increasing hardness of heart till the very end. Here then we see the possibility of a being finally resisting grace. It appals us to think of the possibilities of resistance to the Almighty thus tying in the constitution of our wills, but the fact is not to be ignored. It is a proof of our original greatness. It reveals to us our immortality. It shows us the possibility of a final loss of the soul. If it be thought that Gospel influences are certain to accomplish that which could not be expected by terrors and judgments, and that changes may be wrought in eternity, which cannot be wrought in time, we have to remember that an even worse hardening is possible under the dispensation of the Son and Spirit than was possible to Pharaoh, and that human nature in the future state is essentially the same as human nature now. No good reason can be shown why a will which resists all that God can do to subdue it here may not from the same motives resist all gracious influences brought to bear on it hereafter. No one, at least, looking to the possibilities of resistance manifested on earth, could guarantee that it will not do so. The tendency to a fixed state of the will in evil as in good, renders the possibility of an ultimate recovery of those who habitually resist light here extremely problematical, even on the grounds of philosophy. If we turn to Scripture, it is difficult to see what warrant we have to expect it. The dream of a future dispensation of grace, and of universal restoration, must find support somewhere else than in its statements. ]f we accept the plain teaching of Christ and the Apostles, there are those who will finally resist, and their number will not be few. The gift of will is a great, but it is also an infinitely perilous one. Even Dr. Farrar says, "I cannot tell whether some souls may not resist God for ever, and therefore may not be for ever shut out from his presence".
IV. GOD'S READINESS TO BE ENTREATED OF THE SINNER. Though Pharaoh had hardened himself so obstinately, yet, on the first signs of his relenting, mercy was shown to him (verse 9). There was on God's part, even a hastening to be gracious. Pharaoh was taken at his word. He was trusted. No guarantees were taken from him that he would fulfil his word, save his simple promise. God might have delayed the removal of the plague till the actual order for Israel's departure from the land had been given. But the plague was removed at once, that Pharaoh might be left to his freedom, and that his heart might be won by the exhibition of the divine goodness to him. And this was done, not merely on the first, but on the second occasion of his entreaty, and after his first promise had been broken (verse 29). So willing is God to do the sinner every justice, and to grant him every opportunity, which may result in his salvation, lie does not wait for complete conversion, but welcomes in man the first signs of a disposition to return to Him. He is as plenteous in mercy as tie is severe in judgment, if mercy is despised.
V. THE EFFECT OF CONTINUED IMPENITENCE IN PRODUCING INCREASED HARDNESS OF HEART. It is obvious from this chapter that Pharaoh was making rapid progress in hardening himself. Going back a stage or two, we can trace that progress in very marked degrees. We find him hardening himself—
1. Against a miracle which was plainly from God, but which he tried to persuade himself was only a work of magic—the conversion of the rod into a serpent.
2. Against a miracle which he knew to be from God, but against the influence of which his obstinacy enabled him to hold out—the turning of the Nile into blood.
3. Against a miracle which he not only knew to be from God, but which convinced him of the hopelessness of further resistance, and which was removed from him at his own request—the plague of frogs.
4. Against his own promise to release the Israelites.
5. Against a miracle which even his magicians failed to imitate, and declared to be the finger of God, (verse 19)—the plague of lice. Having broken his promise, Pharaoh now felt, probably, that he must brave it out.
6. Against a miracle which showed yet more distinctly that the work was God's by the difference which was put between the Egyptians and the Israelites dwelling in Goshen—the plague of flies (verses 22, 23). This seems to have produced a powerful impression upon the king, and he again besought the removal of the plague.
7. Against a second solemn promise, and after being expressly warned against deceitful dealing (verse 29). As the result of all, Pharaoh was acquiring facility in hardening himself, was rapidly losing his susceptibility to truth, was becoming infatuated in his obstinacy, and was strengthening his will in the habit of resistance. Thus fatally does hardening make progress!—J.O.
The plague of frogs.
Observe on this plague, in addition to what has been said above.
I. PHARAOH'S HARDNESS UNDER THE FIRST PLAGUE WROUGHT NO ESCAPE, EITHER FROM THE DIVINE COMMAND OR FROM THE DIVINE POWER (Exodus 8:1). He probably thought, now that the river was healed, that he had done with Jehovah's demand, and perhaps congratulated himself that he had succeeded in holding out. But divine commands are not thus to be got rid of. They are not to be got rid of by resistance. They are not to be got rid of even by braving out the penalty. They come back and back to us, and always with the old alternative, obey, or incur new punishment. Our most furious opposition cannot rid us of the obligation of rendering to Jesus in the Gospel "the obedience of faith," nor shall we escape judgment if we refuse.
II. THE SECOND PLAGUE INDUCED A SUBMISSION WHICH THE FIRST FAILED TO EXTORT (Exodus 8:8). It was submission under compulsion, but it testified to a remarkable change in the king's views about Moses and Jehovah. It was not long since he had been erecting himself in his pride in supreme defiance of both. Moses and Aaron he had treated as base-born slaves, and had ordered them back to their burdens (Exodus 5:4). He had scorned the message of their God, and had shown his contempt for it by heaping new insults on Jehovah's worshippers. So impressed was even Moses by his lordly greatness, that he had shrunk from exposing himself to the proud king's despite, lie thought it was useless for him to attempt to go to Pharaoh. Very different were Pharaoh's ideas about Moses and Jehovah now he had been smitten by the invisible hand of this God with these two reeling blows, and already he was on his knees asking for deliverance. The vaunting sinner will change his views of the living God when once he falls into His hands.
III. THE SECOND PLAGUE REVERSED THE RELATIONS OF MOSES AND PHARAOH, MAKING PHARAOH THE SUITOR, AND MOSES THE PERSON SUED TO (Exodus 8:8). What a humiliation to this haughty monarch! How much better for himself had he yielded at first, and with a good grace, to the righteous demand made upon him! Nothing is gained by resistance to God, but ultimate pain and humiliation. As Pharaoh was humbled, so Moses was exalted, lie began to be "a god" to Pharaoh. Like reversals of the positions of the great ones of the world and despised servants of God have frequently been witnessed. Compare Paul and Felix (Acts 24:25); Paul and the centurion, in the shipwreck at Malta (Acts 28:1-31.).
IV. THE SECOND PLAGUE RAISED MOSES TO NEW HONOURS BY MAKING HIS INTERCESSION THE MEDIUM OF DELIVERANCE (Exodus 8:9-12). God might have removed the plague at Pharaoh's simple request, conveyed to him by Moses. In point of fact, he made the intercession of Moses the condition and medium of it. The same thing is seen in the history of Elijah (1 Kings 18:41-46). This,
1. Put honour upon Moses.
2. Taught the value of "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man"( Genesis 18:23-33; James 1:15-18).
3. Gave Moses himself a deeper interest in the event.
4. Trained him for the higher function of mediation on behalf of Israel. It would give him confidence in intercession, would enable him to realise the reality of his power with God, would help in developing the faculty of earnest and sustained prayer.
5. It shadowed forth the higher mediation. Pharaoh was so abandoned in evil, so insincere even in his repentance, that his request, as it were, could only become prevailing when taken up by a holier nature and presented as its own. This is the key to all spiritual intercession, and involves the principle which reaches its full expression in the mediation of our Saviour.
V. THE REMOVAL OF THE PLAGUE RESULTED IN PHARAOH'S BREAKING OF HIS PROMISE, AND IN HIS FURTHER HARDENING. The severity of the plague had for the moment unmanned him. His power of further resistance had broken down. But the will to resist was not in the least altered, and when the plague was removed, his obstinate disposition reasserted itself, and produced new rebellion. Rage and pride must at this crisis have overpowered reason, as well as conscience, for Pharaoh could hardly doubt but that his breach of promise would bring new trouble upon him. He did, however, return to his contumacy, and by the act cut down another of the bridges which might have conducted him back to peace with God, and to safety and honour in his kingdom. Terror of any kind, the approach, perhaps, of death, or of what seems to threaten death, often produces quakings of soul, and transient repentances. If these are not followed up on recovery—if recovery or escape is granted—they react to induce a very special hardening. A heart seldom gets the better of vows made in a season of deep sorrow, and afterwards, with the return of health and prosperity, renounced.
VI. MINOR LESSONS.
1. God's visitations are not vague and general. They will find us out in every sphere and department of our lives. His stroke will be felt in everything (Exodus 8:3, Exodus 8:4).
2. The power of God's servants (Exodus 8:5, Exodus 8:6 : 12, 13). The stretching out of the rod brought frogs on Egypt. The intercession of Moses removed them. The prayers of a good man are both to be feared and to be desired. Feared, if they are against us; desired, if they are for us. It is lawful to pray, not for the ruin of our enemies' souls, but for the discomfiture of their projects, and the overthrow of their ungodly schemes (Revelation 11:5, Revelation 11:6).
3. The duty of courtesy, and of returning good for evil (Exodus 8:9, Exodus 8:10). Moses, at the very time of his triumph over Pharaoh, treated him with studious respect, and was ready to pray, at his request, for the removal of the plague.
4. The power of life and death as vested in God (Exodus 8:13, Exodus 8:14).
5. Man's abuse of God's kindness (Exodus 8:15). A respite granted; therefore Pharaoh hardened himself (cf. Romans 2:4).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The seared plague: the frogs.
In intimating the first plague, Moses made no forms! demand upon Pharaoh to liberate Israel, though of course the demand was really contained in the intimation. But now as the second plague approaches, the formal demand once again is heard. Pharaoh is left for no long time without a distinct appeal which he must face either with consent or refusal. And so now Moses addresses him in the same words as on his first visit: "Let my people go." It is a challenge to the man who holds by violence and brute force that which is not his own. It is not a mere combat between potentate and potentate. "That they may serve me,"—awful is the wickedness of hindering God's people from serving him.
I. NOTICE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS SECOND PLAGUE. Hitherto there has been something evidently sublime in God's treatment of Pharaoh. God's treatment is of course always sublime; but up to this point even Pharaoh must have felt that he was being treated as a king ought to be treated. The messengers of Jehovah were only mean men in appearance, but the first plague itself was certainly an impressive one. We may imagine that Pharaoh would even say to himself with a sort of proud satisfaction, "How great my power must be when all the waters of my land are turned to blood in order to coerce me." He would feel flattered by what we may call the dignity of the attack upon him. But now observe how God changes his mode of working, and proceeds to use little things to humiliate Pharaoh. As he uses those who are reckoned the feeble and contemptible among men, so he uses the feeble and contemptible among the lower creation. He sends out frogs all over the land of Egypt. If only it had been an incursion of lions from the desert, roaring through the streets of the city and tearing down the people, or if it had been a host of mighty beasts trampling down his fields, then Pharaoh would have felt there was dignity in such a mode of attack;—but frogs! frogs followed by gnats, and gnats by flies! A plague to be made out of frogs seems almost too absurd to think of; and yet we see from the event that these despised little creatures forced Pharaoh to an appeal which not all the evident sublimity of the first plague could extort. More curses could come out of the river than the conversion of it into blood. This plague of the frogs we may judge to have been felt as inconvenient and irritating rather than dangerous. How ridiculous it must have been to have these agile little animals, millions of them, finding their way everywhere. No place safe from them, not even the well-guarded chambers of Pharaoh himself. Here was a plague that did not wait for the people to make acquaintance with it, as when they went to the streams and pools and found them blood. It forced itself upon them by day and by night, as they sat at their meals and as they lay in their beds. The thing that is constantly inconvenient and troublesome, may bring a man to his knees sooner even than a peril which more closely concerns his life.
II. THUS WE COME TO OBSERVE PHARAOH'S FIRST SIGN OF YIELDING. Notice that as to what will actually have power to produce a certain result, God is a far better judge than we can be. We should have said, "put the frogs first and the blood afterwards; Pharaoh will yield to the blood what he will not yield to the frogs." But when it comes to a trial, it is quite the contrary. The frogs are so tormenting that they must be got rid of, even at a cost of a humiliating promise. Not even the success of the magicians in bringing up frogs, makes the torment more endurable; and so, perhaps somewhat to the astonishment of Moses, who might hardly expect such a sudden change, Pharaoh makes a promise in the most general terms to let the people forth for sacrifice. But mark, the moment Moses begins to press him and fix for a day, he procrastinates. The moment there is any relaxation of pressure upon him, he takes advantage of it. Already he begins to show that he will yield as little as he can. Give him a chance of fixing his time, and he naturally says "to-morrow." Unpleasant things are always put off until to-morrow, either on a supposition that the unpleasantness may be diminished, or on a chance that it may be escaped altogether. And then when to-morrow comes, "to-morrow" is again the cry. Notice that Moses complies with Pharaoh's wish for this slight delay. One day is nothing so far as Israel is concerned. They can easily wait, if only the granting of this one day will make Pharaoh's yielding more agreeable to himself. God never humiliates for the sake of humiliating. He chooses the humiliation of his enemies—as when he sends a plague of frogs,—because it is the most effectual means to his own ends. But the moment there is a profession of repentance, the humiliation stops, and opportunity is given to make the profession a reality.—Y.