The last plague of hail had destroyed the earlier corps and four to eight weeks later the wheat and spelt would be approaching maturity. The next plague, the locusts obviously came within this period.
There is a twofold purpose stated for this and the other plagues. One was that God could show theses signs. “That I may perform these signs of Mine among them.” Remember that a sign points to a meaning beyond itself. God was not only showing His power but His sovereignty. Secondly, the plagues were so that Israel would “know” (experience) the sovereignty of God and bear witness of it to the future generations. “That you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.” The acts of God are always a witness to His lordship. When we have come to know them we are to bear witness to them.
Here in verse two we see an interesting phrase, “how I made a mockery of the Egyptians.” God was not playing a game with the Egyptians, as this had been a deadly confrontation between the gods of Egypt and the God of Israel. Even though the pitiful puny efforts of the Egyptians on behalf of their gods had been a laughing matter, the plagues was a historical equivalent of the song of Israel’s worship which said, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.” (Psalms 2:4)
Moses and Aaron again went to Pharaoh with the warning. Their warning came with a new dimension put in the form of a question. “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” This was quite a question to be asking Pharaoh. Pharaoh was considered both by his people and himself to be divine. Here the god-king of Egypt was being called to submission to the God of his slaves. In that context it may have seemed a ridiculous demand except for the fact of what had happened in the preceding plagues. Underlying this question was that if Pharaoh had learned anything from the first seven plagues. Interesting to note that in the Hebrew understanding of numbers, seven was a complete number. From the understanding of the Hebrews seven plagues should have been enough to convince Pharaoh to obey their God’s will. But this was not the case.
The announcement of the coming locusts was also another plague aimed at a god of Egypt. Locusts were not the problem in Egypt that they were in Canaan, but they were still enough of a problem that they had a god who was to protect the crops from their incursions. Again this was another deliberate confrontation with the Egyptian religion. Once this warning was delivered Moses departed.
Now we see a strange occurrence. We have been watching the reactions of Pharaoh’s servants to the series of catastrophes. Now we see a major development, as the royal advisers urged Pharaoh to try and make a deal with Moses. “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?” The royal advisers of Pharaoh were rebuking their divine king. The economy of Egypt had been devastated. The leaders of Egypt could not see how they could stand any more. Pharaoh listened and called Moses and Aaron back and offered a new compromise.
We find the narrative here lively and entertaining. It is a typical diplomatic negotiation of any age. There was a lot of implication towards things left unsaid. There was also a lot of things said which had double meanings. At first it seemed that Pharaoh was granting the demands of Moses when he said, “Go, serve the LORD your God!” then Pharaoh had an afterthought and added a question. “Who are the ones that are going?” Moses quickly responded that all the Israelites were going and that they were talking all that they processed. Pharaoh may have hoped that his concession would have eased the demands of Moses, but he was disappointed.
“Thus may the LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Take heed, for evil is in your mind. Not so! Go now, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you desire.” Pharaoh now shows his sarcasm in the blessing that he offered Moses. Pharaoh expresses his hope that God’s guidance would be as nonexistent as the royal permission they had been asking. He also accuses them of planning evil against Egypt. Pharaoh knew this was not true, as if they were plotting against Egypt they would have carried it out in the land. It is a typical diplomatic ploy to raise a nonexistent issue in order to avoid a real one. Pharaoh then tries to appear generous by allowing the men to go and worship their God. In the Ancient Near East, most worship was carried on by the men. The implication of Pharaoh was that all Moses had asked for was the opportunity to worship God. If this were true, then the men could do it. By granting that only the men could leave then they certainly would have returned to Egypt.
We do not know the response of Moses to Pharaoh’s compromise. The fact that Pharaoh had Moses and Aaron “driven out” from his presence suggests a complete rejection.
An east wind blew all that day and all that night coming from the wilderness of the Sinai. “The east wind brought the locusts.” This miracle was again one of timing rather than event. It was a divine catastrophe and a devastating plague. Pharaoh again confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you.” Still this is not to be seen as repentance on Pharaoh’s part. Rather it was an expression of regret at the punishment. Again Pharaoh called on Moses to pray to God “He would only remove this death from me.” All Pharaoh wanted to do was escape the plague.
The locusts were removed in the same way they had come. “So the LORD shifted the wind to a very strong west wind which took up the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea.” As before when the plague was removed Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and therefore “and he did not let the sons of Israel go.”
The last plague struck at the most important god of Egypt, the sun. With no warning given to Pharaoh the sun was suddenly covered, and an intensive, awesome, oppressive darkness enveloped the land. It was described as “a darkness which may be felt.” It was also described as “a thick darkness.” This latter expression is a “dark darkness.” The use of two words gives an emphasis to the blackness.
Some have argued this was probably an eclipse of the sun but we must reject that on two reasons. The Egyptian astronomers were able to predict movements of the heavenly bodies centuries in advance. It is inconceivable that they would have been caught by surprise. Furthermore no eclipse last for the period of time described here.
Others have argued that a massive sandstorm blew in from the desert. Certainly the massive winds described in the previous plague could have accomplished this. The west wind that blew away the locusts would have been coming of the Sahara desert. If it had brought a massive sandstorm, this would have been literally “a darkness which may be felt.” It is possible that the ninth plague could have been such an event. If so, then the miracle would not have been what happened but the timing of when it happened.
With no description of this plague being called a sandstorm all probability is that it was a supernatural event. The sunlight being blackened across the land of Egypt would have been terrifying for the Egyptian people who worshiped the sun god. Whatever had happened there was no doubt in either Moses’ or Pharaoh’s mind but that Yahweh had done it. As a further justification of this belief, the “but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings.” In Goshen where the Israelites lived there was light.
In the midst of this new terror Pharaoh called Moses and offered a fourth compromise: “Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you.” This may have been Pharaoh’s last grasp, but it was also a temptation to Moses. Pharaoh had given them all freedom to go. Pharaoh knew that if the possessions of Israel remained in Egypt the Israelites would not go far, neither would they stay away.
Moses again rejected the compromise of Pharaoh. Moses pointed out the ignorance of Pharaoh to know what God was going to require of them. Pharaoh then again refused to give the ultimate permission to them. Pharaoh was on the brink of yielding but would not do so. Even under the extreme pressure that God had placed upon Pharaoh he became even more stubborn in his way. In anger Pharaoh ordered Moses to “Get away from me!” Pharaoh had become so angered that he threatened Moses with death if he ever appeared before him again.
We cannot tell the tone of Moses’ voice in his response to Pharaoh. “You are right; I shall never see your face again!” it could be that Moses was telling Pharaoh that he had had his last chance. Now there would be nothing left for Pharaoh but to face the full wrath of God.
Words spoken in anger are often spoken without considering future needs. We often say this in anger and then find what we have said is not the way it must be. So it was with Pharaoh and Moses. In Exodus 12:31-32 Pharaoh again calls for Moses and Aaron to come before him. To hold that a man must live up to everything he speaks in anger is to demand more than is justified.