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Psalm 105:31-38

31. He spake, and there came a swarm of flies, 226226     The original word for a swarm of flies is ערב, arob. For some account of the noxious insects here meant, see volume 3, page 258, note 2. and lice 227227     The Hebrew word for lice is כנים, kannim. The reading in the Septuagint is σκνιφες, and in the Vulgate sciniphes, which signifies a species of little gnats that sting painfully in the marshy country of Egypt; the culex reptans of Linnaeus, or the culex molestus of Forskal. In support of the accuracy of this interpretation it has been said, that as the translators of the Septuagint dwelt in Egypt, it can hardly be supposed that they were ignorant of what was intended by the Hebrew name. Philo, an Alexandrian Jew, and Origen, a Christian father, who likewise lived at Alexandria, have also been produced as confirming this interpretation. Both Philo and Origen represent these insects as being very small, but very troublesome. The latter describes them as winged insects, but so small as to escape any but the acutest sight; and says, that when settled on the body, they wound it with a most sharp and painful piercer. Jerome also supports this view, while Gesenius, Boothroyd, and others, concur in it. The Jewish interpreters, however, and Josephus, understand the original word as denoting lice; which has been adopted by the translators of our English Bible, and which Bochart likewise follows, with most of the modern commentators. Bochart argues that gnats could not be intended: — 1. Because the creatures here mentioned sprang from the dust of the earth, and not from the waters. 2. Because they were both on men and cattle, which cannot be spoken of gnats. 3. Because their name comes from a root which signifies to make firm, fix, establish, which could not apply to gnats, flies, etc., as they are almost constantly on the wing. 4. Because כנה, kinah, is the term given by the Talmudists for louse. The translation given by Calvin, and in our English Bible, appears the most correct, but whichever we adopt, it is necessary to conclude (which the history expressly states) that the creatures were brought in swarms, most extraordinary even for Egypt, and thus a miraculous interposition was made manifest. This judgment was the more noisome and disgraceful to the Egyptians, from the great external purity which they affected, and from their being very nice both in their persons and clothing; bathing and making ablutions continually. They were particularly solicitous not to harbour any vermin, thinking it would be a great profanation of the temple which they entered, if any animalculae of this sort were concealed in their garments. in all their borders. 32. He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire upon their land. 33. And he smote their vines and their fig trees; and destroyed the trees throughout their borders. 34. He spake, and the grasshopper came, and the caterpillar 228228     The Hebrew word translated caterpillar is ילק, yelek. This word is in our English Bible rendered caterpillar here, and in Jeremiah 51:27; but in Joel 1:4, 2:25, and Nahum 3:15, it is rendered cankerworm. In the passage in Nahum the creature is spoken of as winged and bristled, whence some commentators suppose that a kind of locust is intended. “It certainly means some insect remarkable for destroying vegetables, probably the ‘chafer’ or ‘maybug,’ βρουχος, as the LXX. render it in five passages out of eight wherein it occurs. The Vulgate throughout renders it bruchus, the ‘chafer.’ Michaelis thinks it means the ‘chafer,’ particularly in its vermicular state, when it is much more destructive to plants, namely, by gnawing, eating, and cankering their roots, than after it has taken wing.” — Parkhursts Lexicon on ילק, under לק, 2. without number, 35. And they devoured all the herbage in their land, and consumed the fruit of their ground. 36. And he smote all the first-born in their country, even the beginning of all their strength. 229229     The beginning, or the first-fruit of all their strength, is understood by Lowth to mean the first-born of the mother. His note on the verse in Merricks Annotations is as follows: — “Απαρχὴν πόνου, Primitias laboris vel partus LXX. Vulg. Hieron. Compare Genesis 35:18. This, I think, is the right translation. The first-born, that were slain on this occasion, were those that opened the womb; the first-born of the mother, not of the father, as it appears from the circumstances of the history.” The first-born of cattle is no doubt also intended. — See Genesis 49:3; and Psalm 78:51 37. And he brought them forth with silver and gold: nor was there a feeble person among his tribes. 38. Egypt rejoiced at their departure: for their terror had fallen upon them.


31. He spake, and there came a swarm of flies By the word spake the Psalmist intimates that the flies and lice came not forth by chance. The command, we know, was uttered by the mouth of Moses; for although God could have given the command himself, he interposed Moses as his herald. God, however, gave no less efficacy to his word, when he commanded it to be uttered by a man, than if he himself had thundered from heaven. When the minister executes his commission faithfully, by speaking only what God puts into his mouth, the inward power of the Holy Spirit is joined with his outward voice. Here again it is to be observed, that the Egyptians were afflicted with the plague of the flies and lice, that God, with the greater ignominy, might subdue their rebellion and obstinacy. When it is said, that he gave them hail for rain, it denotes a hail of such appalling violence, that it could not be attributed to natural causes. It is probable that Egypt is not so subject to this annoyance as other countries, and it is very seldom visited even with rain, being watered with the Nile. This made it appear to the Egyptians the more wonderful that their country was stricken with hail. To render this calamity the more dreadful, God also mingled with it fire. The hail, then, was accompanied with a tempestuous whirlwind, that the Egyptians who had hardened themselves against the other miracles, inspired with terror, might know that they had to deal with God.

34. He spake, and the grasshopper came This calamity, which was brought upon the fields, could not be attributed to Fortune; for the grasshoppers made their appearance suddenly and in countless multitudes, so that they covered all the land of Egypt. The miracle was very evident from the word spoken, by which it was introduced. Its being announced as to happen, removed all doubt of its being the work of the Most High. Accordingly, it is expressly said, that grasshoppers and caterpillars rushed in at the commandment of God, as if soldiers should run to battle at the sound of the trumpet. Whenever these insects molest us and destroy the fruits of the earth, they are assuredly the scourges of God, but it is here intended to point out an extraordinary work of his hand. In fine, the prophet recites the last miracle, which was wrought by the angel on the night previous to the departure of the people, when he slew all the first-born throughout Egypt. I only take a hasty and passing glance at this history, as I have, in like manner, done of the other facts preceding, because they have been more copiously treated elsewhere, and at this time it is sufficient for us to know the design of the sacred writer. He, however, amplifies this display of the Divine power by a repetition, declaring that the first-born and the flower of their strength were destroyed Some translate, but unhappily, The beginning of their sorrow. As man’s strength shows itself in generation, the Hebrews term the first-begotten the beginning of strength, as we have explained on Genesis 49:3, —

“Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might,
and the beginning of my strength.”

37. And he brought them forth with silver and gold 230230     Allusion is made to the Israelites carrying with them in their departure from Egypt, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, which they borrowed of the Egyptians, Exodus 12:36. The prophet, on the other hand, celebrates the grace of God which preserved the chosen people untouched and safe from all these plagues. If both parties had been indiscriminately afflicted with them, the hand of God would not have been so signally manifest. But now when the Israelites, amidst so many calamities, experienced an entire exemption from harm, this difference exhibits to us, as in a picture, God’s fatherly care about his own people. For this reason, it is stated, Nor was there a feeble person, or one who stumbled; 231231     “And there was not any one stumbling among his tribes. The LXX. have rendered כושל by ἀσθενης infirm, so that they understood the Psalmist to say, there was no one incapable of following the multitude, — no one was prevented by disease or infirmity from accomplishing the journey.” — Phillips. What a striking contrast between their condition and that of their oppressors! While in every Egyptian dwelling, death had left his victim, not one of all the children of Israel was unable to prosecute his heaven-directed flight from that land of bondage. for the verb כשל, kashal, has both these meanings. But I prefer taking it simply in this sense, That whilst Egypt was hastening to destruction, the people of God were vigorous, and free from every malady. When it is said, He brought them forth, and when it is afterwards added, in his tribes, there is a change of the number, which is quite common in the Hebrew language. Some refer the word his to God; but this I am afraid is too forced.

38. Egypt rejoiced at their departure The Psalmist sets forth the power of God from the additional circumstance, that the Egyptians willingly allowed the chosen people to depart, when yet nothing was farther from their intention. Although they wished them destroyed a hundred times, yet they thought that they had the wolf by the ears, as we say; 232232     The meaning of this proverb is to be in danger, or hard set on every side; for if you hold the wolf, he bites you by the fingers; if you let him go, he may destroy you. and thus the fear of revenge made them more determined to blot out the memory of that people. Whence it follows, that when they all at once laid aside their former purpose, it was a secret work of divine providence. 233233     From the heavy and overwhelming judgments inflicted upon Pharaoh and his people, for refusing to allow the Israelites to depart, they came to associate the presence of that people in their land, with the most terrible manifestations of divine displeasure. This at last led them, after all their inveterate impenitence, to hail with gratitude the departure of the hated tribes. To the same effect is the statement in the preceding verse, that they were brought forth with gold and silver The Egyptians could never have had the heart voluntarily to strip themselves, to enrich those whom they would have willingly deprived of life. This was then the bounty of God, in whose hand, and at whose disposal, are all the riches of the world. He might have taken by force from the Egyptians what he had given them; but he bowed their hearts, so that of their own accord they denuded themselves. The expression, for their terror had fallen upon them, is to be understood passively; for the Israelites were not afraid of the Egyptians, but, on the contrary, were terrible to them. Nor does the prophet speak of an ordinary fear. A little before fear had stirred them up to cruelty and tyranny; but as even to that day, they had endeavored, with indomitable audacity, to shake off all fear, God suddenly laid them prostrate by the extraordinary terror which fell upon them. It is, therefore, here justly reckoned among the displays of the wonderful power of God, that he subdued the impetuous fury with which the Egyptians boiled before, that they might allow those to depart free, whom they had determined to handle rudely, and to waste in servile employments; which was like rendering sheep terrible to wolves.

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