a "stroke" of affliction, or disease. Sent as a divine chastisement (Nu 11:33; 14:37; 16:46-49; 2Sa 24:21). Painful afflictions or diseases, (Le 13:3,5,30; 1Ki 8:37), or severe calamity (Mr 5:29; Lu 7:21), or the judgment of God, so called (Ex 9:14). Plagues of Egypt were ten in number.
(1.) The river Nile was turned into blood, and the fish died, and the river stank, so that the Egyptians loathed to drink of the river (Ex 7:14-25).
(2.) The plague of frogs (Ex 8:1-15).
(4.) The plague of flies (Heb arob, rendered by the LXX. dog-fly), Ex 8:21-24.
(5.) The murrain (Ex 9:1-7), or epidemic pestilence which carried off vast numbers of cattle in the field. Warning was given of its coming.
(6.) The sixth plague, of "boils and blains," like the third, was sent without warning (Ex 9:8-12). It is called (De 28:27) "the botch of Egypt," A.V.; but in R.V., "the boil of Egypt." "The magicians could not stand before Moses" because of it.
(8.) The plague of locusts, which covered the whole face of the earth, so that the land was darkened with them (Ex 10:12-15). The Hebrew name of this insect, arbeh, points to the "multitudinous" character of this visitation. Warning was given before this plague came.
(9.) After a short interval the plague of darkness succeeded that of the locusts; and it came without any special warning (Ex 10:21-29). The darkness covered "all the land of Egypt" to such an extent that "they saw not one another." It did not, however, extend to the land of Goshen.
(10.) The last and most fearful of these plagues was the death of the first-born of man and of beast (Ex 11:4-5; 12:29-30). The exact time of the visitation was announced, "about midnight", which would add to the horror of the infliction. Its extent also is specified, from the first-born of the king to the first-born of the humblest slave, and all the first-born of beasts. But from this plague the Hebrews were completely exempted. The Lord "put a difference" between them and the Egyptians. (See Passover.)
deber, "destruction." Any sudden, severe, and dangerous disease. Maweth," death," i.e. deadly disease; so "the black death" of the middle ages. Nega', "a stroke" from God, as leprosy (Leviticus 13). Mageephah, qeteb, "pestilence" (Ps 91:6), "that walketh in darkness," i.e. mysterious, sudden, severe, especially in the night, in the absence of the light and heat of the sun. Rosheph, "flame," i.e. burning fever; compare Hab 3:5 margin (See EGYPT and EXODUS on the ten plagues.)
A close connection exists between the ordinary physical visitations of Egypt and those whereby Pharaoh was constrained to let Israel go. It attests the sacred author's accurate acquaintance with the phenomena of the land which was the scene of his history. "The supernatural presents in Scripture generally no violent opposition to the natural, but rather unites in a friendly alliance with it" (Hengstenberg). A special reason why in this case the natural background of the miracles should appear was in order to show that Jehovah was God of Egypt as much as of Israel, and rules "in the midst of the earth" (Ex 8:22)
By exhibiting Jehovah through Moses at will bringing on with unusual intensity, and withdrawing in answer to intercession at once and completely, the well known Egyptian periodical scourges which their superstition attributed to false gods, Jehovah was proved more effectively to be supreme than He could have been by inflicting some new and strange visitation. The plagues were upon Egypt's idols, the Nile water, the air, the frog, the cow, the beetle, etc., as Jehovah saith (Ex 12:12), "against all the gods of Egypt will I execute judgment" (Ex 18:11; 15:11; Nu 33:4). Ten is significant of completeness, the full flood of God's wrath upon the God-opposed world power. The magicians initiate no plague; in producing the same plague by their enchantments (which seem real, as demoniacal powers have exerted themselves in each crisis of the kingdom of God) as Moses by God's word, they only increase the visitation upon themselves. The plagues as they progress prove:
(1) Jehovah's infinite power over Egypt's deified powers of nature. The first stroke affects the very source of the nation's life, the Nile; then the soil (the dust producing the plague); then the irrigating canals breeding flies.
(2) The difference marked between Israel and Egypt; the cattle, the crops, the furnaces (wherein Israel was worn with bondage) represent all the industrial resources of the nation. The stroke on the firstborn was the crowning one, altogether supernatural, whereas the others were intensifications of existing scourges. The firstborn, usually selected for worship, is now the object of the stroke. The difference marked all along from the third plague was most marked in that on the firstborn (Ex 11:7). The plague was national, the firstborn representing Egypt: Isa 43:3, "I gave Egypt for thy ransom."