10.3. The Eighth Plague: Locusts (10:1-20)

The objective:

(1) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them,

(2) and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them — in order that you may know that I am the Lord.”

The setup:

(3) So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go that they may worship Me.

(4) For if you refuse to let My people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts on your territory.

(5) They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They shall devour the surviving remnant that was left to you after the hail; and they shall eat away all your trees that grow in the field.

(6) Moreover, they shall fill your palaces and the houses of all your courtiers and of all the Egyptians — something that neither your fathers nor fathers’ fathers have seen from the day they appeared on earth to this day.’ ” With that he turned and left Pharaoh’s presence.

Pharaoh’s hesitation:

(7) Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him, “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go to worship the Lord their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?”

(8) So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh and he said to them, “Go, worship the Lord your God! Who are the ones to go?”

(9) Moses replied, “We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe the Lord‘s festival.”

(10) But he said to them, “The Lord be with you the same as I mean to let your children go with you! Clearly, you are bent on mischief.

(11) No! You menfolk go and worship the Lord, since that is what you want.” And they were expelled from Pharaoh’s presence.

The actual plague:

(12) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Hold out your arm over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat up all the grasses in the land, whatever the hail has left.”

(13) So Moses held out his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord drove an east wind over the land all that day and all night; and when morning came, the east wind had brought the locusts.

(14) Locusts invaded all the land of Egypt and settled within all the territory of Egypt in a thick mass; never before had there been so many, nor will there ever be so many again.

(15) They hid all the land from view, and the land was darkened; and they ate up all the grasses of the field and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left, so that nothing green was left, of tree or grass of the field, in all the land of Egypt.

Pharaoh’s reaction:

(16) Pharaoh hurriedly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I stand guilty before the Lord your God and before you.

(17) Forgive my offense just this once, and plead with the Lord your God that He but remove this death from me.”

(18) So he left Pharaoh’s presence and pleaded with the Lord.

(19) The Lord caused a shift to a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and hurled them into the Sea of Reeds; not a single locust remained in all the territory of Egypt.

(20) But the Lord stiffened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

(1) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh”: These words have become the name of this portion itself. Says the Midrash: “Divinity now resides in Pharaoh’s house, and is revealed through him – through the plagues that have afflicted the Egyptians, and the punishments exacted from them. Go to Pharaoh, so that that Divinity will extend also to all of mankind.”

For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them: We have already noted that this “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart allows him to not succumb to his travails. Thus, this “hardening” does not deprive Pharaoh of his freedom of choice, but rather affords him the opportunity make his own free and independent decisions. This is necessary for realizing the purpose of the Exodus. God’s objective is not victory but persuasion – to persuade Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

(2) And that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them — in order that you may know that I am the Lord: In the future, the Ten Plagues that led up to the Exodus will become a foundation of Jewish self-identification, representing the Jews’ direct connection to God.

(4-6) I will bring locusts on your territory … Something that neither your fathers nor fathers’ fathers have seen from the day they appeared on earth to this day: A locust infestation of this magnitude does not occur in nature. Thus, it is not merely a rare occurrence, but a violation of the very laws of nature.

With that he turned and left Pharaoh’s presence: This never happened during any of the previous plagues. It reflects the ever-widening rift between Israel and Egypt.

(7) Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him … “Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?”: Egypt is dying not only a physical death, but also in the historical sense. It can no longer be a leading force in human history.

(8) So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh: Pharaoh is now showing less respect for Moses and Aaron. This is his response to the beginning of the breakdown in relations that Moses himself has initiated.

And he said to them, “Go, worship the Lord your God! Who are the ones to go?”: Pharaoh backtracks and now capitulates to Moses’ earlier demands.

(9) Moses replied, “We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe the Lord‘s festival”: As soon as Pharaoh is ready to let the Jews leave Egypt for offering sacrifices, Moses ups the ante and states openly that this is not just a short-term religious event, but a total and final Exodus. But Pharaoh (and the Egyptians) are not yet ready for that, and the process of persuasion continues.

(10) But he said to them, “The Lord be with you the same as I mean to let your children go with you! Clearly, you are bent on mischief”: Pharaoh is outraged. It is now clear to him that staging a religious event is just an excuse, and the real Jewish goal is to bring evil upon Egypt!

(11) No! You menfolk go and worship the Lord, since that is what you want.”: Rather than increasing your demands, you would do well simply to revert to your previous demands.

And they were expelled from Pharaoh’s presence: Pharaoh has Moses and Aaron forcefully removed. He is furious, because he now sees that he had incorrectly understood the entire situation.

(15) They hid all the land from view, and the land was darkened; and they ate up all the grasses of the field and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left, so that nothing green was left, of tree or grass of the field, in all the land of Egypt: Egypt is now truly on the verge of death by starvation.

(16) Pharaoh hurriedly summoned Moses and Aaron: Just a little earlier (v. 8), Moses and Aaron “were brought back” to Pharaoh – almost by force, but now they are respectfully asked to return. Now that the situation has become unbearable for Pharaoh, he immediately shows his respect to Moses and Aaron.

(16-17) And said, “I stand guilty before the Lord your God and before you. Forgive my offense just this once, and plead with the Lord your God that He but remove this death from me”: The very real prospect of death to Egypt works well to motivate Pharaoh. He not only asks to abolish the plague, but even acknowledges his moral improbity. Each subsequent plague advances Pharaoh’s understanding of the world, and helps him to see and acknowledge his guilt.

(20) But the Lord stiffened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go: Pharaoh is frightened, but he is not yet convinced. It will be necessary to further harden Pharaoh’s heart, in order to preserve his freedom of choice.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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