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Exodus 8:20-32

Context
The Fourth Blow: Flies

8:20 1 The Lord 2  said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and position yourself before Pharaoh as he goes out to the water, and tell him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Release my people that they may serve me! 8:21 If you do not release 3  my people, then I am going to send 4  swarms of flies 5  on you and on your servants and on your people and in your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground they stand on. 6  8:22 But on that day I will mark off 7  the land of Goshen, where my people are staying, 8  so that no swarms of flies will be there, that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of this land. 9  8:23 I will put a division 10  between my people and your people. This sign will take place 11  tomorrow.”’” 8:24 The Lord did so; a 12  thick 13  swarm of flies came into 14  Pharaoh’s house and into the houses 15  of his servants, and throughout the whole land of Egypt the land was ruined 16  because of the swarms of flies.

8:25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” 17  8:26 But Moses said, “That would not be the right thing to do, 18  for the sacrifices we make 19  to the Lord our God would be an abomination 20  to the Egyptians. 21  If we make sacrifices that are an abomination to the Egyptians right before their eyes, 22  will they not stone us? 23  8:27 We must go 24  on a three-day journey 25  into the desert and sacrifice 26  to the Lord our God, just as he is telling us.” 27 

8:28 Pharaoh said, “I will release you 28  so that you may sacrifice 29  to the Lord your God in the desert. Only you must not go very far. 30  Do 31  pray for me.”

8:29 Moses said, “I am going to go out 32  from you and pray to the Lord, and the swarms of flies will go away from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people tomorrow. Only do not let Pharaoh deal falsely again 33  by not releasing 34  the people to sacrifice to the Lord.” 8:30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, 8:31 and the Lord did as Moses asked 35  – he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. Not one remained! 8:32 But Pharaoh hardened 36  his heart this time also and did not release the people.

1 sn The announcement of the fourth plague parallels that of the first plague. Now there will be flies, likely dogflies. Egypt has always suffered from flies, more so in the summer than in the winter. But the flies the plague describes involve something greater than any normal season for flies. The main point that can be stressed in this plague comes by tracing the development of the plagues in their sequence. Now, with the flies, it becomes clear that God can inflict suffering on some people and preserve others – a preview of the coming judgment that will punish Egypt but set Israel free. God is fully able to keep the dog-fly in the land of the Egyptians and save his people from these judgments.

2 tn Heb “And Yahweh said.”

3 tn The construction uses the predicator of nonexistence – אֵין (’en, “there is not”) – with a pronominal suffix prior to the Piel participle. The suffix becomes the subject of the clause. Heb “but if there is not you releasing.”

4 tn Here again is the futur instans use of the participle, now Qal with the meaning “send”: הִנְנִי מַשְׁלִיחַ (hinni mashliakh, “here I am sending”).

5 tn The word עָרֹב (’arov) means “a mix” or “swarm.” It seems that some irritating kind of flying insect is involved. Ps 78:45 says that the Egyptians were eaten or devoured by them. Various suggestions have been made over the years: (1) it could refer to beasts or reptiles; (2) the Greek took it as the dog-fly, a vicious blood-sucking gadfly, more common in the spring than in the fall; (3) the ordinary house fly, which is a symbol of Egypt in Isa 7:18 (Hebrew זְבוּב, zÿvuv); and (4) the beetle, which gnaws and bites plants, animals, and materials. The fly probably fits the details of this passage best; the plague would have greatly intensified a problem with flies that already existed.

6 tn Or perhaps “the land where they are” (cf. NRSV “the land where they live”).

7 tn Or “distinguish.” וְהִפְלֵיתִי (vÿhifleti) is the Hiphil perfect of פָּלָה (palah). The verb in Hiphil means “to set apart, make separate, make distinct.” God was going to keep the flies away from Goshen – he was setting that apart. The Greek text assumed that the word was from פָּלֵא (pale’), and translated it something like “I will marvelously glorify.”

8 tn The relative clause modifies the land of Goshen as the place “in which my people are dwelling.” But the normal word for “dwelling” is not used here. Instead, עֹמֵד (’omed) is used, which literally means “standing.” The land on which Israel stood was spared the flies and the hail.

9 tn Or “of the earth” (KJV, ASV, NAB).

10 tn The word in the text is פְדֻת (pÿdut, “redemption”). This would give the sense of making a distinction by redeeming Israel. The editors wish to read פְלֻת (pÿlut) instead – “a separation, distinction” to match the verb in the preceding verse. For another view, see G. I. Davies, “The Hebrew Text of Exodus VIII 19 [English 23]: An Emendation,” VT 24 (1974): 489-92.

11 tn Heb “this sign will be tomorrow.”

12 tn Heb “and there came a….”

13 tn Heb “heavy,” or “severe.”

14 tn Here, and in the next phrase, the word “house” has to be taken as an adverbial accusative of termination.

15 tn The Hebrew text has the singular here.

16 tc Concerning the connection of “the land was ruined” with the preceding, S. R. Driver (Exodus, 68) suggests reading with the LXX, Smr, and Peshitta; this would call for adding a conjunction before the last clause to make it read, “into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt; and the land was…”

tn The Hebrew word תִּשָּׁחֵת (tishakhet) is a strong word; it is the Niphal imperfect of שָׁחַת (shakhat) and is translated “ruined.” If the classification as imperfect stands, then it would have to be something like a progressive imperfect (the land was being ruined); otherwise, it may simply be a preterite without the vav (ו) consecutive. The verb describes utter devastation. This is the verb that is used in Gen 13:10 to describe how Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Swarms of flies would disrupt life, contaminate everything, and bring disease.

17 sn After the plague is inflicted on the land, then Pharaoh makes an appeal. So there is the familiar confrontation (vv. 25-29). Pharaoh’s words to Moses are an advancement on his previous words. Now he uses imperatives: “Go, sacrifice to your God.” But he restricts it to “in the [this] land.” This is a subtle attempt to keep them as a subjugated people and prevent their absolute allegiance to their God. This offered compromise would destroy the point of the exodus – to leave Egypt and find a new allegiance under the Lord.

18 tn The clause is a little unusual in its formation. The form נָכוֹן (nakhon) is the Niphal participle from כּוּן (kun), which usually means “firm, fixed, steadfast,” but here it has a rare meaning of “right, fitting, appropriate.” It functions in the sentence as the predicate adjective, because the infinitive לַעֲשּׂוֹת (laasot) is the subject – “to do so is not right.”

19 tn This translation has been smoothed out to capture the sense. The text literally says, “for the abomination of Egypt we will sacrifice to Yahweh our God.” In other words, the animals that Israel would sacrifice were sacred to Egypt, and sacrificing them would have been abhorrent to the Egyptians.

20 tn An “abomination” is something that is off-limits, something that is tabu. It could be translated “detestable” or “loathsome.”

21 sn U. Cassuto (Exodus, 109) says there are two ways to understand “the abomination of the Egyptians.” One is that the sacrifice of the sacred animals would appear an abominable thing in the eyes of the Egyptians, and the other is that the word “abomination” could be a derogatory term for idols – we sacrifice what is an Egyptian idol. So that is why he says if they did this the Egyptians would stone them.

22 tn Heb “if we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians [or “of Egypt”] before their eyes.”

23 tn The interrogative clause has no particle to indicate it is a question, but it is connected with the conjunction to the preceding clause, and the meaning of these clauses indicate it is a question (GKC 473 §150.a).

24 tn The verb נֵלֵךְ (nelekh) is a Qal imperfect of the verb הָלַךְ (halakh). Here it should be given the modal nuance of obligation: “we must go.”

25 tn This clause is placed first in the sentence to stress the distance required. דֶּרֶךְ (derekh) is an adverbial accusative specifying how far they must go. It is in construct, so “three days” modifies it. It is a “journey of three days,” or, “a three day journey.”

26 tn The form is the perfect tense with a vav (ו) consecutive; it follows in the sequence: we must go…and then [must] sacrifice.”

27 tn The form is the imperfect tense. It could be future: “as he will tell us,” but it also could be the progressive imperfect if this is now what God is telling them to do: “as he is telling us.”

28 sn By changing from “the people” to “you” (plural) the speech of Pharaoh was becoming more personal.

29 tn This form, a perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive, is equivalent to the imperfect tense that precedes it. However, it must be subordinate to the preceding verb to express the purpose. He is not saying “I will release…and you will sacrifice,” but rather “I will release…that you may sacrifice” or even “to sacrifice.”

30 tn The construction is very emphatic. First, it uses a verbal hendiadys with a Hiphil imperfect and the Qal infinitive construct: לֹא־תַרְחִיקוּ לָלֶכֶת (lotarkhiqu lalekhet, “you will not make far to go”), meaning “you will not go far.” But this prohibition is then emphasized with the additional infinitive absolute הַרְחֵק (harkheq) – “you will in no wise go too far.” The point is very strong to safeguard the concession.

31 tn “Do” has been supplied here to convey that this somewhat unexpected command is tacked onto Pharaoh’s instructions as his ultimate concern, which Moses seems to understand as such, since he speaks about it immediately (v. 29).

32 tn The deictic particle with the participle usually indicates the futur instans nuance: “I am about to…,” or “I am going to….” The clause could also be subordinated as a temporal clause.

33 tn The verb תָּלַל (talal) means “to mock, deceive, trifle with.” The construction in this verse forms a verbal hendiadys. The Hiphil jussive אַל־יֹסֵף (’al-yosef, “let not [Pharaoh] add”) is joined with the Hiphil infinitive הָתֵל (hatel, “to deceive”). It means: “Let not Pharaoh deceive again.” Changing to the third person in this warning to Pharaoh is more decisive, more powerful.

34 tn The Piel infinitive construct after lamed (ל) and the negative functions epexegetically, explaining how Pharaoh would deal falsely – “by not releasing.”

35 tn Heb “according to the word of Moses” (so KJV, ASV).

36 tn This phrase translates the Hebrew word כָּבֵד (kaved); see S. R. Driver, Exodus, 53.



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