Psalm 78:42-51

42. They remembered not his hand in the day that he delivered them from the oppressor:1 43. When he set his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the field of Zoan. 44. When he turned their rivers into blood; and their streams, that they could not drink. 45. He sent among them a mixture2 which devoured them; and the frog which destroyed them. 46. And he gave their fruit [or produce] to the caterpillar,3 and their labor to the grasshopper.447. And he destroyed their vines with hail, and their wild fig-trees5 with hail stones.6 48. And he gave up their cattle to the hail; and their flocks to thunderbolts. 49. He sent upon them the fierceness of his wrath, fury, anger, and affliction, and sent evil angels among them. 50. He made a way to his anger: he kept not their soul from death, and shut up their cattle7 to the pestilence. 51. And he smote all the first-born in Egypt: the first-fruits of their strength8 in the tents of Ham.


42. They remembered not his hand. The sacred writer still continues to upbraid the Israelites; for the simple remembrance of God's benefits might have restrained them, had they not wilfully and perversely forgotten whatever they had experienced. From this impious forgetfulness proceed waywardness and all rebellion. The hand of God, as is well known, is by the figure metonomy taken for his power. In the deliverance of the chosen tribes from Egypt here celebrated, the hand of God was stretched forth in a new and an unusual manner. And their impiety, against which the prophet now inveighs, was rendered the more detestable, from the fact that they accounted as nothing, or soon forgat, that which no length of time ought to have effaced from their memory. Farther, he recounts certain examples of the power of God, which he calls first signs, and then miracles, (verse 43,) that, by the recital of these, he may again rebuke the shameful stupidity of the people. By both these words he expresses the same thing; but in the second clause of the verse, the word miracles gives additional emphasis, implying that, by such strange and unheard-of events, the Egyptians had at that time been stricken with such terror as ought not to have vanished so speedily from the minds of the Israelites.

44. When he turned their rivers into blood. The Psalmist does not enumerate in their order the miracles by which God gave evidence of his power in the deliverance of his people. He considered it enough to bring to their remembrance the well-known histories of these events, which would be sufficient to lay open the wickedness and ingratitude with which they were chargeable; nor is it necessary for us to stay long on these things, since the narrative of Moses gives a more distinct and fuller account of what is here briefly stated. Only I would have my readers to remember that, although God often punished the sins of the heathen by sending upon them hail and other calamities, yet all the plagues which at that time were inflicted upon the Egyptians were of an extraordinary character, and such as were previously unheard-of. A variety of words is therefore employed to enhance these memorable instances of the vengeance of God, as that he sent upon them the fierceness of his wrath, fury, anger, and affliction. This accumulation of words is intended to awaken minds which are asleep to a discovery of so many miracles, of which both the number and the excellence might be perceived even by the blind themselves.

In the last place, it is added that God executed these judgments by angels. Although God has, according as it has pleased him, established certain laws, both in heaven and on earth, and governs the whole order of nature in such a manner as that each creature has assigned to it its own peculiar office; yet whenever it seems good to him he makes use of the ministration of angels for executing his commands, not by ordinary or natural means, but by his secret power, which to us is incomprehensible. Some think that devils are here spoken of, because the epithet evil or hurtful is applied to angel.9 This opinion I do not reject; but the ground upon which they rest it has little solidity. They say that as God dispenses his benefits to us by the ministry of elect angels, so he also executes his wrath by the agency of reprobate angels, as if they were his executioners. This I admit is partly true; but I deny that this distinction is always observed. Many passages of Scripture can be quoted to the contrary. When the army of the Assyrians laid siege to the holy city Jerusalem, who was it that made such havoc among them as compelled them to raise the siege, but the angel who was appointed at that time for the defense of the Church? (2 Kings 19:35.) In like manner, the angel who slew the first-born in Egypt (Exodus 11:5) was not only a minister and an executor of the wrath of God against the Egyptians, but also the agent employed for preserving the Israelites. On the other hand, although the kings of whom Daniel speaks were avaricious and cruel, or rather robbers, and turned all things upside down, yet the Prophet declares, (chapter 20:13,) that holy angels were appointed to take charge of them. It is probable that the Egyptians were given over and subjected to reprobate angels, as they deserved; but we may simply consider the angels here spoken of as termed evil, on account of the work in which they were employed, -- because they inflicted upon the enemies of the people of God terrible plagues to repress their tyranny and cruelty. In this way, both the heavenly and elect angels, and the fallen angels, are justly accounted the ministers or executors of calamity; but they are to be regarded as such in different senses. The former yield a prompt and willing obedience to God; but the latter, as they are always eagerly intent upon doing mischief, and would, if they could, turn the whole world upside down, are fit instruments for inflicting calamities upon men.

50. He made a way to his anger.10 To take away all excuse from this ungrateful people, whom the most evident and striking proofs of the goodness of God which were presented before their eyes could not keep in their obedience to him, it is here again repeated that the wrath of God overflowed Egypt like an impetuous torrent. The miracle adverted to is the last which was there wrought, when God, by the powerful hand of his angel, slew, in one night, all the first-born of Egypt. According to a common and familiar mode of speaking in the Hebrew language, the first-born are called the beginning, or the first-fruits of strength. Although the old advance to death as they decline in years, yet as they are in a manner renewed in their offspring, and thus may be said to recover their decayed strength, the term strength is applied to their children. And the first-born are called the beginning or the first-fruits of this strength, as I have explained more at large on Genesis 49:3. The houses of Egypt are called the tents of Ham, because Misraim, who gave the name to the country, was the son of Ham, Genesis 10:6. Farther, there is here celebrated the free love of God towards the posterity of Shem, as manifested in his preferring them to all the children of Ham, although they were possessed of no intrinsic excellence which might render them worthy of such a distinction.

1 That is, Pharaoh, as the next verse shows. See Psalm 107:2.

2 This is the literal rendering of the original word bre, arob, which is derived from the verb bre, arab, he mingled. It is not agreed among interpreters what is meant by this name given here, and in Exodus 8:21, and in Psalm 105:31, to one of the plagues which fell upon the Egyptians. The Chaldee has "a mixture of living creatures of the wood." "A mixture; a mixed collection of beasts," says Bythner. In our English Bible, it is "divers sorts of flies." Others read, "swarms of flies." Bishop Mant reads, "the ravening fly;" Fry, simply "the fly;" and Walford, "the horse-fly." "The Seventy," says Mant, "have rendered the original word translated 'fly,' when spoken of the Egyptian plague, constantly by kunomui>a , 'the dog-fly;' whence it is plain those translators thought it meant some particular species of fly, in opposition to those who are of opinion that it meant 'all sorts of flies.' (See Parkhurst on bre.) What particular species was intended has been much doubted. Bruce, however, seems to have decided the question, and fixed the insect to be the Ethiopian fly, called Zimb, of which he has given a particular description. Some of its effects are thus represented by him. 'As soon as this plague appears, and their buzzing is heard, all the cattle forsake their food, and run wildly about the plain, till they die, worn out with fatigue, fright, and hunger. No remedy remains but to leave the black earth, and hasten down to the sands of Atbara; and there they remain, while the rains last, this cruel enemy not daring to pursue them further. Though his size be immense, as is his strength, and his body covered with a thick skin, defended with strong hair, yet even the camel is not capable of sustaining the violent punctures the fly makes with his pointed proboscis. When once attacked by this fly, his body, head, and legs, break out into large bosses, which swell, break, and putrefy, to the certain destruction of the creature. Even the elephant and rhinoceros, which, by reason of their enormous bulk, and the vast quantity of food and water they daily need, cannot shift to desert and dry places, as the season may require, are obliged to roll themselves in mud and mire; which, when dry, coats them over like armor, and enables them to stand their ground against this winged assassin.'" -- Mant.

3 lyox, chasil, which is derived from lox, chasal, to consume, eat up, denotes a species of insect, so called from its devouring the fruits of the earth. But we are so little acquainted with the various kinds of destructive insects that ravage the Eastern countries, that it is somewhat difficult to determine the particular species meant by this term. It is distinguished from the locust in Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple, 2 Chronicles 6:28, and in Joel 1:4, where it is mentioned as eating up what the locusts had left. Harmer is of opinion that it is the species of insects now called sim in Persia, referred to in the following extract from Sir John Chardin's Travels: -- "Persia is subject to have its harvests spoiled by hail, by drought, or by insects, either locusts or small insects which they call sim, which are small white lice, which fix themselves on the foot of the stalk of corn, gnaw it, and make it die. It is rare for a year to be exempt from one or other of these scourges, which affect the ploughed lands and the gardens," etc. On this Harmer observes, "The enumeration by Solomon and that of this modern writer, though not exactly alike, yet so nearly resemble each other, that one would be inclined to believe these small insects are what Solomon meant by the word [lyox, chasil] translated 'caterpillars' in our English version." -- Harmer's Observations, volume 3, page 316. lyox, chasil, is rendered broucov by the LXX., in 2 Chronicles 6:28, and by Aquila here, and also by the Vulgate in Chronicles and in Isaiah 33:4, and it is rendered by Jerome here, bruchus, "the chaffer," which every one knows to be a great devourer of the leaves of trees. The Syriac in Joel 1:4, 2:25, renders it ,arwuru, tzartzooro, which Michaelis, (Supplem. ad Lex. Heb., page 865,) from the Arabic ruru, tsartzar, a cricket, interprets the mole-cricket, which, in its grub state, is also very destructive to corn, grass, and other vegetables, by cankering the roots on which it feeds. -- See Parkhurst's Lexicon on lax.

4 The Hebrew word here translated "grasshopper" is ,hbra, arbeh, which properly means "locust." The locust receives no fewer than ten different names in Scripture, each of which indicates something characteristic. It is called hbra, arbeh, from its extraordinary fecundity. No animal is more prolific; nor has Providence ever employed an agency more effective in destroying the fruits of the earth. Dr Russell, in his Natural History of Aleppo, observes that locusts "sometimes arrive in such incredible multitudes as it would appear fabulous to relate, destroying the whole of the verdure wherever they pass." A Traveller in Syria says, "That country, together with Egypt, Persia, and almost all the whole middle part of Asia, partakes in another scourge besides volcanoes and earthquakes, and that no less terrible; I mean those clouds of locusts of which travelers have spoken: the quantity of these insects is incredible to any man who has not seen it: the earth is covered by them for several leagues round. One may hear at a distance the noise they make in brousing the plants and trees, like an army plundering in secret. It would be better to be concerned with Tartars than these little destructive animals: one might say that fire follows their tract." -- See Parkhurst's Lexicon on hbr,4.

5 The original word Mtwmqs, shikmotham, does not properly signify the fig-tree, but the sycamore, a tree which grows in Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt. It is different from the English sycamore, which is a species of maple. It bears fruit resembling the fig, whilst its leaves are like those of the mulberry-tree; whence its name, sukov , (sycos,) a fig-tree, and , mwrov, (moros,) a mulberry-tree. The sycamore was highly valued by the ancient Egyptians. It furnished them with wood for various purposes; it afforded a grateful shade by its wide-spreading branches; and the figs which it produced, it is not improbable, formed a principal part of the food of the common people. "Norden tells us the people for the greater part live upon these figs; thinking themselves well regaled when they have a piece of bread, a couple of sycamore-figs, and a pitcher filled with water from the Nile." -- Harmer's Observations, volume 4, pages 4, 5. From this it is easy to conceive how severe and distressing the loss must have been which the Egyptians sustained "when their vines were destroyed with hail, and their sycamore-trees with frost or hailstones."

6 "lmnxb, ba-chana-mal, in frost. A noun of four letters prefixed with b; lmnx is read here only in Scripture. And what it may be is unknown. Severe frost, according to some; a kind of hail, according to others." -- Bythner.

7 The original word Mtyx, chayatham, here rendered their cattle, is translated in our English Bible their life. But in all the ancient versions it is their cattle. The reference is to the plague which destroyed all the first-born in the land of Egypt. The first-born both of cattle, and of the Egyptians themselves, were involved in one common destruction. Exodus 12:29.

8 "Ar. reads ,Mhynb, 'the first-fruits of their children.' See Exodus 12:29." -- Dimock.

9 Aben Ezra supposes Myer ykalm, malachey raim, to be Moses and Aaron, as messengers of evil to Pharaoh, who are so called because they previously warned him, and denounced the judgments of God against him, just as the Prophet Abijah makes use of a similar expression when the wife of Jeroboam came to him to inquire concerning her son: "I am a messenger to thee of hard things," 1 Kings 14:6. Fry also reads "messengers of evil," and has the following note: "Such is the literal meaning and exact rendering of Myer ykalm, and not evil angels, which would be regularly Myer Mykalm. By these messengers of evil, I make no doubt, no more is meant than Moses and Aaron, who were charged with denunciations of wrath to Pharaoh, previously to the infliction of all the several plagues." Archbishop Secker, however, observes, that although Myer Mykalm would be the proper expression for evil angels, yet the plural of kal is sometimes written defectively ykalm. The LXX. has, ajpostolh~n dij ajggelwn ponhrw~n, "a message by evil angels."

10 "He levelled a path to his anger. olp [the word for levelled] signifies to direct by a line or level; and when applied to a way, is understood to denote that the way is made straight and smooth, so as to leave no impediment to the passenger. See Poole's Synopsis and Le Clerc. The sense will be much the same whether we thus interpret the phrase, or suppose the anger of God to have taken its direction, para< sta>qmhn, in a straight line, and by a level; that is, in the shortest way, without delay or deviation." -- Merrick's Annotations.