The king of Egypt tried to erase from his mind what Aaron had said about the coming plague of locusts. But the more he tried to forget it, the more he worried.
“There have been many locust swarms in the land from time to time,” Pharaoh thought. “These insects have done damage, but they didn’t bother people or animals. Surely another swarm of these creatures wouldn’t mean great hardship.”
Unable to sleep, Pharaoh got out of bed and quietly walked across the room to the curtained east windows. He didn’t summon servants to puff the curtains, because he didn’t wish to awaken his wife. He hoped that his children, bedded in adjoining rooms, would also sleep through the windstorm. There had been so much furor and excitement in the palace for so many days that everyone was in great need of rest.
The king yanked the curtains apart, disclosing a view eastward across the Nile River. The sun was just rising in a weirdly dull, red glow, apparently caused by flying dust and sand. But even as he watched, the sun became dim. Then it disappeared, as though blotted out by a vast, dark curtain.
“It must be a heavy bank of clouds coming in with the wind,” Pharaoh thought. Fascinated by the growing darkness, he kept staring into the sky. Gradually he was aware of a strange buzzing that grew louder above the low whine of the wind. Peculiar objects darted past his window. At first he thought that they were leaves carried by the wind. Then some of them landed on the window ledge.
Suddenly he realized that he was staring at huge red and black locusts! The 8th plague was starting! Pharaoh backed away from the window, amazed at the size of the insects. They looked like grasshoppers, except they were much larger and brighter in color. Within seconds the wide window ledge was alive with them. The king snatched the ribbons that controlled the heavy curtains, and gave them a violent yank. But before the curtains could be drawn, an army of locusts had invaded the room. At first they flew and hopped aimlessly about, causing the king to duck and weave as he backed toward an inner door. Then the locusts located the flower beds in the long, stone planters built at one side of the room.
“My lilies! My rare, beautiful lilies!” Pharaoh gasped. Before his eyes the hungry insects chewed the plants down to the soil. It was too much for the king, who had a special soft spot in his heart for flowers, if not for human beings. He stamped out into the corridor next to his bedroom, and shouted for servants.
Already the palace was in an uproar worse than the one caused by the plague of frogs. Servants and guards were dashing excitedly about, swatting and mashing the little invaders. But there were so many of them that it seemed impossible to keep them out.
During the next hours Egypt suffered terrible losses by the clouds of locusts dumped over the land. The strong east wind that brought them later died down. Every plant that grew out of the ground was chewed up by the insects. There were so many of the locusts that they crawled over each other in a horrible live blanket several inches deep in many places. Although they didn’t bite people or animals, it was a ghastly experience for people and animals to be crawled upon and almost smothered by a sea of squirming, twisting, struggling, tumbling, buzzing insects. (Ex. 10:15).
Meanwhile, Pharaoh’s advisors and officers stormed back to his court to beg him to bring a quick end to the plague by calling Moses and Aaron.
“It makes no sense to keep the Israelites,” they argue. “What good can they do us as our slaves if there is nothing left in our land for them to work with?”
“We have gone too far in opposing their God,” the chief advisor said. “You are very close to losing your whole kingdom. Without a kingdom, how can you be a king?”
Pharaoh brushed a locust from his robe, then mashed it under the sole of his jeweled sandal. Somehow that one crushed locust seemed to be too much for the king. For hours and hours he had seen nothing but mashed locusts everywhere.
“Send for the two Israelites,” he muttered turning aside with a sick expression. When Moses and Aaron were brought in later, Pharaoh hurried toward them with outstretched arms.
“I have done evil things against your God and against you,” he sorrowfully said to the two Israelites. “I ask you to forgive me. I beg you to ask your God to take away these terrible locusts. Leave with your people whenever you wish, but don’t let your God do any more damage to my land” (vs. 16-17).
Moses and Aaron silently regarded the king, who appeared to be quite sincere in his request. They turned and left the room, leaving Pharaoh in uncertain despair while locusts hopped and fluttered around him.
Out by themselves, except for the waves of insects mulling about them, Moses and Aaron prayed, asking God to take away the locusts and spare the land from famine. Shortly afterward a wind came up from the west. It grew in strength by the minute, until it was almost a gale over most of Egypt. People began to be fearful that it would destroy their homes. But instead of blowing houses down, it blew the locusts out of Egypt and eastward into the Red Sea. Thus it was that the billions of insects, which had probably been carried in from Arabia, were swept away and drowned (v. 19).
When the Egyptians went out to see what damage had been done, they found that every green part of every tree and shrub and plant had been devoured.
After the wind had died down, Pharaoh walked through his outer courts to see what destruction had taken place in his expensive gardens. The king felt that if he hadn’t been so hasty and stubborn, this last plague could have been avoided, and he regretted what he had done. But when he saw that his vast flower gardens, shade trees, hedges, lily ponds and walls of ivy had become nothing but stems, stocks and twigs he became angry.
“Send a fast messenger to tell Moses and Aaron that I have changed my mind!” he snapped at an aide. “Tell them that I refuse to let the Israelites leave Egypt, and if any of them try to go, they will have to deal with my army!”
Again Moses and Aaron, on receiving the message, were filled with disappointment. And again God gave instruction to Moses, who stretched the shepherd’s rod toward the sky another time.
The Egyptians must have been perplexed when they noticed a strange pallor creeping into the sunny, blue sky. Little by little the pallor grew into a weird grayness. The sun’s light became less, as though some mysterious drab veil were being drawn between the Earth and its source of light, Gradually the veil grew darker, until a deep, gray haze finally blotted out all the sight of the sun. The haze descended, bringing a thickening vapor over all the land.
People were so filled with dismay that many of them almost forgot the terrible plague that had just ended. All of them, including Pharaoh, could only wonder at what evil thing was to result from the growing gloom. Soon that dismay turned to terror, for within hours the gloom turned to the darkness of night, and from the darkness of night into horrifying, utter blackness (v. 22)!
Possibly God caused the blackness by producing a very deep fog layer carrying billions of particles of dust from recent dust storms. However He caused it, it must have brought greater fear to the Egyptians than did the other plagues. The darkness was so intense that no one could see anyone else. Even with fires, torches and lamps burning, there was a clammy murkiness in the air that seemed to almost drown the light. Figures took on a weirdness that added terror to the awful situation.
Most activity came to an abrupt stop. It was almost impossible to move safely about. Some were caught in the deserts, the fields and the river when the darkness came on. Many of these became lost, and some died in the hours to come because they were unable to find food or water. Most of the Egyptians stayed in their homes, hopeful that the frightful darkness would come to an end.
Meanwhile, in Goshen where the Israelites lived, there was plenty of light for the homes, although the sky was probably dark (v. 23).
At the royal palace matters were especially in confusion. Pharaoh was more filled with fear than he had been during any of the other plagues, but he felt that the clammy darkness would probably last only a few hours, and that the next dawn would bring light. But when it came time for the sun to come up, there was no light. Fright began to spread among the Egyptians in a way that sent many of them into a state of panic.
Even Pharaoh, a man of strong will, began to feel, after two days had passed, that the intense darkness would drive him into a state of madness if it were to continue very long. As did many of the people, he spent much of his time lying in bed, waiting for the terrible darkness to let up. Moving about was too dangerous.
In the sleepless, miserable hours that followed, Pharaoh could hear the wails and groans from the nearby temple, where priests were begging the Egyptian idols to wipe out the cause of the darkness and bring back the light of the sun. Pharaoh was quite sure by now that all the chanting and moaning to the many gods of Egypt meant nothing. Besides, it kept him from sleeping.
“Send word to the priests,” he told a servant, “that they need not pray any more for now. Tell them that I suggest that our gods would perhaps be pleased by a period of silence, now that they have been prayed to for two days without ceasing.”
But even after the wailing and moaning had stopped, the king was unable to sleep. The cold darkness of the darkness seemed to seep to his very bones. In spite of the many blankets on his bed, he shivered. From rooms close by he heard the muffled sobs of fear from his children. What bothered him most, however, was the weird, hazy flickering of the lamps in his room. There were several of them – enough, in ordinary darkness, to make the room ablaze with light. But in this weirdly thick darkness, the lamps shone only with a maddeningly ghostly feebleness.
“Send men to find those two Israelites, Moses and Aaron, and have them brought here as soon as possible!” the king commanded.
“But your highness,” the aide gasped, standing very close to be seen, “those two could be far away – perhaps even across the river! It is almost impossible to move through this terrible darkness!”
“See that they’re brought here at any cost!” Pharaoh thundered. “Use my whole army, if necessary, and plenty of the best torches. Get out the chariots, boats and anything that’s needed. But get them here!”
More miserable hours passed. When at last Moses and Aaron were brought before Pharaoh, he was relieved to recognize them. However, he was still very upset. “Get out of Egypt – all you Israelites!” he commanded. “You are free to go serve your God and do as you wish.”
There was silence in the dark, shadowy court. Aaron didn’t speak up, inasmuch as he felt that Pharaoh, only dimly visible by the flickering torches, had more to say. The next human voice came from a guard, who pointed toward the window and shouted something about light.
It was suddenly obvious that dim light was showing through the windows! It increased by the minute, returning after three terrible days of absence!
Pharaoh, who had almost gone out of his mind because of the three-day darkness, felt his self-control and power swiftly returning to him. “I repeat my promise,” he told Moses and Aaron in a tone that was a little more friendly. “All you Israelites are free to leave my land. All I ask is that you leave your flocks and herds behind” (v. 24).
Pharaoh didn’t intend to lose the great numbers of livestock owned by the Israelites, especially now that the livestock of the Egyptians has suffered so heavily through the plagues. Besides, he believed that if the Israelites were to journey for three day into the desert without meat and milk from their flocks and herds, they would face starvation. If that happened, they would surely try to return to Egypt, and thus they would remain slaves to the Egyptians.
However, Moses and Aaron were aware of what the king had in mind, and they didn’t intend for him to succeed in tricking them.
“We shall take all our livestock with us when we leave,” Aaron announced. “We don’t know yet how much we’ll need for sacrificing to our God. Therefore we’ll not leave even one hoof behind.”
The wearying three-day darkness had already driven the king into a very unhappy state of mind. Now this bold remark from Aaron greatly annoyed him. His face became red with anger. His fingers clutched and unclutched the arms of his chair. Abruptly he jumped to his feet and shook a trembling finger as Moses and Aaron.
“You Israelites are as greedy as you are rebellious!” Pharaoh shouted. “That remark about taking your livestock with you will cost you your freedom! You shall not leave my land. You shall remain as slaves! As for you two, get out of this city and never return! If you ever come within my sight again, my guards will kill you!”
“You shall have your wish,” Aaron told him. “You won’t see us any more. But there will be one more plague upon you Egyptians, and we won’t come to ask our God to stop it. On a midnight to come very soon, all the firstborn in your land will be killed! That includes your oldest son and the oldest sons of even your lowliest families. Even the firstborn of all your animals will be slain. But no person or animal of the Israelites shall die” (Ex. 11:4-7)!
Even while Aaron was talking, Pharaoh’s expression of anger melted from his face, to be replaced by a look of mingled shock and disbelief. He well knew that these two Israelites had never made a prediction before him that hadn’t come true, and with more awesome results than he, Pharaoh, could imagine. It would soon be a fact, therefore, that he would lose his oldest son! He sank weakly back on his throne and stared in silence as Moses and Aaron, angered by his constant threats and promise-breaking, walked from the court.
What Pharaoh didn’t know was that God had already told Moses that after the next and last plague, the slaying of the firstborn, the king would finally let the Israelites leave Egypt without changing his mind before they could get out of the land.
Be watching for the next installment, the killing of the firstborn!