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Moses, that none should be left behind, rouses the royal indignation, and he commands the leaders of Israel to be thrust from his presence.
Then came the locusts. This insect is common in Arabia, but comparatively rare in Egypt; as the Red Sea forms a species of barrier against them, they not being able to sustain a long flight across large bodies of water. The time of their appearance, too, was much earlier than is usual in Egypt; and so far as the agency of natural causes was concerned, "a strong east wind" assists their transit across the sea. This alone was remarkable, as the prevalent winds which blow in Egypt are six months from the north, and six months from the south.
We have not been without opportunities, even in some parts of our own country, of seeing the large number of these insects, and of observing the extent of their ravages in the removal of verdure from the trees; but in Egypt their path was literally marked by ruin. "The locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt. Very grievous were they: before them were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall there be such. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate up every green herb upon the earth, and every tree, the fruit of which the hail had left; not any green thing remained on the trees, or on the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt."
That, at the proper season, the swarms of locusts in Egypt may be very destructive, though not to the extent here described, is proved by Denon. After describing what is called a chamsin in Egypt, a wind attended with a species of unnatural darkness from dust and other causes, he thus proceeds:
"Two days after this calamity, we were informed that the plain was covered with birds, which flew in dense flocks from east to west. We, in fact, saw from a distance that the fields seemed to move, or at least that a long current flowed through the plain. Supposing that they were strange birds which had flown hither, in such great numbers, we hastened our pace in order to observe them. But, instead of birds, we found a cloud of locusts which made the land bald; for they stopped on each stalk of grass to devour it, and then flew further for spoil. At a time of the year when the corn is tender, they would have been a real plague; as lean, as efficient, and as lively as the Arab Bedouin, they are also a production of the desert. After the wind had changed its course, so as to blow directly against them, it swept them back into the desert."
It is impossible to read this account, and not be struck with its singular agreement with ours in certain particulars. In both stories, the locusts come from the east to the west; in both their coming is connected with a peculiar wind, and in both, they are driven away by a counter wind. As to this last point, our Bible tells us, the Lord sent "a mighty strong west wind," by which they were driven back. In the original, it is "a sea-wind" meaning a wind blowing from the Mediterranean, which in Syria would of course be westerly, hence it is translated west wind: in Egypt, such a wind would be northwesterly, and yet be properly expressed by the original term, a sea-wind. Von Bohlen objects to the author of the Pentateuch, as a fault of ignorance, and therefore an argument against his credibility, that he makes the locusts come from the east, with the wind. The reader has before him, the means of judging what force there is in the objection. It may well be doubted whether, in Egypt, they are ever seen coming in swarms from any other quarter. Should it be supposed that the locusts of Egypt, mentioned in our narrative, were but a natural phenomenon; we readily admit that an appearance of locusts may be natural, and yet, as we have endeavored to explain in our opening remarks on the plagues, it may be connected with such attendant circumstances, not natural and ordinary, as clearly prove miraculous power.
The ninth Plague—Darkness.
In Egypt, a cloud seldom obscures the sun; the sky is beautifully clear and transparent. A darkness of three days, therefore, which was so thick that, in the emphatic and poetical language of Scripture, it "might be felt" must have been to the Egyptians an appalling event. "No one rose from his place for three days." Even Pharaoh was moved, and offered to let the people go; but wished to retain their flocks and herds as security for their return. Then it was that Moses gave his determined answer: "There shall not a hoof be left behind."
How far this darkness may have been connected with natural causes, it is impossible to say. There is no intimation given in the narrative which authorizes the affirmation of any specific natural agency. Some have supposed that a dense fog was spread over the land. Admit it, a fog of three days would be a miracle in Egypt; for nature never spontaneously produces one there of even one day's continuance.
Others have attributed the darkness to the chamsin, of which we just now spoke. We are not aware that there is any record of the chamsin's continuing to produce the thickest darkness for three days; and the very interesting accounts of it, which we are about to present to the reader, scarcely seem, in our view, to be descriptive of such a state of the atmosphere as is implied in the Bible account of the Egyptian plague of darkness. There is an obscurity in which our history leaves this miracle, that is characteristic of the miracle. It seems to us to be purposely (we know not why, and presume not to conjecture) more involved in obscurity than any of the other plagues. Our belief, however, is not at all affected by the determination of the question, whether it is or is not, associated with natural causes; for we must beg leave to repeat, that even natural causes, acting for a time nonnaturally, in extent or otherwise, show the hand of God, and prove a miracle.
Du Bois Ayme (one of the French school) compares the Mosaic darkness to the chamsin. He says, "When the chamsin blows, the sun is pale yellow ; its light is obscured, and the darkness is sometimes so great, that one seems to be in the blackest night, as we experienced in the middle of the day at Cene, a city of Said." Sonnini thus writes: "The atmosphere was heated, and at the same time obscured by clouds of dust; the thermometer of Reaumur stood at 27 degrees. Men and animals breathed only vapor, and that was heated and mingled with a fine and hot sand. Plants drooped, and all living nature languished. This wind also continued to the 27th; it appeared to me, to have increased in force. The air was dark on account of a thick mist of fine dust as red as flame."
Much the most particular and interesting account, however, is Denon's. "On the 18th of May, in the evening, I felt as if I should perish from the suffocating heat. All motion of the air seemed to have ceased. As I went to the Nile to bathe for the relief of my painful sensations, I was astonished by a new sight. Such light and such colors I had never seen. The sun, without being veiled with clouds, had been shorn of its beams. It gave only a white and shadowless light, more feeble than the moon. The water reflected not its rays, and appeared disturbed. Every thing assumed another appearance; the air was darker, a yellow horizon caused the trees to appear of a pale blue. Flocks of birds fluttered about before the clouds. The frightened animals ran about in the fields, and the inhabitants who followed them with their cries, could not collect them. The wind which had raised immense clouds of dust, and rolled them along before itself, had not yet reached us. We thought that if we went into the water, which at this moment was quiet, we should avoid this mass of dust, which was driven toward us from the southwest; but we were scarcely in the river, when it began suddenly to swell, as if it would overflow its banks. The waves broke over us, and the ground heaved under our feet. Our garments flew away when seized by the whirlwind, which had now reached us. We were compelled to go to land. Wet, and beaten by the wind, we were soon surrounded by a ridge of sand. A reddish, dusky appearance filled the region; with wounded eyes, and nose so filled that we could hardly breathe, we strayed from one another, lost our way, and found our dwellings with great difficulty, feeling along by the walls. Then, we sensibly felt how terrible the condition must be, when one is overtaken by such a wind in the desert."