Before the final Egyptian plague, God states, “I will execute judgments on all the gods of Egypt” (Exod 12:12; cf. Num 33:4). Yet, it is not only the deaths of the firstborn that undermine Egypt’s deities; much of the divine action against Pharaoh’s land reflects warfare between the God of Israel and the Egyptian pantheon. Unfortunately, sometimes our English translations obscure the original Hebrew so that we miss the specifics of this heavenly battle.

One such translational issue appears in the description of the (eighth) plague of locusts. The vast majority of modern English Bibles follow the King James Version, in which the locusts “covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened” (Exod 10:15 KJV; cf. 10:5). However, the Hebrew does not say that the locusts covered the “face” of the earth—that is, the original language does not describe locusts covering the ground. Instead, the Hebrew states that the locusts “covered the eye (עיןayin) of all the land, so that the land was darkened.” Our English translations favor “face” rather than “eye” because, to modern readers, the precise meaning of “eye of the land” is not immediately apparent; the ancient Egyptians, however, would have understood the phrase in the context of an attack against their gods.

According to Egyptian theology, the highest of all deities was the sun-god Amun-Ra. As a deification of the sun, Amun-Ra was responsible for all of Egyptian life. More, the sun was said to be the “eye” of Ra—the means by which the deity watched over the people and land of Egypt. The fourth line of the Egyptian Stela of Somtutefnakht summarizes this long-held belief about Egypt’s supreme solar god, “whose rising illuminates the land, whose right eye is the disk of the sun.” When the locusts blot out the sun during the eighth plague, the God of Israel blinds the “eye” (עין; ayin) of Amun-Ra, which was supposed to survey and protect the Egyptians. While the Lord says, “I have surely seen (ראה ראיתי; raoh raiti) the affliction of my people who are in Egypt” (Exod 3:7), Amun-Ra can no longer see the affliction of his people. In this way, the God of Israel shows superiority over Egypt’s gods and brings judgment upon them through the events of the exodus.

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36 COMMENTS

  1. I love reading the Hebrew translations. It make the Word of God so much clearer. I would love to join your classes, but cannot because

  2. In other words, God gave Amun-Ra a black eye! Witnessing the cloud of locusts blocking sun-light from the land brought tremendous fear to the Egyptians, who began to realize the God of Israel was alive, present, and superior to their highest god. Whether Ra’s power over their minds existed from embedded cultural lore, and/or, if Its power emanated/s from a real Principality/Power of Darkness, the sun-light clearly got ‘punched out’ by swarms of locusts sent by the sun’s Creator. Even more so, God demonstrated supremacy by denying them both sun AND its light. To accentuate the drama, God ordained the pathway to freedom, for whosoever-of-the-multitudes would embark on the faith-walk, to be serenaded by light of a FULL MOON, upon which one could gaze, in stark contrast to the sun 🙂 How romantic and mindful is the love of our Divine Playwright for giving us this scene for remembrance each Passover! Blessed be YHVH!

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  3. The ESV says. “They covered the face of the whole land.” The ESV is considered the most accurate word for word Bible translation. This seems to have nothing to do with the sun. It has to do with the Locusts covering and eating everything in their path.

    • Steven, I think the ESV is usually the best English translation as well, but it’s not perfect at every point — if it were, then we would no longer need to make recourse to the original biblical languages and every biblical scholar would be out of a job…. Despite most English translators’ attempts to smooth out the original language in order to make it more understandable to modern English readers, the Hebrew text says “eye” of the land. For a modern English translation that gets this right, see Robert Alter’s translation of Exodus.

  4. Thank you very much Dr. Schaser for revealing the mystery in Hebrew. Definitely, the Hebrew Bible gives more clarity than English translation. As always appreciated Dr.Eli and his Hebraic analysis. Need little more clarification, Literally they covered the “eye” of Egypt god. Which means the sun or eye of human.

    • I’m glad that you’re finding our articles helpful. Literally, when the locusts cover the “eye” of the land, they are covering the *sun*, so that the whole land of Egypt is darkened.

  5. Awesome, I can not wait to join up, if GOD permits we will join at September. Your teachings is awesome.
    Just a question, is there a way to get to comment more than 25 words

  6. Thank you for this explanation Dr. Schaser. It makes sense and gives a whole new perspective to this verse.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  7. This makes so much more sense! Ever since I bought the NIV Cultural Background Study Bible, I’ve been made aware of the importance of understanding the ANE perspective and understanding.

  8. I’ve also read ‘Jewish Roots’ by Daniel Juster, ‘Ancient Near Eastern Though and the Old Testament’ by Dr John H. Walton and ‘The Unseen Realm’ by Dr Michael Heiser. The Bible story has come alive!!

    • All good books, James. Walton, in particular, has some outstanding insights into how ancient Israelite thought. If you haven’t read his “Lost World of Genesis One,” I commend it to you.

  9. I always had concern about the plagues meaning based on the Hebrew perspective. Did Moses ment to expose a moral decadence of Egyptian rules by using 10 plagues as symbology for 10 sins, or a literal plague as described?

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  10. Thank you so much for your articles Drs Eli and Schaser. It is so helpful in understanding the scriptures better with the original Hebrew translations. It inspires me to read The Bible with a better understanding. I would love to join your courses but as pensioner cannot afford. Shalom.

  11. Thank you Dr. As always very interesting. While on the plagues…is there ANY secular writings of that time that also comments on the 10th plague and whether it happened. kind regards. Andre. I need such evidence to convince my non-believing friend.

    • Thanks, Andre. There’s no hard historical data to confirm (or disconfirm) the historicity of the 10th plague, but the Bible wants us to focus on the theology of the narrative. That is, while archaeology or extra-biblical literature can’t corroborate the event, the death of the firstborn makes a theological statement about the superiority of the God of Israel over Egypt’s gods, and a comparison between the Bible and Egyptian texts can help us to understand this theological truth. For more on this, see this previous article: https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/god-slay-firstborn/

  12. Dear Dr. Schaser, the way in which you and other contributors explore the mosaic of mystical beauty contained in the Bible is a true blessing and a very personal gift from God!! Please never ever forget to cherish it!! I pray God’s favour on you all!! Riaan

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  13. Thank you so much, Dr. Schaser. This makes complete sense to me. I shared it on my FaceBook timeline and on Twitter. God bless.

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