YHWH hardened the “heart of Pharaoh” and the “heart of his servants” or officials, allowing them to remain defiant in not heeding his word conveyed to them through Moses. Their stubborn resistance provided YHWH with the opportunity to show his “signs” among them. These “signs” came in the form of destructive plagues that revealed his power which could not be successfully resisted. In the case of the Israelites, these “signs” and what YHWH did among the Egyptians were matters they were to relate to their sons or children and to their grandsons or grandchildren. In this way, they and their offspring would come to “know” their God as YHWH, the Supreme Sovereign who had acted for them in effecting their liberation from Egyptian enslavement. (10:1, 2)
As YHWH had commanded him (10:1), Moses and his brother Aaron presented themselves before Pharaoh and told him what YHWH the God of the Hebrews had said. “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me [literally, my face]? Let my people go that they may serve me.” If he continued to be arrogant, refusing to heed YHWH’s word, the Egyptians would experience a severe locust plague that would be greater than they and their forefathers had ever faced. The locusts would consume everything that had remained after the devastating plague of hail. Recognizing how disastrous such a plague would be, Pharaoh’s servants urged him to let the Israelites depart. Therefore, Moses and Aaron received a request to return to Pharaoh. Although then saying that they could leave to serve YHWH their God, Pharaoh asked about who would be going. After being told that the young and the old, the sons and the daughters, and the flocks and herds would be leaving because the people would be holding a festival to YHWH, Pharaoh did not consent, insisting that only the men could go to serve YHWH. He then drove Moses and Aaron out from before his “face” or from his presence. Pharaoh wanted to make sure that the men would return to Egypt to rejoin their families and then continue in their state of enslavement. (10:3-11; see the Notes section.)
After Moses and Aaron left, YHWH instructed Moses to stretch out his hand “over the land of Egypt.” This meant that Moses was to extend the arm of the hand that held his rod. This would signal the start of the locust plague. After Moses did this, an east wind began to blow all day and all night. By the morning of the next day, the wind brought in a huge swarm of locusts. The huge swarm blocked out light from the sun, causing the land to be darkened, and the voracious locust swarm consumed everything that the plague of hail had not ruined. No greenery of any kind escaped from the devastation the locusts effected. (10:12-15; see the Notes section.)
Faced with disaster, Pharaoh hastily summoned Moses and Aaron, acknowledged that he had sinned against YHWH their God and against them, requested that they forgive him his sin “only this once,” and entreat YHWH their God to remove from him “this death” (or the plague that was certain to have a deadly outcome for the Egyptians). (10:16, 17)
After leaving, Moses entreated YHWH to end the locust plague. In answer to that prayer, a very strong west wind drove the locusts into the Red Sea, liberating the Egyptians from the plague. Nevertheless, Pharaoh hardened his heart, or stubbornly defied the word of YHWH through Moses and refused to let the Israelites leave. This hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is attributed to YHWH, for he created the circumstances that permitted Pharaoh to manifest his stubborn resistance.(10:18-20)
After Moses, at YHWH’s command, stretched out his hand toward the sky (evidently raising his arm while holding his rod), thick darkness enveloped the land of Egypt for three days. Whereas the Egyptians felt this darkness, could not see one another, and did not venture from their dwellings, the Israelites enjoyed light in the land of Goshen. (10:21-23; see the Notes section.) In his Antiquities (II, xiv, 5), Josephus described this darkness as follows: “A thick darkness, without the least light, spread itself over the Egyptians, whereby their sight being obstructed and their breathing being hindered by the thickness of the air, they died miserably and under a terror lest they should be swallowed up by the dark cloud.”
The plague of darkness made enough of an impact on Pharaoh for him to summon Moses, telling him that that all the people, including the children, were free to go in order to serve YHWH. He, however, required that their domestic animals remain behind, evidently wanting to keep their flocks and herds to assure that they would return to Egypt. Moses rejected this stipulation, insisting that all the domestic animals needed to be taken. It would be from them that sacrifices for YHWH their God would be chosen and in this way their God would be served. In view of this, Pharaoh hardened his heart, stubbornly refusing to permit the Israelites to depart. Again this hardening is attributed to YHWH, for he permitted Pharaoh to remain defiant in disregarding his word respecting the Israelites. (10:21-27; see the Notes section.)
Pharaoh threatened Moses, ordering him to leave and telling him that he would be killed on the day that he ventured to see his face again. To this, Moses replied, “As you say, I will not see your face again.” (10:28, 29) In Exodus 11:4-8, it says that Moses warned Pharaoh about the coming of the tenth plague — the death of all the firstborn of the Egyptians. So it appears that the first three verses of chapter 11 should be regarded as parenthetical and that Moses continued to speak to Pharaoh until he then left, doing so in anger. In advance, YHWH had revealed to Moses that the tenth plague would be the last one. Therefore, he could positively say (10:29) that he would not try to see Pharaoh again. Pharaoh, however, was forced to summon Moses and Aaron and agree to the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. (12:30-32)
In verse 10, Pharaoh is quoted as saying, “YHWH be with you if ever I let you go and your little ones. See, for bad [you have] before your faces” (or evil you have purposed). The words “YHWH be with you” would usually constitute a blessing. In this case, however, they were part of Pharaoh’s defiant refusal to let the Israelites depart with their children. In effect, therefore, these words could be understood as expressing a curse. Modern translations have interpretively rendered the words as follows: “The LORD will certainly need to be with you if I let you take your little ones! I can see through your evil plan.” (NLT) “The LORD had better watch over you on the day I let you leave with your families! You’re up to no good.” (CEV) “I swear by the LORD that I will never let you take your women in children! It is clear that you are plotting to revolt.” (TEV)
The locust plague (10:12-15) would have humiliated deities that were regarded as responsible for a bountiful harvest. This could have included the goddess Renenutet (Renenet, Ernutet) and the god Min.
In verse 13, the Septuagint says “south wind” (not “east wind”). Possibly the translator chose the rendering “south wind” because of believing that it was more appropriate for the direction from which locusts came into Egypt.
For the Egyptians, the thick darkness (10:22, 23) may have made them feel that their sun gods Ra and Horus had forsaken them and were unable to come to their aid.