by John Thomas Lowe
A PLAGUE ON LIVESTOCK (The Murrain of Beasts)
MURRAIN: A Pestilence Or Plague Especially Affecting Domestic Animals
Exodus 9:1-7 (NIV)
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: "Let my people go, so that they may worship me." If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys, camels, and your cattle, sheep, and goats. But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.'"
The LORD set a time and said, "Tomorrow, the LORD will do this in the land." Moreover, the next day the LORD did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Nevertheless, his heart was unyielding, and he would not let the people go. (Exodus 9:1-7)
Murrain: (also known as distemper) is an antiquated term for various infectious diseases affecting cattle and sheep. The word originates from Middle English moreine or moryne, as a derivative of Latin Mori, "to die." The word "murrain," much like the word 'pestilence,' did not refer to a specific disease but rather was an umbrella term for what is now recognized as a number of different diseases with a common theme of high morbidity and mortality, such as rinderpest, erysipelas, foot-and-mouth disease, anthrax disease, and streptococcus infections. Some of these livestock diseases could also affect humans. The term murrain also referred to an epidemic of such a disease. There were significant sheep and cattle murrains in Europe during the 14th century, which, combined with the Little Ice Age, resulted in the Great Famine of 1315-1317, weakening the population of Europe before the onset of the Black Death in 1348.
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: "Let my people go, so that they may worship me."
2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys, camels, and your cattle, sheep, and goats.
3 But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.'"
Then the LORD said to Moses, the same day the plague of the flies was removed, go in unto Pharaoh boldly, without any fear of him or his court: and tell him, thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews: speak in the name of Jehovah, the God whom the Hebrews worship, and who owns them for his people, and has a special love for them, and takes exceptional care of them, and is not ashamed to be called their God, as poor and as oppressed as they are: let my people go, that they may worship me; this demand had been often made, and, though so reasonable, was refused.
Then the Lord said unto Moses, and Moses said to Pharaoh: If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, even after Jehovah has so emphatically declared His will), the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys, camels, and your cattle, sheep, and goats. There shall be a very grievous murrain. The hand of the Lord —will Immediately, without stretching out Aaron's hand, be upon the cattle — many of which, (some of all kinds), should die by a sort of pestilence. The hand of God is to be acknowledged even in the sickness and death of cattle or other damage sustained in them, for a sparrow falls not to the ground without our Father knowing it. And his providence is to be acknowledged with thankfulness in the life of the cattle, for he preserveth man and beast, Psalm 36:6
The nature of the fifth plague is evident and admits no dispute. It was rinderpest or murrain upon cattle; however, unlike most similar disorders, it attacked the more significant number of domesticated animals—horses, asses, camels, oxen, and sheep. Thus it was "very grievous" (Exodus 9:3). The Egyptians highly prized horses. They were a comparatively recent importation, having been unknown before the time of the seventeenth or "Shepherd" Dynasty. They were used in war, and by wealthy men in peacetime. They had now, however, it would seem, come to be also employed in agriculture. (Note the words "in the field.”) Asses were the ordinary beasts of burden, and they abounded in Egypt as anciently as they do now. The Egyptian monuments mention cases where a single landowner owned as many as seven or eight hundred. The Egyptian sculptors do not represent camels. However, they are mentioned in the inscriptions and must have been employed in the trade between Egypt and the Sinaitic peninsula. Both oxen and sheep were numerous and constituted a great part of the wealth of individuals. The plague fell upon animals who were "in the field" at the time—i.e., in the open air and not confined in stables or sheds. It was the Egyptian practice to house a considerable portion of their cattle. However, the majority would be in the pastures at the probable season of this plague—December or January. Thus the Egyptian losses were hefty, and the king, no doubt, suffered with the rest, for the Egyptian monarchs were large cattle-owners (Genesis 47:6; Genesis 47:17). The Pharaoh was, however, less impressed by this plague than by the fourth plague, and made no sign of submission.
The fifth plague consisted of a severe Murrain, which carried off (killed) the cattle, the living property of the Egyptians. To show how Pharaoh was accumulating guilt by his obstinate resistance to the announcement of this plague, the expression, "If thou refuse to let them go" (cf. Exodus 8:2), is followed by the words, "and wilt hold them (the Israelites) still" (still further), even after Jehovah has so unequivocally declared His will).
4 But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.'"
Egypt does not seem to be often visited by cattle plagues. Pruner and Lepsius mention, however, a severe epidemic that began in 1842 and, by June 1843, had raged for nine months, causing significant mortality among oxen and sheep, though it did not affect camels or horses. Pruner attributed this epidemic to the water of the Nile, which was low and impure when it began: cattle that were at a distance from the Nile and could obtain good water were not attacked by it. There have also been cattle plagues in Egypt in recent years.
The word "cattle" here generally includes its various kinds. The cattle are mentioned as being at this time "in the field" because, during the inundation (the season for floods), all of them were brought in and housed, while, after the waters had receded and the land had dried, most of them were turned out to graze. This is always the time at which epidemics break out.
A distinction was again made between the Israelites and the Egyptians. "Of all the cattle belonging to the children of Israel, not one died, but many Egyptian cattle died.
Furthermore, the Lord distinguished between the cattle of Israel and Egypt. The word distinction signifies a significant separation, as observed in Exodus 7:22, and nothing died of all that the children of Israel owned; not a horse, nor an ass, nor an ox, nor a sheep. It was such a difference that the murrain was not on the one when it was on the other, and it was marvelous. Especially in the land of Goshen, where the Egyptians had many cattle, as well as Pharaoh himself (see Genesis 47:6), and yet, though the cattle of Israel breathed in the same air, drank of the same water, and fed in the same pastures, they did not have the murrain like the cattle of Egypt.
5 The LORD set a time and said, "Tomorrow, the LORD will do this in the land."
The Lord appointed a set time — This appointing of a set or particular time, both for bringing on the plagues and removing them, required as short a distance as the nature of the appointment would admit. Leaving it to Pharaoh himself to fix it seems to have been intended to prevent the Egyptians, who were influenced by highly superstitious notions of the effect of the heavenly bodies at particular times, from thinking that Moses took advantage of his knowledge of those times to work his miracles
Tomorrow. All the Egyptian cattle died - i.e., all that was "in the field" (ver. 3). God may have interjected the appointed times so that those that believed the announcement of the set times might save their animals by bringing them out of the fields.
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