Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Exodus Chapter 10, Bible students read about plagues number eight and nine to hit
Egypt: locusts and darkness. (The tenth and final plague is a subject for the next chapter.)
“And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh and said unto him: Thus
says God, the God of the Hebrews. How long will you refuse to humble
yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me. Or
else…I will bring locusts unto your border.”
Abravanel raises a question regarding Scripture’s style or editing. To preface, the Five Books of Moses
are further subdivided into (roughly) 52 portions. Each portion, independent from the next, is read
publicly in synagogues every Sabbath. Chapter 10 starts a new portion.
Abravanel finds it peculiar that this portion opens up with verses discussing locusts. As stated, this is
plague number eight – not number one – hence a strange place to begin a portion. Abravanel makes
another point about the unusual placement of locusts here. He notes that according to hallowed Jewish
tradition, it is the last four plagues which are grouped together, not the last three. Thus, if the Bible
wanted to start somewhere toward the end of the plagues, and not with the first one, it could have
begun our chapter with hail (plague #7). In a word, what lies behind the Bible’s style here?
Abravanel suggests that the arranger of the Bible’s portions had good reason to begin with locusts –
actually two reasons. For brevity, we only bring Abravanel’s first rationale. See Abravanel’s World for
the fuller discussion.
The plague of locusts brought a change in Pharaoh’s prior attitude toward the God of Israel. From here
on out, palpable improvement marked the king’s behavior. He not only began to believe in the Maker,
but he also showed signs of fearing Him. This revelation would accompany Pharaoh for the duration of
plagues numbers eight (locusts), nine (darkness), and ten (slaying of the first born). That is, from the
moment Moses told Pharaoh of an impending plague, the king shuddered. He believed that God would
deliver, as per the prophet’s warning.
To conclude, Abravanel posits that until the eighth plague, Pharaoh doubted Moses’ words and poo-
pooed the warnings. That is, until they clobbered Egypt, the king remained nonchalant. However,
starting with the plague of locusts, the light bulb went off, to be colloquial. In that vein, the Bible’s style
makes sense and explains why plague number eight is an excellent start place for a new portion.