The Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 12: The Plague of Darkness

Exodus 10.21-29

Nature of the plague

Then the LORD said to Moses, Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt darkness that can be felt. So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

Some have speculated that this was actually a common sandstorm called a Khamsin. They base this on the fact that the people  felt  the darkness and the  people could not leave their house. The problem with this view is that Khamsins were common and would not be considered supernatural phenomena.

The Hebrew specifically states that this was a darkness. Moses de- scribed this darkness as one that was total  (v22) and could be  felt (v21). The phrase  total darkness  is considered a superlative in Hebrew grammar. A Hebrew writer would use a superlative when he wanted to demonstrate that his subject is like no other. When Moses used total darkness  (a superlative), he wanted his readers to understand that this darkness surpassed all other kinds of darkness; it was a supernatural darkness like no other.


The  total  and  felt  darkness may suggest that this darkness was coupled with a sandstorm. Perhaps the language is figurative in that the darkness was so overwhelming that it gave people a groping feeling. The word, “felt,” can be translated “grope, feel, or search.”

Why the darkness?

Anyone with a basic exposure to Egyptology has heard of the sun god Re. Re was the foremost god of the sun. Even a hymn was composed to the sun.

Hail to thee, beautiful Re of every day, who rises at dawn without ceasing, Khepri wearing (himself) with labor! Thy rays are in (one s) face, without one knowing it. Fine gold is not like the radiance of thee. Thou who has constructed thyself, thou didst fashion thy body, a shaper who was (himself) not shaped; unique in his nature, passing eternity, the distant one, under whose guidance are millions of ways, just as thy radiance is like the radiance of heaven and thy color glistens more than its surface.

Pharaoh himself was called the Son of Re. Venerated as the one who illuminated the land of Egypt, the Son of Re was in charge of the created order (m^u^T) including the sun s illumination. Therefore, this plague demonstrated that Pharaoh was not in control.

Many other gods were associated with the sun. The following abridged table appears in The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt.

DeityAppearance, character or roleRelationship to other godsSacred animal, object or attribute
AtenSolar DiscSun disc
AtumRam-headed man; the setting sunFather of the EnneadSun disc
HorakhtyThe morning sunFalcon, sphinx
HorusFalcon, falcon-headed sky godSon of Osiris and IsisFalcon
KhepriThe rising sunScarab beetle

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