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Shemot/Exodus 10:21 Stretch out your hand over the heavens and there shall be darkness over the land of Egypt and darkness will feel.
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Here isHaShem's instruction to start the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. Moshe is told to stretch out his hand towards the heavens so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt. Notice that the same preposition is used both for the heavens, , and the land of Egypt, . Normally translated "on, upon or over", which fits well with the land of Egypt, this double use nicely paints the picture of a hand creating shadow: as Moshe symbolically stretches out his hand towards the heavens, so G-d causes shadow to fall over the land of Egypt. The last phrase in the verse is difficult to translate; there are four alternatives proposed, starting with Scripture itself: the Psalmist comments, "He sent darkness; it was very dark" (Psalm 105:28, JPS).
Davidson parses as being the Hif'il prefix 3ms form of the root , a geminate1 verb that appears just 12 times in the Hebrew Bible, with the meaning "to touch, feel, grope" - as spoken by Samson in "Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests" (Judges 16:26, NASB).Ibn Ezra supports this: "a darkness that can be touched", while Cassuto2 suggests "a darkness to be felt". The Sforno, perhaps reflecting the science of his day, explains that "the air would have been so thick that the light could not get through it".
Targum Onkelos, on the other hand, translates as if it comes from the root , appearing only 20 times in the Hebrew Bible, with the meaning "to move, withdraw, remove" - as found in "the pillar [of fire and cloud] did not depart" (Shemot 13:22). The Onkelos translation then has to paraphrase this to get "after the darkness of the night departs". In other words, the darkness of the plague would continue after the normal night-time darkness.
TheRashbam offers a third option. He parses as coming from the root , "to grow dark". This root does not actually exist in either biblical or modern Hebrew, but is projected from the word , meaning "last night" or "darkness" - as found in "the gloom of desolate wasteland" (Job 30:3, JPS). The Rashbam comments that "the darkness of night would grow deeper and gloomier for a long time."
The early Rabbis wanted to know about the darkness. They asked, "How thick was this darkness? Our Sages conjectured that it was as thick as a denar3, for when it says 'even darkness which may be felt', it means a darkness which had substance" (Shemot Rabbah 14:1). But where did it come from? "R. Judah said: From the darkness above, for it says: 'He made darkness His hiding place, His pavilion round about Him' (Psalm 8:12). R. Nehemiah said: It came from the darkness of Gehinnom, for it says: 'A land of thick darkness, as darkness itself; a land of the shadow of death, without any order' (Job 10:22). Woe to the house whose casements open onto the darkness!"
ThePesikta de Rab Kahana jumps to this text: "For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the L-RD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you" (Isaiah 60:2, ESV). "Rab Aha bar Kanaha said: For three days darkness and thick darkness were called upon to serve in Egypt. And the proof? The verse, 'and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days' (Shemot 10:22, ESV). On the other hand, dark chaos and emptiness have never been summoned to serve in this world. But where will they be called into service? In the great city of Rome: 'He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plumb line of emptiness' (Isaiah 34:11, ESV). And the Rabbis say: The nations of the earth which have not accepted the Torah that was given out of darkness [at Sinai], of them Scripture says, 'behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples' (60:2, above). But Israel, who accepted the Torah that was given out of darkness [at Sinai], of them Scripture says, 'the L-RD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you' (60:2, above)."
Yet the Bible records another moment of great darkness - "from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour" (Matthew 27:45, ESV) - of even greater significance. This was the moment, on the preparation day for Pesach nearly two thousand years ago, when Yeshua was crucified and gave up His life so that we might be free and have relationship with G-d. All the sin of the world was concentrated on Him, so that He cried out, "My G-d, My G-d, why have You forsaken Me?" (v. 46, ESV). He took our place; He suffered our punishment: "[G-d] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of G-d in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB). All of nature was confused: "the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (Matthew 27:51-52, ESV). At three o'clock in the afternoon, "at the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice" (1 Kings 18:36, NLT), that time known as ", between the twilights" (Shemot 12:6), when the Pesach offerings - the Passover lambs - were being sacrificed in the Temple, that Yeshua cried out once more, "It is finished" (John 19:30), and gave up His spirit. This was so tangible, the air was so thick, that "when the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Yeshua, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" (Matthew 27:54, ESV). The words of John the Baptist, "Behold, the Lamb of G-d who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29, NASB) were fulfilled.
Just as in Egypt three days of darkness was followed by the death of the first born, in Jerusalem that year three hours of darkness was followed by the death of G-d's firstborn. The blood of the Passover lamb was daubed on the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Israelites and they were set free from bondage and slavery in Egypt. The blood of G-d's firstborn Son was shed on the crucifixion stake so that people from every tribe and nation might believe in Him and be set free from bondage and slavery to sin and death.
Three days later, when Yeshua rose from the dead, Isaiah's words were also fulfilled: "the L-RD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you" (Isaiah 60:2, ESV). Mary Magdalene in the garden, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Peter and the other disciples in Jerusalem all saw the risen Yeshua. This was no vision, no hallucination; in the coming days, He ate fish, He allowed Thomas to put his fingers in the nail-holes in His hands, He prepared and cooked a meal of fish and bread. As there had been darkness, now there was light; where there had been despair, now there was hope; "a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit" (Isaiah 61:3, ESV).
Whether you are in the Jewish tradition, dreading the horseradish and a week of unleavened bread, or the church tradition, stripping the altars and fasting on Good Friday, this holiday period can often miss the point. We become absorbed in the sombre ritual, overcome by the physical affliction and spiritual pain, and so can fail to see the way Yeshua's divine appointment at the cross, the convergence point of history, releases us from the burden and emotional bondage of sin and sets us free to rejoice before G-d at all times and in all places, lifting our spirits to praise Him and declare His mighty deeds in the power of His Spirit and by His grace. This really is the best thing since sliced bread.
Chag Pesach Sameach!
1. - A 'geminate' verb is one in which the second and third letters of the root are the same. They behave irregularly, sometimes as if hollow, sometimes as if first yod.
2. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem 1967, 965-223-456-7, page 129.
3. - A Roman gold coin, containing about 8 grams of gold.
Further Study: Psalm 74:20-22; Jeremiah 13:16; Haggai 2:7-9
Application: Will you be rejoicing through this season of Passover, preparing to meet with G-d afresh at the seder and receive His blessings again and again in the days of counting the Omer, until we burst with the fullness of the Spirit at Shavuot? G-d has stretched out His hand; it's time to know it, feel it and live in the good of it!
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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