The Biblical Illustrator
Show these My signs.
How God hardened Pharaoh’s heart
I. By a manifestation of rich mercy, which ought to have melted the heart of the king.
II. By a manifestation of great power, which ought to have subdued the heart of the king.
III. By a manifestation of severe justice, which might have rebuked the heart of the king.
IV. By sending His servants to influence the heart of the king to the right. God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart by a sovereign decree, so that he could not obey His command; but by ministries appropriate to salvation, calculated to induce obedience--the constant neglect of which was the efficient cause of this sad moral result.
1. That man has the ability to resist the saving ministries of heaven.
2. That when man resists the saving ministries of heaven he becomes hard in heart.
3. That hardness of heart is itself a natural judgment from God.
4. That hardness of heart will finally work its own ruin. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
God sends His minister to hardened souls
5. Disastrously. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. In companies.
2. Patterns of judgments.
3. Tokens of indignation.
4. The cause of plagues.
5. The curse of the world.
6. Still followed by the minister of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The signs of God to the generations of the future
I. That God is supreme over the kingdom of nature. Science places the natural universe under the command of man. This is the Divine ordination. But man’s power over nature is derived; God’s is underived and independent. Hence--
1. He can inflict pain on the wicked.
2. He can protect the good from harm.
3. He can send famine or plenty.
II. That God is supreme over the cunning and power of the devil. The magicians of Egypt were agents of the devil. They were inspired by him in their opposition to Moses and Aaron. They were aided by his cunning. Their defeat was his defeat also.
1. God can deliver men from the power of the devil.
2. God can destroy the works of the devil.
3. God can frustrate the designs of the devil.
Teach this blessed truth and glorious fact to the youthful: that the good agencies of the universe are more potent than the bad. This will lead youthhood to confide in God.
III. That goodness is happiness, and that conflict with God is the misery of man. Lessons:
1. That in the lives of individuals we have signs of God.
2. That all the signs of God in human life are to be carefully noted and taught to the young.
3. That all the signs of life are evidence of the Divine supremacy. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The ministry of sin
God makes Pharaoh “to stand” for the benefit of Israel, and in them for the benefit of humanity. It was for Pharaoh in the first instance to resist Divine light and grace, and oppress Israel; it was then for God to economise the tyrant and his wrath. The conduct of the Egyptian king served--
I. To reveal God. “That ye may know how that I am the Lord.” Pharaoh’s perverseness revealed all the more fully--
1. The Divine love.
2. The Divine righteousness.
3. The Divine power.
II. To further the interests of Israel. God overrules sin to high and happy issues. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Transmitting the knowledge of the true God
I. Jehovah made himself known to the Israelites in Egypt as the only true God by signs. His wondrous acts revealed His supremacy. Christ is the fullest revelation of the true God.
II. That this knowledge is to be transmitted from generation to generation. Parental influence the most potent in telling of God’s acts. No lips teach like the lips of loving authority. Some parents neglect this solemn duty. Ever ready to speak about worldly enterprises, the acts of great men, their own; but they are silent about God’s. Such neglect is ruinous to their children and dishonouring to God.
III. In the transmission of the knowledge, of the true God is the hope of the world. Wherever the knowledge of the true God prevails, righteousness and peace are found. Idolatry has ever been the bane of mankind. A false conception of God debases. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. Showing the woe of sin.
2. The folly of human malice.
3. The justice of God.
4. The safety of the Church. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. Their nature.
2. Their locality.
3. Their design. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The Divine supremacy
1. Rejected by the proud.
2. Received by the good.
3. Revealed by the works of God.
4. To be acknowledged by all. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
So, allowing all that may be called romantic, supernatural, to fall off from this story of the plagues, there remains all that God wanted to remain--three things:--First, the assertion of the Divine right in life. God cannot be turned out of His own creation; He must assert His claim, and urge it, and redeem it. The second thing that remains is the incontestable fact of human opposition to Divine voices. Divine voices call to right, to purity, to nobleness, to love, to brotherhood; and every day we resist these voices, and assert rebellious claims. The third thing that remains is the inevitable issue. We cannot fight God and win. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Why smite with feeble fist the infinite granite of the infinite strength? Who will lose? The certain result will be the overthrow of the sinner: the drowning of every Pharaoh who hardens himself against the Divine will and voice. Now that I come to think of it, have not all these plagues followed my own obstinacy and hardness of heart in relation to things Divine? We speak of the plagues of Egypt as though they began and ended in that distant land, and we regard them now as part of an exciting historical romance. I will think otherwise of them. The local incident and the local colour maybe dispensed with, but the supreme fact in my own consciousness is that God always follows my obstinacy with plagues. Dangers are rightly used when they move us to bolder prayer; losses are turned into gains when they lift our lives in an upward direction; disease is the beginning of health when it leads the sufferer to the Father’s house. Pharaoh had his plagues, many and awful; and every life has its penal or chastening visitations, which for the present are full of agony and bitterness, but which may be so used as to become the beginning of new liberties and brighter joys. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Lay a book open before a child, or one that cannot read; he may stare and gaze upon it, but he can make no use of it at all, because he understandeth nothing in it; yet bring it to one that can read, and understandeth the language that is written in it, he will read you many stories and instructions out of it; it is dumb and silent to the one, but speaketh to, and talketh with, the other. In like manner it is with God’s judgments, as St. Augustine well applies it; all sorts of men see them, but few are able aright to read them or to understand them what they say; every judgment of God is a real sermon of reformation and repentance. (J. Spencer.)
THE EIGHTH PLAGUE.
The Lord would not command His servant again to enter the dangerous presence of the sullen prince, without a reason which would sustain his faith: "For I have made heavy his heart." The pronoun is emphatic: it means to say, 'His foolhardiness is My doing and cannot go beyond My will: thou art safe.' And the same encouragement belongs to all who do the sacred will: not a hair of their head shall truly perish, since life and death are the servants of their God. Thus, in the storm of human passion, as of the winds, He says, "It is I, be not afraid"; making the wrath of man to praise Him, stilling alike the tumult of the waves and the madness of the people.
It is possible that even the merciful mitigations of the last plague were used by infatuated hearts to justify their wilfulness: the most valuable crops of all had escaped; so that these judgments, however dire, were not quite beyond endurance. Just such a course of reasoning deludes all who forget that the goodness of God leadeth to repentance.
Besides the reasons already given for lengthening out the train of judgments, it is added that Israel should teach the story to posterity, and both fathers and children should "know that I am Jehovah."
Accordingly it became a favourite title--"The Lord which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." Even the apostates under Sinai would not reject so illustrious a memory: their feast was nominally to Jehovah; and their idol was an image of "the gods which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4-5).
Has our land no deliverances for which to be thankful? Instead of boastful self-assertion, should we not say, "We have heard with our ears, O God, and our fathers have declared unto us, the noble works that Thou didst in their days and in the old time before them?" Have we forgotten that national mercies call aloud for national thanksgiving? And in the family, and in the secret life of each, are there no rescues, no emancipations, no enemies overcome by a hand not our own, which call for reverent acknowledgment? "These things were our examples, and are written for our admonition."
The reproof now spoken to Pharaoh is sterner than any previous one. There is no reasoning in it. The demand is peremptory: "How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself?" With it is a sharp and short command: "Let My people go, that they may serve Me." And with this is a detailed and tremendous threat. It is strange, in the face of the knowledge accumulated since the objection called for it, to remember that once this narrative was challenged, because locusts, it was said, are unknown in Egypt. They are mentioned in the inscriptions. Great misery was caused by them in 1463, and just three hundred years later Niebuhr was himself at Cairo during a plague of them. Equally arbitrary is the objection that Joel predicted locusts "such as there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after them, even to the years of many generations" (Exodus 2:2), whereas we read of these that "before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such" (Exodus 10:14). The objection is whimsical in its absurdity, when we remember that Joel spoke distinctly of Zion and the holy mountain (Exodus 2:1), and Exodus of "the borders of Egypt" (Exodus 10:14).
But it is true that locusts are comparatively rare in Egypt; so that while the meaning of the threat would be appreciated, familiarity would not have steeled them against it. The ravages of the locust are terrible indeed, and coming just in time to ruin the crops which had escaped the hail, would complete the misery of the land.
One speaks of the sudden change of colour by the disappearance of verdure where they alight as being like the rolling up of a carpet; and here we read "they shall cover the eye of the earth,"--a phrase peculiar to the Pentateuch (Exodus 10:15; Numbers 22:5, Numbers 22:11); "and they shall eat the residue of that which has escaped, ... and they shall fill thy houses, and the ... houses of all the Egyptians, which neither thy fathers nor thy fathers' fathers have seen."
After uttering the appointed warning, Moses abruptly left, awaiting no negotiations, plainly regarding them as vain.
But now, for the first time, the servants of Pharaoh interfered, declared the country to be ruined, and pressed him to surrender. And yet it was now first that we read (Exodus 10:1) that their hearts were hardened as well as his. For that is a hard heart that does not remonstrate against wrong, however plainly God reveals His displeasure, until new troubles are at hand, and which even then has no regard for the wrongs of Israel, but only for the woes of Egypt. It is a hard heart, therefore, which intends to repent upon its deathbed; for its motives are identical with these.
Pharaoh's behaviour is that of a spoiled child, who is indeed the tyrant most familiar to us. He feels that he must yield, or else why should the brothers be recalled? And yet, when it comes to the point, he tries to play the master still, by dictating the terms for his own surrender; and breaks off the negotiation rather than do frankly what he must feel that it is necessary to do. Moses laid his finger accurately upon the disease when he reproached him for refusing to humble himself. And if his behaviour seem unnatural, it is worth observation that Napoleon, the greatest modern example of proud, intellectual, godless infatuation, allowed himself to be crushed at Leipsic through just the same reluctance to do thoroughly and without self-deception what he found it necessary to consent to do. "Napoleon," says his apologist, Thiers, "at length determined to retreat--a resolution humbling to his pride. Unfortunately, instead of a retreat frankly admitted ... he determined on one which from its imposing character should not be a real retreat at all, and should be accomplished in open day." And this perversity, which ruined him, is traced back to "the illusions of pride."
Well, it was quite as hard for the Pharaoh to surrender at discretion, as for the Corsican to stoop to a nocturnal retreat. Accordingly, he asks, "Who are ye that shall go?" and when Moses very explicitly and resolutely declares that they will all go, with all their property, his passion overcomes him, he feels that to consent is to lose them for ever, and he exclaims, "So be Jehovah with you as I will let you go and your little ones: look to it, for evil is before you"--that is to say, Your intentions are bad. "Go ye that are men, and serve the Lord, for that is what ye desire,"--no more than that is implied in your demand, unless it is a mere pretence, under which more lurks than it avows.
But he and they have long been in a state of war: menaces, submissions, and treacheries have followed each other fast, and he has no reason to complain if their demands are raised. Moreover, his own nation celebrated religious festivals in company with their wives and children, so that his rejoinder is an empty outburst of rage. And of a Jewish feast it was said, a little later, "Thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou and thy son and thy daughter, and thy manservant and thy maidservant ... and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow" (Deuteronomy 16:11). There was no insincerity in the demand; and although the suspicions of the king were naturally excited by the exultant and ever-rising hopes of the Hebrews, and the defiant attitude of Moses, yet even now there is as little reason to suspect bad faith as to suppose that Israel, once released, could ever have resumed the same abject attitude toward Egypt as before. They would have come back victorious, and therefore ready to formulate new demands; already half emancipated, and therefore prepared for the perfecting of the work.
And now, at a second command as explicit as that which bade him utter the warning, Moses, anxiously watched by many, stretched out his hand over the devoted realm. At the gesture, the spectators felt that a fiat had gone forth. But the result was strangely different from that which followed his invocation, both of the previous and the following plague, when we may believe that as he raised his hand, the hail-storm burst in thunder, and the curtain fell upon the sky. Now there only arose a gentle east wind (unlike the "exceeding strong west wind" that followed), but it blew steadily all that day and all the following night. The forebodings of Egypt would understand it well: the prolonged period during which the curse was being steadily wafted toward them was an awful measure of the wide regions over which the power of Jehovah reached; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts, that dreadful curse which Joel has compared to a disciplined and devastating invader, "the army of the Lord," and the first woe that heralds the Day of the Lord in the Apocalypse (Joel 2:1-11; Revelation 9:1-11).
The completeness of the ruin brought a swift surrender, but it has been well said that folly is the wisdom which is only wise too late, and, let us add, too fitfully. If Pharaoh had only submitted before the plague instead of after it!(18) If he had only respected himself enough to be faithful, instead of being too vain really to yield!
It is an interesting coincidence that, since he had this time defied the remonstrances of his advisers, his confession of sin is entirely personal: it is no longer, "I and my people are sinners," but "I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you." This last clause was bitter to his lips, but the need for their intercession was urgent: life and death were at stake upon the removal of this dense cloud of creatures which penetrated everywhere, leaving everywhere an evil odour, and of which a later sufferer complains, "We could not eat, but we bit a locust; nor open our mouths, but locusts filled them."
Therefore he went on to entreat volubly, "Forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat Jehovah your God that He may take away from me this death only."
And at the prayer of Moses, the Lord caused the breeze to veer and rise into a hurricane: "The Lord turned an exceeding strong west wind." Now, the locust can float very well upon an easy breeze, and so it had been wafted over the Red Sea; but it is at once beaten down by a storm, and when it touches the water it is destroyed. Thus simply was the plague removed.
"But the Lord made strong Pharaoh's heart," and so, his fears being conquered, his own rebellious will went on upon its evil way. He would not let Israel go.
This narrative throws light upon a thousand vows made upon sick beds, but broken when the sufferer recovers; and a thousand prayers for amendment, breathed in all the sincerity of panic, and forgotten with all the levity of security. It shows also, in the hesitating and abortive half-submission of the tyrant, the greater folly of many professing Christians, who will, for Christ's sake, surrender all their sins except one or two, and make any confession except that which really brings low their pride.
Thoroughness, decision, depth, and self-surrender, needed by Pharaoh, are needed by every soul of man.
To-morrow will I bring the locusts.
Humiliation before God
“How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before Me?”
I. I shall show our need of humiliation before God.
1. Let us inquire how we have acted toward God. As our Creator, our Governor, our Benefactor.
2. Let us inquire how we have acted toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Was made flesh. Died for us.
3. Let us inquire how we have acted toward the Holy Spirit. Rebelled, vexed, grieved, quenched.
II. I shall show wherein true humiliation consists.
1. In confession of our sin before God. Fully and unreservedly. With deep and ingenuous sorrow.
2. In believing application to God through Christ for pardon of our sin.
3. In renouncing our sins and commencing a course of obedience to God.
III. I shall show the evils of delaying true humiliation before God.
1. The guilt (Romans 2:4-5).
2. The folly. Stronger than He?
3. The danger. Pharaoh. Manasseh.
The delay of soul humility
I. In what does soul-humility consist?
1. It does not consist in mournful verbal utterances, k humble word may conceal a proud spirit.
2. Nor in outward manifestations of repentance.
3. It is rather evinced in calm resignation to the will of God as revealed in His Word, and as made known in the conscience by the Holy Spirit.
II. How is soul-humility to be obtained?
1. By having a clear conception of the will of God and of the beauty of truth.
2. By allowing the varied discipline of life its due effect upon the soul. Pain ought to humble a man, reminding him of his mortality.
3. By submitting to the gentle influences of the Holy Spirit.
III. Why is soul-humility so long delayed?
1. Because men will not give up their sins. Humility is the outcome of purity.
2. Because men will not yield to the claims of God.
3. Because men are rendered proud by exalted social position.
4. Men can give no reason for the delay of soul-humility.
Humility is the richest and best ornament of the soul, and no good excuse can be assigned for neglecting to wear it. This ornament is but seldom seen in this vaunting age. It is welcome to the eye of heaven.
1. Soul-humility should be manifested by man.
2. God’s ministers should enforce it.
3. God’s people should cultivate it.
4. Its absence cannot be excused. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The plague of locusts threatened
I. It was threatened in case that Pharaoh would not give the Israelites the freedom demanded by God (verse 4). The good have in God a stern Defender.
II. That some men are much more sensitive to the threatenings of God than others (verse 7).
III. That Divine threatenings must make ministers faithful in the discharge of their duty (verse 9). Denounce all attempts at moral compromise. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. A judgment.
2. A mystery.
3. A crisis.
4. An anxiety.
5. A hope. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
If thou refuse
1. Then man can refuse to obey God.
2. Then man can dare the judgments of God.
3. Then man takes a great responsibility upon himself. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. Very grievous.
2. Darkening the light.
3. Devouring the fruit.
4. Entering the houses. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Good men should leave sinners u, hen they have declared the message of God
1. As a reproof.
2. As a contempt.
3. As a prophecy.
4. As a relief. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The Egyptians, in common with other nations whose ideas of religion were derived originally from Egypt, had particular deities to whom they appealed for help in times of particular necessity. There is reason to believe that they had gods to whom they looked for protection against locusts as well as against flies and vermin. Strabo, speaking of certain gods whose titles were derived from insignificant objects, says: “The inhabitants of Mount Å’ta worshipped Hercules under the title of Hercules Cornopion, because he had delivered them from locusts. So the Erythraeans, who live near Melius, worship Hercules Ipoctonus, because he destroyed the ipes, or worms, which are destructive to vines: for this pest is found everywhere except in the country of the Erythraeans. The Rhodians have in their island a temple of Apollo Erythibius, so called from erysibe (mildew), which they call erythibe. Among the AEolians in Asia one of their months is called Pornopion, for this name the Boeotians give to parnopes (locusts), and sacrifices are performed to Apollo Pornopion. “The locust was esteemed sacred in Greece, and the Athenians wore golden cicadae, or grasshoppers, in their hair, to denote the antiquity of their race, as αὐτόχθονες, “of the land itself,” or aborigines. Early historians tell us that the Greeks came originally from Egypt; Cecrops, the first king of Attica, was from Sais; Cadmus, from Thebes; and Danaus and Lynceus, with their colonies, from Chemnis. The locust-scarers of Greece and Asia were, therefore, in all probability, gods of the Egyptians in time of Pharaoh, and were put to shame, with the rest of their deities, by this unprecedented and miraculous visitation. Thus the winds from the four corners of heaven obey the command of Jehovah. As far as man is concerned, nothing is more uncertain, nothing more absolutely beyond control: “the wind bloweth were it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth” (John 3:8). But God directeth it under the whole heaven; He calleth it, “Awake, O north wind, and come thou south (Song of Solomon 4:16); He gathereth the wind in His fists (Proverbs 30:4); “He bringeth it out of His treasuries” (Psalms 135:7). At God’s command the east wind brought the locusts, in twenty-four hours, from the uttermost parts of the east, collecting them, it may be, from the far-off deserts of Arabia and Persia; and at God’s command the west wind carried them away again, as far as the Red Sea. There they all fell down and perished. “I am tossed up and down as the locust” (Psalms 109:23), says David. These creatures were tossed up and down by the wind wherever God would send them. He had used them as His scourge, an instrument of punishment, in which He could have no pleasure; and when their ungrateful task was done, He drowned them in the sea. To those same depths the infatuated king who refused to be warned by the chastisement was presently to follow them, and with his miserable people, in their turn, to perish. (T. S. Millington.)
Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?
1. Threatening from God may touch hearts of servants and not of rulers.
2. God useth king’s own servants to move them, when His ministers can avail nothing.
3. Fear of plagues may move wicked ones to yield, where the fear of God is not.
4. It is usual for wicked men to charge God’s servants to be snares, when their sins make them.
5. When God makes His servants ministers of wrath, the wicked are willing to be rid of them.
6. Idolatrous persecutors may tolerate God’s Church to serve Him, when vengeance forces them.
7. Experience of destruction past, and fear of more to come, may cause enemies to move for the Church’s liberty.
8. Persecuting powers are apt to be stupid and willingly ignorant of such destructions. (G. Hughes, D. D.)
A remonstrance against sin
I. Addressed by inferiors to their superiors.
II. Inspired by a deep feeling of terror. It is well for men under any circumstances to cry out against moral evil.
III. Influential for temporary good. Some men are apparently more accessible to the advice of their comrades than they are to the commands of heaven. The wicked servant may preach the gospel to his despotic master.
IV. Ultimately disregarded. Lessons:--
1. Remonstrate with the sinner.
2. Show him the folly and woe of sin.
3. You are not responsible for the result of such a remonstrance. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Pharaoh’s mad ignorance
“Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?” was the plea of Pharaoh’s servants before the locusts came. No; he knew it not; he would not know it. Even now, with the scene of utter desolation everywhere around him, with the fields scorched and barren, and the naked trees stretching out their white and shattered boughs like ghastly skeletons, with even the walls of his houses and the furniture of his chambers marked by the gnawings of those “very grievous locusts,” with all these terrible witnesses before his eyes, Pharaoh knew it not. (T. S. Millington.)
We will go with our young and with our old.
1. Upon importunity of men wicked powers may be moved to recall and treat further with God’s ministers when His own word is slighted by them.
2. Upon carnal considerations powers may license the Church to serve its God.
3. Such wicked powers bound their grants of liberty with provisos destructive to God’s will (Exodus 10:8). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Captious questions from the wicked are answered with plain answers by God’s servants.
2. Faithfulness to God will not suffer His servants to hide His mind to the wicked.
3. God’s instruments have encouragement from Him to deliver His demands to greatest powers.
4. Little ones as well as great must be carried along with the Church of God to their rest.
5. The Church’s portion in this life as to outward estate God is pleased to have free as well as themselves, that they may comfortably serve Him therewith.
6. The Church’s work after redemption is to serve Jehovah, or keep a feast to Him (Exodus 10:9). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Renewed opportunities of moral good
“And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh.”
I. Consequent upon the faithful rebuke of friends.
II. Through contact with a holy man.
III. May be left unused through the perverseness of the soul. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The children must be rescued
But particularly observe the subject of dispute. Concerning whom did it arise? Concerning boys and girls--little children. Pharaoh did not wish them to accompany their parents to hold a feast unto the Lord; he required that they should remain at home as hostages. Moses refused. Well, there are often similar disputes in our time between the devil and the servants of God concerning you. The devil causes worldly men to say, like Pharaoh, “Why should you trouble children with religion, they are too young yet? How can they understand the Bible, since I, who am a grown-up man, and perhaps a learned man, do not understand it? They can take no pleasure in it; it is too serious for them, since for my part I find it a weariness. At their age it becomes them to play, and not to study deeply. Let them enjoy their diversions; let them amuse themselves on the Sunday.” Thus the prince of this world, the great Pharaoh of the darkness of this world, would wish to keep you as hostages in error, and ensnare your parents also. If your house were on fire, what would you think of a person who should say to your father, “Go out as quickly as you can, but leave your children in bed”? Or if you were at school, or an apprentice to a trade, what would you think of a man who should say to your father, “Your son has a holiday, but do not let him come home to be with you, for he is at an age to amuse himself. Do not teach him to love you, and to obey you, for that would weary him.” Ah! dear children, you have as much need as we have to escape the wrath to come, and to love God. Ask from Him grace to love Him. The prayer of a child who seeks a new heart for the sake of Jesus Christ always ascends to heaven. (Prof. Gaussen.)
Driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.
Driving away the servants of God
1. It is to drive away a good friend.
2. It is to drive away a faithful monitor.
3. It is to drive away a real benefactor.
4. It is to drive away an angel of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The threats of the wicked
I. Evil men often seek to retard God’s servants in their works by threats. But in vain. God sustains all whom He sends. No opposition, however virulent, can retard them from doing His work. They may be weak and few, but He is their strength.
II. That the threats of evil men need not be feared. Nothing can really harm God’s servants. They may have to suffer, but suffering will be turned into triumphant joy. Like the saintly Rutherford, they will find that their enemies have only set them to reside for a while in one of God’s palaces. Real evil cannot befall them.
III. That the evil threatened menaces the threatener. As Luther said concerning the potentates of his day, who did not remember the overruling might of God in their projects: “Our Lord God says unto them: For whom do ye hold Me? for a cypher? Do I set here above in vain, and to no purpose? You shall know that I will twist your accounts about finely, and make them all false reckonings.” So it was with Pharaoh when he threatened Moses and Aaron. (W. O. Lilly.)
The imperiousness of unbelief
I. In its reluctance to grant concessions.
II. In its irritable impatience in listening to the voice of reason.
III. In its ignominious treatment of religious teachers. (G. Barlow.)
The locusts went up.
The plague of locusts; or, the residue of human comfort and enjoyment destroyed by the retribution of God
It has been observed that the plagues of Egypt, as they succeeded each other, were characterized with increasing severity. This one appears an exception to the rule. But only on first sight. The very name of locust was a terror to the Egyptians. They were an awful infliction (Joel 1:6-12).
I. That sometimes the retributions of God leave a residue of comfort to the lives of men. It is so in bereavement; if the wife is taken, the child is left. It is so in business; if the capital is lost, it may be the reputation is saved. It is so in personal attributes; if one sense grows dim, another remains yet more active. If the flax and barley are destroyed, the wheat and the rye are left. This is mere than is deserved. It is merciful. But it is the kind way of heaven.
II. That upon continued sin the residue of human comfort may be entirely removed by the retributive anger of God.
III. That upon continued sin the remaining comforts of man may be destroyed by the cooperation of primary and secondary causes. “And the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.” The sceptic may say that the east wind alone brought the locusts upon his green things; but this is unreasonable and atheistical. Men in these days have too much Scripture knowledge to regard nature as the origin of their trouble. God commissions the wind that works desolation upon the hope of the wicked. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Intreat the Lord your God.
1. God’s hasty judgments may work hasty passions in sinners, though no repentance.
2. Vengeance may make persecutors call in God’s servants for help as hastily as they drove them out.
3. Double confession of sin may hypocrites make under plagues, yet not in truth.
4. Proud persecutors may be forced to confess their guilt against men as well as against God (Exodus 5:16).
5. Hypocritical oppressors may desire forgiveness of God’s people under plagues, as if they would sin no more.
6. Wicked persecutors under judgment are earnest with God’s servants to intercede earnestly for them.
7. It is only death which wicked sinners deprecate.
8. Hypocrites pretend upon deliverance from death, as if they would sin no more, or desire no more mercy (Exodus 10:17). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
A false repentance
I. It proceeds from the impulse of the moment, and not from conscientious conviction.
II. It is marked by selfish terror, and not by a godly sorrow for sin.
III. It craves forgiveness of an immediate offence, rather than a thorough cleansing of the heart.
IV. It confides in the intercession of a fellow-mortal, rather than in the personal humbling of the soul before God. Christ is the only Mediator.
V. It regards God more as a terrible Deity whose wrath is to be appeased, than as the Infinite Father whose love is better than life.
VI. it expresses a promise of amendment which is falsified by previous dissemblings.
1. To be sure that our repentance is genuine.
2. To bring forth fruit meet for repentance in daily conduct.
3. Not to pass a hasty judgment on the repentance of men. Half the Revivalists of the day would have called Pharaoh a true convert; time tests conversion. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Pharaoh’s imperfect repentances
Dear children, when any one confesses with sincerity, “I have sinned”; when he says this to God, and not merely to man, be sure that he is never rejected. But let us observe what was wanting in the repentance of Pharaoh.
1. Belief in God, He called Him the Lord your God. He spoke of Him as of a stranger. Now, it is impossible that any person or child can love the Lord until he feels himself reconciled to Him by faith, until he can call Him the Lord my God.
2. Pharaoh had humbled himself before men, rather than before God.
3. He besought the prayers of others, instead of praying for himself.
4. He asked the forgiveness of the servants of God, instead of seeking pardon from God Himself. If he had said, like David, “I acknowledge my sin unto the Lord,” he might have added like him, “And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”
5. Pharaoh did not concern himself about the salvation of his soul. He intreated, not that he might be delivered from sin, but only that “this death” should be taken away from him; he did not think of eternity, but only of the plague under which he was suffering.
6. Lastly, remark that the king still cherished secret designs in his heart; his submission was not unreserved. We have begun as it were to repent; but as long as we are not willing to renounce all, to follow Jesus, our repentance is of no avail. Pharaoh said, “Go ye, serve the Lord, only let your flocks and herds be stayed.” His heart was not yet submissive, thus his repentance was vain. (Prof. Gaussen.)
The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
Pharaoh’s will and God’s
I. The simplest and most patient study of that portion of the Book of Exodus which refers to the Egyptian plagues will lead us to this conclusion, that Moses is the witness for a Divine eternal law, and the witness against every kind of king-craft or priest-craft which breaks this law, or substitutes any devices of man’s power or wit in place of it. Moses protested against the deceits and impostures of the magicians, precisely because he protested for the living and eternal Lord. It is a special token of honesty and veracity that Moses records the success of the magicians in several of their experiments. We might fairly have discredited the story as partial and unlikely, if there had been no such admission. Even the most flagrant chicanery is not always disappointed, and in nine cases out of ten, fact and fraud are curiously dovetailed into one another. If you will not do homage to the one, you will not detect the other.
II. Do not the words, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” distinctly describe God as the Author of something in man which is pronounced to be utterly wrong? Is He not said to have foreseen Pharaoh’s sin, and not only to have foreseen, but to have produced it? The will of God was an altogether good will, and therefore Pharaoh’s will--which was a bad will, a proud self-will--strove against it, and was lashed into fury by meeting with that which was contrary to itself. These words of Scripture are most necessary to us, for the purpose of making us understand the awful contradiction which there may be between the will of a man and the will of his Creator; how that contradiction may be aggravated by what seemed to be means for its cure, and how it may be cured. However hard our hearts may be, the Divine Spirit of grace and discipline can subdue even all things to Himself. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart
I. The reality of the human will, and consequently of responsibility, is attached on different sides: here on physiological, and there on historical grounds. We are told that facts connected with the human will admit of exact calculation and prediction, according to what is termed the law of averages, and that consequently the doctrine of free-will, which was never capable of proof, must be displaced by a doctrine recognizing the certainty of human action. To this we answer:
1. The belief that man has the power to choose is so far from wanting proof, that it has all the force which universal consent can give it.
2. This average, which is supposed to rule the will like a rod of iron, is itself most variable. It yields under the hand like tempered clay. That which our will is now acting upon, which varies in different countries because the will of man has made different laws there, cannot be conclusive against the doctrine of free-will.
II. The words of the text are not without their warning. They mean that God, who punishes sin with death, sometimes punishes sin with sin. When man has repelled the voice of conscience, and the warning of his Bible, and the entreaties of friends, then grace is withdrawn from him, and sin puts on a judicial character, and is at once sin and punishment. (Abp. Thomson.)
The hardening of the heart
“The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” is a very remarkable and startling expression, and it is repeated in this history no fewer than ten times. It is startling, for it seems at first sight as if it ascribed the sin of that wicked man to Almighty God. But a little thought will show that it is very far from meaning this.
1. In other places the hardening is attributed to Pharaoh himself. God gives bad men a mysterious power to change their hearts and minds continually for the worse, by their own wicked ways; so that in the end they cannot believe or repent. It is their own doing, because they bring it on themselves by their sin, and it is God’s doing because it is the just punishment which His law has made the effect of their sin.
2. God knew beforehand that the heart of Pharaoh was such that not even miracles would overcome his obstinacy, and knowing this, He determined to deal with him in a manner which ought to have softened and amended him, but which, according to his perverse way of taking it, only hardened him more and more.
3. The taking off of God’s hand, after each successive plague, had the effect of hardening Pharaoh’s heart more completely. He repents of his own repentance, and wishes he had not given way so far to God’s messengers.
4. Pharaoh, like other wicked kings, had no want of evil subjects to encourage him. He had magicians who counterfeited God’s miracles, and servants who, on every occasion, were ready to harden their hearts with him. Such is Pharaoh’s case; beginning in heathenish ignorance, but forced by warning after warning to become aware of the truth. Every warning was a chance given him to soften his heart, but he went on hardening it, and so perished. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the “Tracts for the Times. ”)
Hardening influence of sin
Look but upon a youth when he comes first to be an apprentice to some artificer, or handicraft trade, his hand is tender, and no sooner is he set to work but it blisters, so that he is much pained thereby; but when he hath continued some time at work, then his hand hardens, and he goes on without any grievance at all. It is just thus with a sinner: before he be accustomed to an evil way, conscience is tender and full of remorse, like a queasy stomach, ready to kick at the least thing that is offensive. Oh, but a continued custom, and making a trade of sin, that’s it that makes the conscience to be hard and brawny, able to feel nothing I As it is in a smith’s forge, a dog that comes newly in, cannot endure the fiery sparks to fly about his ears; but being once used to it, he sleeps securely; so let wicked men be long used to the devil’s workhouse, to be slaves and vassals to sin, the sparks of hell-fire may fly about them, and the fire of hell flash upon their souls, yet never trouble them, never disturb them at all; and all this ariseth from a continued custom in a course of evil. (J. Spencer.)
Darkness over the land of Egypt.
1. God falls upon sinners without warning where they deal falsely with Him.
2. The same signal God may command for several uses.
3. God’s word determines the end unto which all signals are appointed.
4. Men’s hands lifted up to heaven God may make use of to bring evils on the earth.
5. It is God’s word to make a kingdom the land of darkness.
6. Palpable darkness is a judgment of God’s own making (Exodus 10:21). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Obedience to God’s signal commands must be given by His servants.
2. Signal obedience by God’s ministers is not in vain. God giveth the effect.
3. Horrid darkness can God send upon souls darkened through sin.
4. Egyptian darkness is God’s exemplary vengeance to the world.
5. The place and duration of darkness are at God’s appointment (Exodus 10:22).
6. Dismal darkness is that which takes from men the use of sense and motion.
7. Chains of darkness can God make to hold fast sinners in prison.
8. God executes His judgments on the world with discrimination to His people.
9. Egypt’s darkness is Israel’s light (Exodus 10:23). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The plague of darkness; or, a type of the sad moral condition of unregenerate humanity
I. That unregenerate humanity is in a condition of moral darkness.
1. Ignorant--of God as Father, Christ as Saviour, Holy Ghost as Comforter, and glories of moral universe.
2. Miserable. Groping in darkness to an awful destiny of woe.
3. In danger. Under condemnation of Heaven.
II. That unregenerate humanity is in moral darkness through sin. No light but from the Cross.
III. That unrenewed humanity is in great straits through, and has no artificial alleviation of, its moral darkness.
1. The moral vision of humanity is impeded.
2. The moral activity of humanity is suspended. Soul-darkness can only be removed by Christ.
1. To seek to relieve the woe of those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
2. To see the effect of sin.
3. To seek light from the Cross of Christ. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Light in the dwellings of the good
I. In the dwellings of the good there is the light of revealed truth.
II. In the dwellings of the good there is the light of providential guidance.
III. In the dwellings of the good there is the light of moral character. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The true Israel shall have light in their dwellings. Light in the heart brings light in the home.
I. There is supernatural light in the dwellings of God’s people. There is a light brighter than the light of the sun. God’s people dwell in it. The light of the glory of God has shone in upon them. No creations of worldly wisdom, wealth, or philosophy can give this heavenly light.
II. That this light is the source of manifold blessings. Comfort under trial; strength in weakness; peace in disquietude; lessons of resignation, patience, and fortitude: sanctification of affliction; sympathy with the suffering members of the household; preservation in calamitous times; sustaining trust in God under perplexing circumstances; hope of eternal felicity.
III. That this light is a foregleaming of that glory which will re enjoyed by God’s people for ever. God’s love in Christ is the light of every true Israelite’s dwelling on earth, and that is the light of heaven. Christian homes ought to be “spangles of celestial brightness on this darksome earth.” The light here is sometimes dimmed. Heaven is its native sphere. It suffers there no eclipse. Our vision too will be clearer. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Light and darkness; or, the Church and the world
I. Egypt in its darkness was a type of the world. It was so also in other particulars. In its tyrannical dominion by the despotical Pharaoh;--in its diversified idolatry; but particularly in the darkness which enshrouded it.
1. Darkness is an emblem of ignorance and error, and the world is involved in these.
2. Darkness is an emblem of guilt, and the world is involved in this.
3. Darkness is an emblem of peril, and in this the world is involved. It is to be the scene of the Divine vengeance. It is to be renovated by fire (2 Peter 3:10).
4. Darkness is the emblem of misery, and in this the world is involved. Now the misery of the men of the world arises from three things.
II. The Israelites with light in their dwellings were a type of the church.
1. They have the light of saving knowledge.
2. They have the light of the Divine approbation.
3. They have the light of holiness. In applying this subject we behold the contrast between those who are of the world and the people of God, in several conditions of life.
The plague of darkness
Darkness may have been produced by a deprivation of sight. The sun may have risen and set as usual upon the land, yet the eyes of all the Egyptians being closed and blinded, no ray of light could reach them; this, if it were attended with pain in the organs of vision, might be properly described as “darkness to be felt.” The men of Sodom were stricken with blindness for their sin. The great host which came to take Elisha were smitten with blindness. Moses, in Deuteronomy, where he threatens the people with the botch of Egypt, reminding them of the plague of boils and blains, says immediately afterwards, alluding, probably, to this plague, “The Lord shall smite thee with blindness and thou shalt grope at noonday as the blind gropeth in darkness” (Deuteronomy 28:27-29). Blindness was the punishment inflicted upon Elymas the sorcerer; and these Egyptians were famous for their sorceries. The darkness may therefore have been of this kind, a painful but temporary loss of eyesight. Darkness, such as is here described, may have been occasioned by a thick cloud resting upon the earth, and pervading all the lower regions of the atmosphere: this would enfold the people so as “to be felt,” and would intercept the sun’s rays effectually by its density. God is often described as manifesting His displeasure in a cloud. Joel speaks of the day of God’s vengeance as “a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness” (Joel 2:2); and Zephaniah employs nearly the same language (Zephaniah 1:15). The pillar that went before the Israelites, and gave them light, was to the Egyptians “a cloud and darkness” (Exodus 14:20). Such a cloud would be even more terrible in Egypt, sunny Egypt, than in other countries; for there, as we have already seen, the sky is almost always clear, and heavy rains unknown. But in any place, and under any conditions, it must have been full of horror and misery. Nothing could represent this more forcibly than the short sentence, “Neither rose any from his place for three days.” It was an horror of great darkness; it rested on them like a pall; they knew not what dangers might be around them, what judgment was next to happen. If there be any truth in the traditions of the Jews on this subject, there were yet greater alarms under this canopy of darkness, this palpable obscurity, than any which would naturally arise out of the physical infliction. Darkness is a type of Satan’s kingdom; and Satan had some liberty in Egypt to walk up and down upon the land, and to go to and fro in it. The Jewish Rabbis tell us that the devil and his angels were let loose during these three dreadful days; that they had a wider range and greater liberty than usual for working mischief. They describe these evil spirits going among the wretched people, glued to their seats as they were with terror; frightening them with fearful apparitions; piercing their ears with hideous shrieks and groans; driving them almost to madness with the intensity of their fears; making their flesh creep, and the hair of their head to stand on end. Such a climax seems to be referred to by the Psalmist, “He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and indignation and trouble, by sending evil angels among them” (Psalms 78:49). The sun was, during the continuance of the plague of darkness, blotted out from the Egyptian sky: either their chief God had forsaken them, and turned against his vicegerent upon earth, or the God of Moses had prevailed against them both. In the intensity of their darkness, unrelieved by any artificial light, the people would bethink themselves of the brilliant illumination they had been in the habit of making in honour of their god, as described by Herodotus, “At the sacrifice solemnized at Sais the assembly is held by night: they suspend before their houses in the open air lamps, which are filled with oil mixed with salt: a wick floats on the top, which wilt burn all night: the feast is called the feast of lamps. Such of the Egyptians as do not attend the ceremony burn lamps in like manner before their houses, so that on this night, not Sais only, but all Egypt illuminated. A religious motive is assigned for the festival itself, and for the illumination by which it is distinguished” (Herod. 2:62). Night, being supposed to divide the empire of the heavens with day, received also its share of diving honors. Darkness existed before light; and therefore darkness was revered as the most ancient of all deities. Among the verses usually ascribed to Orpheus is a hymn addressed to Night, beginning--“Night, parent of gods and men!” (Hymn. ad Noct. 5:1.) Plutarch says--“The Egyptians reverence the blind mouse, because they consider darkness to be more ancient than light” (Sympos. 1. 4. qu. 5). Thus, again, the vanity of the religious practices of Egypt was plainly shown. Where were now their gods? Let them pray to the sun; let them intreat their lord and king Osiris; he would not look on them, nor give them one ray of his comfort. Let them implore the darkness; it would not listen to them, nor depart from them. The Israelites, on the contrary, who had never, as a nation, bowed the knee to these creatures, nor had been attracted by their glory to give them the homage due to God alone, were filled with light and warmth. The Lord of heaven and earth sent down his blessing upon their houses, singling them out wherever they might be, and made even the darkness to be light about them. And now, perhaps, they would better understand the worth and excellency of that daily gift of God which men enjoy too generally without much thought of Him whose word created and whose mercy sends it. Looking upon the walls of blackness which were drawn around the houses of the Egyptians, they would learn to prize the glorious light and sunshine which still prevailed in all their dwellings: they would compare their own condition, even as slaves and bondsmen, with the misery of those who had their habitations in the fairest palaces of Egypt--fair no longer now, but dark and desolate; and so they would doubtless look upward with gratitude to their almighty God, and confess the security and happiness of those who trust in Him. (T. S. Millington.)
Light in darkness
“The happiest child I ever saw,” said Bishop Ryle, “was a little girl whom I once met travelling in a railway carriage. She was eight years old, and she was quite blind. She had never been able to see at all. She had never seen the sun, and the stars, and the sky, and the grass, and the flowers, and the trees, and the birds, and all those pleasant things which we see every day of our lives; but still she was quite happy. She was by herself, poor little thing. She had no friends or relations to take care of her, but she was quite happy and content. She said, when she got into the carriage: ‘Tell me how many people there are in the carriage, for I am quite blind, and can see nothing.’ A gentleman asked her if she was not afraid. ‘No,’ she said; ‘I have travelled before, and I trust in God, and people are always very good to me.’ But I soon found out the reason why.she was so happy. She loved Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ loved her; she had sought Jesus Christ, and she had found Him.”
Darkness a cause of terror
Arago mentions that in the eclipse of 1842, at Perpignan, a dog which was kept from food for twenty-four hours was thrown some bread just before the “totality” of the eclipse began. The dog seized the loaf, begun to devour it ravenously, and then, as the darkness came on, dropped it. Not until the sun burst forth again did the poor creature return to its food. A party of courtiers of Louis XV., too, were once gathered around Cassini to witness an eclipse from the terrace of the Paris observatory, and were laughing at the populace, whose cries were heard as the light began to fade, when, as the unnatural gloom came quickly on, silence fell on them too, the panic terror striking through their laughter. (H. O. Mackey.)
Light in darkness
“God couldn’t arrange it more beautiful,” said a poor old blind man, as he sat in the chimney-corner of his cottage. “Arrange what?” said the visitor. “Why, I’m as blind as a mole, but I can hear well; and my old woman there,” pointing to his wife in the other corner, “is as deaf as a post, but she can see well, Could God Almighty a’ done it better?” This blind, bright saint could certainly see beauty in God’s arrangements where it never would have been suspected by onlookers. It need hardly be said that sightless J. revels in the light where mere sight-seers would grumble at the darkness. His natural blindness seems to have given a quick, keen perception of his spiritual sight. “No walls around me now,” he says; “I’m never hemmed in. It’s all brightness. Bless’e, I’d ten times sooner be as I be, than have my sight, and not see my Saviour!” He is--speaking after the manner of men--at poverty’s door, yet he has luxurious faith; and, in truth, his bare home is hard by the jewelled walls of the pearly-gated city. Listen to his thankful, contented talk: “They allows the old woman and me two shillings and ninepence, and two loaves, and we can manage on that; and what more do we want?” (Sword and Trowel.)
THE NINTH PLAGUE.
We have taken it as settled that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Menephtah, the Beloved of the God Ptah. If so, his devotion to the gods throws a curious light upon his first scorn of Jehovah, and his long continued resistance; and also upon the threat of vengeance to be executed upon the gods of Egypt, as if they were a resisting power. But there is a special significance in the ninth plague, when we connect it with Menephtah.
In the Tombs of the Kings at Thebes there is to be seen, fresh and lifelike, the admirably sculptured effigy of this king--a weak and cruel face, with the receding forehead of his race, but also their nose like a beak, and their sharp chin. Over his head is the inscription--
"Lord of the Two Lands, Beloved of the God Amen; Lord of Diadems, Beloved of the God Ptah: Crowned by Amen with dominion of the world: Cherished by the Sun in the great abode."
This formidable personage is delineated by the court sculptor with his hand stretched out in worship, and under it is written "He adores the Sun: he worships Hor of the solar horizons."
The worship, thus chosen as the most characteristic of this king, either by himself or by some consummate artist, was to be tested now.
Could the sun help him? or was it, like so many minor forces of earth and air, at the mercy of the God of Israel?
There is a terrible abruptness about the coming of the ninth plague. Like the third and sixth, it is inflicted unannounced; and the parleying, the driving of a bargain and then breaking it, by which the eighth was attended, is quite enough to account for this. Moreover, the experience of every man teaches him that each method has its own impressiveness: the announcement of punishment awes, and a surprise alarms, and when they are alternated, every possible door of access to the conscience is approached. If the heart of Pharaoh was now beyond hope, it does not follow that all his people were equally hardened. What an effect was produced upon those courtiers who so earnestly supported the recent demand of Moses, when this new plague fell upon them unawares!
But not only is there no announcement: the narrative is so concentrated and brief as to give a graphic rendering of the surprise and terror of the time. Not a word is wasted:--
"The Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness that may be felt. And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place three days; but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings" (Exodus 10:21-23). We are not told anything of the emotions of the king, as the prophet strides into his presence, and before the cowering court, silently raises his hand and quenches the day. We may infer his temper, if we please, from the frantic outbreak of menace and rage in which he presently warns the man whose coming is the same thing as calamity to see his face no more. Nothing is said, again, about the evil angels by which, according to later narratives, that long night was haunted.(19) And after all it is more impressive to think of the blank, utter paralysis of dread in which a nation held its breath, benumbed and motionless, until vitality was almost exhausted, and even Pharaoh chose rather to surrender than to die.
As the people lay cowering in their fear, there was plenty to occupy their minds. They would remember the first dreadful threat, not yet accomplished, to slay their firstborn; and the later assertion that if pestilence had not destroyed them, it was because God would plague them with all His plagues. They would reflect upon all their defeated duties, and how the sun himself was now withdrawn at the waving of the prophet's hand. And then a ghastly foreboding would complete their dread. What was it that darkness typified, in every Oriental nation--nay, in all the world? Death! Job speaks of
"The land of darkness and of the shadow of death; A land of thick darkness, as darkness itself; A land of the shadow of death without any order, And where the light is as darkness" (Job 10:21-22).
With us, a mortal sentence is given in a black cap; in the East, far more expressively, the head of the culprit was covered, and the darkness which thus came upon him expressed his doom. Thus "they covered Haman's face" (Esther 7:8). Thus to destroy "the face of the covering that is cast over all peoples and the veil that is spread over all nations," is the same thing as to "swallow up death," being the visible destruction of the embodied death-sentence (Isaiah 25:7-8). And now this veil was spread over all the radiant land of Egypt. Chill, and hungry, and afraid to move, the worst horror of all that prolonged midnight was the mental agony of dire anticipation.
In other respects there had been far worse calamities, but through its effect upon the imagination this dreadful plague was a fit prelude to the tenth, which it hinted and premonished.
In the Apocryphal Book of Wisdom there is a remarkable study of this plague, regarded as retribution in kind. It avenges the oppression of Israel. "For when unrighteous men thought to oppress the holy nation, they being shut up in their houses, the prisoners of darkness, and fettered with the bonds of a long night, lay exiled from the eternal Providence" (Wisdom of Solomon 17:2). It expresses in the physical realm their spiritual misery: "For while they supposed to lie hid in their secret sins, they were scattered under a thick veil of forgetfulness" (Wisdom of Solomon 17:3). It retorted on them the illusions of their sorcerers: "as for the illusions of art magick, they were put down.... For they, that promised to drive away terrors and troubles from a sick soul, were sick themselves of fear, worthy to be laughed at" (Wisdom of Solomon 17:7-8). In another place the Egyptians are declared to be worse than the men of Sodom, because they brought into bondage friends and not strangers, and grievously afflicted those whom they had received with feasting; "therefore even with blindness were these stricken, as those were at the doors of the righteous man." (Wisdom of Solomon 19:14-17). And we may well believe that the long night was haunted with special terrors, if we add this wise explanation: "For wickedness, condemned by her own witness, is very timorous, and being pressed by conscience, always forecasteth grievous things. For"--and this is a sentence of transcendent merit--"fear is nothing else than a betrayal of the succours that reason offereth" (Wisdom of Solomon 17:11-12). Therefore it is concluded that their own hearts were their worst tormentors, alarmed by whistling winds, or melodious song of birds, or pleasing fall of waters, "for the whole world shined with clear light, and none were hindered in their labour: over them only was spread a heavy night, an image of that darkness which should afterward receive them: yet were they unto themselves more grievous than the darkness" (Wisdom of Solomon 17:20-21).
Isaiah, too, who is full of allusions to the early history of his people, finds in this plague of darkness an image of all mental distress and spiritual gloom. "We look for light, but behold darkness; for brightness, but we walk in obscurity: we grope for the wall like the blind, yea, we grope as those that have no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the twilight" (Isaiah 59:10). Here the sinful nation is reduced to the misery of Egypt. But if she were obedient she would enjoy all the immunities of her forefathers amid Egyptian gloom: "Then shall thy light rise in darkness and thy obscurity as the noonday" (Isaiah 58:10); "Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people, but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee" (Isaiah 60:2).
And, indeed, in the spiritual light which is sown for the righteous, and the obscuration of the judgment of the impure, this miracle is ever reproduced.
The history of Menephtah is that of a mean and cowardly prince. Dreams forbade him to share the perils of his army; a prophecy induced him to submit to exile, until his firstborn was of age to recover his dominions for him; and all we know of him is admirably suited to the character represented in this narrative. He will now submit once more, and this time every one shall go; yet he cannot make a frank concession: the flocks and herds (most valuable after the ravages of the murrain and the hail) must remain as a hostage for their return. But Moses is inflexible: not a hoof shall be left behind; and then the frenzy of a baffled autocrat breaks out into wild menaces; "Get thee from me; take heed to thyself; see my face no more; for in the day thou seest my face thou shalt die." The assent of Moses was grim: the rupture was complete. And when they once more met, it was the king that had changed his purpose, and on his face, not that of Moses, was the pallor of impending death.
In the conduct of the prophet, all through these stormy scenes, we see the difference between a meek spirit and a craven one. He was always ready to intercede; he never "reviles the ruler," nor transgresses the limits of courtesy toward his superior in rank; and yet he never falters, nor compromises, nor fails to represent worthily the awful Power he represents.
In the series of sharp contrasts, all the true dignity is with the servant of God, all the meanness and the shame with the proud king, who begins by insulting him, goes on to impose on him, and ends by the most ignominious of surrenders, crowned with the most abortive of treacheries and the most abject of defeats.
Thou must give us also sacrifices.
1. God’s instruments of redemption seek not only liberty of persons, but of means, to serve Him.
2. Due worship and true sacrifice to God are the scope of all God’s redeemed (Exodus 10:25).
3. God’s ministers must be resolute for all, and not bate a jot of what God requires. Not a hoof.
4. All the exactions of God’s instruments must be aimed at God’s service truly.
5. God’s servants know not themselves, but depend upon His discovery for what they must offer to Him (Exodus 10:26). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The reluctance with which men yield a complete obedience to the imperative claims of God
I. The fact of this reluctance on the part of man to yield complete obedience to the claims of God.
1. This reluctance is seen in the judgments that are sent to overcome it.
2. This reluctance is seen in the mercy that is despised.
3. This reluctance is seen in the faithful ministries that are rejected.
4. That men resist these judgments, etc., is complete evidence of their great reluctance to surrender all for Him.
II. The reasons of this reluctance on the part of man to yield complete obedience to the claims of God. These reasons are obvious.
1. Depravity of nature.
2. Pride of heart.
3. Selfishness of motive.
4. Obstinacy of will.
III. The folly of this reluctance on the part of man to yield complete obedience to the claims of God.
1. Because it provokes painful judgments.
2. Because it is useless to contend with God.
3. Because final overthrow is its certain outcome.
1. That man will consent to any terms rather than yield a complete submission to the will of God.
2. That God will only be satisfied by an entire surrender to His will. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The way in which men endeavour to compromise the service of God
I. That men endeavour to compromise the service of God by nominal allegiance.
II. That men endeavour to compromise the service of God by an occasional performance of duty.
III. That men endeavour to compromise the service of God by a public profession of it accompanied with private reservations.
IV. That men endeavour to compromise the service of God by excluding it from their worldly pursuits.
1. That men must not compromise the service of God.
2. That ministers must warn men against compromising “the service of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The picture of an unregenerate soul
I. It is opposed to the service of God.
II. It is loath to part with its evil possessions.
III. It is slow to heed the voice of the servants of truth. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Compromise; or, wealth left behind in Egypt
“Only let your flocks and herds be stayed.” How many souls are caught in this snare! They have left their business, their work, their worldly interests, down in Egypt. They cannot be “very far away” in such case, for they must needs go down to Egypt to attend to their possessions. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth”; “Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Matthew 4:9; Romans 13:14). These are words that need to be considered in connection with this last snare of Satan. I think when Satan sees a Christian go out of Egypt with all his flocks and herds, he has no hope of getting him back again. So he makes a last stand here: “Keep your business and your religion separate. Give yourself to God; but do not consecrate your property.” Now, will you just take a look at the state of the Christian world to-day. Look at the wealth of Christians in London, and in New York, and over the whole world. How they have piled it up--thousands upon thousands, heaps upon heaps! And where is it? Surely in Egypt. It is not held in sacred stewardship for the Lord. It is used for the most part to gratify “the lust of the flesh,” “the lust of the eye,” and “the pride of life.” Look, I pray, at the magnificence of the residences, the costliness of the furniture, and the expensiveness and luxury of the equipage. Go into the houses of the wealthy Egyptian Christians, and behold the splendour and costliness of their entertainments! See the crowds of Egyptians gathered there to enjoy the feasts and pleasures that are provided by God’s people with the proceeds of the flocks and herds that should be used in His service. Again, look at the condition of the Lord’s work the world over. Consider the fewness of the number of missionaries who are abroad! Note how from every direction the cry comes up for help! There are men and women who are waiting to give themselves to the work--to forsake home and country, and go to the darkest spots of heathendom; but there are not the men and the women who are ready to spare from their hoards the money to send and support them. If the flocks and herds were out of Egypt, and really given over to the Lord to be used in His service, the world could and would be evangelized in less than five years. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
Not an hoof be left behind.--
Now, it seems to me, that this grand quarrel of old is but a picture of God’s continual contest with the powers of darkness. Evil is hard in dying; it will not readily be overcome. But this is the demand of God, and to the last will He have it. “All My people”; the whole of, every one of them, and all that My people have possessed, all shall come out of the land of Egypt. Christ will have the whole; He will not be contented with a part, and this He vows to accomplish. “Not an hoof shall be left behind.”
I. First, then, Christ will have the whole man. In His people whom He has purchased with His blood He will reign without a rival. No sin is to be spared; no service shunned; no power unconsecrated.
II. This is equally true of the whole church as of the whole man--“Not an hoof shall be left behind.” When I come to the matter of redemption it seems to me that whatever Christ’s design was in dying, that design cannot be frustrated, nor by any means disappointed. All that His heavenly Father gave Him shall come to Him. Iii. Jesus Christ will not only have all of a man, and all the men He bought, but He will have all that ever belonged to all these men. That is to say, all that Adam lost Christ will win back, and that without the diminution of a single jot or tittle, Not an inch of Paradise shall be given up, nor even a handful of its dust resigned. Christ will have all, or else He will have none.
IV. Christ will have the whole earth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
All or none; or, compromise refused
This was the Divine policy of “No surrender,” and I plead for it with you. Satan says, “Do not use your property for God. Do not use your talents and your abilities; especially do not use your money for the Lord Jesus. Keep that for yourself. You will want it one of these days, perhaps. Keep it for your own enjoyment. Live to God in other things, but, as to that, live to yourself.” Now, a genuine Christian says, “When I gave myself to the Lord I gave Him everything I had. From the crown of my head to the soul of my foot I am the Lord’s. He bids me provide things honest in the sight of all men, and care for my household; and so I shall; but yet I am not my own, for I am bought with a price; and therefore it becomes me to feel that everything I have, or ever shall have, is a dedicated thing, and belongs unto the Lord, that I may use it as His steward, not as if it were mine, but at His discretion and at His bidding. I cannot leave my substance to be the devil’s. That must come with me, and must be all my Lord’s, for His it is even as I am.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Every hoof to be brought out
God’s will is that we should be completely set free. This will be accomplished. Repeated conflicts first.
I. The truth suggested that our deliverance will be complete.
1. Our natures will be entirely freed from the thraldom of sin. Every power of body, mind, and soul will ultimately escape from the dominion of evil.
2. Our families shall be saved.
3. The whole Church shall be saved.
II. The encouragement that may be derived from this truth. We need encouragement. The bondage is often bitter, and hope fails. The enslavers powerful and the chains strong. But a deliverance, complete, triumphant, and eternal, is sure. This ought to lead us--
1. To live in the expectation of perfect freedom from all evil.
2. To continue to strive, believe, and pray for it.
3. To pray and labour zealously for the salvation of our families.
4. To sympathize with and aid the weak and lowly in the Church. (W. O. Lilley.)
We know not with what we must serve the Lord until we come thither.--
Going forth to serve God
I. Some things are uncertain in the future.
1. The continuance of our life on earth.
2. The new circumstances in which we shall be placed.
3. The particular duties which will be required of us.
II. Some things are certain in the future.
1. The obligation of service.
2. Special opportunities of service.
3. Adequate directions for services.
III. Some things are necessary for the future.
1. Diligent preparation of heart.
2. Humble dependence on God.
3. Hopeful anticipation of better things to come. (B. Dale, M. A.)
The Lord’s stewards
I. The teaching is that not a part, but the whole, of our possessions must go out of egypt with us. “There shall not an hoof be left behind.” Is that so with you? Are you conscious that all your possessions are solemnly consecrated to the Lord, withdrawn from all Egyptian unrighteousness and sinful self-indulgence? Or are you using your wealth as any other worldly man might use it?
II. Notice, that it is more than taking wealth on to religious ground. It is distinctly taking it out for the purpose of serving the Lord. Not that the Lord is to have a portion; but that it is all held at His call, for, says Moses, “We know not with what we must serve the Lord.” It may be that He will want few, it may be that He will want many sacrifices. We must hold all subject to His call. This is a high standard to hold up before us; but it is without question the true one. I do not believe God grudges to His children any comfort which may be had out of wealth honestly and righteously won from the world; but without doubt the Lord does insist that the necessities of His service must first be met, before we can indulge ourselves. How far we must allow ourselves to go in self-provision is a question that can be easily settled by the man or woman who is honestly out-and-out--spirit, soul, body, and property--for the Lord. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
I will see thy face no more.
Pharaoh and Moses; or, contrasted characters
I. In this world often the worst of men come in contact with the best of men.
1. Pharaoh, an idolater, the greatest of tyrants, a signal monument of God’s displeasure; Moses, a true worshipper of the true and living God, the meekest of men, an object of God’s highest favour.
2. Such opposite characters as these come in contact in families, in schools, in political and social circles.
II. It is possible that the worst of men may come in contact with the best without being at all benefited.
1. Think of the noble example which Moses set before Pharaoh.
2. Think of the important truths which Moses taught Pharaoh.
III. When the worst of men come in contact with the best without being benefited the parting is deeply affecting. (J. G. Roberts.)
The intercourse of life
I. That good men are often brought into contact with bad men.
1. Irrespective of moral character.
2. Irrespective of mental temperament.
3. Irrespective of social position.
1. That men may be imbued with the ideas of a common manhood,
2. That class prejudices may be destroyed,
3. That charity may be developed.
4. That life may become a unity.
II. That when good men are brought into contact with bad men the meeting should be educational to both.
1. The companionship of the good should be influential to the moral improvement of the bad.
2. The companionship of the bad should inspire the good with feelings of gratitude and humility. Good men might have been far otherwise.
III. That when good men are brought into contact with bad men the meeting is not always valued as it ought to be, and its opportunity for good is often unimproved. Lessons:
1. That a good life is a heavenly ministry.
2. That good men should seek to influence the bad aright.
3. That good men may learn lessons from wicked lines. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The way in which hardened sinners treat the messengers of God
1. With contempt.
2. With threatenings of evil.
3. With banishment. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The way in which messengers of God treat hardened sinners
1. They scorn their taunts.
2. They impart to the language of the wicked a deeper significance than was intended.
3. They are courageous.
4. They bid them a sad farewell. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The obstinacy of Pharaoh appears odious to us; but, alas! the same obstinacy is found in all sinners. It is seldom we meet with those who openly say, “I will not be converted, I will do nothing for God, I mock Him, I brave Him, I defy Him.” They do not use language such as this, but yet they cherish some secret sin. Among the wicked boys who are unfortunately to be found in most large towns, you will scarcely meet one, even let him perhaps be a thief, who would not say, “I do not wish to die an enemy of God”; but, then, in the meantime he cherishes his sin. What is still more sad, we sometimes hear even serious persons say, “I wish to do the will of God, but cannot cure myself of this fault; it is stronger than I. I do not wish to lose my soul, I wish to obey the commands of God; but I cannot give up the society which is called bad, I cannot give up such and such a habit which I am told is a sinful one, I cannot make those sacrifices which I am told are necessary; I will not do it.” And it is thus that people trifle with eternity! Let us take heed; we must give ourselves to God--wholly and without reserve. He will have no divided service. (Prof. Gaussen.)
Moses’ reply to Pharaoh
Remark the solemn and terrible reply of Moses, “Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.” To understand the meaning of this answer we must remark that it does not finish with this verse, but that it has a continuation in the succeeding chapter. It contains a terrible threat to those who despise and reject the word of God. This was to be the last time that Pharaoh should hear the voice of the man of God, who had so often warned him and prayed for him. For him no more time was to be given. It was finished; the measure of his iniquities was filled up; the wrath of God was to come upon him to the uttermost. “Then Moses went out from Pharaoh in great anger.” There is such a thing as holy anger, for the Bible says, “Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Our Lord Himself was indignant with the buyers and sellers in the Temple. And He was “much displeased” with His disciples when they rebuked those who brought young children to Him. He looked round about with anger on those who wished to hinder Him from curing a man on the Sabbath day. The anger of Moses was caused by the obstinacy and ingratitude of Pharaoh, and by the insulting manner in which he braved his Creator and his Judge. The meaning of his terrible reply was this, “Thou hast rejected the word of God; the word of God rejects thee. Thou dost not choose any more to see the face of the servant of the Lord, who has come ten times to warn thee in His name. Well, thou shalt see his face no more. The word of God has been brought to thee, but the word of God will leave thee. The grace of God has been offered thee; thou hast despised it, therefore now will the grace of God leave thee. Thou hast chosen to ruin thyself, therefore thou wilt ruin thyself.” How terrible is this! We must all die. Death is very formidable: it is very sad and solemn when we mourn for others; but there is a remedy for this sorrow in a loving Saviour, and in the knowledge that there is a home where all the children of God shall meet each other again. What is really much more terrible than death is thin sentence, “Thou shalt see My face no more.” (Prof. Gaussen.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24