Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Exodus 7

Verse 1-2

Exodus 7:1-2

I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.

The moral position in which some men stand to others

God made Moses to be a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron to be a prophet. There are many good and noble men in the world to-day, who are gods, the instructors and rulers, of their fellow-creatures.

I. This exalted moral position is the result of divine allotment. “And the Lord said unto Moses, see, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.”

II. This exalted moral position involves arduous work and terrible responsibility.

1. The true gods of society have something more to do than to amuse it. The bearing of their efforts has reference to souls, to man’s life in its relation to the Infinite. A man whose highest aim is to excite the merriment of society, is too far removed from divinity to be mistaken for a god.

2. The true gods of society find their employment in communicating to men the messages of God. They come to teach us; to awaken us; to enable us to fulfil the will of God. Hence their work is arduous and responsible.

III. This exalted moral position is most efficiently employed in seeking the freedom of men. But for the slavery of Israel Moses would not have been a god unto Pharaoh. The position is the outcome of a condition of things it ought to remove. It is not for self-aggrandizement. It is to give men the freedom of a Divine salvation. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Verse 3-4

Exodus 7:3-4

I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders.

The struggle between God’s will and Pharaoh’s

The text brings before us the two great results which God forewarned Moses would rise from the struggle between His will and Pharaoh’s. On the one hand, the tyranny was to be gradually overthrown by the sublime manifestations of the power of the Lord; on the other, the heart of Pharaoh himself was to be gradually hardened in the conflict with the Lord.

I. Why was the overthrow of Pharaoh’s tyranny through the miracles of Moses so gradual? Why did not God, by one overwhelming miracle, crush for ever the power of the king?

1. It was not God’s purpose to terrify Pharaoh into submission. He treats men as voluntary creatures, and endeavours, by appealing to all that is highest in their natures, to lead them into submission.

2. In his determination to keep Israel in slavery, Pharaoh had two supports--his confidence in his own power, and the flatteries of the magicians. Through both these sources the miracles appealed to the very heart of the man.

3. The miracles appealed to Pharaoh through the noblest thing he had left--his own sense of religion. When the sacred river became blood, and the light turned to darkness, and the lightning gleamed before him, he must have felt that the hidden God of nature was speaking to him. Not until he had been warned and appealed to in the most powerful manner did the final judgment come.

II. We are told that the heart of Pharaoh was hardened by the miracles which overthrew his purpose. What does this mean? One of the most terrible facts in the world is the battle between God’s will and man’s. In Pharaoh we see an iron will manifesting itself in tremendous resistance, the results of which were the hardening and the overthrow. There are three possible explanations of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

1. It may be attributed entirely to the Divine sovereignty. But this explanation is opposed to the letter of Scripture. We read that Pharaoh hardened his heart.

2. We may attribute it wholly to Pharaoh himself. But the Bible says distinctly, “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”

3. We may combine the two statements, and thus we shall get at the truth. It is true that the Lord hardened Pharaoh, and true also that Pharaoh hardened himself. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)

Hardening of conscience

It is a very terrible thing to let conscience begin to grow hard, for it soon chills into northern iron and steel. It is like the freezing of a pond. The first film of ice is scarcely perceptible; keep the water stirring and you will prevent the frost from hardening it; but once let it film over and remain quiet, the glaze thickens over the surface, and it thickens still, and at last it is so firm that a waggon might be drawn over the solid ice. So with conscience, it films over gradually, until at last it becomes hard and unfeeling, and is not crushed even with ponderous loads of iniquity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Seven characteristics of Pharaoh

I. Ignorant (Exodus 5:2).

II. Disobedient (Exodus 5:2).

III. Unbelieving (Exodus 5:9).

IV. Foolish (Exodus 8:10).

V. Hardened (Exodus 8:15).

VI. Privileged (Exodus 9:1).

VII. Lost (Exodus 14:26-28). (C. Inglis.)

Judicial hardness of heart inflicted by God

I. I shall give some general observations from the story; for in the story of Pharaoh we have the exact platform of a hard heart.

1. Between the hard heart and God there is an actual contest who shall have the better. The parties contesting are God and Pharaoh.

2. The sin that hardened Pharaoh, and put him upon this contest, was covetousness and interest of State.

3. This contest on Pharaoh’s part is managed with slightings and contempt of God; on God’s part, with mercy and condescension.

4. The first plague on Pharaoh’s heart is delusion. Moses worketh miracles, turneth Aaron’s rod into a serpent, rivers into blood, bringeth frogs, and the magicians still do the same; God permitteth these magical impostures, to leave Pharaoh in his wilful error.

5. God was not wanting to give Pharaoh sufficient means of conviction. The magicians turned their rods into serpents, but “Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (Exodus 7:12); which showeth God’s super-eminent power.

6. Observe, in one of the plagues Israel might have stolen away, whether Pharaoh would or no (Exodus 10:22-23): but God had more miracles to be done. When He hath to do with a hard heart, He will not steal out of the field, but go away with honour and triumph. This was to be a public instance, and for intimation to the world (1 Samuel 6:6). The Philistines took warning by it, and it will be our condemnation if we do not.

7. In all these plagues I observe that Pharaoh now and then had his devout pangs. In a hard heart there may be some relentings, but no true repentance.

8. In process of time his hardness turns into rage and downright malice (Exodus 10:28). Men first slight the truth, and then are hardened against it, and then come to persecute it. A river, when it hath been long kept up, swelleth and beareth down the bank and rampire; so do wicked men rage when their consciences cannot withstand the light, and their hearts will not yield to it.

9. At length Pharaoh is willing to let them go. After much ado God may get something from a hard heart; but it is no sooner given but retracted; like fire struck out of a flint, it is hardly got, and quickly gone (Hosea 6:4).

10. The last news that we hear of hardening Pharaoh’s heart was a little before his destruction (Exodus 14:8). Hardness of heart will not leave us till it hath wrought our full and final destruction. Never any were hardened but to their own ruin.

II. How God hardens.

1. Negatively.

2. Affirmatively.

A hardened heart

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by submitting to him those truths, arguments, and evidences which he ought to have accepted, but the rejection of which recoiled upon himself, and hardened the heart they did not convince. Everybody knows, in the present day, that if you listen, Sunday after Sunday, to great truths, and, Sunday after Sunday, reject them, you grow in your capacity of repulsion and ability to reject them, and the more hardened you become; and thus, the preaching of the gospel that was meant to melt, will be the occasion of hardening your heart--not because God hates you, but because you reject the gospel. The sun itself melts some substances, whilst, from the nature of the substances, it hardens others. You must not think that God stands in the way of your salvation. There is nothing between the greatest sinner and instant salvation, but his own unwillingness to lean on the Saviour, and be saved. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

The punishment of unbelief

The gospel is “the savour of life unto life, and of death unto death,” as one and the same savour is to some creatures refreshing, to others poisonous. But that the gospel is unto death, is not a part of its original intention, but a consequence of perverse unbelief; but when this takes place, that it is unto death comes as a punishment from God. Thus the expression “hardening” presupposes an earlier condition, when the heart was susceptible, but which ceased in consequence of the misuse, of Divine revelations and gifts. As Pharaoh hardens himself, so God hardens him at the same time. (Otto Von Gerlach, D. D.)

Heart-hardening

1. Both the expressions employed and the facts themselves lead to the conclusion, that hardening can only take place where there is a conflict between human freedom and Divine grace.

2. Again, it follows from the notion of hardening, that it can only result from a conscious and obstinate resistance to the will of God. It cannot take place where there is either ignorance or error. So long as a man has not been fully convinced that he is resisting the power and will of God, there remains a possibility that as soon as the conviction of this is brought home to his mind, his heart may be changed, and so long as there is still a possibility of his conversion, he cannot be said to be really hardened. The commencement of hardening is really hardening itself, for it contains the whole process of hardening potentially within itself. This furnishes us with two new criteria of hardening;

Lessons

1. First and foremost, we learn the insufficiency of even the most astounding miracles to subdue the rebellious will, to change the heart, or to subject a man unto God. Our blessed Lord Himself has said of a somewhat analogous case, that men would not believe even though one rose from the dead. And His statement has been only too amply verified in the history of the world since His own resurrection. Religion is matter of the heart, and no intellectual conviction, without the agency of the Holy Spirit, affects the inmost springs of our lives.

2. A more terrible exhibition of the daring of human pride, the confidence of worldly power, and the deceitfulness of sin, than that presented by the history of this Pharaoh can scarcely be conceived. And yet the lesson seems to have been overlooked by too many! Not only sacred history, but possibly our own experience, may furnish instances of similar tendencies; and in the depths of his own soul each believer must have felt his danger in this respect, for “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

3. Lastly, resistance to God must assuredly end in fearful judgment. Each conviction suppressed, each admonition stifled, each loving offer rejected, tends towards increasing spiritual insensibility, and that in which it ends. It is wisdom and safety to watch for the blessed influences of God’s Spirit, and to throw open our hearts to the sunlight of His grace. (A. Edersheim, D. D.)

Providence penal

In accordance with a vow a Hindu once bandaged up his eyes so tightly that not a single ray of light could enter them. So he continued for years. At last, when his vow was completed, he threw off his bandage, but only to find that through disuse he had completely lost his sight. In one sense, he had deprived himself of sight; in another, God had deprived him of it. So it was with Pharaoh’s spiritual sight. Then comes the warning of consequences. It is very pleasant to go floating down the river toward the rapids. The current is so gentle that one can easily regain the bank. But remain in that current, in spite of all warnings, just one moment too long, and you and your boat will go over the falls. (S. S. Times.)

Verses 3-13

CHAPTER VII.

THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH'S HEART.

Exodus 7:3-13.

When Moses received his commission, at the bush, words were spoken which are now repeated with more emphasis, and which have to be considered carefully. For probably no statement of Scripture has excited fiercer criticism, more exultation of enemies and perplexity of friends, than that the Lord said, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he shall not let the people go," and that in consequence of this Divine act Pharaoh sinned and suffered. Just because the words are startling, it is unjust to quote them without careful examination of the context, both in the prediction and the fulfilment. When all is weighed, compared, and harmonised, it will at last be possible to draw a just conclusion. And although it may happen long before then, that the objector will charge us with special pleading, yet he will be the special pleader himself, if he seeks to hurry us, by prejudice or passion, to give a verdict which is based upon less than all the evidence, patiently weighed.

Let us in the first place find out how soon this dreadful process began; when was it that God fulfilled His threat, and hardened, in any sense whatever, the heart of Pharaoh? Did He step in at the beginning, and render the unhappy king incapable of weighing the remonstrances which He then performed the cruel mockery of addressing to him? Were these as insincere and futile as if one bade the avalanche to pause which his own act had started down the icy slopes? Was Pharaoh as little responsible for his pursuit of Israel as his horses were--being, like them, the blind agents of a superior force? We do not find it so. In the fifth chapter, when a demand is made, without any sustaining miracle, simply appealing to the conscience of the ruler, there is no mention of any such process, despite the insults with which Pharaoh then assails both the messengers and Jehovah Himself, Whom he knows not. In the seventh chapter there is clear evidence that the process is yet unaccomplished; for, speaking of an act still future, it declares, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 7:3). And this terrible act is not connected with the remonstrances and warnings of God, but entirely with the increasing pressure of the miracles.

The exact period is marked when the hand of doom closed upon the tyrant. It is not where the Authorised Version places it. When the magicians imitated the earlier signs of Moses, "his heart was strong," but the original does not bear out the assertion that at this time the Lord made it so by any judicial act of His (Exodus 7:13). That only comes with the sixth plague; and the course of events may be traced, fairly well, by the help of the margin of the Revised Version.

After the plague of blood "Pharaoh's heart was strong" ("hardened"), and this is distinctly ascribed to his own action, because "he set his heart even to this" (Exodus 7:22-23).

After the second plague, it was still he himself who "made his heart heavy" (Exodus 8:15).

After the third plague the magicians warned him that the very finger of some god was upon him indeed: their rivalry, which hitherto might have been somewhat of a palliation for his obstinacy, was now ended; but yet "his heart was strong" (Exodus 8:19).

Again, after the fourth plague he "made his heart heavy"; and it "was heavy" after the fifth plague, (Exodus 8:32, Exodus 9:7).

Only thenceforward comes the judicial infatuation upon him who has resolutely infatuated himself hitherto.

But when five warnings and penalties have spent their force in vain, when personal agony is inflicted in the plague of boils, and the magicians in particular cannot stand before him through their pain, would it have been proof of virtuous contrition if he had yielded then? If he had needed evidence, it was given to him long before. Submission now would have meant prudence, not penitence; and it was against prudence, not penitence, that he was hardened. Because he had resisted evidence, experience, and even the testimony of his own magicians, he was therefore stiffened against the grudging and unworthy concessions which must otherwise have been wrested from him, as a wild beast will turn and fly from fire. He was henceforth himself to become an evidence and a portent; and so "The Lord made strong the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them" (Exodus 9:12). It was an awful doom, but it is not open to the attacks so often made upon it. It only means that for him the last five plagues were not disciplinary, but wholly penal.

Nay, it stops short of asserting even this: they might still have appealed to his reason; they were only not allowed to crush him by the agency of terror. Not once is it asserted that God hardened his heart against any nobler impulse than alarm, and desire to evade danger and death. We see clearly this meaning in the phrase, when it is applied to his army entering the Red Sea: "I will make strong the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall go in" (Exodus 14:17). It needed no greater moral turpitude to pursue the Hebrews over the sands than on the shore, but it certainly required more hardihood. But the unpursued departure which the good-will of Egypt refused, their common sense was not allowed to grant. Callousness was followed by infatuation, as even the pagans felt that whom God wills to ruin He first drives mad.

This explanation implies that to harden Pharaoh's heart was to inspire him, not with wickedness, but with nerve.

And as far as the original language helps us at all, it decidedly supports this view. Three different expressions have been unhappily rendered by the same English word, to harden; but they may be discriminated throughout the narrative in Exodus, by the margin of the Revised Version.

One word, which commonly appears without any marginal explanation, is the same which is employed elsewhere about "the cause which is too hard for" minor judges (Deuteronomy 1:17, cf. Deuteronomy 15:18, etc.). Now, this word is found (Exodus 7:13) in the second threat that "I will harden Pharaoh's heart," and in the account which was to be given to posterity of how "Pharaoh hardened himself to let us go" (Exodus 13:15). And it is said likewise of Sihon, king of Heshbon, that he "would not let us pass by him, for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit and made his heart strong" (Deuteronomy 2:30). But since it does not occur anywhere in all the narrative of what God actually did with Pharaoh, it is only just to interpret this phrase in the prediction by what we read elsewhere of the manner of its fulfilment.

The second word is explained in the margin as meaning to make strong. Already God had employed it when He said "I will make strong his heart" (Exodus 4:21), and this is the term used of the first fulfilment of the menace, after the sixth plague (Exodus 9:12). God is not said to interfere again after the seventh, which had few special terrors for Pharaoh himself; but from henceforth the expression "to make strong" alternates with the phrase "to make heavy." "Go in unto Pharaoh, for I have made heavy his heart and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them" (Exodus 10:1).

It may be safely assumed that these two expressions cover between them all that is asserted of the judicial action of God in preventing a recoil of Pharaoh from his calamities. Now, the strengthening of a heart, however punitive and disastrous when a man's will is evil (just as the strengthening of his arm is disastrous then), has in itself no immorality inherent. It is a thing as often good as bad,--as when Israel and Joshua are exhorted to "Be strong and of a good courage" (Deuteronomy 31:6-7, Deuteronomy 31:23), and when the angel laid his hand upon Daniel and said, "Be strong, yea, be strong" (Daniel 10:19). In these passages the phrase is identical with that which describes the process by which Pharaoh was prevented from cowering under the tremendous blows he had provoked.

The other expression is to make heavy or dull. Thus "the eyes of Israel were heavy with age" (Genesis 48:10), and as we speak of a weight of honour, equally with the heaviness of a dull man, so we are twice commanded, "Make heavy (honour) thy father and thy mother"; and the Lord declares, "I will make Myself heavy (get Me honour) upon Pharaoh" (Deuteronomy 5:16, Exodus 20:12, Exodus 14:4, Exodus 14:17-18). In these latter references it will be observed that the making "strong" the heart of Pharaoh, and the making "Myself heavy" are so connected as almost to show a design of indicating how far is either expression from conveying the notion of immorality, infused into a human heart by God. For one of the two phrases which have been thus interpreted is still applied to Pharaoh; but the other (and the more sinister, as we should think, when thus applied) is appropriated by God to Himself: He makes Himself heavy.

It is also a curious and significant coincidence that the same word was used of the burdens that were made heavy when first they claimed their freedom, which is now used of the treatment of the heart of their oppressor (Exodus 5:9).

It appears, then, that the Lord is never said to debauch Pharaoh's heart, but only to strengthen it against prudence and to make it dull; that the words used do not express the infusion of evil passion, but the animation of a resolute courage, and the overclouding of a natural discernment; and, above all, that every one of the three words, to make hard, to make strong, and to make heavy, is employed to express Pharaoh's own treatment of himself, before it is applied to any work of God, as actually taking place already.

Nevertheless, there is a solemn warning for all time, in the assertion that what he at first chose, the vengeance of God afterward chose for him. For indeed the same process, working more slowly but on identical lines, is constantly seen in the hardening effect of vicious habit. The gambler did not mean to stake all his fortune upon one chance, when first he timidly laid down a paltry stake; nor has he changed his mind since then as to the imprudence of such a hazard. The drunkard, the murderer himself, is a man who at first did evil as far as he dared, and afterwards dared to do evil which he would once have shuddered at.

Let no man assume that prudence will always save him from ruinous excess, if respect for righteousness cannot withhold him from those first compliances which sap the will, destroy the restraint of self-respect, wear away the horror of great wickedness by familiarity with the same guilt in its lesser phases, and, above all, forfeit the enlightenment and calmness of judgment which come from the Holy Spirit of God, Who is the Spirit of wisdom and of counsel, and makes men to be of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.

Let no man think that the fear of damnation will bring him to the mercy-seat at last, if the burden and gloom of being "condemned already" cannot now bend his will. "Even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28). "I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.... I gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments wherein they should not live" (Ezekiel 20:11, Exodus 20:25).

This is the inevitable law, the law of a confused and darkened judgment, a heart made heavy and ears shut, a conscience seared, an infatuated will kicking against the pricks, and heaping to itself wrath against the day of wrath. Wilful sin is always a challenge to God, and it is avenged by the obscuring of the lamp of God in the soul. Now, a part of His guiding light is prudence; and it is possible that men who will not be warned by the fear of injury to their conscience, such as they suppose that Pharaoh suffered, may be sobered by the danger of such derangement of their intellectual efficiency as really befel him.

In this sense men are, at last, impelled blindly to their fate (and this is a judicial act of God, although it comes in the course of nature), but first they launch themselves upon the slope which grows steeper at every downward step, until arrest is impossible.

On the other hand, every act of obedience helps to release the will from its entanglement, and to clear the judgment which has grown dull, anointing the eyes with eye-salve that they may see. Not in vain is the assertion of the bondage of the sinner and the glorious liberty of the children of God.

A second time, then, Moses presented himself before Pharaoh with his demands; and, as he had been forewarned, he was now challenged to give a sign in proof of his commission from a god.

And the demand was treated as reasonable; a sign was given, and a menacing one. The peaceable rod of the shepherd, a fit symbol of the meek man who bore it, became a serpent(10) before the king, as Moses was to become destructive to his realm. But when the wise men of Egypt and the enchanters were called, they did likewise; and although a marvel was added which incontestably declared the superior power of the Deity Whom Aaron represented, yet their rivalry sufficed to make strong the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not let the people go. The issue was now knit: the result would be more signal than if the quarrel were decided at one blow, and upon all the gods of Egypt the Lord would exercise vengeance.

What are we to think of the authentification of a religion by a sign? Beyond doubt, Jesus recognised this aspect of His own miracles, when He said, "If I had not done among them the works that none other man did, they had not had sin" (John 15:24). And yet there is reason in the objection that no amount of marvel ought to deflect by one hair's breadth our judgment of right and wrong, and the true appeal of a religion must be to our moral sense.

No miracle can prove that immoral teaching is sacred. But it can prove that it is supernatural. And this is precisely what Scripture always proclaims. In the New Testament, we are bidden to take heed, because a day will come, when false prophets shall work great signs and wonders, to deceive, if possible, even the elect (Mark 13:22). In the Old Testament, a prophet may seduce the people to worship other gods, by giving them a sign or a wonder which shall come to pass, but they must surely stone him: they must believe that his sign is only a temptation; and above whatever power enabled him to work it, they must recognise Jehovah proving them, and know that the supernatural has come to them in judgment, not in revelation (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

Now, this is the true function of the miraculous. At the most, it cannot coerce the conscience, but only challenge it to consider and to judge.

A teacher of the purest morality may be only a human teacher still; nor is the Christian bound to follow into the desert every clamorous innovator, or to seek in the secret chamber every one who whispers a private doctrine to a few. We are entitled to expect that one who is commissioned directly from above will bear special credentials with him; but when these are exhibited, we must still judge whether the document they attest is forged. And this may explain to us why the magicians were allowed for awhile to perplex the judgment of Pharaoh whether by fraud, as we may well suppose, or by infernal help. It was enough that Moses should set his claims upon a level with those which Pharaoh reverenced: the king was then bound to weigh their relative merits in other and wholly different scales.

FOOTNOTES:

Verse 5

Exodus 7:5

The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.

A knowledge of God

I. That the worst of men will one day have to recognize the reality of the Divine existence. “And the Egyptians shall know,” etc.

1. Men of bad moral character shall know this.

2. Men of sceptical dispositions shall know this.

II. That they will be brought to a recognition of the Divine existence by severe judgments.

1. Some men will listen to the voice of reason. The Egyptians would not.

2. Such will learn the existence of God by judgment.

III. That the existence of God is a guarantee for the safety of the good. “And bring out,” etc., from moral and temporal bondage into Canaan, of peace and quiet. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The plagues

1. These plagues are arranged in regular order, and gradually advance from the external to the internal, and from the mediate to the immediate hand of God. They are in number ten, which is one of the numbers denoting perfection. They are divided first into nine and one, the last one standing clearly apart from all the others in the awful shriek of woe which it draws forth from every Egyptian home. The nine are arranged in threes. In the first of each three the warning is given to Pharaoh in the morning (Exodus 7:15; Exodus 8:20; Exodus 9:13). In the first and second of each three the plague is announced beforehand (Exodus 8:1; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 10:1); in the third not (Exodus 8:16; Exodus 9:8; Exodus 10:21). At the third the magicians of Pharaoh acknowledge the finger of God (Exodus 8:19), at the sixth they cannot stand before Moses (Exodus 9:11), and at the ninth Pharaoh refuses to see the face of Moses any more (Exodus 10:28). In the first three Aaron uses the rod, in the second three it is not mentioned, in the third three Moses uses it, though in the last of them only his hand is mentioned. All these marks of order lie on the face of the narrative, and point to a deeper order of nature and reason out of which they spring.

2. The plagues were characterized by increasing severity, a method of procedure to which we see an analogy in the warnings which the providential government of the world often puts before the sinner.

3. These plagues were of a miraculous character. As such the historian obviously intends us to regard them, and they are elsewhere spoken of as the “wonders” which God wrought in the land of Ham (Psalms 105:27), as His miracles in Egypt (Psalms 106:7), and as His signs and prodigies which He sent into the midst of Egypt (Psalms 135:9). It is only under this aspect that we can accept the narrative as historical.

4. That the immediate design of these inflictions was the delivering of the Israelites from their cruel bondage lies on the surface of the narrative, but with this other ends were contemplated. The manifestation of God’s own glory was here, as in all His works, the highest object in view, and this required that the powers of Egyptian idolatry, with which the interest of Satan was at that time peculiarly identified, should be brought into the conflict and manifestly confounded. For this reason it was that nearly every miracle performed by Moses had relation to some object of idolatrous worship among the Egyptians (see Exodus 12:12). For this reason, also, it was that the first wonders wrought had such distinct reference to the exploits of the magicians, who were the wonder-workers connected with that gigantic system of idolatry, and the main instruments of its support and credit in the world. They were thus naturally drawn, as well as Pharaoh, into the contest, and became, along with him, the visible heads and representatives of the “spiritual wickedness” of Egypt. And since they refused to own the supremacy and accede to the demands of Jehovah, or witnessing that first, and as it may be called harmless, triumph of His power over theirs--since they resolved, as the adversaries of God’s and the instruments of Satan’s interest in the world, to prolong the contest, there remained no alternative but to visit the land with a series of judgments, such as might clearly prove the utter impotence of its fancied deities to protect their votaries from the might and vengeance of the living God. (A. Nevin, D. D.)

The variety of the plagues

The diversity and various sorts of those plagues--each sorer than other. The first and second were upon the water, the third and fourth were upon the earth, the five next were upon the air, and the tenth falls upon the firstborn of men, insomuch that their punishment was absolute, not only as to the number of the plagues, which was a number of perfection, but more especially in respect of their nature, matter, and manner, all various and exquisite. For--

I. They were plagued by all kind of creatures.

1. By all the elements; as water, earth, air and fire.

2. By sundry animals; as frogs, lice, caterpillars, flies, and locusts.

3. By men; as Moses and Aaron were instruments in God’s hand.

4. By the angels who ministered those plagues, both the evil angels (Psalms 78:44), whom He sent among them, and the good that were employed in destroying their firstborn (Exodus 12:3, etc.), yea, by the very stars, who all combined against them--with the sun and moon--in suspending their light from that land--during the three days darkness--as all ashamed to look upon such sinful inhabitants thereof, etc.

II. They were plagued in all things wherein they most delighted.

1. In all manner of their luscious and delicious fruit, by its being universally blasted or devoured, etc.

2. In their goodliest cattle--some of which they worshipped--all destroyed by murrain, etc.

3. In their River Nilus, which they adored, and for which end, it is supposed, Pharaoh was going down to pay his homage to that idol, when God bade Moses go meet him in the morning (Exodus 7:15). This is intimated in Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 29:9, where they are twitted twice for idolizing it, but God made it loathsome to them (verse 18).

4. In the fish, which was their daily and delicate diet (Numbers 11:5), for the flesh of many beasts they, out of superstition, would not eat of, as abominable (Exodus 8:26). All the fish died when their water was turned into blood (verse 21).

5. In their bodies, wherein they greatly prided themselves, but the boils God smote them which spoiled all their beauties in their wellbuilt bodies.

6. In their children, when in every house there was a dead corpse, and that not of a slave or servant, but of their firstborn. All these were the idols of Egypt (Exodus 12:12; Zephaniah 2:11).

III. They were plagued in all their senses.

1. In their seeing; for they lost all sight when the plague of darkness took away their light for three days, unless it were horrible sights mentioned in Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon 17:6-7). However, their comfort of seeing they lost.

2. In their hearing. Oh, what a consternation! Dread and terror seized upon them when God uttered His terrible voice in those frightful thunders in the plague of hail, when fire ran along upon the ground, yet did not melt the hailstones (Exodus 9:23). This must be supernatural, and therefore the more dreadful, which might make them think that God was come to rain hell-fire out of heaven upon them as He had done, before this, upon wicked Sodom (Genesis 19:1-38.). How did this voice of the Lord break the cedars, etc. (Psalms 29:5-6, etc.), yea, every tree of the field (Exodus 9:25).

3. In their smelling, both by the stench of the frogs (Exodus 8:14), which might mind them of their sin that made them stink before God, and likewise by the stinking rotten matter that ran out of those ulcers wherewith they were smitten (Exodus 9:9-11). As they had oppressed God’s people with furnace work in making brick, so the ashes of that furnace became burning boils that break forth into putrid running sores, etc.

4. In their tasting, both by the waters turned into blood, because in them they had shed the blood of the male Hebrew children. These bloody men had blood to drink, for they were worthy (Revelation 16:6). Their River Nilus they used to boast of to the Grecians, saying, in mockery to them, “If God should forget to rain, they might chance to perish for it.” The rain, they thought, was of God, but not their river (Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 29:9), therefore, to confute them in their confidence, as God threatens to dry it up (Isaiah 19:5-6), so here to bereave them of all the comfortable use of it; they now loathed to drink of it (verses 18-20). God cursed their blessings (Malachi 2:2), and also by their thirst thereby procured. Drinking such bloody water did rather torture their taste than please their palate, or quench their thirst.

5. In their touching or feeling, by their dolorous shooting pangs in their body, when the sin of their souls broke forth into sores of their bodies, which pained them so, that, as they could not now sleep in a whole skin, so they gnawed their own tongues for pain. This was superadded to the bitings of flies, wasps, flying-serpents, etc., whereby some might be stung to death (Psalms 78:45), and the magicians themselves, who had so insolently imitated Moses, the devil being God’s ape, were branded with those boils to detect their contumacy. Besides, also, the frogs ravaging upon their bodies so irresistibly, etc., must needs be very offensive to their sense of touching.

IV. Lastly, as if all this had been too little to fill up the measure of their plagues and punishments, Pharaoh and all his forces, that hitherto had escaped, were all drawn blindfold into the noose, by fair way, weather, etc., and then were drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:8-9; Exodus 14:21; Exodus 14:24; Exodus 14:28). (C. Ness.)

Verse 6

Exodus 7:6

So did they.

Obedience to God

I. It must be rendered by the servants of God. “Moses and Aaron.” All men who are called to moral service by God must obey Him.

1. Because He gives them their commands.

2. Because He gives them the power to do so.

3. Because He rewards obedience.

II. It must be co-extensive with their mission.

1. It must be entire.

2. It must be cheerful.

3. It must be holy.

III. It will render their mission effective--

1. Because it will lead to the best mode of service.

2. Because God will delight to honour it. The Divine commands:

Verse 7

Exodus 7:7

Fourscore years old.

Age of Moses and Aaron

Their ages would have an important bearing toward the work of these two men.

I. Their ages would indicate that they were not likely to be misled by the enthusiasm of youth. The world is slow to take young men into its confidence. It soon smiles at their visions, and laughs at their enthusiastic hopes.

II. Their ages would be likely to command the respect of those with whom they had to do. The world wants men of tried energy and long experience to achieve its moral emancipation; men in whom hot passion has calmed into a settled force.

III. Their ages would be an incentive to fidelity, as they had spent the younger part of life, and would be forcefully reminded of the future. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Delay in entering upon work of life

Let us learn not to be impatient for the discovery of our true lifework. Moses was eighty years old before he entered upon that noble career by which he became the emancipator and educator of his nation. Two-thirds of his days were gone before he really touched that which was his great, distinctive, and peculiar labour, and his enterprise was all the more gloriously accomplished by reason of the delay. Nor is this a solitary instance. The Lord Jesus Himself lived thirty years, during most of which He was in training for a public ministry, which lasted only two-and-forty months. John Knox never entered a pulpit until he was over forty years of age; and much of the fire and energy of his preaching was owing to the fact that the flame had been so long pent up within his breast. Havelock was a dreary while a mere lieutenant, held back by the iniquitous system of purchase, which was so long in vogue in the English army; but, as it happened, that was only a life-long apprenticeship, by which he was enabled all the more efficiently to become, at length, the saviour of the Indian Empire. So let no one chafe and fret over the delay which seems evermore to keep him from doing anything to purpose for the world and his Lord. The opportunity will come in its own season. It does come, sooner or later, to every man; and it is well if, when at length he hears the voice calling, “Moses! Moses!” he is ready with the answer, “Here am I.” For while I would comfort you with the assurance that the hour will come, I do not mean that you should be idle until it strikes. No; for if you adopt such a plan, the certainty is that you will not hear its stroke, or that you will not be ready to begin at its call. The true principle is to do with your might that which is lying at your hand day by day, in the firm conviction that you are thereby training yourself into fitness for your future vocation. (W. H. Taylor, D. D.)

Verse 11-12

Exodus 7:11-12

They also did in like manner with their enchantments.

Moses and the magicians

I. Moses divinely warned of Pharaoh’s demand for a supernatural credential. When men profess to bring a message from God, they should be prepared to substantiate it by satisfactory evidence.

II. Moses divinely sustained in meeting the demand.

1. God will never forsake those who go forth to implicitly work His will.

2. God often permits His enemies to temporarily triumph.

III. Moses commanded to appeal again to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:14-17).

1. God’s knowledge of the human heart.

2. God’s knowledge of the purposes and plans of men.

3. God’s recognition of free agency, and its correlative responsibility.

4. God deals with men on the basis of their moral freedom, and according to their constitutional nature.

Lessons:

1. Here we have a type of the conflict of ages.

2. The side to which we lean, and for which we fight, shows the party to which we really belong. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Lessons

1. Miracles from God will not persuade wicked hearts to believe.

2. Unbelieving sinners are apt to call in all instruments of Satan to gainsay God.

3. Providence hath of old suffered wisdom to be abused to sorcery and pernicious acts (Exodus 7:11).

4. God hath suffered creatures by Satan’s help to do some like things to His miracles.

5. Under God’s permission Satan may work strange changes in creatures, but no miracles.

6. God’s true miracles devour all lying wonders of Satan (Exodus 7:12).

7. Wicked hearts harden themselves by lying wonders against God, and therefore are hardened by Him.

8. The fruit of such hardening is rebellion against God’s word and will.

9. God’s word is made good in all the disobedience of the wicked foretold (Exodus 7:13). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Man’s effort to repudiate the message of God by an imitation of its miraculous credentials

I. That man has a right to expect that any special revelation from God should be accompanied by infallible and unimpeachable credentials. (Exodus 7:9).

1. We require these credentials to vindicate the authority of the speaker. The Bible contains the evidences of its Divine origin on its own pages, for on every page we see the miracle repeated, the rod is turned into a serpent. And the miracles which the book contains, and the miracle which it is in itself, are sufficient token to the honest mind that it comes from God. This evidence is equal to the case. It leaves disobedience without excuse.

2. We require these credentials to vindicate the credibility of the speaker. God would never give men power to work a miracle to authenticate a lie. The miracle not only demonstrated the authority of these men, but also the unimpeachable honesty and verity of their statements. And so men take the Bible to-day; they perhaps say that in general terms the hook has come from God, and has His authority, and yet how many question the verity of its corn tents. They call one part of the message a myth, another part a fable, until, indeed, there is very little remaining as true.

3. That God anticipates these requests on the part of man, and provides His messengers with the needed credentials. Any one who rejects the claims of the Bible, rejects the highest proof, the most reliable evidence; hence his condemnation will be awful as that of the rebellious king.

4. The spirit in which these credentials should be investigated and received--

II. That men have recourse to many devices to weaken and nullify the credentials which are presented to them in token and support of a Divine message and claim. “Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.”

1. We find that men in the investigation of a Divine message are not satisfied with the evidence they themselves propose. A sceptical mind will not yield even when it has attained evidence for the truth of its own seeking. It is most criminal in its unbelief.

2. We find that men in the investigation of a Divine message often seek others to supply them with sceptical arguments they are not clever enough to produce themselves.

3. We find that men endeavour to confirm their comrades in scepticism by imitating the credentials of the messengers of God. But in vain. The truth-seeker can distinguish between the productions of the two; he never mistakes the enchantment of the Egyptian for the miracle of Moses.

4. That the men who endeavour to confirm their comrades in scepticism respecting the Divine credentials are subject to the truth. The rods of the Egyptian magicians were swallowed up by Aaron’s rod.

III. That the men who reject the credentials of Divine messengers commence a conflict which will be productive of great woe and of final overthrow to them. “And He hardened Pharaoh’s heart that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.” Lessons:

1. That the messengers of God can always produce Divine credentials.

2. That Divine credentials are often rejected by men of high social position.

3. That a continued rejection of Divine credentials will end in destruction.

4. That the servants of God are often perplexed by the conduct of men in rejecting Divine claims. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Imitation of the good

The mode in which the magicians “withstood Moses” (see 2 Timothy 3:1-9) was simply by imitating, so far as they were able, whatever he did. From this we learn the solemn truth that the most Satanic resistance to God’s testimony in the world is offered by those who, though they imitate the effects of the truth, have but “the form of godliness,” and “deny the power thereof.” Persons of this class can do the same things, adopt the same habits and forms, use the same phraseology, profess the same opinions, as others. How needful to understand this! How important to remember that “as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses,” so do those self-loving, world-seeking, pleasure-hunting professors “resist the truth!” They would not be without “a form of godliness”; but while adopting “the form,” because it is customary, they hate “the power,” because it involves self-denial. “The power” of godliness involves the recognition of God’s claims, the implanting of His kingdom in the heart, and the consequent exhibition thereof in the whole life and character; but the formalist knows nothing of this, nor does he desire to know it. He does not want his lusts subdued, his pleasures interfered with, his passions curbed, his affections governed, his heart purified. He wants just as much religion as will enable him “ to make the best of both worlds.” (A. Nevin, D. D.)

Egyptian magicians

They must have possessed a knowledge of nature beyond that of their countrymen, who had sufficient experience of the utility of such knowledge to reverence teachers endued with any rare portion of it. The magicians must have considered this knowledge as Divine; and have come more and more to regard the different powers of nature and the different objects in which these powers were exhibited, as themselves Divine. They will have been politicians as well as naturalists, ready to employ their lore and the mastery which it gave them over the things of the earth, to uphold the authority of the monarch, or to promote his plans. They will therefore have fallen into a scheme of trick and dissimulation, which would have been ineffectual and impossible if there had not been some truths lying at the root of it; and some real assurance in their own minds both of those truths and of their own capacities. It is this mixture of faith with insincerity--of actual knowledge with the assumption of knowledge, of genuine power with the desire to make the power felt and worshipped, a readiness therefore to abuse it to low grovelling purposes--which we have to recognize in the impostures of all subsequent ages, and to which we are here introduced in one of its primitive manifestations. It was most natural for a politic monarch to wish that a body of strangers, who were doing little good in a certain portion of his land, should be made slaves, and so become agents in carrying out what seemed to him magnificent projects. It was most natural that a body of politic priests--disliking these strangers, for the traditions and customs which separated them from their influence--should readily co-operate with him in that plan, or should be the first suggesters of it. It is equally natural that his Egyptian subjects should sympathize with the design, and should feel that they were raised in the degradation of another race. But it was impossible that king, priests, and people, should effect this seemingly sage and national purpose, without forging new chains for themselves, without losing some perceptions of a moral order in the world and a moral Ruler of it, which had been implied in their government and worship, and which Joseph’s arrangements had drawn out; it was impossible but that with the loss of this feeling, they should sink further and further into natural and animal worship. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.

The power of Aaron’s rod

I. Let us turn aside to see this great sight--the Divine triumphant over the diabolical: the spiritual subduing the natural--Aaron’s rod swallowing all its rivals.

1. Let us take the case of the awakened sinner. That man was, a few days ago, as worldly, as carnal, as stolid, as he well could be. If any one should propose to make that man heavenly-minded, the common observer would say, “Impossible! As in old Roman walls, the cement has become so strong, that the stone is no longer a separate piece, but has become a part of the wall itself--so this man is cemented to the world, he cannot lie separated from it. You must break him in pieces with the hammer of death; you cannot separate him in any other way from the cares of life.” Ah, but Aaron’s rod shall swallow up this rod. The man listens to the Word; the truth comes with power into his soul; the Holy Ghost has entered him; and the next day, though he goes to his business, he finds no true contentment in it, for he pants after the living God. Now, his spirit pleads its needs, and outstrips the body in the contest for its warmest love. He spurns the trifles of a day: he seeks the jewels of eternity. Grace has won the day, and the worldling seeks the world to come.

2. The same fact, with equal distinctness, is to be observed in the individual when he becomes a believer in Jesus Christ; his faith destroys all other confidences.

3. The same fact is very manifest after faith in all who truly love the Saviour. They who love Christ aright, love no one in comparison with Him.

4. You will notice this in the man who makes his delight in the Lord Jesus. He who makes his delight in Christ after a true sort, will discover that this delight swallows up all other delights.

5. Yet more is it so in a man who is devoted to God’s service. The service of God swallows up everything else when the man is truly God’s servant. When a man gets fully possessed with an enthusiastic love for Jesus, difficulties to him become only things to be surmounted, dangers become honours, sacrifices pleasures, sufferings delights, weariness rest.

II. We now draw an inference. If it be so, that wherever true religion--the finger of God--comes into a man, it becomes a consuming passion, till the zeal of God’s house eats the man up. Then there are many persons who profess religion, who cannot have found the right thing. Those who are mean, miserly, and miserable in the cause of Christ, whose only expenditure is upon self, and whose main object is gain, what can we say of them? Why, that they look upon religion as some great farmers do upon their little off-hand farms. They think it is well to have a little religion; they can turn to it for amusement sometimes, just to ease them a little of their cares; besides, it may be very well, after having had all in this world, to try to get something in the next. They are moral and decent in all ways; they can pray very nicely in prayer-meetings, yet they never dream of consecrating their secular employments unto God. Aaron’s rod, in their case, has never swallowed up their rods.

III. Now, I will give some reasons why i put the service of God so prominent, and think that Aaron’s rod ought to swallow up all other rods. What does the great gospel revelation discover to us? Does it not show us an awful danger, and one only way of escape from it? Does not our religion also reveal to us the joyous reward of another world? It opens to us yonder pearly gates, and bids us gaze on angels and glorified spirits. By hell, and by heaven, therefore, I do entreat you, let Aaron’s rod swallow up all other rods; and let love and faith in Jesus be the master passion of your soul. Moreover, do we not learn in our holy faith of a love unexampled? Where was there love such as that which brought the Prince of Glory down to the gates of death, and made Him pass the portals amid shame and scoffing? Shall such love as this have half our hearts? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 14

THE PLAGUES.

Exodus 7:14.

There are many aspects in which the plagues of Egypt may be contemplated.

We may think of them as ranging through all nature, and asserting the mastery of the Lord alike over the river on which depended the prosperity of the realm, over the minute pests which can make life more wretched than larger and more conspicuous ills (the frogs of the water, the reptiles that disgrace humanity, and the insects that infest the air), over the bodies of animals stricken with murrain, and those of man tortured with boils, over hail in the cloud and blight in the crop, over the breeze that bears the locust and the sun that grows dark at noon, and at last over the secret springs of human life itself.

No pantheistic creed (and the Egyptian religion struck its roots deep into pantheistic speculation) could thus completely exalt God above nature, as a superior and controlling Power, not one with the mighty wheels of the universe, of which the height is terrible, but, as Ezekiel saw Him, enthroned above them in the likeness of fire, and yet in the likeness of humanity.

No idolatrous creed, however powerful be its conception of one god of the hills and another of the valleys, could thus represent a single deity as wielding all the arrows of adverse fortune, able to assail us from earth and sky and water, formidable alike in the least things and in the greatest. And presently the demonstration is completed, when at His bidding the tempest heaps up the sea, and at His frown the waters return to their strength again.

And no philosophic theory condescends to bring the Ideal, the Absolute, and the Unconditioned, into such close and intimate connection with the frog-spawn of the ditch and the blain upon the tortured skin.

We may, with ample warrant from Scripture, make the controversial application still more simple and direct, and think of the plagues as wreaking vengeance, for the worship they had usurped and the cruelties they had sanctioned, upon all the gods of Egypt, which are conceived of for the moment as realities, and as humbled, if not in fact, yet in the sympathies of priest and worshipper (Exodus 12:12).

Then we shall see the domain of each impostor invaded, and every vaunted power to inflict evil or to remove it triumphantly wielded by Him Who proves His equal mastery over all, and thus we shall find here the justification of that still bolder personification which says, "Worship Him, all ye gods" (Psalms 97:7).

The Nile had a sacred name, and was adored as "Hapee, or Hapee Mu, the Abyss, or the Abyss of Waters, or the Hidden," and the king was frequently portrayed standing between two images of this god, his throne wreathed with water-lilies. The second plague struck at the goddess HEKT, whose head was that of a frog. The uncleanness of the third plague deranged the whole system of Egyptian worship, with its punctilious and elaborate purifications. In every one there is either a presiding divinity attacked, or a blow dealt upon the priesthood or the sacrifice, or a sphere invaded which some deity should have protected, until the sun himself is darkened, the great god RA, to whom their sacred city was dedicated, and whose name is incorporated in the title of his earthly representative, the Pharaoh or PH-RA. Then at last, after all these premonitions, the deadly blow struck home.

Or we may think of the plagues as retributive, and then we shall discover a wonderful suitability in them all. It was a direful omen that the first should afflict the nation through the river, into which, eighty years before, the Hebrew babes had been cast to die, which now rolled bloody, and seemed to disclose its dead. It was fit that the luxurious homes of the oppressors should become squalid as the huts of the slaves they trampled; that their flesh should suffer torture worse than that of the whips they used so unmercifully; that the loss of crops and cattle should bring home to them the hardships of the poor who toiled for their magnificence; that physical darkness should appal them with vague terrors and undefined apprehensions, such as ever haunt the bosom of the oppressed, whose life is the sport of a caprice; and at last that the aged should learn by the deathbed of the prop and pride of their declining feebleness, and the younger feel beside the cradle of the first blossom and fruit of love, all the agony of such bereavement as they had wantonly inflicted on the innocent.

And since the fear of disadvantage in war had prompted the murder of the Hebrew children, it was right that the retributive blow should destroy first their children and then their men of war.

When we come to examine the plagues in detail, we discover that it is no arbitrary fancy which divides them into three triplets, leading up to the appalling tenth. Thus the first, fourth, and seventh, each of which begins a triplet, are introduced by a command to Moses to warn Pharaoh "in the morning" (Exodus 7:15), or "early in the morning" (Exodus 8:20, Exodus 9:13). The third, sixth and ninth, on the contrary, are inflicted without any warning whatever. The story of the third plague closes with the defeat of the magicians, the sixth with their inability to stand before the king, and the ninth with the final rupture, when Moses declares, "Thou shalt see my face no more" (Exodus 8:19, Exodus 9:11, Exodus 10:29).

The first three are plagues of loathsomeness--blood-stained waters, frogs and lice; the next three bring actual pain and loss with them--stinging flies, murrain which afflicts the beasts, and boils upon all the Egyptians; and the third triplet are "nature-plagues"--hail, locusts and darkness. It is only after the first three plagues that the immunity of Israel is mentioned; and after the next three, when the hail is threatened, instructions are first given by which those Egyptians who fear Jehovah may also obtain protection. Thus, in orderly and solemn procession, marched the avengers of God upon the guilty land.

It has been observed, concerning the miracles of Jesus, that not one of them was creative, and that, whenever it was possible, He wrought by the use of material naturally provided. The waterpots should be filled; the five barley-loaves should be sought out; the nets should be let down for a draught; and the blind man should have his eyes anointed, and go wash in the Pool of Siloam.

And it is easily seen that such miracles were a more natural expression of His errand, which was to repair and purify the existing system of things, and to remove our moral disease and dearth, than any exercise of creative power would have been, however it might have dazzled the spectators.

Now, the same remark applies to the miracles of Moses, to the coming of God in judgment, as to His revelation of Himself in grace; and therefore we need not be surprised to hear that natural phenomena are not unknown which offer a sort of dim hint or foreshadowing of the terrible ten plagues. Either cryptogamic vegetation or the earth borne down from upper Africa is still seen to redden the river, usually dark, but not so as to destroy the fish. Frogs and vermin and stinging insects are the pest of modern travellers. Cattle plagues make ravage there, and hideous diseases of the skin are still as common as when the Lord promised to reward the obedience of Israel to sanitary law by putting upon them none of "the evil diseases of Egypt" which they knew (Deuteronomy 7:15).(11) The locust is still dreaded. But some of the other visitations were more direful because not only their intensity but even their existence was almost unprecedented: hail in Egypt was only not quite unknown; and such veiling of the sun as occurs for a few minutes during the storms of sand in the desert ought scarcely to be quoted as even a suggestion of the prolonged horror of the ninth plague.

Now, this accords exactly with the moral effect which was to be produced. The rescued people were not to think of God as one who strikes down into nature from outside, with strange and unwonted powers, superseding utterly its familiar forces. They were to think of Him as the Author of all; and of the common troubles of mortality as being indeed the effects of sin, yet ever controlled and governed by Him, let loose at His will, and capable of mounting to unimagined heights if His restraints be removed from them. By the east wind He brought the locusts, and removed them by the south-west wind. By a storm He divided the sea. The common things of life are in His hands, often for tremendous results. And this is one of the chief lessons of the narrative for us. Let the mind range over the list of the nine which stop short of absolute destruction, and reflect upon the vital importance of immunities for which we are scarcely grateful.

The purity of water is now felt to be among the foremost necessities of life. It is one which asks nothing from us except to refrain from polluting what comes from heaven so limpid. And yet we are half satisfied to go on habitually inflicting on ourselves a plague more foul and noxious than any occasional turning of our rivers into blood. The two plagues which dealt with minute forms of life may well remind us of the vast part which we are now aware that the smallest organisms play in the economy of life, as the agents of the Creator. Who gives thanks aright for the cheap blessing of the unstained light of heaven?

But we are insensible to the every-day teaching of this narrative: we turn our rivers into fluid poison; we spread all around us deleterious influences, which breed by minute forms of parasitical life the germs of cruel disease; we load the atmosphere with fumes which slay our cattle with periodical distempers, and are deadlier to vegetation than the hail-storm or the locust; we charge it with carbon so dense that multitudes have forgotten that the sky is blue, and on our Metropolis comes down at frequent intervals the darkness of the ninth plague, and all the time we fail to see that God, Who enacts and enforces every law of nature, does really plague us whenever these outraged laws avenge themselves. The miraculous use of nature in special emergencies is such as to show the Hand which regularly wields its powers.

At the same time there is no more excuse for the rationalism which would reduce the calamities of Egypt to a coincidence, than for explaining away the manna which fed a nation during its wanderings by the drug which is gathered, in scanty morsels, upon the acacia tree. The awful severity of the judgments, the series which they formed, their advent and removal at the menace and the prayer of Moses, are considerations which make such a theory absurd. The older scepticism, which supposed Moses to have taken advantage of some epidemic, to have learned in the wilderness the fords of the Red Sea,(12) to have discovered water, when the caravan was perishing of thirst, by his knowledge of the habits of wild beasts, and finally to have dazzled the nation at Horeb with some kind of fireworks, is itself almost a miracle in its violation of the laws of mind. The concurrence of countless favourable accidents and strange resources of leadership is like the chance arrangement of a printer's type to make a poem.

There is a common notion that the ten plagues followed each other with breathless speed, and were completed within a few weeks. But nothing in the narrative asserts or even hints this, and what we do know is in the opposite direction. The seventh plague was wrought in February, for the barley was in the ear and the flax in blossom (Exodus 9:31); and the feast of passover was kept on the fourteenth day of the month Abib, so that the destruction of the firstborn was in the middle of April, and there was an interval of about two months between the last four plagues. Now, the same interval throughout would bring back the first plague to September or October. But the natural discoloration of the river, mentioned above, is in the middle of the year, when the river begins to rise; and this, it may possibly be inferred, is the natural period at which to fix the first plague. They would then range over a period of about nine months. During the interval between them, the promises and treacheries of the king excited alternate hope and rage in Israel; the scribes of their own race (once the vassals of their tyrants, but already estranged by their own oppression) began to take rank as officers among the Jews, and to exhibit the rudimentary promise of national order and government; and the growing fears of their enemies fostered that triumphant sense of mastery, out of which national hope and pride are born. When the time came for their departure, it was possible to transmit orders throughout all their tribes, and they came out of Egypt by their armies, which would have been utterly impossible a few months before. It was with them, as it is with every man that breathes: the delay of God's grace was itself a grace; and the slowly ripening fruit grew mellower than if it had been forced into a speedier maturity.

FOOTNOTES:

(11) To this day, amid squalid surroundings for which nominal Christians are responsible, the immunity of the Jewish race from such suffering is conspicuous, and at least a remarkable coincidence.

Verses 14-25

Exodus 7:14-25

They shall be turned to blood.

The river which was turned into blood

I. The river. Has received various names. “The river of Egypt” (Genesis 15:18); Sihor (Job 13:3); Shihor (1 Chronicles 13:5). Diodorus Siculus says: The Nile was first called Egypt. Best and longest known by the term Nile, which is derived from the Arabic words Nil, which means “blue,” and Nileh, which means “indigo.” Designated, therefore, “the dark blue river,” on account of its waters assuming at times that appearance.

1. Its sources. These are three “branches.” The White River, which is the western branch, and takes its rise in the Mountains of the Moon; the Blue River, which is the central branch, and rises in the highlands of the Galla country, south of Abyssinia; the Black River, which is the eastern branch, and rises in the Mountains of Laska. These three required to make the Nile what it is. Owes its abundance and majesty to each of them. Learn the necessity and the advantage of combined efforts in doing good.

2. Its course. Referring here not to the flow of the three rivers just named and their various tributaries; but coming down to the confluence of the last of these, the Nile runs in a directly northern course to a distance of 1,150 miles. During all this way it receives no permanent streams, although in the rainy season it is often swollen by torrents from the mountains which lie between it and the Red Sea Fifteen miles below Cairo it divides into two arms. One of these runs into the Mediterranean Sea below Rosetta, the other flows into it near Damietta. The whole extent of the river from its farthest source is 3,300 miles. Has been pursuing this course for the last 6,000 years. As deep and broad as ever. Why? For the same reason that the rays of the sun are as numerous and powerful as at first. He who has supplied the sun with light has supplied the Nile with water. How thankful we should be to Him.

3. Its uses. It has helped to form the clouds. The sun has visited it every day; has received from it some of the human family in various forms. Above all it has been, and continues to be, the life of Egypt.

II. The river changed. As at the marriage-feast of Cana in Galilee, the waters in the water-pots blushed into wine, because the Lord willed the transformation; so the waters of the Nile blushed into blood for the same reason. The locomotive in the hands of the driver, the ship and the pilot, the horse and the rider; all the elements of nature much more under God. He can do with every one of them just as He pleases. This, great comfort to all that love Him. They are safe, for nothing can harm them, contrary to His mind respecting them. This should deeply impress those who do not love Him. May be conquered at any moment by the lightning, the wind, or the water.

III. The river changed for three reasons.

1. It was changed on account of idolatry. The Egyptians reverenced the Nile; boasted that it made them independent of the rain; believed that all their gods, particularly Vulcan, were born on its banks. In honour of it observed rites, ceremonies, and celebrated festivals.

2. It was changed that the priests of Egypt might be deeply impressed. Nothing which the priests more abhorred than blood. If the slightest stain of blood had been on their persons, even on their sandals or garments, they would have thought themselves deeply polluted. How terrified they must have been when they saw that “there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.” God meant this, that they might begin to think of Him, and turn from their dumb idols to Him. Events, as well as words, are teachers. May we listen at all times to truth.

3. It was changed to show that God is all-powerful. (A. McAuslane, D. D.)

The river turned into blood; or, man’s chief pleasure and pride made the medium of Divine retribution

I. That Divine retributions are sent when other and merciful measures have failed to accomplish the purpose of God in man.

II. Divine retributions often consist in making the source of man’s truest pleasure the cause of his greatest misery.

1. Sometimes the religious notions of men are made the medium of retributive pain.

2. Sometimes the commercial enterprises of men are made the medium of retributive pain. He who might have been prosperous, had he obeyed the behest of God, is ruined by his folly.

3. Sometimes all the spheres of a man’s life are made the medium of retributive pain. If a man gets wrong with God, it affects the entirety of his life. Moral questions penetrate into every realm and department of being, and affect the whole of them, either gladly or wofully, all being dependant upon the attitude of the soul toward the Eternal. Hence it is wise for men to obey the command of God if they would be prosperous.

4. Thus we see how easily and completely God can make human life a retribution to the evil doer. He can turn our glory into shame.

III. That the Divine retributions are extensive in their effect, and are operative before the impotent presence of the socially great. “And Moses and Aaron did,” etc.

1. This Divine retribution extended throughout all the land of Egypt.

2. This Divine retribution, in the act of infliction, was witnessed by Pharaoh, and he was unable to prevent it.

IV. That the Divine retributions are not always effectual to the subjugation of the wicked heart. “And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments,” etc. “And Pharaoh turned,” etc.

1. The hardihood of a.disobedient soul.

2. The resistance of a tyrannic will.

3. The effort of men to mitigate the retribution of God. “All the Egyptians digged,” etc. Vain effort.

V. That the Divine retribution sometimes evokes presumptive conduct on the part of the wicked. Lessons:

1. That Divine retributions are often merited by men.

2. That God can soon turn our joy into pain.

3. That obedience is the wisdom of man. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Opportunity in Christian service

I. That there are favourable times at which to approach men with the messages of God. “Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning.”

II. That there are favourable places in which to approach men with the messages of God. “And thou shalt stand,” etc.

III. That the servants of God are often Divinely instructed as to the best opportunity of christian service. “Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning.” By a deep conviction, by a holy impression, and by keen moral vision, God unfolds to good men the most favourable opportunity in which to declare His message to the wicked. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The river changed into blood

I. That God can change the scene of life into death.

II. That God can change useful things into useless. All life dependent on His will.

III. That God can change beautiful things into loathsome. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Superstitions respecting the Nile

One of its names was Hapi, or Apis, which is the same as the sacred bull. There is extant a hymn to the Nile, written about the time of the Exodus, beginning thus--“Hail, O Nile, thou comest forth over this ]and, thou comest in peace, giving life to Egypt, O hidden God!” Plutarch, following the jargon of the priests, calls the Nile “the Father and Saviour of Egypt” (Symp. 8, 8); and affirms, “There is nothing so much honoured among the Egyptians as the river Nile.” Even the fish and reptiles which it nourished, and the very reeds and flowers which grew in it, were held sacred. About midsummer every year a great festival was celebrated throughout the country in honour of the Nile. Men and women assembled from all parts of the country in the towns of their respective Nomes; grand festivities were proclaimed, and the religious solemnities which then took place were accompanied with feasting, dancing, and a general rejoicing. A wooden image of the river god was carried by the priests through the villages in solemn procession, appropriate hymns were sung, and the blessings of the anticipated inundation were invoked. By the miraculous change of the waters into blood, a practical rebuke was given to these superstitions. This sacred and beautiful river, the benefactor and preserver of their country, this birthplace of their chief gods, this abode of their lesser deities, this source of all their prosperity, this centre of all their devotion, is turned to blood: the waters stink; the canals and pools, the vessels of wood and vessels of stone, which were replenished from the river, all are alike polluted. (T. S. Millington.)
.

Verses 14-25

Exodus 7:14-25

They shall be turned to blood.

The river which was turned into blood

I. The river. Has received various names. “The river of Egypt” (Genesis 15:18); Sihor (Job 13:3); Shihor (1 Chronicles 13:5). Diodorus Siculus says: The Nile was first called Egypt. Best and longest known by the term Nile, which is derived from the Arabic words Nil, which means “blue,” and Nileh, which means “indigo.” Designated, therefore, “the dark blue river,” on account of its waters assuming at times that appearance.

1. Its sources. These are three “branches.” The White River, which is the western branch, and takes its rise in the Mountains of the Moon; the Blue River, which is the central branch, and rises in the highlands of the Galla country, south of Abyssinia; the Black River, which is the eastern branch, and rises in the Mountains of Laska. These three required to make the Nile what it is. Owes its abundance and majesty to each of them. Learn the necessity and the advantage of combined efforts in doing good.

2. Its course. Referring here not to the flow of the three rivers just named and their various tributaries; but coming down to the confluence of the last of these, the Nile runs in a directly northern course to a distance of 1,150 miles. During all this way it receives no permanent streams, although in the rainy season it is often swollen by torrents from the mountains which lie between it and the Red Sea Fifteen miles below Cairo it divides into two arms. One of these runs into the Mediterranean Sea below Rosetta, the other flows into it near Damietta. The whole extent of the river from its farthest source is 3,300 miles. Has been pursuing this course for the last 6,000 years. As deep and broad as ever. Why? For the same reason that the rays of the sun are as numerous and powerful as at first. He who has supplied the sun with light has supplied the Nile with water. How thankful we should be to Him.

3. Its uses. It has helped to form the clouds. The sun has visited it every day; has received from it some of the human family in various forms. Above all it has been, and continues to be, the life of Egypt.

II. The river changed. As at the marriage-feast of Cana in Galilee, the waters in the water-pots blushed into wine, because the Lord willed the transformation; so the waters of the Nile blushed into blood for the same reason. The locomotive in the hands of the driver, the ship and the pilot, the horse and the rider; all the elements of nature much more under God. He can do with every one of them just as He pleases. This, great comfort to all that love Him. They are safe, for nothing can harm them, contrary to His mind respecting them. This should deeply impress those who do not love Him. May be conquered at any moment by the lightning, the wind, or the water.

III. The river changed for three reasons.

1. It was changed on account of idolatry. The Egyptians reverenced the Nile; boasted that it made them independent of the rain; believed that all their gods, particularly Vulcan, were born on its banks. In honour of it observed rites, ceremonies, and celebrated festivals.

2. It was changed that the priests of Egypt might be deeply impressed. Nothing which the priests more abhorred than blood. If the slightest stain of blood had been on their persons, even on their sandals or garments, they would have thought themselves deeply polluted. How terrified they must have been when they saw that “there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.” God meant this, that they might begin to think of Him, and turn from their dumb idols to Him. Events, as well as words, are teachers. May we listen at all times to truth.

3. It was changed to show that God is all-powerful. (A. McAuslane, D. D.)

The river turned into blood; or, man’s chief pleasure and pride made the medium of Divine retribution

I. That Divine retributions are sent when other and merciful measures have failed to accomplish the purpose of God in man.

II. Divine retributions often consist in making the source of man’s truest pleasure the cause of his greatest misery.

1. Sometimes the religious notions of men are made the medium of retributive pain.

2. Sometimes the commercial enterprises of men are made the medium of retributive pain. He who might have been prosperous, had he obeyed the behest of God, is ruined by his folly.

3. Sometimes all the spheres of a man’s life are made the medium of retributive pain. If a man gets wrong with God, it affects the entirety of his life. Moral questions penetrate into every realm and department of being, and affect the whole of them, either gladly or wofully, all being dependant upon the attitude of the soul toward the Eternal. Hence it is wise for men to obey the command of God if they would be prosperous.

4. Thus we see how easily and completely God can make human life a retribution to the evil doer. He can turn our glory into shame.

III. That the Divine retributions are extensive in their effect, and are operative before the impotent presence of the socially great. “And Moses and Aaron did,” etc.

1. This Divine retribution extended throughout all the land of Egypt.

2. This Divine retribution, in the act of infliction, was witnessed by Pharaoh, and he was unable to prevent it.

IV. That the Divine retributions are not always effectual to the subjugation of the wicked heart. “And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments,” etc. “And Pharaoh turned,” etc.

1. The hardihood of a.disobedient soul.

2. The resistance of a tyrannic will.

3. The effort of men to mitigate the retribution of God. “All the Egyptians digged,” etc. Vain effort.

V. That the Divine retribution sometimes evokes presumptive conduct on the part of the wicked. Lessons:

1. That Divine retributions are often merited by men.

2. That God can soon turn our joy into pain.

3. That obedience is the wisdom of man. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Opportunity in Christian service

I. That there are favourable times at which to approach men with the messages of God. “Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning.”

II. That there are favourable places in which to approach men with the messages of God. “And thou shalt stand,” etc.

III. That the servants of God are often Divinely instructed as to the best opportunity of christian service. “Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning.” By a deep conviction, by a holy impression, and by keen moral vision, God unfolds to good men the most favourable opportunity in which to declare His message to the wicked. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The river changed into blood

I. That God can change the scene of life into death.

II. That God can change useful things into useless. All life dependent on His will.

III. That God can change beautiful things into loathsome. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Superstitions respecting the Nile

One of its names was Hapi, or Apis, which is the same as the sacred bull. There is extant a hymn to the Nile, written about the time of the Exodus, beginning thus--“Hail, O Nile, thou comest forth over this ]and, thou comest in peace, giving life to Egypt, O hidden God!” Plutarch, following the jargon of the priests, calls the Nile “the Father and Saviour of Egypt” (Symp. 8, 8); and affirms, “There is nothing so much honoured among the Egyptians as the river Nile.” Even the fish and reptiles which it nourished, and the very reeds and flowers which grew in it, were held sacred. About midsummer every year a great festival was celebrated throughout the country in honour of the Nile. Men and women assembled from all parts of the country in the towns of their respective Nomes; grand festivities were proclaimed, and the religious solemnities which then took place were accompanied with feasting, dancing, and a general rejoicing. A wooden image of the river god was carried by the priests through the villages in solemn procession, appropriate hymns were sung, and the blessings of the anticipated inundation were invoked. By the miraculous change of the waters into blood, a practical rebuke was given to these superstitions. This sacred and beautiful river, the benefactor and preserver of their country, this birthplace of their chief gods, this abode of their lesser deities, this source of all their prosperity, this centre of all their devotion, is turned to blood: the waters stink; the canals and pools, the vessels of wood and vessels of stone, which were replenished from the river, all are alike polluted. (T. S. Millington.)
.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/exodus-7.html. 1905-1909. New York.