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MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 7:1-2
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 the 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.”
1. Men are not to place themselves in this moral position to others. A man is not to make himself a god unto his fellows. Some ambitious spirits do this, and in the attempt become as Satans to their comrades. They become imperious. They make unjust demands on those they rule. The man divinely appointed to this position, will never usurp social influence, though he will always yield it, because it will be the natural accompaniment of his holy life. He will not pander to popular sentiment. He will speak to humanity the messages of God.
2. Men are not to be placed in this moral position merely by the suffrages of their fellow-creatures. The Israelites did not call Moses to the work of their freedom. Pharaoh did not place Moses and Aaron in these relations to himself. The appointment was of God. Society determines its own mental and social gods, and inshrines its men of wealth and genius as deities, but the moral gods of the universe are of Divine appointment. Society would make a wrong selection of gods, if left to its own choice. It would prefer the morally indulgent to the heroic and the true. It would be in danger of making a mistake and of crowning the ambitious rather than the lowly. Hence the selection must be Divine.
II. This exalted moral position involves arduous work and terrible responsibility.
1. The true gods of society have something more to do than amuse it. The visit of Moses to Pharaoh would be no great source of amusement to either party. The gods of humanity are comparatively withdrawn from the vulgar and secular matters of life, the bearing of their efforts is eminently moral. It 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. Moses and Aaron were to communicate God’s message to Pharaoh. God frequently has distinct messages for individual men in reference to their moral conduct. These are carried by the divinely-appointed prophets of society. 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 the 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.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 7:1-2. In the Hebrew Scriptures, magistrates, as representing a portion of the jurisdiction of God, are called gods. The expression was very commonly applied to those who were possessed of dignity or official power, “Ye are gods;” and in this sense Moses is said to have been made a god unto Pharaoh; and Aaron his brother was to be his prophet. You are already aware of the reason of this distinction between the two brethren. Moses complained that he had no power of eloquence, or was of uncircumcised lip; and God’s reply to that was, “You, Moses, shall be the oracle or depository of truth; and Aaron, who has the gift of eloquence, shall unfold and express it.” God did not alter their constitutional characteristics; but he made use of their existing constitutional peculiarities to do his great work. So, still, when God employs men to execute His purposes, He does not re-create them, but He sanctifies them, He uses them as they are. Any body reading the New Testament, will see that each writer has a style of his own; so much so, that if you were to read a few verses from one or the other of the writers,. I should be able to say whether they were written by Matthew, or Paul, or Peter. God did not destroy the idiosyncracies of the sacred penman, but he retained their variety of style, and consecrated that variety to be the more elegant vehicle of important and precious truth. So, when God sent Moses and Aaron to do his work in Egypt, He did not make Moses eloquent, which he was not, nor did he make Aaron learned, which he was not; but he made Aaron the eloquent man, draw upon the stores of Moses, the learned man, and thus each did efficiently and naturally the work that God had assigned them. So, at the era of the Reformation, Luther’s eloquence and energy would have been extremely defective, if he could not have fallen back upon the rich stores of Melancthon’s learning. So in the Acts of the Apostles, the energy and boldness of Peter were shown in his speaking; and the love, patience, and piety of John, were shown in his keeping silence. God thus takes different men of different constitutional peculiarities for different purposes.—(Dr. Cumming.)
Great is God’s goodness and patience to reason with, and encourage His backward servants.
Men judging themselves as uncircumcised, may be made by Jehovah as gods.
Prophets are merely God’s mouth and lips to His Church.
God orders one instrument from another to utter His mind to worldly powers.
At God’s word poor despicable creatures command oppressing powers to release the oppressed, and it shall be done in time.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Divine Favour! Exodus 7:2. If we saved, remarks Faber, the life of the queen’s child, we would not easily forget the grateful look of the royal mother’s face. It would be long before her burning words of thanks died away in our ears—a sovereign’s tears, and those tears of joy, are not things to be readily forgotten. But what a very unimportant thing this is compared with being allowed to please God by obedience to His commands. There need therefore be no reluctance on our part. Let us not be backward servants. Well may we adopt as our own the dying prayer of Usher, “O Lord, forgive me my sins, especially my sins of omission.”—By such omission we become the losers—we lose the sweet approving smile of God.
I’m sure it makes a happy day,
When I can please Him any way.
Exodus 7:3. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.]—Elsewhere also is the act of hardening Pharaoh’s heart attributed to Jehovah, as in Exodus 4:21; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:1; Exodus 10:23; Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:1; Exodus 19:4; Exodus 19:8; so that although Pharaoh is in several places said to have hardened his own heart—e.g., in Exodus 8:15; Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:34; yet we cannot well deny the existence of a difficulty. The ground of the difficulty consists in the glorious truth of the absolute holiness of God, in virtue of which he so exclusively loves what is right and good, and so sincerely and intensely hates all evil, that he separates himself from sin, wholly, everywhere, always; frowns upon it, forbids it, denounces it; is not the author of it, and never can be. His highest praise, with those who are nearest to Him and know Him best, is that He is holy—thrice holy. Hence the difficulty created by any statement, coming to us as authoritative, which seems to attribute the causation of sin to HIM. Our best way out of the difficulty, as it presents itself in this account of Pharaoh, may be said to depend upon the settlement of a single question—Was the hardening process essentially sinful on Pharaoh’s part? If not, Jehovah may have positively and directly caused it; if it was, then only in an accommodated, and, in fact, a figurative, sense, can Jehovah have effected it. 1) We can conceive of a hardening of heart which involves no sin in its subject—as when a surgeon hardens his heart against such an influx of feeling as would unfit him for his stern but righteous and even benevolent duties. Was the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart of this nature! Did it consist solely in such an accession of firmness, of courage, as—without being in itself bad—allowed him to act out to the full the badness that was otherwise in him, such as his despotic cruelty, his self glorification, etc.? If we could thus conclude, the difficulty would be at an end. We could then say: The badness was Pharaoh’s own; but the courage to act it out—a quality morally indifferent—was directly given him by God for ends high and holy, which he would secure through means of the fully developed wickedness of this wicked king. Something may be said in favour of this solution. a.) As truly as life is from God, so truly are health, strength, courage from him. b.) Many evil purposes fail of accomplishment solely through failure of life, of health, of physical courage to go through with them. A man may in heart be a murderer, and yet simply because he turns coward he may not take away life. Had Pharaoh thus failed, Israel would have more easily escaped, and the power of God been less signally displayed. But God was not minded that the king should so fail, and, therefore, gave him courage to work out all the evil that was in him. c.) The Hebrew terms employed to express the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart denote, primarily, physical qualities: as chá-zaq, “hold fast,” “be firm,” (“strong,” 2 Samuel 10:11, “strengthened,” Judges 3:12, “be of good courage,” 2 Samuel 10:12); kâ-bhêdh, “heavy,” (1 Samuel 4:18; 1 Samuel 5:11; Exodus 17:12; “slow,” Exodus 4:10); qá-shah, “dry, hard, harsh,” (“roughly,” Genesis 44:7; Genesis 44:30, “sorrowful,” 1 Samuel 1:15). These considerations appear to us to have so much weight that they ought in no case to be overlooked, even although they may need to be supplemented. Nevertheless, we are free to confess an absence of entire confidence in them. Were “firmness” of heart, in the sense of “courage” all, no more might require to be said; but it would be rather venturous to affirm that, in biblical style, either “heaviness” or “harshness” of HEART can be taken as free from moral evil. Hence it may be well to ask
(2.) Whether the divine causation may not to some extent have been indirect and figurative—amounting to permission and occasion, rather than positive cause? And, in point of fact, this cannot be denied. The respite which Jehovah gave to the Egyptian king became an OCCASION of the further hardening of the heart of the latter. (See ch. Exodus 8:15; Exodus 9:34). Here we get a glimpse into the divine procedure much fitted to satisfy. Having struck a blow, Jehovah pauses, he does so again and again. Is this unworthy of him? Yet Pharaoh makes these divine pauses an occasion of deeper sin. We cannot blame God for this; and yet had blow followed blow in quicker succession Pharaoh might have sooner yielded. Just here then Jehovah shews His holy freedom. He does as it pleases Him; never pleasing to do wrong, yet pleasing, for reasons which as yet we may not always comprehend, to permit the human wrong that He may overrule it for His own glory and His people’s weal. We conclude then that only thus did God harden Pharaoh’s heart: He gave him the physical courage to do his worst; and He gave him—not the disposition but—the permission, the opportunity, the occasion, in the process of reaching his worst, to turn good into evil, and add sin to sin. This Is what God DID; this In clear foresight of how Pharaoh would act, is what God MEANT TO DO; this is what God, for Moses’ guidance FORETOLD a His intention.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 7:3-7
MORAL OBSTINACY; OR, PHARAOH THE TYPE OF AN IMPENITENT SINNER
I. That the impenitent, like Pharaoh, reject the Divine command. Moses and Aaron had made known to the Egyptian king the will and command of God in reference to the freedom of Israel. But he refused to comply with that command. In this respect he is a type of the impenitent sinner. God has revealed his will to men in His book. He has commanded men everywhere to repent, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. This the sinner refuses to do. He continues in sin. Heeds not the law of God.
1. Pharaoh rejected the Divine command with contempt. He inquired, “Who is the Lord that I should obey Him?” So many impenitent sinners contemptuously reject the Divine claim to their life and service. They intimate that they have no wish to enter upon the gloom of a religious life. They declare themselves happier amid the sport and passion of the world. They are in good social position, and do not wish to think of anything beyond the present. They treat the messengers of God who come to teach them better, with scorn, and reject all their offers of salvation. How often have we treated the spirit of God with contempt.
2. Pharaoh rejected the Divine command in a spirit of proud self-sufficiency. He thought of himself as the King of Egypt, as having at command vast resources of men and money, of luxury and pleasure. He imagined himself able to defy Jehovah, and that no one would be able to injure him. And, in this respect, Pharaoh is a type of many impenitent sinners. They pride themselves on their fancied security. They think that their temporal prosperity will shield them from future terror. Pride haughtily dismisses the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
II. That the impenitent, like Pharaoh, though rejecting the Divine commands become obstinate in disposition. We find throughout this narrative that the longer Pharaoh resisted the Divine command, the more determined became his resistance. And so is it with the impenitent sinner. He rejects the command of the scriptures, the ministry of the pulpit, the solicitations of friends, and the strivings of the Divine Spirit, and every time he does so, he becomes more obdurate in soul. He gets less susceptible of heavenly influence, until ultimately he is given up to the hardness of his heart. This is a terrible condition to be in.
1. An obstinate disposition is opposed to the good of the soul itself. It prevents the shining of heavenly light upon the soul. It renders cold the emotions that once were fervent. It destroys all the vitality of the moral nature. Obstinacy will ruin the soul eternally.
2. An obstinate disposition is antagonistic to the purposes of redemption. The object of redemption, of the Church and all its agencies, is the salvation of the souls of men. This is frustrated by moral obstinacy. Men say that they have not the power to be saved. The hinderance is not in any heavenly decree, it is in their own unwillingness to give up sin.
3. An obstinate disposition is insensible to all the appeals of heaven.
III. That the impenitent, like Pharaoh, obstinate in disposition, invite the Divine anger.
1. This anger is manifested in the exhibition of Divine power. “That I may lay my hand upon Egypt.” When God lays his hand upon a nation who can predict the result. The plagues of Egypt are but the sequel of this. The hand that created and upholds the world, can inflict terrible woe upon the impenitent.
2. This anger is manifested by causing the tyrant to liberate his slaves. Pharaoh now loses all his profitable slaves. This would be a terrible blow to his covetous spirit. He would have to acknowledge Jehovah as conqueror. The impenitent have ultimately to give up their wicked pleasures.
3. This anger is manifested by the destruction of the king and his army. Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the raging billows of the Red Sea. So the finally impenitent will be lost in the eternal fires of hell. LESSONS:—
1. That God sends many ministries to invite us to obey his commands.
2. That our truest wisdom and safety consist in a penitent condition of soul.
3. That the final doom of impenitence is the abiding wrath of God.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 7:3. A hardened heart:—
1. Permitted by God.
2. Effected by sin.
3. Cruel to the slave.
4. Unmoved by signs.
5. Smitten by heaven.
God instructs Moses and Aaron as to what they shall do; but He adds, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” I explained to you on a former occasion, that God is often said in Scripture to do things directly, when the context shows that He did them indirectly. To be the occasion of a thing, is totally distinct from being the cause of a thing. I build an hospital for the cure of the sick; but in the course of its erection, a scaffolding gives way, and a workman is killed. The hospital was not the cause, but the occasion of that death Jesus came into the World, not to send peace, but a sword. He came directly to send peace; but He came indirectly and incidentally to send war. The gospel is not the cause of war, but the occasion of it. And so when God said, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” it implied, “I will show such signs, and bring to his conscience such motives that if he is not moved, melted, and subdued, the reaction of that influence will end in his being hardened more and more.” Nothing can be so absurd as to say that God showed to Pharaoh reasons for repentance, which He prevented him by physical power from accepting.—Dr. Cumming.
Exodus 7:4. “But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you:”—
1. Because he is proud, and will reject a lowly shepherd.
2. Because he is cruel, and will not free the slave.
3. Because he is obstinate, and will not yield to Spiritual influence.
God knows those who will not hearken to His word:—
1. To tell His servants about them.
2. To send judgments upon them.
3. To entice them by loving discipline.
1. Because God knows them.
2. Because He saves them.
3. Because He redeems them.
4. Because He guards their welfare.
1. Therefore He will hear their prayers.
2. Therefore He will relieve their sorrows.
3. Therefore He will free their souls.
4. Therefore He will vindicate their rights.
A KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
Exodus 7:5. “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt.”
I. That the worst of men will one day have to recognize the reality of the Divine Existence.—“And the Egyptians shall know,” &c.—
1. Men of bad moral character shall know this. Men whose lives are now spent in utter disregard of the Divine Being shall one day awake to the fact of His awful existence. This awakening will be the end of their pleasure; the commencement of a new and unalterable life. In hell the wicked will know that God is the Lord.
2. Men of sceptical dispositions shall know this. Some men profess to disbelieve in the existence of God. They call it a philosophical absurdity. They say in their hearts that there is not. The wish is father to the thought. In another life the sceptic will know that God is the Lord.
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. They would not learn the reality of the Divine existence from the mouth of Moses. They would not be gently led to behold the Great Parent of the universe. They are like men to-day. They will not give heed to the messengers that proclaim the Being of God. They reject them. They neglect the Bible. They interpret nature on atheistic principles.
2. Such will learn the existence of God by judgment. Some men will never learn anything while life goes well with them; they will only study heavenly themes when they are in sorrow and perplexity. They will one day be visited with overwhelming judgments, which will demonstrate the existence, and moral government of God, but which will be no time for repentance.
III. That the existence of God is a guarantee for the safety of the good. “And bring the children from among them.” As truly as God exists shall all good men be finally brought out from moral and temporal bondage into the Canaan of peace and quiet.
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. Became 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:—
1. Rightfully given.
2. To be faithfully executed.
3. To be diligently obeyed. To be supremely regarded.
Exodus 7:7. The bearing of a man’s age upon his work.
We are here informed that Moses was at this time eighty years of age, and that Aaron was eighty-three. 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 Israelites would probably not have placed much confidence in the statement of a very young man had he gone to them with the message of their freedom. They would have doubted his word. They would have imagined him a wild dreamer, or a mistaken enthusiast. Hence the maturer years of Moses and Aaron would prevent such an interpretation being put upon their prophecy. 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. Had they been more youthful they would have awakened the merriment of Pharaoh. Egypt’s king would not have given up his slaves at the request of two boys. Heaven is always judicious in the selection of its messengers. The Church ought to be likewise. It should look even for incidental qualifications, as well as the primary and the moral. Youthhood would not have had much influence with the slaves of Israel. 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. After men pass the meridian of life, they begin to regard life as a stern and solemn reality, if they have any pious sentiment within them at all. The past has gone like a dream. The brief future is before them. They wish it to be characterized by fidelity.
At this time, we are told, Moses was eighty years of age, and Aaron eighty-three. This was not old age. Moses lived to be one hundred and twenty. He was, therefore, now just at the close of the meridian of life. I mentioned also before, that there is no evidence in the Bible that man’s life has been shortened since Moses’ death; and that, as far as we can gather from Divine interposition, one hundred and twenty is the proper age of man. The 90th Psalm describes an abnormal state of life in the wilderness. There Moses himself complains that their life was shortened to threescore and ten, by the existing severity and pressure of their circumstances, not by the ordinance of God. And it remains a problem, whether, if men were not less oppressed by anxious cares and thoughts, ambition, vainglory, and pride, and wrath, they would not live to a much greater age; and whether it be not true, that in proportion as Christianity gains in its sanctifying influence on the soul, the whole social and physical system will but be correspondingly elevated and ameliorated also.—Dr. Cumming.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Insensibility! Exodus 7:3. “As hard as a stone,” says the adage.—Yet the hardest stones submit to be smoothed and rounded under the soft friction of water. Ask the myriads of stones on the seashore what has become of all their angles, once so sharp, and of the roughness and uncouthness of their whole appearance.—“Water wrought with us, and none resisted.”—The very stones cry out against the obstinate disposition, which is insensible to all the appeals of heaven.
You may as well bid the mountain pines
To wag their high tops, and make no noise,
When they are fretted by the gusts of heaven,
As seek to soften that sinner’s heart.
Hardened Heart! Exodus 7:3. A scholar once inquired of his teacher whether it was not wicked to punish Pharaoh and Judas for what God knew they would do. A bright thought struck the perplexed teacher: “When you were born, your papa looked at you and loved you, but he knew that bye and bye you would sin, and have to be punished: he did not make you naughty, but he knew that you would be.”—God did not make Pharaoh sin, but he had to punish him for it. From righteous retribution for obdurate impenitence there is no escape.
Aye! when thou hast drained a swallow’s milk, and
Seen rocks bear olive nuts, the sand pomegranates yield:
A harder task to try thy vaunted force remains—
To shield a wicked man from retributions pains.—Oriental.
Remorse! Exodus 7:4. In the early part of this century Pomare reigned as king in the islands of Tahiti and Eimeo. Many of his subjects were enraged at his recognition of Christ. Among them was a man called Upufara, who was regarded as the chief of the kings foes. He had often heard of the true God, but would not believe in him. One night he had a dream, in which he saw an immense oven with a very great fire, and in the midst of it a large fish, twisting itself in agony, and trying to get out, yet though in the fire, not consumed but still living. Such will be the guilty conscience,—the fires of remorse will scorch it and make it writhe in pang and anguish, without destroying its sensitiveness. In another life, and to his cost, the sceptic will know that God is the Lord, as scorched within
The fury round his torrid temples flaps
Her fiery wings, and breathes upon his lips
And parched tongue the withered blasts of hell
Visitations! Exodus 7:5. A man was confined in a cell with seven windows, and the only furniture a pallet of straw. Each morning he found a loaf of bread and a jug of water by his side. He was relieved from the fear of starvation; but when his eyes sought the windows, he counted one less. The fearful truth flashed upon him that the floor and wall of his cell were being pressed together slowly and surely, and that he would be crushed to death. The sinner like Pharaoh is inclosed in the earth-cell of impenitency, and the hour approaches when his last hope will be crushed and mangled in the ever-narrowing entombment. He will then learn how real is the moral government of God—only too late to repent—
As when a fire has raged, the smokes that rise
In useless lamentations drape the skies.
Obedient Service! Exodus 7:6. In evil times it fares best with them that are most careful about duty, least concerned about safety. Many a general, whilst discharging his duty in the battle, has borne a charmed life. Moses was preserved whilst pursuing the path of Providence. The author of “From Dawn to Dark in Italy,” contrasts the constant harassing perils of Montalto, a timid, compromising Lutheran, with the freedom from persecution of Old Clarice, a fruitseller at Naples. The one was continually in tumult and danger—the other kept on the even course of her Christian profession in the very jaws of the lion for thirty years. Many a hunted Protestant found shelter in her house excavated from the precipitous rock. Many a wave of bitter papal persecution Swept over Naples, but old Clarice, who never sheltered herself beneath any compliances, seemed to prosper in her very fearlessness. The bold policy is not always the worst, and Moses was no loser by the unflinching courage with which he confronted Pharaoh in obedience to the Divine command. Luther lived, whilst-some who temporized were lost. And of John Knox who lived to a good old age, it was said, “Here lies one who never feared the face of man.”
So we would bravely live for Thee,
And Thy bold and faithful servants, Saviour,
we would henceforth be.
Exodus 7:9. Miracle] A splendid or conspicuous deed: Sept. “sign or wonder;” vulg. “sign.” Serpent] Prob. of a large species; and in Exodus 7:10; Exodus 7:12. called tannin (lit. “extended”); but Exodus 5:15. nâ-châ sh.
II. Sorcerers] Whisperers, mutterers, practisers of magic. Magicians] Sacred scribes, skilled in sacred writings (hieroglyphics).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 7:8-13
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. “When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you; then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.” When men come and present Divine messages to us, we have a right to expect that they will produce something more than their own mere word for the divinity of their mission; they make great demands upon our conduct, they appeal to us in the supreme realm of our life, and the greatest results are dependant upon the manner in which we welcome them, hence we may expect substantial proof that they are sent from God. God never expects men to credit any mission that is not authenticated by sufficient evidence, he does not require that they should do such violence to their intellectual manhood. Hence when any claims are presented as from heaven, we are justified in demanding sufficient proof of their holy origin.
1. We require these credentials to vindicate the authority of the speaker. Who were Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh? They had no human accidents connected with them to gain his attention and obedience. Socially they were greatly inferior to him. Probably they were almost unknown to him. They had no armies to enforce their request. Their request was great, and of importance to his nation. He might regard these two men as enthusiasts or imposters. It is natural that he should immediately seek to know by what authority they were sent to him. He would have acted the part of a lunatic had he not done so, as no wise man will heed all the claims which are urged upon him by those by whom he may be surrounded. Hence Moses and Aaron wrought a miracle before him, to convince him of the divinity of their remarkable mission. And this was evidence sufficient to the belief required, and the conduct solicited. Now humanity has a Divine message sent to it, not brought in exactly the same method as was that to Pharaoh; it is contained in a remarkable book, the Bible, it asks men, not to give up their slaves, but their sins, and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. This book has been given to the world, and requires the world’s credence and obedience. We at once require to know by what authority this volume comes, why it makes a greater claim to attention than any other, and what right it has to control our actions These questions are natural, and they are wise. No sensible man would receive the book, as it requires, without making them. We search this book and find that as Moses and Aaron carried their Divine credentials in their hand, so it 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. It is adequate to its Divine authority.
2. We require these credentials to vindicate the credibility of the speaker. Pharaoh might even believe that Moses and Aaron were divinely sent to him; but the question would arise in his mind, whether they were uttering their message without falsehood or mistake. Were they not making too great a demand upon him, had not these Israelitish slaves been of great service to his nation, and was it likely that God would require their freedom? No doubt much objection to the statement of these two men would arise to his mental vision, and therefore he required it to be certified that they were speaking the truth. And we conceive that the miracle they wrought would cover the whole case, the entirety of his request. Because 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 book has come from God, and has His authority, and yet how many question the verity of much of its contents. They call one part of the message a myth, another part a fable, until, indeed, there is very little remaining as true. We need scarcely say that this method of criticism is contradictory, for if men once admit the Divine authority of the book, they cannot but accept its contents as veritable, for the same miracle that demonstrates its heavenly origin, likewise demonstrates its moral truthfulness, that the Bible is not merely from God, but that it speaks the word of God. Of this the world has sufficient evidence.
3. That God anticipates these requests on the part of man, and provides his messengers with the needed credentials. The Divine. Being did not send Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh without the credentials necessary to sustain their authority, and their veracity. We may reverently say that He could not rightfully have done so, as it would have left unbelief on the part of the king quite excusable, and it would have exposed these men of God to certain and needless scorn. And so in reference to the Bible, which is God’s message to the race, its Divine Author has condescendingly anticipated the mental and moral requirements of man in accepting it. He did not send it forth without sufficient credentials to commend itself to human reason. He did not permit it to appeal to men as other books have done; it differed from them in contents and claims, and therefore needed a correspondingly higher vindication. Had any man gone to Pharaoh on the ordinary business of life, he would have needed no miracle to commend him to that monarch. But when Moses and Aaron go to him with a Divine command, their different and higher position requires the higher credential. And so with the Bible, it does not merely come to men with a message about the common affairs of human life, it speaks about the duties and destinies of their soul, and needs a vindication equal to its dignified claims. The revelations of God do not do violence to the mental habitudes of man. The Being who has made man, conforms to the mental laws under which He has placed him, one of which is that he cannot believe a statement without sufficient evidence. Hence, prior to any cry on the part of man for evidence of the Divine origin of the Bible, God provided and made it clear to all who sought it. They were there in all their possibility, only awaiting the interrogation of the human mind, upon which the rod would be transformed into a serpent, and demonstrate beyond doubt the divinity of the book. Hence it is the way of God to win the credence of men to his book by convincing evidence, not by arbitrary command, and any man 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 How did Pharaoh receive the credentials which were presented to him by Moses and Aaron in reference to the divinity of their mission; he received them with unbelieving heart. He was antecedently prepared to denounce them as untrue, and to reject them. He did not come to the investigation of them with unprejudiced mind, but with a bias against them. And no doubt his moral conduct induced within him this mental bias; he did not wish to give up his profitable slaves, hence he tried to disprove the credentials of these holy men. And in this we have a pattern of the way in which multitudes approach the investigation of the Divine credentials of the Bible, they have no wish to find them true, rather, the moral character and habit of their life awaken within them a desire to find them false. Hence we believe that much of the scepticism of men in reference to the Bible as a divine revelation arises from moral considerations rather than mental. The probabilities are that if Pharaoh had had no slaves, supposing Moses and Aaron to have been sent to him, he would have believed their miracle. And if men had no sins to charm them they would welcome the Bible as the Word of God. They are not disposed to give up their sins, and so they are not inclined to receive the truth sent to them.
(1) These credentials should be thoughtfully received.
(2) These credentials should be devoutly received.
(3) Never receive them in sceptical mood. 4 We must remember that the messengers of God can only offer the credentials divinely permitted to them. Moses and Aaron could not work any miracle they liked to the astonished gaze of the Egyptian king; they could only cast down the rod as God had told them to do. Men cannot decide upon, nor can they make of their own device or ingenuity, the credentials of their heaven-given mission. Nor does the Bible, in its credentials, conform to all the arbitrary and vain requests of the sceptical mind, it does not work one miracle after another only to awaken yet further demands, and continued incredulity. Its credentials are divinely arranged. They are the outcome of the will and permission of God. They are clear as a fact. They are emphatic as a claim. They can be investigated by men. The credentials of the Bible are such as God has permitted. The minister of the gospel has no right to present or enforce any other in his sacred embassy. If the legitimate credentials of truth will not gain the credence of men, we may rely upon it that no others will.
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. It would appear from the Divine statement and prediction made to Moses and Aaron, although we do not find the definite words used by Pharaoh, that the king wanted a miracle to confirm their request; and yet when it was wrought he rejected and refused to believe it. And this is just what men do in reference to the Divine credentials of the Bible; they enquire for certain evidences of its Divine authority, and when presented, they disbelieve and reject them. Men ask us to show them the internal harmony of the Bible, although it is written by so many men of varied mental type, and when we shew it them in incident after incident, they commence at once to weaken our evidence by suppositions of collusion between the authors, or of plagiarism. It is little use complying with their request for credentials, they seek them not to believe, but to cavil. 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. It would appear that Pharaoh was not able of himself to refute the miraculous logic and credential of Moses and Aaron. Kings are not always gifted with the logical faculty, they are not generally remarkable for brain-power; nor are they in need of much, as the abilities of others are readily at their command. If a king wants an argument to disprove a divine message, there are always plenty of logicians in the realm ready to furnish him with it. And some men have the happy art of making logic prove anything to suit the craving of regal desires. Hence as Pharaoh could not refute the miraculous evidence of these two holy men, he sent for the “wise men and sorcerers,” and it would seem that the magicians of Egypt in some way imitated the miracle of the transformed rod. And so it is in reference to the credentials of the Bible; when one man cannot disprove them, he will get some one else to help him, and perhaps the two together may succeed in hardening each other in their sin. How one man may confirm another in scepticism to the rejection of the plain message of God. But though hand join in hand, he wicked shall not go unpunished. It is a pity that men of good mental ability should aid men of inferior brain in their sceptical effort; they might find better employment for their genius
3. We find that men endeavour to confirm their comrades in scepticism by imitating the credentials of the messengers of God. Moses and Aaron had turned their rods into serpents; when the magicians of Egypt were called they to all appearances did the same. Very likely they did it by cunning trickery with their enchantments, and they may have been assisted by the devil. He is a willing ally to all who wish to refute the credentials of heavenly messengers. And has it not been so with the Bible? Men have cast down their own rods, and they have produced their own books, and apparently there has been but little difference between the human production and the divine. The Bible is very much like all other books, is printed with the same type, on like paper, in the same language, and is bound in the same material, and it is only on looking inside and reading the contents that we can announce the difference. Man’s genius endeavours to rival God’s power. 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. And so in reference to the Bible. All who reject its claims will one day be swallowed up by the retribution it proclaims. Truth has power over error. Pharaoh would not attach much significance to the fact that Aaron’s rod swallowed up the rest; he would merely attach importance to the fact that his own conjurors had done the same as had Moses and Aaron. In the arguments of life men will only allow their minds to be impressed by those the most favourable to their case.
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.” This was notably the case with the king of Egypt. The plagues which follow are but the outcome of this rejection of the Divine message; and the destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea was but the end of the struggle, the victory of an alarming Providence. And men who oppose the credentials of the Bible, who cultivate a sceptical habit of mind in reference thereto, and who seek others to confirm them in their rejection of the truth of God, commence a conflict which will be most destructive in its issue. The. truth must conquer, and if men will not accept its credentials, they must fall beneath its power. It is vain for man, however he may be aided by human art or cunning, to contend with the messenger of heaven. 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.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 7:8-9. After God has won His servants to willing obedience, He commands them to duty.
God forewarned His servants that worldly men would investigate their authority.
Wicked men generally expect the ministers of God to work miracles before they believe the truth.
One instrument may God set over another to do his purpose.
A miracle has always been regarded as the evidence of a revelation from on high. It is not itself the revelation, but the evidence of it. The wax upon the deed, and the seal of one of the parties, is not the deed; but it is the evidence that that deed is accepted and identified by the party whose seal is attached to it.—Dr. Cumming.
Exodus 7:10. When God enjoineth his servants to work wonders, He is sure to effect them.
Dead sticks become dragons at the word of God, to awaken sinners.
God by His word and work leave sinners without excuse.
The poorest workers animated by God, dare face oppressing kings.
It is only safe for the servants of God to do as he commands them.
Small actions in obedience are ordered by God to great issues, though despicable to men.
Not a word of God shall fail, but the very nature of creatures shall change to verify the same.
God’s miracles are in truth, to confirm His authority among men.
Exodus 7:11-13. Miracles from God will not persuade wicked hearts to believe.
Unbelieving sinners are apt to call in all instruments of Satan to gainsay God.
Providence has of old suffered wisdom to be abased to pernicious acts.
Under God’s permission Satan may work strange changes in creatures; but not miracles.
God’s true miracles devour all the lying wonders of Satan.
Christ hath swallowed up death in victory.
UNWORTHY IMITATIONS OF THE GOOD
Exodus 7:11. “They also did in like manner with their enchantments.” There is a great deal of imitation in the world. It is found in all spheres of life and employment. It especially obtains in the moral realm of life. And in some cases it may be commendable, the effort of a true soul to emulate the character and zeal of some godly neighbour whose life inspires with holy aspirations after something better. But in many cases it is a mockery, sometimes the homage which vice pays to virtue, and not unfrequently the daring effort of the natural mind to rival its divine results. In the incident before us the imitation of the work of Moses and Aaron by these Egyptian magicians was inspired by this latter motive.
I. This imitation of the good was by men of high social rank. The miracle wrought by Moses and Aaron was not imitated by the lower orders of Egyptian society, but by men in the highest rank of the nation, and in the presence of their king. And so it sometimes happens that men of intellect and learning, that men of high social standing, that men in important occupations, find it necessary and remunerative to imitate the actions of the good to serve their own impious purpose. It is probable that had those magicians refused, or had they announced themselves unable to imitate the miracle of the two servants of God, they would have been displaced in their art, and banished from the presence of the king. It is ill to be employed in a bad occupation. A man who is a sorcerer by profession, may at any moment be called to compete with divine phenomena, and to involve himself in conflict with God. A man’s known character has much to do with his temptations. Some men are too pure to be asked to do an unholy deed.
II. This imitation of the good occurred at a most solemn crisis. It occurred at a crisis in the life of Pharaoh. If he had now felt the reality of the appeal of Moses and Aaron, had he recognized it as from God, and yielded to it, his life and futurity might have been very different from what it was, And men who give themselves up to an unworthy imitation of the good, often cause those who trust to them to miss the most favourable opportunity of moral welfare. It was also a crisis of great importance to the entire nation as the after history abundantly demonstrates.
III. This imitation of the good was productive of dire result. It caused Pharaoh to discredit the message of Moses and Aaron; still to retain his slaves; and it was instrumental in the hardening of his heart. And so those who seek to imitate the good in order to nullify the claims of God upon men, bring woe upon all who credit their agency.
IV. The imitation of the good is always discernable. The rods of the magicians were swallowed up by the rod of Moses and Aaron. The imitation is not so good, so true, so beautiful, so spontaneous as the reality, hence all intelligent and conscientious men are able to detect it, and need not be deceived by it. If men are deceived by it, it is because they wish to be.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Serpents! Exodus 7:9. Among the Egyptians and also the Phœnicians, the serpent was an emblem of Divine wisdom and power, and as such it was reverenced. The asp was sacred to Neph, and is often represented upon the head of that deity. The asp is represented in the tombs of Thebes guarding the winepresses and granaries of Egypt. Herodotus speaks of a species of snake in the same neighbourhood with two horns upon its head, and says, when it dies it is buried in the temple of Jupiter, to whom it is said to belong. The transformation of Aaron’s rod into a serpent, and the swallowing up of all the other serpents by it was therefore calculated to impress the Egyptians with the greatness and supremacy of the God of Israel. But Pharaoh did not concern himself about the Rod of Moses, and it was enough for him that his sorcerers had been able to imitate the miracle.
“To steal the livery of the court of heaven
To serve the devil in.”
Truth-Light! Exodus 7:9. When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes the cynic, he asked whether there was any favour or gift, which the Grecian philosopher would wish to receive at his hands. To this, the philosopher curtly responded that he wished for nothing, but that the monarch should stand from between him and the sun. A very similar answer might with more justice and propriety be given by devout Christians to the sceptic—placing himself between the Bible and man, and seeking to hide the truth behind error: “Let me see the Sun of Revelation, for his beams alone have given light and life and warmth. The credentials of the Divinity of the Bible are as full of moral and spiritual light and life and warmth as
“Yon dazzling sun, at noontide hour,
Forth from his flaming vase,
Flinging o’er earth the golden shower,
Till vale and mountain blaze.”—
Moses and Aaron! Exodus 7:10. The history of Moses and Aaron, appearing thus together at the Court of Pharaoh, may have given rise to the traditions of the Greeks and Romans, in which Jupiter and Mercury—both of them Egyptian deities worshipped as Hammon and Thoth—are described visiting the earth in a similar relationship. The latter was repreented with the caduceus, a rod twisted abouts with serpents, and was the god of speech or eloquence
“That with the strong rein of commanding words,
Doth manage, guide, and master th’eminence
Of men’s affections, more than all their swords.”
Bible! Exodus 7:10. Suppose that you have been sick for years and years, and all medical treatment had failed in your case, and some skilful one should come along and examine the symptoms of your disease, and write a prescription, saying: “I am going into a far country, and you will never see me again. But do not lose this prescription; for if you take the medicine which it prescribes all will be well.” Would you not preserve the document? Would you not be careful to have it made up in the right shape, and to take it as ordered? But suppose you had misgivings; and at the time of receiving the prescription inquired as to the physician’s credentials. He would take you to one patient after another—all of whom were in the enjoyment of good health—and all of whom acknowledged their indebtedness to the prescription and its prescriber. When we question the efficiency of God’s remedy for sin, He takes us to the crowd of credentials in the Word of God. You may be justified in demanding the proofs, but not in refusing to accept the evidence, which is adequate to the Divine authority. Here
Thy goodness, glory, wisdom, strength and power
Shine clear as stars in frosty skies.
Prejudgment! Exodus 7:11. A gentleman was one day stoutly asserting that there were no goldfields except in Mexico and Peru. A nugget dug up in California was presented to him as evidence against his positive assertion. He was not in the least disconcerted, but persisted that the metal was not gold. “It cannot be gold, because gold comes only from Mexico and Peru.” He had fixed in his mind that gold existed only in those countries; and from it, he would not swerve. So with a certain class of sceptics. They have, to borrow Newton’s figure, placed an extinguisher upon the candle of their judgment; so that when the light of convincing evidence is placed before them, all is in vain. They are not honest doubters, like Lord Lyttleton, the historian, and his friend Gilbert West. Agreeing to write something in favour of infidelity, they determined to study through the sacred records. Being honest in their studies, these ended in conviction. Both took up their pens and became its champions. How different the malevolent spirit of Strauss—the mocking tone of Darwin and Spencer. These act the part of the owlet atheism, who
“Sailing on obscure wings across the moon,
Drops his blue-fringed lids and shuts them close,
And, hooting at the glorious sun in heaven,
Cries out: “Where is it?”
Adaptability! Exodus 7:11. We say: “If the cap fits, wear it. Hence admirably does the Bible fit our case! It is so framed as to be adapted to us entirely. Thus when a Dutch farmer in South Africa told a poor Hottentot that the Bible was not meant for such creatures as blacks, the simple minded native replied that he was sure that it was. “Why are you sure,” jeeringly inquired the selfish white man? “Because it fits me exactly.” “And how so?” Opening his Bible the humble soul placed his finger on the description of what a sinner is, and exclaimed: “There! sinners! that’s my name.” A similar illustration of the perfect adaptation of the Bible to all cases is furnished of a missionary, who records that, after reading the first chapter of Romans to a heathen congregation, they gathered round him saying that he himself had written that part for them. And from Dr. Dean of China we learn that, after conversing with a very intelligent Chinaman upon our Bible as being of great antiquity, he gave his listener a copy to take away for perusal. But not long after the inquirer returned, and with a look of triumph and accusation exclaimed, “You told me that your book was very ancient, but that chapter (pointing to Romans 1:0) you have written with your own hand since you lived among us Chinese.” Thus conscience does her work
“And to the mind holds up reflection’s glass—
The mind, which starting, heaves the heartfelt groan,
And hates that form she knows to be her own.”
Magicians! Exodus 7:11. Pliny the historian speaks of the magicians of Egypt, and numbers Moses among them. In one of Lucian’s stories he introduces a man of Memphis—a person of amazing wisdom—and a real adept in all the learning of the Egyptians. It was reputed that he had lived no less than three and twenty years in a cave underground, and during that time was instructed by Isis herself in magic. There were jugglers in those days, as there are now. It is a common trick with them to produce living serpents from the cornices, or other parts of the rooms, which by handling they cause to become stiff and lifeless—restoring them again to animation at their pleasure. Witchcraft and sorcery were, however, possible crimes, and prevailed among the Gentiles, so that it is possible that these wizards looked upon Moses as an adept in the black art greater and more skilful than themselves:—-
“You have by Fortune and your own skill’s favours,
Gone slightly o’er low steps, and now are mounted,
Where powers are your retainers more than us.”
Imitation! Exodus 7:11. Folly is as living as wisdom, and the human mind produces its fantasies from age to age as naturally and rifely as the earth produces its thistles. So that we find ourselves often perplexed with fragments of exploded notions, which keep buzzing in our ears like the sounds of insects on a summer’s evening, and it is hard to get rid of them. Yet just as Aaron’s rod swallowed up the rods of the Egptian magicians, so does wisdom in the end devour the multiform and multiplied developments of folly, as imitations of Divine truth. Lo¡ they are no more:
They pass away, like wax in the fierce flame,
Or to the thick mists that frown upon the sun,
Which he but glances at, and they are gone.
Human Theories! Exodus 7:12. The wizards of Pharaoh’s court produced what to all appearance were serpents—as grand and graceful as that of Moses. The speculations of Tyndal are in a sense grand and graceful—grand and graceful as those cumulous clouds that are piled above a mountain range in the far West. There is hardly anything in nature, art, or imagination, that may not be found among them. They assume the appearance of mountains and rocks—peaks and precipices. Castles and cities spring up as if by magic on the aerial plains—torrents and waterfalls pour down their sublime heights—far perspectives of unknown shores open up through vistas within the withdrawing portals. The Genesis and apocalypse of scepticism resemble—and at first sight appear to be as real as the Genesis and Apocalypse of Revelation. Even the very bodies seems to have the same brilliant and varied hues and stripes. Thus man’s genius has endeavoured to rival God’s power; but in vain. The magnificent spectacle melts before the mighty influence of the sun. The gorgeous day-dreams of the students of scepticism vanish like the rods of the soothsayers before that of Aaron. Of that apparently solid mass of gorgeous splendour not a vestige remains; and the Word of God stands alone as the rod of Moses stood.
“It standeth, and will stand,
Without e’er change or age,
The Word of Majesty and Light,
The Church’s heritage.”
Biblical Evidences! Exodus 7:12. On board the ship which carried the great Napoleon to his campaign in Egypt there were French savants, who had convinced themselves, and thought they could convince others that there is no God. The great commander found them discoursing boastfully on their favourite theme, and, calling them upon deck, while the heavens above were bright with innumerable stars, he said to them: “Tell me who made these?” Napoleon was no philosopher, and it may be said, no metaphysician, no theologian. But he was a man of great common sense. He knew well enough that none of the boasters, whom he was so effectually rebuking, could place those stars in the firmament. They might send up rockets to imitate the stars, but the mimic pageant would fade, leaving the stars still to shine. Just so with the firmament of the Bible. It is crowded with the stars of truth—miracles—credentials of Divine creation. Atheists may send up rockets and Roman candles, as if to rival and outshine them, but in vain. All human miraculous imitations explode and disappear; while the stars of Truth abide. O ever stedfast stars!
“Unchanging in their light,
Unfaltering in their race,
Unswerving in their round.”—
Calls! Exodus 7:13. Did you ever try to awaken a sleeper? At first perhaps you spoke softly—then as you failed to arouse him, you called louder—and when calling was all in vain, you seized and shook the sleeper to attain your object. God calls many times to men. At first His voice is gentle, but when they refuse to listen His appeals becomes more startling painful. Pharaoh had thus been urged by Jehovah softly and gently; now He is speak-in louder and more urgent tones. So that the ruin, which advanced upon him with successive strokes, and which finally destroyed him, was nothing more than he had merited a thousand times over before God hardened him, and he himself became
“The man whom Fortune and the Fates betray,
Predestined to precipitate decay.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 7:14-25
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. Moses and Aaron had now more than once communicated the Divine will to the impious monarch of Egypt, and had met with stern and determined rejection, he would not heed their message. The gradation in the appeal of these servants of God is worthy of observation:—
1. Moses and Aaron appealed to Pharaoh as men of noble heart and purpose. They came bravely and without ostentation to the king and asked him in the name of Jehovah to give freedom to the Israelitish slaves. They urged the plea of right and manhood. They simply mentioned the name of Jehovah. They wrought the miracle. There are some messages which need no miraculous evidence to confirm them, they are so in harmony with the dictates of an enlightened conscience, and the sympathies of a true soul. When we ask for the liberty of the slaves, we make a request which should win a ready response from the instinctive pity of the human heart. Such was the first appeal made to the King of Egypt. It was an appeal to the natural sentiments of his manhood. It gave him an opportunity to be generous, and to announce the freedom of the slave without any coercive measures being brought to bear upon him. And so it is, generally, the messages of God appeal first to the natural instincts of the human heart, to our pity, we are inspired to duty by the sheer force of natural manhood, awakened by the common ministries around us.
2. Moses and Aaron appealed to Pharaoh with the credentials of heaven to sustain the message. These two men now advance a stage in the method of their address to the Egyptian king, they do not merely try to reach him through the sympathy of his own heart, or by the mere announcement of the Divine will, this has failed, they now render their demand apparent to his reason and judgment, so that escape from it may be intellectually impossible. They wrought a miracle in support of their mission. This ought to have convinced the mind of Pharaoh that they were uttering the Word of God. And so it is now, the human soul has given to it unmistakable proof of all the heavenly messages which come to it, and of all the duties which require its attention. God often strengthens the credential in proportion to the unwillingness of men to accept it. Such is His merciful condescension. Man has no excuse for rejecting the service of heaven.
3. Moses and Aaron now appeal to Pharaoh with the retributive anger of God. They had presented the Divine claim in reference to Israel, to his pity, to his judgment, and now with terrible retribution. And hence when the credentials of heaven are wilfully and continuously rejected, they are not altogether withdrawn, but they become retributive. Thus the retributions of heaven are not wilful, they are for the combined purpose of convincing and punishing the unbelief of men. They are not sent until every other method of appeal has been exhausted.
II. Divine Retributions often consist in making the source of man’s truest pleasure into the cause of his greatest misery. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.” Thus the principal subject of the first great judgment was the river Nile. “The River,” as it was emphatically called, or “the River of Egypt,” for the name Nile is not to be found in Holy Scriptures, was the chief source of wealth and prosperity to the Egyptians, by whom it was regarded with superstitious reverence as the birthplace of the gods. Let us endeavour to form some idea of the appearance it presented in the days of the Pharaohs. The source of the Nile was, even at that early period, the subject of much speculation and adventure, and it is only within the last few years that it has been ascertained. It takes its rise from a great lake or basin in central Africa, and traverses a rich and beautiful country on its way northward to the sea. It is the largest river in the world. In some parts of its course it flows gently and peacefully, fertilizing the land upon its banks; at others it rushes with great swiftness between lofty and precipitous rocks; broken here and there by mighty cataracts, or by a series of rapids extending over many miles. In lower Egypt, the Nile flowed through a rich plain, bordered by the desert and extending to the sea. On either side, as far as the eye could reach, luxurious crops of corn or barley grew, and ripened in the sun. Groves of sycamore and palm trees cast their grateful shade over the banks and paths; high rocks or hillocks rising from the plain were crowned with ancient cities, villages or temples, of which a few crumbling ruins alone remain, or whose memorial is altogether perished. Broad dykes, with roads running along them, served to connect those towns or hamlets at all seasons, even when the fields were overflowed. The less frequented parts of the river were lined with reeds and flags, and the far-famed papyrus, while the richly scented and variegated flowers of the sacred lotus floated upon the surface. The waters abounded in fish, some of which were regarded with superstitious awe, while others were in estimation only as articles of food (Numbers 11:5). There are but few fish in the river now, and the lotus and papyrus are scarce (Genesis 19:6). In the time of the Pharaohs, the River of Egypt presented a gay and animated scene. Boats, formed for the most part of reeds, “arks of bulrushes,” were continually passing over its waters, some of them carrying anglers, or groups of sportsmen armed with the bow and arrow, in pursuit of wild fowl; others laden with merchandise. About the middle of August, the river, after a gradual rise of many weeks, poured forth through the channels prepared for it, and covered the lowlands with broad sheets of water, depositing upon them the rich alluvial soil brought down in its course from upper Egypt. As soon as the river has spread itself over the lands, and returned to its bed, each man scatters the seed over his ground, and waits for the harvest. It is not surprising that a river which was the source of such incalculable benefits to the Egyptians, should become an object of their religious veneration. By the miraculous change of the waters into blood, a practical rebuke was given to these superstitions. This sacred and beautiful river, this benefactor of their country, this birthplace of their chief gods, the abode of the lesser deities, this source of all their prosperity, this centre of all their devotion is turned into blood. The Nile, according to Pliny, was the only source from whence the Egyptians obtained water for drinking. This water was considered particularly sweet and refreshing; so much so, that the people were in the habit of provoking thirst in order that they might partake more freely of its soft and pleasant draught. Now it was become abominable to them, and they loathed to drink it. Apart from the suffering occasioned by this plague, there was something awful in the very nature of the miracle: it was not merely a “wonder,” but a “sign.” Prodigies of this kind were always looked upon as very fearful, and the Egyptians were addicted, more than any other people, to observing omens. It would remind them of their cruelty in casting their infants into the river (Exodus 1:0.) (See Plagues of Egypt by Millington). Here we see the method of the Divine retribution which is to make the things to which men obey, and from whence they derive their enterprise and pleasure the channel and medium of pain.
1. Sometimes the religious notions of men are made the medium of retributive pain. It was so in the case of this miracle, when the river regarded with such superstitious reverence was turned into blood. What a shock this would give to the devout sentiments of the Egyptians. Their gods were desecrated, and were unable to vindicate their supremacy. The people were shown that there was a Supreme Being of whom they were ignorant, but with whom they were in conflict. They felt themselves in circumstances in which their fancied religion was of no avail to them. Truly, then, their religious ideas were made the medium of severe pain, yea of terrible retribution to them. And so when men rebel against God, He can make their religious notions the channel through which to pour grief into their hearts. And this occasions pain of the most unbearable character, as it touches man in the most sensitive part of his soul.
2. Sometimes the commercial enterprises of men are made the medium of retributive pain. The river Nile was the chief strength of Egypt’s commerce, and when its waters were turned into blood, the enterprise of the nation would be largely suspended. It never pays men in a commercial point of view to reject the commands of God, for they are enriched by unwilling slaves, they are impoverished by the river unfit for use, and the river will be of greater service than all the slaves they can possess. But men dare the Divine Being, and so invite His retributions, and how often do these retributions flash their messages of grief along the wires of a man’s business or trade. And he who might have been prosperous if he would have obeyed the behest of God, is ruined by his folly. If men will not obey God, He will turn their rivers of enterprise into blood.
3. Sometimes all the spheres of a man’s life are made the medium of retributive pain. It was so in the case of the Egyptians, when their river was turned into blood; not merely was this river affected, but their religion was outraged, their commerce was suspended, and a hundred little inconveniences were the result. And so it is with human life to-day. If 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 woefully, 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. God has access to every avenue of life, and can soon start a messenger of pain along any of them. His word or touch can turn all our rivers of enjoyment, happiness, prosperity, and peace into blood. He can make our chief delights unwelcome. He can turn our glory into shame. One wicked ruler may bring a plague upon a vast nation. Righteousness is the exaltation of national life. Let men not sin against God, for retribution will be certain. He can make the pleasure of men to be bitter to the taste, undesirable to the eye, and offensive to the smell. Thus the retributions of God are effective.
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 so, as the Lord commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.”
1. Thus the Divine retribution extended throughout all the land of Egypt. Perhaps some may imagine this somewhat unfair, and a token of injustice on the part of God, and that it was making the nation suffer for the disobedience of the king, in which they had taken no active and immediate part. But the whole nation of Egypt were a consenting party to the slavery of the Israelites, and were to a certain extent reaping the temporal advantage of it. And besides if they were not guilty on this score, they were guilty of idolatry, and so were justly punished by the change which had come over their idol. Proud men in a nation often attract the retribution of heaven towards a wicked people, they are the connecting links between heaven’s wrath and man’s sin. They get our national rivers turned into blood.
2. This Divine retribution, in the act of infliction, was witnessed by Pharaoh, and he was unable to prevent it. The proud Monarch beheld these two men before him, and saw his beautiful river as it changed into blood. What a spectacle it would appear to him. He was impotent. He could not prevent it by any means. He could not alter it by any strategy. And so wicked men stand in the very presence of the ills which occasion their retributive pain, and are unable to remove or mitigate them. At such a time the king is one with the pauper in his woe. Men are never more weak than in the presence of the Divine retribution.
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; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them: as the Lord had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.”
1. Thus we see the hardihood of a disobedient soul. The entire land of Egypt was stricken with one common woe, which it was in the power of Pharaoh by repentance, to have removed. He prefers that it should remain rather than that he should yield to the command of God. He was indeed a man of hardy soul.
2. Thus we see the resistance of a tyrannic will. The will of Pharaoh’s was as iron. It was not influenced by a trifle. It could resist the utmost moral energy. It was not to be coerced. Even a national woe could not make it yield its pride. It could repel the most awful suffering. Truly man is capable of moral freedom.
3. Thus we see the effort of men to mitigate the retribution of God. “And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink.” Vain is the effort of men to attain relief from the retribution of God, they may dig their holes, but they cannot long fill them with pure water.
V. That Divine retributions sometimes evoke presumptive conduct on the part of the wicked. The Egyptians endeavoured to imitate the miracle wrought by the servants of God; this was the greatest presumption on their part; it would have been more to their credit if they had removed the blood from the river. Sometimes men grow desperate. They are hardened beyond recovery. They work the moral destruction of others. 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.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 7:14. God quickly observes what effect His word and work have upon the hearts of men.
God shows the unbelief of men to His servants.
Unbelief renders the hearts of men unwilling to duty, and hastens judgment.
Man has the ability to reject the commands of God:—
3. Influential to destiny.
1. Known to God.
2. Unsubdued by reason.
3. Averse to the purpose of God.
4. Prejudicial to the true welfare of man.
OPPORTUNITY IN CHRISTIAN SERVICE
Exodus 7:15. “Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water,” &c.
I. That there are favourable times at which to approach men with the messages of God. “Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning.” There are times when Christian service can be more readily accomplished, and when it is more likely to be successful, when opportunity is favourable, and gives it an advantage. Many ministers would be much more effective in their holy work if they would only be more timely in their appeals to men, and if they would judiciously seek the best time in which to announce the message of God. To everything there is a time. The true worker for the moral good of men will endeavour to render circumstances favourable to his toils. He will be an early riser. He will be always on the outlook for those to whom His mission is addressed.
II. That there are favourable places in which to approach men with the messages of God. “And thou shalt stand by the river’s brink.” As there is a favourable time for Christian service, so there are places where it may best be accomplished. A wise minister will carefully select the place in which he declares to individuals the message of God. Moses met Pharaoh near the river, alone, and in case the proud monarch should refuse obedience to the will of heaven, he would be able at once to turn the river into blood. His position was favourable to the retribution to be inflicted. It is well to speak to men alone about their sins.
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. The Divine voice within us, prompting to duty, should always be carefully heeded, and the opportunity willingly embraced.
Exodus 7:16-18. Hard hearts shut all ears against the message of God.
Sinners offended with God’s word and judgment turn from Him unto their own ways.
Unbelief will not allow a man to heed either miracles, persuasion, or vindication.
THE RIVER CHANGED INTO BLOOD
I. That God can change the scene of life into death. The great river of Egypt was considered as the giver of life to the people, its waters were life-preserving and fertilizing. Yet it was turned into blood by the stretching out of a rod. The fish died. God can soon and easily change all our life-inspiring energies and joys into the current of death.
II. That God can change useful things into useless. The river was in manifold ways useful to Egypt. It was refreshing to the taste, and would be used for domestic purposes. It was also the centre of the nation’s commerce. By the rod of God the most useful things we possess, as nations and individuals, are deprived of their utility. Hence all life is dependant upon the Divine will.
III. That God can change beautiful things into loathsome. The river of Egypt, so beautiful to the eye, was turned into blood. And so the most beautiful things of country, of home, of person, may by the outstretching of the Divine rod be rendered unlovely and hateful.
When necessity comes upon sinners they would rather dig for relief than ask God for it.
The devil may delude into difficulty, but cannot help men out of it.
Moses and Aaron may smite with the rod, but God effects it.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Precursors! Exodus 7:14. Away amid the lovely tropical forests at the foot of the Andes lives a cinnamon brown bird, with head and neck of dark olive. No feathered songster gives forth more sweet and harmonious strains, yet those delicious notes forebode a coming storm. When the traveller, who has amid the excitement of the scene forgotton all about time, is suddenly aroused to reflection by the bird-music of the Organista, he at once looks up to catch a glimpse of the sky between the trees. He sees there signs of the coming storm—hurries on! Soon it bursts—the wind roars—the mighty trees rock to and fro, as if they were but reeds—the thunder rattles in deafening peals, and the lightning flashes vividly in every direction. Hark! what a tremendous crash! There goes a tall tree—one of the giants of the forest—riven from crown to roots. These merciful miracles wrought by Moses and Aaron were so many liquid-voices monishing Pharaoh to hasten on to repentence, before the retributive tempest burst overhead. Their warblings ought to have induced the heedless monarch to look up to the sky of Justice, and mark the dark clouds gathering.
“And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought.
Omniscience! Exodus 7:14. When Pharaoh turned away into his palace, Moses could guess from the frown upon his brow that the monarch’s heart was set against the request; but he could not see it. God alone could gaze upon the darkest, innermost recesses of that despot’s stubborn will. Had Pharaoh forgotten what even his idol-faith taught him, that the gods know what is in the heart? God’s eye, as a flame of fire, lights up a clear and searching day in his soul, and around his steps; and shows in sunbeams the iniquities he devises, utters, perpetrates. He unfolds the whole state of the despot’s mind to Moses, and enjoins on him the further execution of judgments. Moses obeys!
“The mystic mazes of Thy will,
The shadows of celestial light,
Are past the power of human skill—
But what the Eternal acts is right.”
Retributive Justice! Exodus 7:15. As that storm roars the loudest which has been the longest gathering, so God’s reckoning day with rebellious sinners, by being long coming, will be the more terrible when it comes Upon the beach, the pilot often pauses—with glance turned upward to that vast expanse, which is slowly darkening into gloom intense—because well he knows the ominous sign of the terrible tornado soon to burst So Moses often paused—fully conscious that the steadily gathering storm of retributive justice would soon melt down the verge of heaven. But Pharaoh saw not the approaching tempest of successive judgments.
“On earth ’twas yet all calm around,
A pulseless silence—dread—profound,
More awful than the tempest’s sound.”
Obduracy! Exodus 7:16; Exodus 7:23. Sinners offended with God’s Word and its requirements betake themselves to their follies. The Indians of South America told the missionaries who went among them proclaiming the truths of the Christian Religion: “You say that the God of the Christians knows everything, that nothing is hidden from Him, that He is of almighty power, and can see all that is done; but we do not desire a God so mighty and sharpsighted; we choose to be our own masters, to live with freedom in our woods, without having a perpetual observer of our actions over our heads.” Men may disown the Divine Being, but they cannot destroy His attributes. He still rules over them, and still marks out all their ways. This was what Jehovah was teaching the proud and obdurate oppressor in his Egyptian palace, but in vain.
“Yon massive mountain-peak
The lightning rends at will;
The rock can melt or break—
I am unbroken still.”
Nile-God! Exodus 7:17. This river was one of the principal Egyptian deities, and was worshipped under the name of “Hapi Mou.” There was a temple to this deity; who is generally represented as a fat man, of blue colour, with water-plants growing on his head. A festival was held at the commencement of the rise of the Nile in the middle of June. It was probably on this occasion, when a solemn sacrifice was to be offered by the Egyptian priests that Moses stood by the brink; and as he smote the sacred waters with his mighty rod, so did Jehovah smite
“The prince of darkness, couch’d
In symbol of the great leviathan,
The dragon of the river-floods of Nile.”
Judgments Exodus 7:18. The Egyptians subsisted, says Cook, to a great extent on the fish of the Nile, though saltwater fish was regarded as impure. A mortality among fish was a plague much dreaded. In a hymn to the Nile, written by the scribe Enmer, it is said that the wrath of Hapi, the Nile-god, is a calamity for the fishes. By Moses’ avenging rod, this food supply is cut off. And how often does Jehovah turn the very necessaries of life into putridity and death—that the sense of our want may humble us under the sense of our forgetfulness of Him from whom all goodness flows. When, therefore, we are the subjects of His correcting providence, we must acknowledge the necessity and wisdom.
“If in this bosom aught but Thee,
Encroaching, sought a boundless sway,
Omniscience could the danger see,
And mercy took the cause away.”
Divine Transformings! Exodus 7:19-21. A man idolizes his wife. He is proud of her beauty; and when at the ball she is the admiration of both sexes, his heart overflows with self-gratulation. As she stood in the centre of the floor, her beautiful face flushed with a rosy colour, her glossy hair twined with delicate pearls, her tall figure enhanced in its gracefulness by the rich folds of drapery which fell softly round her, more than one admiring voice complimented him upon the beauty of his wife, and pronounced her the loveliest woman, fairest of the fair in all that lovely throng. She was his idol. A few days after, she lies upon her bed, with blotted and disfigured features, loathsome and repulsive as the Syrian leper, for small-pox has swept all trace of beauty from her face—as Moses’ rod brushed all beauty from the clear, glassy countenance of Nile. The Divine rod had rendered unlovely and loathsome his “goddess”—the only and supreme object of his adoration. And just as the river was all the more repulsive from its previous loveliness, so
“Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”
Vain Effort! Exodus 7:24. As you stood, remarks Guthrie, some stormy day upon a sea cliff, and marked the giant billow rise from the deep to rush on with foaming crest, and throw itself thundering on the trembling shore, did you ever fancy that you could stay its course, and hurl it back to the depths of ocean? Did you ever stand beneath the leaden, louring cloud, and mark the lightning’s leap, as it shot and flashed, dazzling athwart the gloom; and think that you could grasp the bolt, and change its path? Still more foolish and vain his thought, who fancies that he can arrest or turn aside the purpose of God Pharaoh’s folly was the essence of madness. He thought to counteract the retributive agency of God—heedless of the truth taught by his own Egyptian creed that
“No wrath of men or rage of seas
Can shake Jehovah’s purposes.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany