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Exodus 5:2. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice, to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.
MANY of the characters in the Old Testament are “set forth to us as examples;” and their history is recorded “for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11.].” Amongst these, Pharaoh holds a very conspicuous place. When he persisted in his rebellion against God, Moses was inspired to declare to him what a monument of God’s indignation he should be made to all future generations, and that God had raised him up to his exalted station for that express purpose. Not that God had infused any evil disposition into his mind; but by investing him with regal authority, and continuing him in the exercise of that authority notwithstanding his impious abuse of it, he enabled Pharaoh to display more conspicuously the wickedness of his heart, and to involve himself and his whole kingdom in more awful judgments than he could have done if he had moved in the situation of a private man. St. Paul quotes this declaration, in order to shew, that God disposes of men according to his sovereign will and pleasure, either converting them unto himself, or permitting them to proceed in their wickedness, in such a way as shall ultimately conduce most to the honour of his own name, and to the accomplishment of his own eternal purposes [Note: Compare Exo 9:16 with Romans 9:15-45.9.18.]. In this view, the passage before us is commended to us, as of singular importance. It shews us, not only what Pharaoh was, but what human nature itself is, if left to manifest its dispositions without restraint. I shall take occasion from it, therefore, to shew,
The impiety of Pharaoh—
I will bring it before you in a brief but comprehensive way. Mark,
[It arose from pride and ignorance. Because there was no man of greater eminence than himself on earth, this unhappy monarch imagined that there was none above him even in heaven. Poor foolish worm! swelling with his own importance, whilst the plagues inflicted on him shewed how impotent he was to repel the assaults of the meanest insects. What insufferable arrogance was there in that question, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” And what horrible impiety in that declaration, “I know not the Lord; neither will I let Israel go!” True, thou son of Belial, thou hast unwittingly assigned the real cause of thine obstinacy: “I know not the Lord [Note: 1 Samuel 2:12.].” As St. Paul says of the Jews, “Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:8.],” so say I to thee: Hadst thou known what a great and holy Being thou wast resisting, thou wouldst not have dared to withstand him thus. No: thou wouldst have bowed before him, and submitted instantly to his commands. Thy profaneness was proof enough of thine ignorance.]
[His obstinacy was irreclaimable, whether by judgments or by mercies. Nine successive plagues, and the removal of them all at thy request, were insufficient to subdue the pride and haughtiness of thy spirit. Not even the tenth, the greatest and heaviest of them all, prevailed on thee to desist from fighting against God. Thy relentings were only momentary: thy hardness returned the very instant thou wast out of the furnace: thine own consent thou didst recall; and follow with murderous rage those thou hadst permitted to go forth from, thy land. How blinded wast thou by the wickedness of thine own heart! Thou wast alike insensible to the evil and the danger of thy ways. And in this thou hast shewn what is, in every place and in every age, the sad effect of sin.]
[Whither did it lead this devoted monarch, but to shame and ruin? Thou saidst, “Neither will I let Israel go.” But when that Jehovah whom thou defiedst put forth his hand against thee, thou didst thrust them forth from thy land: and so anxious were thy whole people to get rid of them, that they loaded them with all their most valuable jewels, and with every thing that could be desired to speed their way.
But when they seemed to be entangled in the land, and an opportunity was afforded thee, as thou thoughtest, for their destruction, thou couldst not forbear: thou wouldst seize the occasion, and summon all thine hosts, and execute upon them thy vengeance to the uttermost. Thou sawest the sea opening for them a way: but hadst thou yet to learn that God would put a difference between the Israelites and Egyptians? Presumptuous wretch! thou wouldst follow them even through the sea itself, and lead on in passion thine infatuated hosts. I see thee enter within the watery walls which Omnipotence had raised: but there thou hastenest to thy destruction. Now escape from the snare into which thine impiety has led thee. Thou canst not: thy chariot wheels are broken; and too late dost thou find that Jehovah fights for Israel. Of all that followed this infuriated monarch, not one escaped; the sea came upon them, and overwhelmed them all; not so much as one was left, to report to Egypt the calamity they had sustained.]
But, not to dwell any longer on the impiety of Pharaoh, I shall proceed to that which is of more immediate interest to ourselves; namely, to shew,
To what an extent a similar spirit prevails amongst us—
To you the messages of heaven are sent—
[We, Brethren, are ambassadors of God to you, and in his sacred name do we bring you the counsels which we offer; and every word that is so delivered, in accordance with his mind and will, must be received, “not as the word of man, but as the word of God himself.” To every different class of hearers have we a message suited to their state. We call upon the licentious to forsake their evil ways; the worldling to seek for better things than this world can give; the formal and self-righteous to renounce their self-dependence, and to make the Lord Jesus Christ the ground of all their hopes.]
But who amongst you can be prevailed upon to obey the word?
[The same spirit by which Pharaoh was actuated, pervades the great mass of mankind; every one displaying it in a way suited to his own particular state. Some will openly say, with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” Others, who would not altogether express themselves in such impious terms, will yet in effect maintain the same language, and practically follow the some ungodly course. The inspired writers give this precise view of the ungodly world. Job speaks of them, as saying to God in his day, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways, what is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him [Note: Job 21:14-18.21.15.] ?” David gives a similar representation of them in his day: “They have said, With our tongues shall we prevail: our lips are our own: who is Lord over us [Note: Psalms 12:4.] ?” The Prophet Jeremiah gives exactly the same character of those in his age: all classes of the community said to his very face, in answer to the messages he delivered to them from the Lord, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee: but we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, or cometh into our own hearts [Note: Jer 44:16-17 with 23:17.].” Now from these testimonies it is evident that I am not putting an undue construction on the words of Pharaoh, or pressing them too far, when I represent them as characterizing the spirit of the present day. It is clear that men do at this day “reject the word of the Lord,” and “cast it behind them,” and, in effect, say as he did, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” It is obvious, too, that they do this in the midst of all the judgments and mercies with which God is pleased to visit them. There may be in many an occasional relenting, or purpose to amend: but all endeavour to lower the commands of God to the standard that is agreeable to their own minds; nor do any, except those who have been savingly converted to God, through Christ, ever surrender up themselves to God, or yield an unreserved obedience to his commands.]
And in what must your disobedience issue?
[Ask of persons in their career of sin, and they will tell you that they have nothing to fear. The confidence of Pharaoh and all his host exactly represents their state. Behold that whole army: onward they go, in prosecution of their bloody purpose: but little do they think how soon they will rue their folly, and how irretrievable will their ruin be m the space of a few moments. See them pressing forward: how little do they apprehend the fate that awaits them! So be-hold the various classes of ungodly men: how little do they dream of the destruction to which they are hastening! Wait but a few short moments, and they will all sink into everlasting perdition. But will not their confidence deliver them? No: the greater their confidence, the more certain is their ruin. But surely we may hope that their numbers will be some protection No: of the whole Egyptian army, not one soul escaped: nor, if the unconverted world were a million times more numerous than they are, should one single soul escape the wrath of God. They are willingly and determinately treasuring up wrath to themselves against the day of wrath: and at the appointed season it shall come upon them to the uttermost. Then they will know who that Lord is, whom now they so despise: and they shall find, to their cost, that “those who walk in pride he is able to abase [Note: Daniel 4:37.].”]
See then, from hence,
How great is the folly of ungodly men!
[Were a child to contend in battle with a man, who would not upbraid him for his folly and presumption in entering into so unequal a contest? But what shall we say of those who set themselves in array against the Majesty of heaven? Truly, a contest of briers and thorns against a devouring fire would not be more absurd. And this is the very comparison which is made by God himself: “Who would set briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, and burn them up together [Note: Isaiah 27:4.].” I pray you, Brethren, remember against whom it is that you fight. It is against Him, who by a word spake the universe into existence, and by a word could reduce it in an instant to absolute nonentity. Look at the fallen angels, and see the consequence of rebelling against God! Look at the antediluvian world, and say, whether it be not an evil and bitter thing to sin against him, and to provoke his displeasure. Were it possible for you to withstand his power or to elude his search, you might have some excuse for casting off his light and easy yoke: but indeed you must, ere long, be summoned to his tribunal, and receive at his hands a doom which can never be reversed. And “will ye be strong in the day that he shall deal with you, or will ye thunder with a voice like his?” I pray you, lay down the weapons of your rebellion without delay, and implore mercy at the Saviour’s hands, whilst yet “the day of salvation lasts, and the accepted time is continued to you.”]
How greatly are they to be pitied!
[See how secure they are in their own apprehensions, and how confidently they expect a successful termination of their conflicts! Unhappy men! Methinks I see you in the agonies of death, and behold you at the instant of your entrance into the presence of your God. Oh! could we but conceive your terrors, and hear your cries, and witness your unavailing lamentations, how should we pity you! Could we further behold the triumphant exultations of that cruel fiend, who was once your tempter, and will then be your tormentor to all eternity, how should we weep over you! And lastly, if we could behold you suffering the vengeance of eternal fire, under the wrath of Almighty God, methinks it would be too much for us to endure: the very sight would overwhelm us, even though we had no fears for ourselves. Verily, it was with good reason that the Saviour wept over the devoted city of Jerusalem: and we would that “our eyes also were a fountain of tears, to run down day and night” on account of your present obduracy, and on account of the miseries that await you in the eternal world!]
How desirable is the knowledge of God, as revealed in the Gospel!
[Never was there one who sought the face of God in vain. No: however long ye may have rebelled against God, there is mercy for you, if you turn to him with your whole hearts. Think how many of those who crucified the Lord of glory obtained mercy at his hands: and so shall you also, if you will humble yourselves before him, and seek for mercy through his atoning blood. “Not so much as one of you should perish, if you would but go to him.” No truly, “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” “All that believe in him shall be justified from all things.” “Acquaint, then, Yourselves with God, and be at peace.” Seek “that knowledge of him which is life eternal.” And know, that, whilst “they who know him not, and obey not his Gospel, shall be banished from the presence of his glory,” his believing and obedient servants shall both serve him, and be served by him, in his kingdom and glory, for ever and ever.]
THE OPPOSITION THAT IS MADE TO RELIGION
Exodus 5:17-2.5.18. But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle; therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord. Go therefore now and work.
MAN prides himself upon his reason: but let him be under the influence of passion or interest, and nothing can be found more unreasonable: his eyes are blinded, his heart is hardened, his conscience is seared, and his actions are nearer to those of a maniac, than of a rational being. Nor is his madness ever carried to a greater extent, than when religion is concerned. Look at the persecutors of God’s people, from Cain to this present moment: what have they been, but agents of the devil, fighting against God, and murdering their fellow-creatures with insatiable cruelty? A just specimen of their conduct we have in the history before us. Moses and Aaron were sent of God, to require that the Hebrew nation, who were then in Egypt, should go and offer sacrifices to him in the wilderness; where they might serve him without any fear of offending, or of being interrupted by, the people amongst whom they dwelt. Pharaoh not only refused his permission, but proudly defied Jehovah, and ordered immediately that such burthens should be laid upon the people as it was impossible for them to bear. On their complaining to him of the oppression which they suffered, and of the unmerited punishment that was inflicted on them, he relaxed nothing of his unrighteous decree, but exulted in their miseries, and dismissed them with invectives: “Ye are idle, ye are idle,” &c.
In discoursing on these words, it will be profitable to us to consider,
What is that sacrifice which God requires at our hands—
We, as well as the Hebrews, are called to sacrifice unto our God.
But is it our flocks and our herds that he requires? No [Note: Psalms 50:8-19.50.15; Psalms 51:16.]: this is the message which he has sent us; “My son, give me thy heart [Note: Proverbs 23:26.].” The sacrifice that he demands, is,
An humble heart—
[Every child of man must, at his peril, present this to God — — — And every one that presents it to him, shall certainly he accepted [Note: Psalms 51:17.] — — —]
A believing heart—
[“Without faith it is impossible to please God [Note: Hebrews 11:6.].” It is faith that renders every other offering pleasing and acceptable to him [Note: Hebrews 11:4.]. This he considers as a sacrifice — — — It was not sufficient, that penitents under the law confessed their sins, or that they brought their sin-offering to be presented by the priest: they must lay their hands upon the head of their offering, and thereby profess their faith in that atonement, which in due time was to be made for the sins of the whole world [Note: Philippians 2:17. The lamb that was offered every morning and evening, was to have a meat-offering of fine flour mingled with oil, and a drink-offering of wine poured upon it: and all was to be consumed together: Exodus 29:40. St. Paul, referring to this, calls their faith the sacrifice; and says, that he should rejoice in offering (in pouring out as a libation) his own blood, to be presented to God together with it.]. In like manner we also must not only “acknowledge our iniquity,” but must by faith transfer it to the sacred head of Jesus, who atoned for it on the cross, and through whom alone we can ever find acceptance with God [Note: John 1:29.].]
A thankful heart—
[This is a tribute most justly due to Him, who has loaded us with so many benefits, but, above all, has redeemed us by the blood of his only-begotten Son. The command given us is, “Rejoice evermore;” “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice.” This is a sacrifice peculiarly pleasing to God [Note: Hebrews 13:15; Psalms 107:22; Psalms 116:17.] — — — and “the very stones will cry out against us,” if we should refuse to offer it [Note: Luke 19:40.].]
An obedient heart—
[This is the crown of all. It is the end of all. For this we repent; for this we believe; for this we give thanks to God: all without this were only a solemn mockery. It is in order to this that God has vouchsafed to us so many mercies [Note: Romans 12:1.] — — — And we may be well assured, that every act of obedience, however small, if only it proceed from an humble, believing, and thankful heart, shall be accepted of him [Note: Hebrews 13:16.].]
Reasonable as such a sacrifice is, we are shocked to see,
In what light it is regarded by an ungodly world—
Did Pharaoh contemptuously resist the divine mandate; did he treat the request of the Hebrews as a pretext for idleness; and did he make it an occasion for the most cruel oppression? Here we may see a true picture of the world at this day: it is precisely thus that religion is now opposed;
[Pharaoh regarded the proposal of Moses as unworthy of notice. He saw no necessity for either himself or others to obey the commands of God; nor did he believe that any evil consequences would ensue from disobedience [Note:, 9. He calls the menaces with which God’s command was enforced, “vain words.”]. And how are the requisitions, which are now made to us in Jehovah’s name, attended to amongst us? Is not this the universal cry; ‘There is no need of so much religion; we shall do very well without it; we have nothing to fear, though we live in the neglect of it?’ Yes: all our exhortations to serve God with your whole hearts are, by many, considered in no better view than as weak, though well-intentioned, effusions of a heated imagination.]
[Men who choose not to obey the calls of God will always revile those who do. They will impute their zeal to hypocrisy, or idleness, or conceit, and vanity. They will presume to judge the motives of religious people, with as much confidence as if they could see the heart. Pharaoh had certainly no reason to ascribe to idleness the request that had been made to him: yet with a malignant triumph he professes to have seen through their motives, which he was determined to counteract. So, at this time, the enemies of true religion will represent the professors of it as heretical and seditious, and the Ministers of it as people that “turn the world upside down.”]
[It is happy for us that all possess not the power of Pharaoh; and that the law has affixed bounds to the tyranny of man. Were it not so, we should still see, that the natural enmity of man against his God is as fierce as ever. Civilization has altered our habits, but made no change at all in our hearts. Husbands, parents, masters, in numberless instances, obstruct the progress of religion in the hearts of those over whom they have influence; either requiring services that shall interfere with their religious duties, or laying snares to divert their attention from them. And when complaint is made by their injured dependents, they will shew no regard to then: consciences, but will exult in tyrannizing over them with their imperious mandate.]
The opposers of true religion—
[Many who in themselves are serious and devout, are as bitter enemies to spiritual religion as the most abandoned profligate can be. When the Jews wanted to expel Paul and Barnabas from Antioch, they could find no better, or more willing, agents than “devout and honourable women [Note: Acts 13:50.].” But it were better for any one to have a millstone about his neck, and to be cast into the sea, than to be found among the opposers of vital godliness [Note: Matthew 18:6.]. “Their Redeemer is mighty;” and he will avenge their cause. Instead therefore of setting yourselves against them, and calumniating them, inquire what is the reason that you yourselves are not religious. May not your own words be retorted upon you; “Ye are idle, ye are idle; therefore ye say, Let us not sacrifice unto the Lord?” Yes; it is no calumny to affirm this: “Go therefore now, and work.” Go; and instead of obstructing the sacrifices of others, present to God the sacrifice that he demands of you.]
Those who meet with persecution for righteousness’ sake—
[“All who will live godly in Christ Jesus are taught to expect persecution:” therefore think it not strange that you are called to suffer; but rather “rejoice that you are counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake.” Are you discouraged, because the relief you have sought for is withheld, and your troubles seem to increase? It was thus that God dealt with the Hebrews in the instance before us: and he not unfrequently deals thus with his people, in order that he may be the more glorified in their ultimate deliverance. If therefore the shadows of the night be still lengthened, you need not despair; for “at evening-time it shall be light;” and in the hour of your deepest distress God will surely interpose for your succour and relief [Note: Deuteronomy 32:36.]. Take care however that the enemies of religion have no cause to find fault with you for neglecting the duties of your station. It is no little stumbling-block in their way, when you give them occasion to adopt the language of the text. See to it then, that you be active and diligent in every work to which God, in his providence, has called you. The direction given you by God himself combines worldly activity with spiritual fervour, and represents each of them, in its place, as truly acceptable to him; “Be not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord [Note: Romans 12:11.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 5". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany