Exodus: a Sequel to Genesis
This, the second part of the Pentateuch, is a sequel to Genesis; it is joined on to Genesis by the conjunction and, and bears a remarkable resemblance to it. In Genesis, the earth rises out of darkness into light; in Exodus, Israel emerges out of the darkness of Egyptian bondage into light and liberty. The beginning of Genesis speaks of intestine struggles which preceded the creation of the earth in its present state; such, also, was the condition of Israel, “without form and void,” before the Exodus. At the Creation the earth was brought forth out of the water, on the face of which the Spirit moved. And surely it was not without a meaning that the great leader of Israel, its mediator and lawgiver, the type of Christ Himself, Moses, was drawn out of the water, and thence received his name. Surely it was not without a meaning that Israel, whose children had been merged in water (as the prior earth was), rose to new life out of the waters of the Red Sea, over which the Spirit brooded in the cloud, and “they were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” In Genesis the earth is born, by the Spirit, out of the water; in Exodus, Israel is born anew by the Spirit out of the water; and both these are figures of the new birth in Christ by water and the Spirit. Here is an inner analogy between Genesis and Exodus, and this treatment of the two great subjects bespeaks an unity of authorship. It bespeaks the presence also of the Divine Mind, guiding the hand of the writer. (Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)
Exodus is not the full counterpart of Genesis
That venerable document is matched in grandeur of scope not even by the rest of the Pentateuch, but only by the remainder of the volume of revelation. It opens with a creation, of which man forms the prominent object; the Old Testament closes with the anticipation of a new creation (Isaiah 65:17), in which also man will hold the conspicuous place; and the New Testament records the atoning obedience of Christ, and the quickening work of the Holy Ghost, as the guarantee and earnest of that new creation, the consummation of which it again announces to the Church (2 Peter 3:13). Genesis also touches upon the history of the whole race of man, and even after the call of Abraham traces the peaceful intercourse subsisting between the chosen family and the rest of mankind. Exodus marks the full-grown antagonism between the chosen nation and the heathen world, records the violent separation between the two, and then confines itself mainly to the history of the party that remained in communion with God. Its distinguishing event, the Exodus, is accordingly the prototype of that great event in the experience of the individual, in which he comes out from the bondage of the flesh into the freedom of the Spirit, as well as of those great occasions in the history of the Church in which it reasserts its spiritual life and liberty, and passes with all the determination of new-born principle from the wilful service of sin into the conscientious obedience of holiness. This coming out is a process continually going on during the history of the Church until all have come out, and the doomed world is given over to everlasting destruction. It is the manner of Scripture to signalize the primary event in any given series as a lesson and example to all future generations. In Genesis are recorded all kinds of origins or births, and, among others, the birth of Isaac, the seed of promise. In Exodus is recounted the deliberate action of the new-born, in coming out of the land of bondage. The wilderness between this land and the land of promise, the troubles, temptations, and failings of such a state of life, the giving of the Law to a new-born and emancipated people, the setting up of the ordinances of a holy religion, are all typical events, prefiguring others of a like nature, but of still grander and grander import. They do not stand alone on memory’s tablet, but embody a principle of constant value, which comes out in a series of analogous events in the course of human affairs. They are standing monuments in the great field of the past, written in legible characters on the page of history for the instruction of coming days. The scope of the Book of Exodus, however, is not to be limited to the mere fortunes of the chosen people. Even if it stood alone, its communications could not be confined to so narrow an area. It details a certain stage of that momentous process, by which the covenant of God with man is to be upheld, and its benefits secured for a growing proportion of our fallen race, until at length the main body at least of all kindreds and tongues returns to God. (Professor J. G. Murphy.)
Description of the Book
Recollection, “remembrance,” of the great original works of God in creation and redemption is the appropriate appointed means of originating and sustaining, in the heart and life of men, that righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost which constitute His true kingdom in individuals and in communities. The Pentateuch, as the instrument of God in that recollection of the Beginnings, is thus evermore in a fontal relation to the true new life of mankind in the Creator and Redeemer. And the vast importance of Exodus begins to appear when it is seen to be, thus, the central vitally essential part of a whole, whose importance is so vast as a feeder of that life which is unseen and eternal. For Exodus is not only a continuation of the narrative in Genesis on to the last three Books of Moses. Our translators, when they make the V, at the opening of this book, to be, not “and,” as in Leviticus 1:1, but “now” mean that here there is something more than simply continuation of the narrative. And, in fact, there is here a decisively new reach of the stream. It is not merely, as when the Nile rushes down its cataract from Ethiopia, a sudden transition into a new manner of movement, amid new surroundings. It is as if a new and mighty river had sprung out of a smitten rock, or poured down from heaven in effusion Pentecostal. For instance, on the face of the movement there is that very great new thing, the first appearance among mankind of a visible kingdom of God; a kingdom destined to unfold into that Christendom which is the only real civilization of the peoples in human history. And at the heart of the movement, as the very life and soul of it all, there is the new supernatural revelation of God now, for the first time since the Flood, going forth to mankind as a public instruction which is gospel preaching (Hebrews 4:2). It is accompanied by the first appearance of credential evidence of miracles and prophecy. And in especial, that revelation takes the practical form of an actual supernatural redemption and consecration; in the accomplishment of which there are brought into view, for the instruction of mankind in all nations through all ages, those principles of the kingdom of God, regarding His character, and moral government, and gracious purposes towards mankind, which are the principia of the only true religion that is ever to live upon the earth. These are main, plain, unquestionable characteristics of the Book. The first part of it, the redemption from Egypt, has a place like that of the Gospels in the New Testament Scripture; and the second part of it, regarding the consecration in Sinai, has a place like that of the Acts of the Apostles, along with the Epistles to the Hebrews, to the Galatians, and to the Romans. What greater thing could be said in illustration of the importance of it? In some obvious respects, it is the most fundamentally important book ever given to mankind. And the study of it is essential to a real and scholarly acquaintance with the history of man. (J. Macgregor, D. D.)
Divisions of the Book
The Book consists of two distinct portions. The former (chap. 1-19.)
gives a detailed account of the circumstances under which the deliverance of the Israelites was accomplished. The second (chap. 20-40.) describes the giving of the Law, and the institutions which completed the organization of the people as “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” These two portions are unlike in style and structure, as might be expected from the difference of their subject-matter; but their mutual bearings and interdependence are evident, and leave no doubt as to the substantial unity of the Book. The historical portion owes all its significance and interest to the promulgation of God’s will in the law. The institutions of the Law could not, humanly speaking, have been established or permanently maintained but for the deliverance which the historical portion records. (Canon F. C. Cook.)
The first part of Exodus is predominantly historical; the second essentially legislative or dogmatical; but yet the former contains three important laws; and the latter, the history of a flagrant breach, on the part of Israel, of the promises made concerning the faithful observance of the Law, the erection of the holy Tabernacle, and the consecration of Aaron and his descendants. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
1. One argument is drawn from the representation of the personal character and qualifications of Moses. In its most important features it is such as could never have been produced by a writer collecting the traditional reminiscences or legends of a later age: not such even as might have been drawn by a younger contemporary. To posterity, to Israelites of his own time, Moses was simply the greatest of men; but it is evident that the writer of this Book was unconscious of the personal greatness of the chief actor. He was indeed thoroughly aware of the greatness of his mission, and consequently of the greatness of the position, which was recognized at last by the Egyptians (see chap. 11:3); but as to his personal qualifications, the points which strike him most forcibly are the deficiencies of natural gifts and powers, and the defects of character, which he is scrupulously careful to record, together with the rebukes and penalties which they brought upon him, and the obstacles which they opposed to his work. Such a representation is perfectly intelligible, as proceeding from Moses himself; but what in him was humility would have been obtuseness in an annalist, such as never is found in the accounts of other great men, nor in the notices of Moses in later Books.
2. This Book could not have been written by any man who had not passed many years in Egypt, and who had not also a thorough knowledge, such as could only be acquired by personal observation, of the Sinaitic Peninsula. But it is improbable that any Israelite between the time of Moses and Jeremiah could have possessed either of these qualifications; it is not credible, or even possible, that any should have combined both.
3. A weighty argument is drawn from the accounts of the miracles, by which Moses was expressly bidden to attest his mission, and by which he was enabled to accomplish the deliverance of his people. They are such as no later writer living in Palestine could have invented for Egypt. From beginning to end no miracle is recorded which does not strike the mind by its peculiar suitableness to the place, time, and circumstances under which it was wrought. The plagues are each and all Egyptian; and the modes by which the people’s wants are supplied in the Sinaitic Peninsula recall to our minds the natural condition of such a journey in such a country.
4. The portion of the Book which follows the account of the departure from Egypt has characteristics marked with equal distinctness, and bearing with no less force upon the question of authorship. It is not merely that the length of each division of the journey, the numerous halting places, are distinctly marked; for, although such notices could not possibly have been invented, or procured at any later period by a dweller in Palestine, the fact might be accounted for by the supposition that some ancient records of the journey had been preserved by written or oral tradition; but the chapters which belong either to the early sojourn of Moses, or to the wanderings of the Israelites, are pervaded by a peculiar tone, a local colouring, an atmosphere, so to speak, of the desert, which has made itself felt by all those who have explored the country. And this fact is the more striking when we bear in mind that, although the great general features of the Peninsula, the grouping of its arid heights and the direction of its innumerable wadys are permanent, still changes of vast and scarcely calculable importance in matters which personally affect the traveller and modify his impressions, have taken place since the time of Moses. At present one great difficulty felt by all travellers is the insufficiency of the resources of the Peninsula to support such a host as that which is described in the narrative; a difficulty not wholly removed by the acceptance of the accounts of Providential interventions, which appear to have been not permanent, but limited to special occasions. But facts can be adduced which confirm, and indeed go far beyond, the conjectures of travellers, who have pointed out that the supply of water, and the general fertility of the district, must have been very different before the process of denudation, which has been going on for ages, and is now in active progress, had commenced. We have now proofs from inscriptions coeval with the pyramids, both in Egypt and in the Peninsula, that under the Pharaohs of the third to the eighteenth dynasty, ages before Moses, and up to his time, the whole district was occupied by a population whose resources and numbers must have been considerable, since they were able to resist the forces of the Egyptians, who sent large armies in repeated but unsuccessful attempts to subjugate the Peninsula. Their principal object, however, was effected, since they established permanent settlements at Sarbet el Khadim, and at Mughara, to work the copper-mines. These settlements were under the command of officers of high rank, and are proved by monuments and inscriptions to have been of an extent which implies the existence of considerable resources in the immediate neighbourhood. Taking summarily the points in this part of the argument we find the following coincidences between the narrative and accounts of travellers. Absence of water where no sources now exist, abundance of water where fountains are still found, and indications of a far more copious supply in former ages; tracts, occupying the same time in the journey, in which food could not be found; and in some districts a natural production similar to manna, most abundant in rainy seasons (such as several notices show the season of the Exodus to have been), but not sufficient for nourishment, nor fit for large consumption, without such modifications in character and quantity as are attributed in the narrative to a Divine intervention. We have the presence of Nomad hordes, and an attack made by them precisely in the district, and under the circumstances when their presence and attack might be expected. We have a route which the ]ate exploration of the Peninsula shows to have been probably determined by conditions agreeing with incidental notices in the history; and when we come to the chapters in which the central event in the history of Israel--the delivery of God’s Law--is recorded, we find localities and scenery which travellers concur in declaring to be such as fully correspond to the exigencies of the narrative, and which, in some accounts (remarkable at once for scientific accuracy and graphic power), are described in terms which show they correspond, so far as mere outward accessories can correspond, to the grandeur of the manifestation. In addition to the positive arguments thus adduced, a negative argument at least equally conclusive demands attention. No history or composition in existence, which is known to have been written long after the events which it describes, is without internal indications of its later origin; contemporary documents may be interwoven with it, and great pains taken in ages of literary refinement and artifice to disguise its character; but even when anachronisms and errors of detail are avoided, which is seldom, if ever, effectually done, the genuine touch of antiquity is invariably and inevitably absent. Whether we look at the general tone of this narrative, the style equally remarkable for artlessness and power, or at the innumerable points of contact with external facts capable of exact deter-ruination, we are impressed by the weight of this internal evidence, supported, as it has been shown to be, by the unbroken and unvarying tradition of the nation to whom the narrative was addressed, and by whom it was held too sacred not to be preserved from wilful mutilation or interpolation.
5. Another argument is drawn from the account of the Tabernacle. The following facts are demonstrated:
Character of the Exodus Movement.--
1. In its inward spiritual nature the movement was one of faith in God. Though “exodus” be a common word for exit or departure, it has come to have an appropriate special meaning in reference to such a movement as that in question was. And we may profitably here for a little consider what is meant by such an exodus? (See in Seeley’s “Expansion of England.”)
A true exodus is not a mere migration of a people, such as we read of in the history of primaeval Celts and Germans, occasioning so much uneasiness and trouble to “civilized” Romans and others. Such a movement might be merely blind instinct, like that of bees in swarming; or it might be merely the result of some--so to speak--mechanical pressure, from within or from without. Again, those colonizing movements of individuals, through which new nationalities are coming to be formed in the British empire, differ from a true exodus in their motive impulse and spirit, as going to market on business differs from going to church for worship of God. But one of the Pilgrim Fathers of America said that they had gone thither across the ocean “to serve God.” And there he expressed the true spirit of an exodus. It is a migration for the purpose of serving God. Such was the purpose of Israel’s departure from Egypt. Even the three days’ leave of absence, which was all they asked at first (Exodus 5:3), was for an act of high service to “the God of the Hebrews.” The Egyptians no doubt (chap. 1:10) understood whither this was purposely tending. And (Exodus 4:18; Exodus 4:29-31; cf. Exodus 3:12) the Israelites themselves, from their first thought about the movement, had thought of it as one for final abandonment of Egypt, “to serve God” in the promised land. Their movement not only was religious, it was religion: religion was not a means, but the end; as in temple-building, religion, which is the end of the work (finis operis), ought also to be (finis operantis) the end in view of the worker. Now such was the character of Israel’s movement Canaanward. When we look close into the history, we perceive that the Hebrews were in large measure not in the true spirit of the movement (Hebrews 3:12). Among them there was much of ungodly selfish worldliness (Hebrews 3:9); so that in the end they as a people perished in the wilderness through unbelief (Hebrews 3:16-18). Yet a nation entered Canaan. And they were not all unbelievers who died in the wilderness;--Miriam, for instance, and Aaron, and Moses. Even at the worst (cf. 1 Kings 19:18; 1 Kings 20:41)
, there may have been in Israel as large a proportion of Calebs and Joshuas (Isaiah 1:9) as would have sufficed to prevent the destruction of Sodom. What we seek to see in this movement is its characteristic impulse, the spirit of its true life. And that, no doubt, is faith in the living God, as revealed supernaturally, in positive covenant promises of redemption. Such had been the distinctive nature of Abraham’s life on earth (Genesis 15:6). And it continued to be the characteristic of his covenant seed (Romans 4:3; Romans 4:11). The people cried to God. They followed Moses, because they believed that he was Jehovah’s messenger. They went through the Red Sea, looking for salvation in Abraham’s God Almighty. “By faith” they passed the Bed Sea; and “by faith” the walls of Jericho fell down (Hebrews 11:29-30). Such was the distinctive nature of the movement from first to last. Not only the history shows this; this is what the history shows.
2. It was a movement into brotherhood of man. On the face of it, it was into nationality of social condition. At the original settlement in Goshen (Exodus 1:1-5), the sons of Israel were passing from the simply domestic condition under patriarchy, into the distinctly tribal. As their numbers grew into national dimensions, the continued influence of patriarchy, as an ideal, still kept the separate tribes in a unity of outward connection, as of Swiss cantons under the Hapsburgs. But the unity, which at last found its full expression in the nation full and independent, had its true root, or living foundation, in a constitution that is not of nature--the new constitution of redeeming grace, which (Exodus 19:6) makes the nation to be Theocracy, holy to the Lord, and of which the citizens are to be a brotherhood, united in the common bond of a filial relationship to God (Exodus 4:22-23). This idea is involved in the nature of a spiritual patriarchate, such as Abraham’s was. The noble custom of adoption (Exodus 12:48-49) made statutory in Egypt at the foundation of Israel’s national existence, provided for expanded application of the idea, for blessing unto all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). But what we clearly see in Exodus is the realization of the idea in the foundation of the Israelitish kingdom of God. It was a nation, arranging into compact order (chap. 13:18, 14:8), that formed at the Red Sea, to pass on to the trysting-place (Exodus 3:12) of Covenant with God. And it was a nation (Exodus 19:6), specifically a Theocracy, or kingdom of God, that in that covenant was vested with title to Canaan. (J. Macgregor, D. D.)
Moses and His Mission.--
1. Survey him, first, mentally. His was an organizing mind; recall how he took a nation, or rather horde of ignorant bondmen, and moulded them in his own lifetime into a compact and vigorous nationality; or how he took the elements of theology and morality and jurisprudence and sociology, and organized them into that majestic series of institutes which we style after his own name, the Mosaic Code. Again, his was an expressive mind: recall how, notwithstanding his modest disclaimer of the gift of eloquence, he was Jehovah’s greatest prophet, mighty in his words as well as in his works, chanting in nobler strains than Homer ever sang his triumphal ode, his patriarchal hymn, his dying songs. Again, his was a prophetic mind: endowed with extraordinary range of vision, his mental eye pierced immensely beyond the limits of contemporary ken, surveying as from the observatory of his own Pisgah height of prophecy the far-off Promised Land, wherein he discerned the vast outlines of a profound theology, an exquisite morality, a beneficent jurisprudence, a perfected society. Again, his was a practical mind: while prophetically descrying in the far off distances of time stupendous orbs and nebulae of truths hidden from all eyes but his own, he at the same time remained in this tiny world of ours, distinguishing the minutest duties and subtilest distinctions, beholding in the microscopic world of daily life a universe as vast as that which broadened before his telescopic sweep, legislating alike broadly for all human time and minutely for all human space, with one hand, if I may venture to say it, weighing the mountains in scales, and with the other hand counting the small dust of the balance. Once more, his was a constructive mind: instead of wasting his mental forces in ill-timed attempts to overthrow existing bad institutions, he ennobled his great gifts by a supreme effort to build up a new human society, constructing out of the very ruins of the past the everlasting temple of the future. In brief, if ever there was a man who could be strictly called a genius, that man was Moses.
2. And now survey him morally. He was, indeed, a saintly character, a prodigy of goodness. Not that he was faultless. His naturally impetuous temperament brought him more than once into serious trouble, as in the affair of the Egyptian homicide, and the smiting of the rock of Meribah. But it is to the infinite credit of Moses that he sought to overcome this constitutional infirmity of temper, and succeeded in getting his powers into placid balance in his very patience winning and possessing his soul. Sympathetic, as when he entered into the woes of his enslaved countrymen in Egypt; self-denying, as when he refused to be longer called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; conscientious, as when he chose rather to be evil entreated with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; discriminating, as when he accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; far-sighted, as when he looked beyond unto the recompense of reward; enduring, as when he saw Him who is invisible; brave, as when he confronted Menephtha’s court, and Israel’s tumultuous demands; stately, as when he wielded the sword of outraged authority; patient, as when he endured in gratitude, insolence, and rebellion; magnanimous, as when he offered to die in place of his apostate people; lowly, as when his face shone with Jehovah’s glory, and he knew it not; trustful, as when he climbed lonely Abarim to die: Moses was indeed religion’s great saint. Brave as Achilles, without Achilles’ petulance; heroic as Hercules, without Hercules’ savagery; judicial as Minos, without Minos’ gloom; constructive as Vulcan, without Vulcan’s grotesqueness; wise as Mercury, without Mercury’s strategy: eloquent as Apollo, without Apollo’s deceit; patient as Prometheus, without Prometheus’ stoicism; devout as Numa, without Numa’s superstition; imperial as Jupiter, without Jupiter’s weakness:--Moses was indeed history’s ideal character. Verily, there hath not risen in all humanity a prophet like unto Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face.
3. Having thus glanced at the outlines of Moses’ unique career and the outlines of Moses’ unique personality, let us now glance at the outlines of Moses’ unique mission. That mission was manifold. First: It was a part of Moses’ mission to outline a theology, or doctrine of religion. Thus, while the surrounding nations were worshipping a plurality of gods, Moses proclaimed that there is but one God, a God who is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, spiritual, true, just, holy, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, in a word, infinitely perfect. Again, it was part of Moses’ mission to outline a morality or doctrine of character. While the morality of the surrounding nations was debased by gross misconceptions and positive vices, Moses proclaimed a morality that was exquisite in its distinctions, just in its dealings, brotherly in its spirit. Again, it was a part of Moses’ mission to outline a jurisprudence or doctrine of state. While the surrounding nations were governed by irresponsible monarchs, whose caprices made and unmade laws, Moses proclaimed a commonwealth, over which ruled no human king, whose citizens were peers, whose officers were elective. Again, it was a part of Moses’ mission to outline a sociology or doctrine of man. While the surrounding nations regarded each other with distrust and hate, repelling all immigration which did not follow in the retinue of conquest, Moses proclaimed the brotherhood of mankind inviting, it is true, all men to become Jews, but in order that all men might become cosmopolites. Again, it was a part of Moses’ mission to outline a ritual or doctrine of worship. While the surrounding nations were worshipping their own images and ceremonies and sacrifices and priests as being the end of religion, Moses proclaimed a liturgy as being the means of religion, bidding his people discern in the ritual of the Tabernacle a type of the worship in the temple not made with hands. Once more, and in summary, it was the mission of Moses to outline a Theocracy, or doctrine of God-rule. While every other nation regarded itself as its own law and end, Moses proclaimed that the Hebrew people was divinely raised up to be a means to an end, namely this, to serve as the symbol and prophecy of the universal and everlasting Church, or Jehovah’s kingdom on earth. Thus the mission of Moses was the mightiest mission ever assigned to statesmen, reformer, philanthropist, or theologian. And nobly did Moses fulfil his mighty mission. How nobly he fulfilled it is proved by the fact that, although more than three thousand years have passed since Moses lived, his code is still the basis of modern theology, modern morality, modern jurisprudence, modern sociology, modern worship: in a single word, modern civilization. The world has outgrown the Analects of Confucius, the Vedas of Brahm, the Soutras of Boodh, the Zendavesta of Zoroaster, the Koran of Mohammed, even the Positivism of Comte. But the world has not outgrown the institutes of Moses. The lawgiver of Sinai is to this day history’s commanding figure, all that is worthy of the name of civilization sitting reverently at his feet. And how, let me ask in passing, do you account for all this? For, considering his circumstances, the character and work of Moses was a positive moral anachronism. Remember for example, that he framed his civil code some two thousand years before Justinian collected his Pandects, a thousand years before the Twelve Tables were suspended in the Roman Forum, eight hundred years before Solon legislated for Athens; remember also that Moses himself lived in a time of profound moral apostasy, fifteen hundred years before the Divine Man taught us how to live. Can you account for this striking anachronism in any better way than by accepting the Scriptural statement that Jehovah was wont to speak unto His prophet Moses face to face, not in dark speeches, but as a man speaketh unto his friend?
4. Having thus glanced at the outlines of Moses’ unique career and character and mission, let us now glance at some of the lessons suggested by Moses’ unique personality. And, first, a lesson of Divine adjustment. The story of Moses illustrates in a striking way the truth that God ever adjusts men to crises. For example” When the wickedness of men had become so great that Jehovah determined to sweep him from the earth, he raised up Noah to become the second father of the race; again, when the second humanity had relapsed into heathenism, and a great character was needed to restore the kingdom of God on earth, Jehovah raised up Abraham to become the father of the faithful; again, when Moses had completed his legislative mission, and a soldier was needed to conquer the Promised Land, Jehovah raised up the martial Joshua to succeed the peaceful Moses. Secondly: A lesson of Divine providence. Recall how the infant Moses was saved; he was not saved by a miracle or anything extraordinary in itself; he was saved by a sympathetic woman’s natural instinct. Thirdly: A lesson of Divine warning. If any one of all the hosts of Israel had the right to enter the Promised Land, it was, we would have thought, their emancipator and lawgiver and prophet. Nevertheless, saintly though he was, he was not allowed to enter it. And we know the reason: it was because the Children of Israel had angered him at the waters of Meribah, by rebelling against him, and provoking him, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips. Beware, then, oh friends, of what you call little sins; for they may cost you the promised Canaan. (G. D. Boardman, D. D.)
The Magicians of Egypt
The magicians of Egypt did in like manner with their enchantments. In like manner, but in unlike, too. Of course, men can imitate God and God’s doings in a great many ways, because man himself has an imitated relationship to God, and is endowed with powers like to those which God has and uses. Indeed, the direct path to all our possible growth, progress, and ennoblement lies in that line and effort of imitating God. We may do what He doeth and as He doeth in many things. Possibly human beings may accomplish works and effect results which other human beings inspecting and pronouncing on shall be perplexed to decide whether to refer them to God or to men. But there is this one rule of right and wisdom always to be rigidly obeyed. Whenever man attempts to imitate God in method or means, in acts or devices, he must do the work with a view to the same purposes as those for which God works. We may imitate God in what He does merely for our enjoyment, our pleasure, to amuse us, or to add to our means of happiness. We may make musical instruments to imitate the music of the air, the sea, the bird, the happy, gleeful child, or the harmonious strains of heaven’s own choir. We may make flowers of wax or paint them on the canvas. We may chisel the marble into human forms. We may draw on the canvas the lineaments of the human features, landscapes of field, meadow, valley, or mountain, or scenes of sky and ocean. We may make the sun do our painting for us. We may use all our skill and inventiveness, which are, in fact, but God’s own workings, to copy, adorn, or imitate His doings. Yet none of these things is it right or safe for us to do, in order to beguile or deceive our fellow-men, to cheat their senses in order to pervert their understandings, to play on their credulity and make them superstitious, to tell them pious fables in the service of religion, or ever to mislead them by false imitations in means or effects of the ways in which Divine power can alone honestly work, The moment the purpose of deception or of artful effect is introduced into any imitative work of men folly and mischief follow with their train. But, notwithstanding all the enlightenment and all the prevailing credulity of our times and communities, imitations and counterfeits for the sake of deception abound and multiply with infinite ingenuity and variety in all the affairs of human life. It is difficult, indeed, to say of any honest work or product of God or of men that there is no sham imitation, no adulterated specimen, no false semblance of it, palmed upon the world. Some wise and humane persons who are aware of the extent of this deception in medical practice, and of the number and sacrifices of its victims, have suggested the expediency of procuring the enactment by the legislature of a very severe law against such triflers with the miseries and the credulity of their fellow-creatures. But it is very doubtful whether legislation on the subject would be either wise or effective. And over how many of the shops and warehouses and manufactories of our busy world might be inscribed as a motto designating the character of the tricks and frauds practised in them the old, frank Bible sentence! “And the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.” All God’s products are honest ones. All His materials are what they purport to be. He does indeed please our senses with a few illusory phenomena, such as the ocean mirage, the rainbow, the double moon, and the failing star, which is no star. But He never makes wool out of cotton, nor coffee out of beans, nor sugar out of sand. The magicians do those things. Yet it would be a nobler comfort if we could get back to the original honest basis and show of things as they come from the hand of God. Oh that things were and that people were what they pretend to be! Veneering, varnish, lacquer, imitation, play just as demoralizing arts upon us as we do with them. No one can substitute sham for reality in anything outside of him without doing the same by something inside of him. So sometimes we feel an immense craving to get back to nature in everything, to get out of the hands of the magicians with all their tricks and shams, and to be able to say devoutly of all that addresses our senses or our hearts, “This is from the finger of God.” But, whenever we draw a moral from the Sacred Book, we are bound to lead it up to its highest application. The especial work of God is that which serves the agency and produces the fruits of true religion. Yet the magicians come in here to try the art of imitations both as to means and effects. We want now the real thing, the work of God, the truth as it is in Jesus, the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. We must look sharply at all our devices and methods, all our appliances and plannings. We must commit religious work to religious men and women, and to religious means: we must use no arts in it, and accept no substitutes for it. There have been eras and intervals recurring in the history of Christendom, of marked revivals, quickenings and deepenings and strong reactings of the power of religion. And there have been imitated semblances of these things, promises or hopes of them, not realized tokens mistaken for them, cries of “Lo, here!” “Lo, there!” It is “the finger of God” which in all things marks truth and reality, whatever the magicians may do with their enchantments. (G. E. Ellis, D. D.).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany