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The hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle.
The suffering that comes upon the brute creation in consequence of the sin of man
I. That wicked men often act in reference to the claim’s of God in such a manner as to provoke his judgments.
II. That men who thus reject the claim’s of God often involve the brute creation in pain and woe.
III. That the men who thus involve the brute creation in pain and suffering are often unmoved by the devastation they occasion. “And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened.” Lessons:
1. That the retribution of sin does not end with those who occasion it.
2. That the brute world is affected by the conduct of man.
3. That men should endeavour to banish pain from the universe by attention to the commands of heaven. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Another blow at Egyptian idolatry
By the former plagues their religious ceremonies had been interrupted and their sacred abominations defiled: but now their chief deities are attacked. In Goshen, where the cattle are but cattle, they remain untouched: “Of the cattle of the children of Israel there died not one” (Exodus 9:6); but in all other parts of the country, where they are reverenced as gods, the plague is upon them, and they die. Osiris, the saviour, cannot save even the brute in which his own soul is supposed to dwell; Apis and Mnevis, the ram of Ammon, the sheep of Sais, and the goat of Mendes, perish together. Hence Moses reminds the Israelites afterwards, “Upon their gods also the Lord executed judgments” (Numbers 33:4); and Jethro, when he had heard from Moses the history of all that God had done in Egypt, confessed, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods; for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly, He was above them” (Exodus 18:11). (T. S. Millington.)
Calf-worship in modern times
There are some traces of this calfworship to be observed even in our own days. The Hindus still pay reverence to the ox as a sacred animal. One particular kind of cattle, having a hump upon the shoulders, is consecrated to Siva, as the Egyptian bull was to Osiris; they are caressed and pampered by the people; they roam at large, and may destroy the most valuable crops with impunity; none dare lay hands upon them; they are everywhere treated with respect. (T. S. Millington.)
A boil breaking forth with blains.
1. Upon former warnings despised, God falls suddenly, on the wicked with vengeance unawares.
2. Though God can plague His enemies without instruments, yet sometimes He will use them.
3. God gives command out of the ashes to bring fiery plagues on the wicked sometimes at His pleasure.
4. Hands full of ashes are to note full measure of vengeance on God’s enemies.
5. Signal actions (as here the sprinkling ashes) God sometimes useth for men to see and fear.
6. God can make ashes dust, and dust boils, to plague His enemies.
7. God foretells His servants that His command obeyed shall not be in vain.
8. Man and beast are joined together in plagues when sinners are not warned by smiting beasts alone.
9. God giveth out threatenings of judgment for manner and measure as He will.
10. The botch or blain on Egypt is a memorable plague. God appropriates it (Exodus 9:9). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Experience of the devil’s helplessness against God will not persuade the wicked to desist from him.
2. God’s boil shall come upon these wicked instruments, do the devil what he can against it.
3. All Satan’s instruments are vanquished at the appearance of God’s plague (Exodus 9:11).
4. The great God observes and judgeth to obduration sinners who harden themselves against His judgments.
5. Obduration from God’s giving men up to their own lusts makes them more to stop their ears and turn their hearts from His word.
6. God’s foreseeing and foresaying order (or limit) the issues of rebellion in the wicked against Himself (Exodus 9:12). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The physical suffering brought upon men by sin
I. That there is much physical suffering brought upon men by sin and disobedience. Moral considerations are at the basis of health. The body is influenced by the moods of the soul. Piety is restorative. It gives eternal life.
II. That the physical suffering consequent upon sin comes upon men independent of their social position or of their scientific attainments. The king, the magicians, and all the people of Egypt were smitten by the pestilence. None were exempt.
1. Hence we see that social position does not exempt men from the physical suffering consequent upon sin.
2. Hence we see that scientific attainment does not exempt men from the physical suffering consequent upon sin. The boils were upon the magicians.
III. That the physical suffering consequent upon sin does not always lead to moral reformation. Lessons:
1. That God permits suffering to come upon wicked men to reprove and correct their moral character.
2. That the laws of physical manhood are in harmony with true well-being of the soul.
3. That pain should lead us to review the meaning of our lives. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The insignificant commencement of great calamities
I. That great calamities are often insignificant in their commencement. All causes are potent to great effects. A trivial ailment may work death. A little misunderstanding may break up a Church. A little sin may ruin a soul.
II. That great calamities are often mysterious in their infliction. It is astonishing how apparently trivial causes are influential to such great results. Men are at a loss to explain how little sins are so far-reaching in their effects. It must be recognized as the wondrous ordination of God, and as the efficient law of moral life, designed to keep men right.
III. That great calamities are often irrepressible in their progress. When the judgments of God are abroad in the earth, and when little causes are working out their punitive issue in the lives of men and nations, they cannot be restrained by pride or power. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The helplessness of wicked men in the hour of Divine retribution
I. They are helpless because they have not the ability to avert the retributions of God. Sin ever makes men helpless.
II. They are helpless because they have not the courage to endure the retributions of God. Sin makes men cowardly. Hell cannot inspire the wicked heart with courage in the hour of trial.
III. They are helpless because they lack those moral qualities which alone can aid men in the hour of retribution. Lessons:
1. That though men have experience of Satan’s inability to help them in their trouble consequent upon sin, they will not desist from it.
2. That all Satan’s instruments are vanquished by the plague of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
A type of corrupt souls
Let this incident lead us to think how great will be the anguish and confusion of wicked men and persecutors when the Lord Jesus Christ shall come again to earth, and when the light of God shall shine upon them. Then the corruption of their unconverted souls will openly appear, and they will not dare to show themselves before the holy angels, and before the redeemed, who are covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Only imagine what would become of any of us if for every evil thought, every wicked word, every falsehood, every slander, every angry word, an ulcer or a boil were to appear on our faces? If it were to happen to us, for example, as to Miriam, the sister of Moses, who, as the punishment of her pride and angry words to her brother, became all at once a leper white as snow, that is to say, covered with a disgusting disease. How horrible we should seem if all the pollutions of our souls were to appear outwardly on our bodies! It is well for us co think occasionally of such things, to examine the sins of our hearts, to humble ourselves before God, and to feel more deeply the need of being washed in the blood of Christ, which “cleanseth from all sin.” It is our Lord Jesus Christ alone who can present to Himself His Church (that is, the assembly of His redeemed people) glorious and pure, “not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.” (Prof. Gaussen.)
To show in thee My power.
The plagues of Egypt
1. Wonders. Filled men with astonishment and awe.
2. Signs. Instructive. Showed the power and anger of Jehovah. “This, the finger,” etc.
3. Punitive also. They punished the oppressor, while they opened the doors of the house of bondage.
4. Emblematical of the mission and career of Moses. Thunders of Sinai resounded through them all.
5. Various. Attacked both nature and man; animate and inanimate objects; mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms.
6. Numerous. Ten. Indeed more, for there was the undoing as well as the doing.
1. To overthrow the deities of Egypt. Jehovah the only true God--Lord of lords.
2. To punish the oppressor. Those who long years had made the life of Israel bitter, now taste a worse bitterness than they had inflicted.
3. To confound the pride of Pharaoh. Though he was master in the land. Had need to be taught that there was One by whom kings rule.
4. To effect the deliverance of the captives. They gradually paved the way, and ultimately secured this.
1. Upon Pharaoh. Hardened his heart. In proportion as he set himself against the manifest will of God. So even the glorious gospel of the blessed God is, to some men, the savour of death unto death. At last even Pharaoh’s resistance was broken.
2. Upon the Egyptians. They were gradually subdued, till at length they entreated Pharaoh to let Israel go, as earnestly as ever Moses and Aaron did.
3. Upon Israel. They had dwelt secure while these terrors were abroad. God had hidden them in the chambers of His love and mercy. Their confidence restored. They organize their flight. They see the time is at hand. And at last wait for the final word.
1. To stand in awe of the great God and sin not.
2. To admire the resources of infinite wisdom and power.
3. To take heed lest the gospel be a source of condemnation.
4. To expect no miracles, but turn to the sure word of prophecy.
5. To rejoice in our great deliverer, Jesus Christ. (J. C. Gray.)
The Divine name as manifested in the history of a wicked and rebellious soul
I. From the history of pharaoh we see that it is not the way of God to remove a wicked soul by the immediate stroke of power. The mercy of the Divine name is declared in the prolonged life of the sinner.
II. From the history of Pharaoh, we see that it is the way of God to surround the wicked soul by many ministries of salvation.
III. From the history of Pharaoh, we see that it is the way of God to follow the wicked soul with continued judgments. The sorrows of the wicked are not fortuitous or casual, but divinely arranged and continuous. Hence in the life of the sinner is seen the power of the Divine hand. Lessons:
1. That God permits wicked men to live in the universe, notwithstanding the continued rebellion against Him.
2. That a life of sin is a life of judgment.
3. That the sovereignty, mercy, power, and justice of God are seen in His dealings with men. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
God to be recognized in the events of life
In listening to a great organ, played by the hand of a master, there is often an undertone that controls the whole piece. Sometimes it is scarcely audible, and a careless listener would miss it altogether. The lighter play goes on, ebbing and flowing, rising and sinking, now softly gliding on the gentler stops, and now swelling out to the full power of the great organ. But amid all the changes and transpositions this undertone may be heard, steadily pursuing its own thought. The careless listener thinks the lighter play the main thing; but he that can appreciate musical ideas, as well as sounds, follows the quiet undertone of the piece, and finds in it the leading thought of the artist. So men see the outward events of life, the actions, the words, the wars, famines, sins; but underneath all God is carrying out His own plans, and compelling all outward things to aid the music He would make in this world. (Christian Age.)
Why Pharaoh was exalted
The words do not mean that the Almighty had created Pharaoh for this purpose; but that He had exalted him to worldly distinction, and preserved him alive, when the pestilence was ready to destroy, that he might serve as a beacon to warn the obstinate and rebellious in after times. It is a fearful thought, that God may allow us to reach positions of influence and authority, towards which our own selfish ambition has drawn us; and all this not for the purpose of imparting a blessing, but really for the manifesting a judgment, or for the display of His omnipotence. (J. H. Norton, D. D.)
I. I am to show that God did destroy Pharaoh. The Deity threatened to cut him off from the earth, which plainly implied something more than barely putting an end to his life, Had He permitted him to die by old age, or by sickness, or even by what is commonly called accident, we should have had no right to conclude from the manner of his dying that he was really destroyed. But there were two circumstances attending his death, which may be justly considered as denoting his destruction. He was cut off in the midst of his wickedness. And another is, that he died by the immediate hand of Divine justice. As God opened the Red Sea in mercy to Israel, so He shut it again in judgment to Pharaoh, whom He had threatened to destroy.
II. I am to show that God raised up Pharaoh to fit him for destruction. God worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. He never does anything without a previous design. If He destroyed Pharaoh in the manner which has been represented, there can be no doubt but that He previously intended to destroy him in such a manner. But the Divine declarations supersede the necessity of reasoning upon this head. God made known, from time to time, His purpose of destroying Pharaoh. Now, if we look into the history of God’s conduct towards Pharaoh, we shall find that He used all the proper and necessary means to form him a vessel of wrath, and fit him for that miserable end to which he was appointed.
1. He raised him up from nothing into being. He gave him a rational and immortal existence.
2. He raised him up to the throne of Egypt. In this splendid situation he was surrounded with everything that could please his taste, flatter his vanity, and inflame his ambition. And this was a natural and necessary step to prepare him for his final fate. For it is a Divine maxim, that “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
3. God not only raised Pharaoh to the pinnacle of human glory, but also removed from him outward restraints. Besides giving him the power of an unlimited monarch, was virtually setting him above all legal influence and control. But besides this, God removed Moses from his presence and kingdom, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, and thoroughly acquainted with all the arts and intrigues of a court.
4. God endured this vessel of wrath with much long-suffering and forbearance. Instead of treating him according to his deserts, He waited long to be gracious. He used a variety of means to bring him to repentance. But mercies, as well as judgments, conspired to increase his stupidity and hardness of heart, which prepared him for a more unexpected and more aggravated doom.
5. God hardened his heart. All other methods, without this, would have failed of fitting him for destruction. It is now time to make it appear, if possible--
III. that God is to be justified in his treatment of Pharaoh. We must proceed upon the supposition that God did treat him in the manner which has been represented; and especially that He did, among other things, actually harden his heart.
1. That better judges than we can pretend to be, have approved of God’s treatment of Pharaoh. We find his own testimony in favour of God and against himself. “Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” This Pharaoh said after God had raised him up, after He had taken off restraints from his mind, after He had sent severe judgments upon him, after He had hardened his heart, and after He had told him that He had raised him up to destroy him. By this time Pharaoh was nearly ripened for ruin, and properly prepared to judge whether God had injured him, or whether he had injured God. And he freely acknowledges that he was wicked, and had injured God, and that God was righteous, and had never injured him.
2. The sovereignty and justice of God allowed Him to treat Pharaoh in the manner which has just been described. The Deity had a sovereign right to bring Pharaoh into existence, to give him the powers and faculties of a moral agent, to place him at the head of a kingdom, and to operate upon his heart in the same manner in which He operates upon the hearts of other men. And when Pharaoh, under such circumstances, became extremely haughty, cruel, malevolent and obstinate, He had a right, in point of justice, to cut him off from the earth, and send him to endless perdition. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Pharaoh raised up
From all we can find out from a careful comparison of what Moses wrote with what Paul added in his letter (Romans 9:15-18), it would appear that a paraphrase like this might represent the truth: “I selected thee for a strong and illustrious example of human insolence in power, its capabilities for wickedness, and the certainty of its final doom; and this I did in order that I might prove My own supremacy over the creatures of My hand, and thus declare My name in all the ages of the world.”
1. Observe here that this king was perfectly intelligent concerning what Jehovah asked of him: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” That was the demand. Does any one say he could not let them go, if he tried? It was a simple measure of political economy; he would lose an unreckoned number of valuable slaves. So he made up his mind that the conflict must come on; he would not let them go. But there was in the struggle more than mere political economy; from the beginning it is an undenied fact that he knew it was God with whom he was contending; he was bracing himself for a fight which meant life or death. Why, then, did Menephtah take his stand in defiance of all? The real reason must be found in his wish to try his gods against Israel’s God; the issue, at first only economic, at last became only spiritual. Those who exercise their sympathy so extensively about this monstrous despot, steeped in conceit and superstition, and who claim that he was treated unfairly and had no chance, ought not to forget that Menephtah was permitted to choose his own forms of contending with Moses. Their weapons were miracles, and the orders of the Hebrew leader were issued in such slow details that for a while the king was able with his magicians to meet the demands of a very respectable rebellion in show. But enough of this.
2. It is more to the point now that we enter on an explanation of this expression about Pharaoh’s being” raised up” as an exhibition of God’s power and supremacy. For years of injustice in administration of the government, of tyranny in treatment of the Israelite working-people, and of superstitious idolatry in his worship, it is clear that Menephtah had been known and read of all men. Just then it pleased God to teach Israel, His chosen people, a lesson of dependence upon Himself; He determined to show His complete and irresistible supremacy over any one and every one else who was in a position to defy Him. The government of Israel was a theocracy; that is to say, God in person was the King of it, and Moses was the earthly representative before the people. He therefore needed a conspicuous antagonist. Menephtah was chosen. God might have selected the king of the Philistine nation or the Amorite; it is likely both were as bad as Pharaoh. What He did do was to choose this king of Egypt, the descendant of some awful generations of miscreant tyrants--himself as wicked as the worst. This king, Menephtah, the Lord took when he was at the height of his power. He kept him alive; He endured his defiance; He preserved a balance in His mind so that he should not go insane; He gave him an unbroken season of health; He guarded against any useless or unhelpful insurrection in his realm; He patiently bore with his blasphemy. Then, as the conflict grew more malignant, instead of cutting this rebel off in the midst of his daring impiety, God kept giving him more and harder disciplines--all calculated, mind you, to do him good, if he would only accept and improve them to good; thus kindling anew his passions with fresh fuel. The purpose seems to have been just to draw this one man out, to exhaust his tremendous powers and capabilities to the very utmost, so as to have the Hebrews understand that no king, not even at the highest conception of force and tyranny, was or could be a match for the great Jehovah who was their King and their God. In this sense Pharaoh was “raised up,” so as to become a recognized sinner for times and races in the unborn future, a shining shame before the world.
3. “As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him; as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.” Menephtah does not stand alone in history, by any means. Cain, Saul, the king of Israel, Sihon, Belshazzar, Judas Iscariot, had a similar trial of human will against the Divine. These men were conspicuous; not all men are as much so; but all have the same human nature. Indeed, most of us are distinctly conscious of being perfectly unconstrained in all of our moral decisions. We should say, each one of us, if the inquiry were raised, that there never was a moment in all this man’s career in which if he had turned and repented, he might not have been saved, no matter how far on in his guilt he might have advanced: so it seems now to ourselves. There is a theological doctrine called reprobation; the truth appears to be that at some period in the controversy with a human soul, God does judicially withdraw His Spirit, and then there is a solemn crisis reached for the experience of hardness; it looks as if a man could not repent, could not be saved, beyond that line of defiance and despair. Now, everything the Lord does to save a good man, if done to this reprobate, only makes him worse. How can that be helped? The free will is kept up, and the sovereignty does not yield. There is no defence, so far as can be discovered, against the power of an unrighteous man to make a vicious perversion of God’s most generous dealings.
4. There is a reprobation before death. The sentiment is not accurately true as some persons sing it: it is not always sure that “while the lamp holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return.” For in his heart there may be a hardness that will hinder him for ever from coming to ask for a pardon through Jesus Christ, and that is essential. After this point is reached, however, God goes right on doing as He did before. God never does anything to any soul with the intention of hardening it. He never “raises up” any man for the sake of casting him down again into hell. He has a right to choose as much as we have in any case. He chose Moses instead of Menephtah, and Israel instead of Egypt; He had mercy on whom He would have mercy. The ancient Thracian emblem of the Deity was a sun with three of its broadest beams proceeding from it: of these, one rested upon a sea of ice and was melting it; another, on a cliff of rock, and was causing it to flow; the third, on a dead man’s body, and was rousing it to life. Now, just imagine each one of these, or any one of these, was so free-willed as to be able, and so spiteful as to wish, to resist, so a new chill went into the ice, and a fresh hardness into the rock, and a deeper corruption sunk into the dead body; would the warmth-giving and life-giving sun be to blame, if it still went on shining as before? (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
As yet exaltest thou thyself.
A self-exalted man
I. That a self-exalted man often treats with contempt the claims of duty.
II. That a self-exalted man often treats with contempt the people of God.
III. That a self-exalted man is often humiliated by the sad discipline of life. Self-conceit is self-destruction. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The plaque of hail threatened; or, attention to the word of God the condition of safety in the final judgment of life
I. That there is a great and awful judgment threatened upon man in the future. Time known only to God. Enough that fact is certain.
II. That there is a shelter provided from the final judgment of the future.
1. Divinely made known.
2. Mercifully sufficient.
3. Gratefully welcomed.
III. That only those who heed the warning of God, and avail themselves of the shelter provided, will be safe in the final judgment of life.
IV. That many, through unbelief, or through neglect of the word of God, will perish in the final judgment of life. Lessons:
1. Believe in the judgment to come.
2. Believe in the mercy of Christ.
3. Flee from the wrath to come. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Minding what God says
The text describes two classes, viz., those that feared the word of the Lord, and those that “set not their hearts “ to it. Here is a very distinct parable in history for our use and instruction. We may note--
I. The Divine warning.
1. It was “the word of Jehovah.” It was sent through a specially commissioned messenger.
2. It was sword of mercy. The Lord willeth not the death of a sinner.
3. It was a word of threatening. But the threat was only against those whose wilful disobedience would merit judgment.
II. The different ways in which it was regarded.
1. Wholesome fear. This fear was a fruit of faith. A feeble spark of faith, perhaps, but enough to stimulate action.
2. Careless neglect. Proverbs 14:16, gives well the contrast of the two classes. This “carnal security” a very common source of spiritual danger.
III. The definite application to ourselves. God has sent His word to us, full of mingled promises and warnings, declarations of mercy and judgment. Are we taking heed thereto? By startling events, by secret stirrings of conscience, by the Bible, by His special messengers, “the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God,” God speaks. Do we listen? or do we, listless, if not openly scornful, let the utterance be to us as an idle tale? The gospel of Christ, as proclaimed to men, offers a refuge from God’s just wrath against sinful man. If we refuse, we shall be worthy of worse punishment than heathen who have never heard, and it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of judgment than for us. Before the hailstorm of judgment come, let us “set our heart to” the word of the Lord; so shall we be safe in the evil day. (W. Saumarez Smith, B. D.)
The hail shall come down upon them.
I. God is the true home of the soul. Everything the soul needs is to be found in Him: nowhere else. Here is inviolable security, and everlasting peace.
II. Christ has come to bring us home to God.
III. The eternal blessedness of all who are brought home to God by christ. This is seen in two ways.
1. By what is escaped. “The hail.” God’s judgments. We have all been solemnly warned. The voice of God cries “gather,” (Exodus 9:19). If we slight the call, our blood be upon our own heads! (Hebrews 12:25).
2. By what is enjoyed (Exodus 9:26). The security of the children of Israel in Goshen, while the storm raged so terribly all around them, touchingly represents the peace of God’s people in time and in eternity (Isaiah 32:18).
IV. The subject suggests solemn questions.
1. Where art thou? In the field, exposed, and defenceless, or, at home?
2. Dost thou fear God? (Exodus 9:20-21). True fear leads to obedience. But many are heedless of counsel and warning, and God’s judgments are put “out of sight” (Psalms 10:5).
3. What are you doing to bring others home? If we believe in “the wrath to come,” we cannot rest in inaction. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
1. Human faith of God’s threatenings may make men fear and tremble at God’s word. Human it may be called in respect of the principle, though the testimony on which it was grounded were Divine.
2. Such fear may make men careful to shun temporal judgments.
3. Wicked men, through fear, may flee from temporal plagues but not eternal (Exodus 9:20).
4. Among wicked men some may refuse human faith which some embrace.
5. Unbelief will not suffer men to lay any of God’s words to heart.
6. Regardless of God’s threatenings, maketh men leave them and theirs to vengeance (Exodus 9:21). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. God’s warnings of judgments being not regarded, He quickly gives the word for execution.
2. To encourage faith, God calleth His servants to assist in working vengeance.
3. God makes use of signals to induce judgments sometimes by the hand of His instruments.
4. God’s word maketh such signs effectual that they may be feared.
5. God’s word creates hail for vengeance, as sometimes in mercy.
6. Man and beast, herbs and all to the utmost extent, are subjected to God’s hail at His command (Exodus 9:22). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Threatened judgments test men. Some are more susceptible to the presence of God than others.
I. These men feared God’s threatened judgment. Fear often arises from faith in God’s word. Fear is the alarum of the soul. It is often the first emotion in a new life. It often brings in love, “as the needle draws in the thread.”
II. Their fear led to appropriate action. They prepared for the coming storm. There is shelter for all in Christ, and in Him alone.
III. Their fear led to welcome safety. Obedience brought its reward. Men’s property would be safer if they had greater respect for the word of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Belief of the word of God
1. Makes men tremble.
2. Makes men wise.
3. Makes men safe.
4. Makes men singular. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Disregard of God
5. Inexcusable. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
God’s command over the elements
I. That the material universe is gifted with numerous and contrary agencies and elements.
1. The elements of nature called into exercise by this plague were numerous. There was rain, hail, fire and thunder.
2. The elements of nature called into existence by this plague were contrary. The rain was contrary to the fire. There are very opposite elements in the great universe around us; yet all exist in harmony. One element counteracts and yet co-operates with another. The elements of nature blend in one glorious ministry for man; though sin often turns them into messengers of justice.
3. The elements of nature called into existence by this plague were emphatic. When the elements of the material universe are arrayed against man they are emphatic in their message. The thunder speaks in loud voice. It has a message to the soul. There is a moral significance in the storm.
II. That God has complete control over all the elements of the material universe.
1. So that He can commission His servants to use them according to His will.
2. So that He can make them rebuke the sin of man. He can arm the universe against a wicked soul.
3. God can prevent them from working injury to the good. The heathen imagined that divers Gods were over divers things; some ruling the air, some the fire, some the water, some the mountains, and some the plains. But God here demonstrates to the Egyptians His complete authority over the whole of nature. This truth is consoling to the good.
III. That the material prosperity of a nation is greatly dependent upon the elements of nature, and that therefore God alone can give true prosperity to a people.
1. The fields and gardens of Egypt were ruined.
2. The flax and barley of Egypt were ruined. Egypt was from early times the granary of the world (Genesis 41:57). And thus we see how the prosperity of a nation is dependent upon the natural government of God in the material world. Let rulers remember this. And let not the people forget it. Sin is a curse to any nation. National righteousness is national prosperity and elevation.
1. That the material universe is under the rule of God.
2. That the good are Divinely protected in danger.
3. The national prosperity is the gift of heaven. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The plague of hail
A plague of hail, with lightning and thunder, must have been far more awful and portentous in Egypt than in any other country; for there rain was almost unknown, thunderstorms were of rare occurrence, and lightning, when it appeared, was generally of a harmless kind. Modern travellers, indeed, speak of snowstorms, and of thunder and lightning happening occasionally in lower Egypt; but such phenomena appear to have been almost unknown in earlier times. Herodotus says--“During the reign of Psammenitus, Egypt beheld a most remarkable prodigy. There was rain at the Egyptian Thebes, a circumstance which never happened before, and which, as the Thebans themselves assert, has never occurred since. In the higher parts of Egypt it never rains; but at that period it rained in distinct drops” (1. iii, c. 10). Plutarch also observes that “In Egypt no moisture of the air is ever condensed into showers” (de facie, c. 25). Pococke mentions a storm of hail followed by rain in the province of Arsinoe, which “the natives were so far from considering as a blessing, that they observed rain was productive of scarcity, and that the inundation of the Nile alone was serviceable.” The Egyptians were much given to the observance of all unusual phenomena, and looked upon them as portentous. According to Herodotus, “Whenever any unusual circumstance occurs they commit the particulars of it to writing, and mark the events which follow” (1. 2, c. 38). If “distinct drops of rain” were regarded as a prodigy worthy of being thus recorded, what must have been the effect of a storm like this, when the hail fell with sufficient violence to destroy both man and beast, and the fire also ran along the ground? “The Egyptians,” says Diodorus, denominated fire Hephaistos, esteeming it a mighty deity, which contributed largely towards the generation and ultimate perfection of to Lucian, “The Persians sacrifice to fire and the Egyptians to water” (de Jove trag. c. 24). Porphyry says--“Even to this day, at the opening of the temple of Serapis, the worship is made by fire and water, for they reverence water and fire above all the elements.” These deities now came down upon Egypt with destruction and terror; the very gods in which they trusted turned against them. (T. S. Millington.)
Folly of disregarding warning
Foolhardiness is not bravery! it is wicked waste of life. At one of the naval engagements between the Federal and Confederate forces, the officer in charge kept ordering the men at the ship’s guns to “Look out!” and when a shot came bursting near them to “Lie down!” Most of them obeyed; but some, either from a spirit of bravado or a belief in the doctrine of fatalism, disregarded, saying it was useless to dodge a cannon-ball, and they would chance the risks. By and by a shot came, glanced on the gun, taking off the gunner’s cap and the heads of three of the young men who defied the order. It came with a hissing sound, three sharp spats and a heavy report told their sad fate. (H. O. Mackey.)
A warning disregarded
A gentleman was travelling in Italy in the summer months. As he left Rome he was warned of the danger of sleeping at Baccano. He was told to travel all night rather than stop at that place, as a malignant fever prevailed there. He arrived there about bed-time. The air was balmy and the accommodation inviting. He concluded to stop for the night. Those whose interests would be promoted by his doing so told him there was no danger. He rose in the morning and proceeded on his journey. Some days after he had reached Florence the fever developed itself, and he was soon in his grave. Sinners are warned of the consequences of sinful acts. They are persuaded to disregard the warning. They sin, and the threatened consequences do not immediately appear. They think they shall escape; but ere long God’s immutable law overtakes them, and they perish. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
Safe amidst danger
A walk along our New York streets has an occasional surprise for the man who keeps his eyes open. Not often, however, does he meet one so pleasant as that which greeted the eye of a pedestrian hurrying along a block near the North River. A brilliant scarlet spot in the cobble stone pavement constantly trodden by horses’ feet, and worn by wheels of ice waggons, ash carts and heavy business trucks, drew the passer to a nearer look; and, behold, there, from the scorching sand of a crevice in the pavement had sprung up a thin stem of the portulaca; a single flower had opened its scarlet petals, and was lifting its orange tinted stamens to the sun. There seemed not one chance in a million that the tender plant could have escaped the crushing hoofs and wheels and the tools of the workmen at that moment repairing the pavement; yet there was the lovely blossom, and there at sunset it folded its tiny wings to sleep. Could one fail to learn a lesson of implicit trust in an ever-watchful Father above?
God’s regard for His own
Miss Gordon Cumming tells the following thrilling story of a Chinese convert at Oiong, whose piety had obtained for him the sobriquet of “Praise the Lord.” Miss Cumming says: “A fire broke out in one of the streets of the town, and at first it was not expected to reach as far as where ‘Praise the Lord’ lived. As it spread, however, it neared the street where his house stood, and it was evident to the onlookers that all the buildings were doomed. His heathen neighbours hastily collected all their idols, and placed them as a barricade against the approaching flames. The zealous old Christian, seizing his mattock, and swinging it round him, soon reduced the gods of wood and clay to a mass of fragments. Then, having denounced the folly which could trust in senseless images, he lifted up his hands to heaven, and in the hearing of the already wildly excited mob he called upon the great Creator, the true God, his heavenly Father, to save the homes of himself and his neighbours from the threatening fire. It was not the first time that he had proved the promise, ‘While they are yet speaking I will hear,’ and now he looked for an immediate answer, which would show to the heathen that the God who could stay the fire was the true God. Nor was he disappointed; almost before they could note any physical reason for the change the flames seemed blown back upon themselves--the wind had suddenly veered round, and though many of the houses close by had been scorched, those of the old man and his neighbours escaped unharmed, and the marvelling crowd saw the conflagration recede as swiftly as it had approached.”
The flax and barley of Egypt
Herodotus says--“The manufacture of linen is peculiar to the Colchians and the Egyptians. The linen which comes from Colchis, the Greeks call Sardonian; the linen of Egypt, Egyptian” (1. 2, c. 105). Pliny’s account of it is--“The flax of Egypt, though the least strong of all as a tissue, is that from which the greatest profits are derived. There is no tissue known that is superior to those made from the thread of the Egyptian xylon, either for whiteness and softness, or dressing; the most esteemed vestments worn by the priests of Egypt are made by it” (Hist. Nat. 1. 19, c. 2). Pliny mentions four varieties of flax, and first among them the Tanaitic, growing in the lower district of Egypt, Zoan, which was the seat of Pharaoh’s government. The destruction of the flax deprived the people of the material for their chief manufacture, and put a stop to the trade which they carried on with neighbouring nations, who sent their treasure into the country to pay for it. The ruin of the barley was equally injurious. Egypt appears to have been from a very early period the granary of the world. Thither Abraham went down to sojourn when the land in which he dwelt was visited with famine; and thither the sons of Jacob, under similar necessity, naturally turned for help. (T. S. Millington.)
I have sinned.
Pharaoh’s “I have sinned”
There are no more beautiful words ever spoken on this earth--none to which an angel listens more complacently--none which wing their way more surely to heaven--none which more surely enter into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth--than those three--so personal, so true, so simple, and so full, “I have sinned.” They occur nine times in the Bible; and of the nine we may except two. For where they stand--in the seventh chapter of Micah--they are the language, not of an individual, but of a Church. And the prodigal’s use of them is, of course, not matter of fact or history; but only part of a parable. There remain, therefore, seven; seven persons of whom it is written that they said, I have sinned. Ii may surprise some of you to know that, of those seven, four are utterly hollow and worthless; in God’s scales, wanting, unreal, and unprofitable. It is a humbling and teaching fact that in three only--of the seven instances in which persons are recorded in the Scriptures to have said, “I have sinned,” was the confession true, and the repentance valid.
I. At what time God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart began, it is impossible exactly to determine. But evidently from the first it was judicial. A common story. A sin indulged till the man is given over to his sin; and then the sin made its own punishment. It is not that if you repent you would not be forgiven; but it is that you reduce your heart to such a state that it places repentance out of your reach. You become like Esau. Esau, after he sold his birthright, never repented, nor wished to repent. He wished his father to repent, though he himself did not repent. Pharaoh could say, “I have sinned,” and never felt it,--because his heart was “hard.” Many of you are very young, and you have tender hearts. Take care; take care of that dew of your spiritual birth-lest it be brushed away! If you love the world, you will be “hardened.” You say, “I will repent of my worldliness.” You cannot. Your worldliness will have left you too “hard” to repent.
II. What, then, was pharaoh’s “I have sinned”? Where did it tend?
1. It Was a mere hasty impulse. There was no thought in it; no careful dealing with his own soul; no depth.
2. The moving principle was nothing but fear. He was agitated--greatly agitated--only agitated. Now, fear may be, and probably must be, a part of real repentance. I do not despise fear. Fear is a sign of penitence. Fear is a very good thing. But I doubt whether there was ever a real repentance that was promoted by fear only.
3. Pharaoh’s thoughts were directed far too much to man. It was not the “against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned.” He never went straight to God. Hence his confession was not thorough.
III. And here comes the solemn thought--for comfort or for fear--in everything that is true, there is a germ, and God sees and recognizes, at once, the germ. It may not have expanded. Perhaps the person--who has it--may not live long enough for it to be expanded in this world. But God knows that it can expand, and that it would expand. God judges by that germ. If it is not--that germ of love and holiness--the rest all goes for nothing. But if it be there--God accepts all for that germ. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The transient repentance of a wicked soul
I. That moods of transient repentance are sometimes awakened by the retributive judgments of God. The penitence of the hypocrite; not a godly sorrow. Induced by the infliction of punishment, rather than by the gentle convictions of the Divine Spirit. True repentance will have reference to God and to the violated law, rather than to self-comfort and immunity from pain.
II. That in moods of transient repentance men call for the ministers of God whom they have previously despised. Ministers must be forbearing toward their people, and embrace any opportunity of leading them to the mercy of God. But the repentance that sends for the minister under the impulse of fear, will be likely to dismiss him when the plague is removed. It is well to heed the voice of the servants of God before the hoar of retribution.
III. That in moods of transient repentance men make promises they will never perform. We should remember in joy the vows made in sorrow, in health, those made in sickness, and then painful discipline will become happy and glorious.
IV. That in moods of transient repentance men will acknowledge that prayer to God for mercy is their only method of help.
V. That in moods of transient repentance men sometimes obtain the removal of the judgments of God. Token of mercy. Discipline of love to lead to duty. Lessons:--
1. That trials are calculated to lead the soul to repentance.
2. That under trials the repentance of men may be transient.
3. That the mercy of God is rich to the proudest sinner.
4. That the servants of God should be helpful to penitent souls.
(1) By fidelity.
(2) By sympathy.
(3) By prayer. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Repentance inspired by fear
I. That repentance inspired by fear is experienced by men of the proudest moral character. This shows the all-conquering power of the truth, in that it can subdue the tyrant-heart. It also shows the mercy of God, in that the most degenerate life is blessed with the refreshing mood of repentance. No heart is utterly destitute of better feelings.
II. That repentance inspired by fear anxiously seeks the aid of the servants of God.
III. That repentance inspired by fear is just in its condemnation of self, and in its acknowledgment of sin. There are times when confession is a necessity of the soul. When sin is as a fire, which must burn through all subterfuges and manifest itself to the public eye. Hence open confession of sin is not an infallible token of repentance; it may be the outcome of necessity or of terror.
IV. That repentance inspired by fear is just in its vindication of the divine character. Repentance is not to be gauged by the utterance of the lips.
V. That repentance inspired by fear promises future obedience to the claims of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Repentings and relapsings
I. The theistic constitution of the soul.
1. It shots a primitive belief in the existence of God.
2. It shows a primitive belief in the providential government of God.
II. The unnaturalness of our spiritual existence.
III. The unreliableness of deathbed confessions. Genuine repentance for sin is not the fear of misery, but the relentings of love.
IV. The supreme interest of every man. (Homilist.)
Sense of guilt
I. Under its influence man feels humbled.
II. Under its influence man respects godliness.
III. Under its influence man vindicates the almighty. (Homilist.)
I have sinned
1. A good confession.
2. A simple confession.
3. A faithful confession.
4. A welcome confession.
5. Sometimes an unreal confession. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The Lord is righteous
1. Then admire His administration.
2. Then worship His glory.
3. Then fear His justice.
4. Then vindicate His operations.
5. Then make known His praise. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
A wicked people and a wicked monarch
3. Repentant. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Intreat the Lord
1. For He hears prayer.
2. For He has respect to the good.
3. For wicked men need Divine help.
4. For He is merciful. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The confession of Pharaoh
I. The resemblance of the confession before us to the language of true contrition, is close.
1. It was open, made not to a partizan or friend in the secrecy of retirement, but to Moses and Aaron in public; to the very man whose presence was likely to fill the sinner with the greatest shame, and to require of him the most mortifying concessions.
2. It was accompanied also with a sense of guilt, and that not confined to one transgression only, but extending to the general conduct of himself and his subjects.
3. It is remarkable too that, like David, he considered his guilt as an offence against God.
4. But this was not all. The confession of Pharaoh included in it an acknowledgment of the justice of God in inflicting these judgments. They were great and heavy, but he does not complain of their severity. He complains only of his own sins, which had so justly drawn them on his head. “The Lord,” he says, “is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.”
5. There were also some good resolutions connected with the confession of Pharaoh.
II. Pharaoh was not a penitent, though he bore so strong a resemblance to one. His confession was sincere, but it was not godly. It resembled the language of true repentance, but at the same time it differed essentially from it.
1. In attempting to trace this difference, we may observe that it was a forced confession, extorted from him by the suffering he endured, and the fear of still heavier judgments. The point to be ascertained is not what kind of men we are in affliction or in sickness, in the house of God or in the society of His servants; but what is the frame of our minds when these excitements are withdrawn? What are we in retirement? What are we in our families? What are we in daily intercourse with the world?
2. The confession of Pharaoh differed from true confession in this respect also--it was unaccompanied with humiliation before God. He repeatedly besought Moses and Aaron to entreat for him, but he disdained to bend the knee himself. He trembled at the judgments of the Lord, but though they laid waste his country and cut off his first-born, he still refused to humble himself before Him. This spirit of independence is the bane and curse of our fallen nature. The very essence of our depravity consists in it. We will not have God to reign over us. Judgments can terrify, but they cannot humble us.
3. The confession of Pharaoh was defective also in another respect--it was not succeeded by an entire renunciation of sin. The true penitent does not ask, “How far may I indulge my lusts, and yet be safe? How much love may I have for the world and yet escape condemnation?” but, “What right hand have I yet to cut off? What right eye have I yet to pluck out? What lurking sin still remains to be discovered and overcome?”
4. But even if the confession of Pharaoh had not been defective in these things, there was yet another point of difference between it and a genuine confession, and that a most important and ruinous difference--it was not habitual and lasting. The convictions from which it sprung were as temporary as the judgments which gave rise to them, so that he who feared and trembled one hour, hardened his heart the next. Repentance is not an act, it is a habit; not a duty to be performed once in a man’s life, and then to be thought of no more; it is to be our daily work, our hourly employment.
III. Such was the confession of Pharaoh. The lessons it teaches are obvious.
1. It shows us, first, the great need we have of self-examination. We may have confessed our sins from our heart; but has that heart been humbled, lowly, obedient? Instead of going about to establish our own righteousness, are we submitting ourselves to the righteousness of God? Are we praying, as well as trembling?
2. This shows us also the extreme depravity of the human heart. We need the transforming power, the effectual working, of the Holy Ghost. We must seek repentance as a gift of mercy at the throne of God.
3. We may see, further, the folly of trusting in convictions. Remorse is not penitence. Conviction is not conversion. Fear is not grace.
4. But while we are reminded of the folly of trusting in convictions, we are at the same time taught the guilt and danger of stifling them. They cannot save the soul, but they are designed to make us feel our need of salvation, and to lead us for it to the great Saviour of the lost.
5. There is yet another lesson to be learned from this subject. It seems indeed, on the first view, to speak to us only of the depravity of man and the awful justice of God, but to what subject of meditation can we turn, which does not remind us of the Divine mercy? A hardened Pharaoh, as well as a weeping Peter, declares to us, that the guilty will never seek pardon in vain. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord God.
1. Gracious souls are willing to yield to vilest persecutors to help them though they deceive them.
2. Time and place convenient, God’s servants take to answer the desires of the wicked.
3. Heart and hand do God’s saints lay out in prayer to God for their enemies.
4. Under God’s revelation his ministers may assure the wicked of His mercies.
5. Such discoveries are made to wicked men that they might acknowledge His propriety and sovereignty over all (Exodus 9:29).
6. Though God’s servants know how the wicked will afterward behave themselves, yet they may pray for them.
7. God doth foretell by His servants sometimes the incorrigibility of the wicked under judgment and mercy.
8. Wicked men may tremble under vengeance, but never fear the Lord God when it is removed (Exodus 9:30). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Wise ministerial treatment of an obstinate sinner
I. That the true minister is willing to render help to the vilest persecutor in the hour of imagined repentance. Moses did not remain away from Pharaoh in the hour of his penitence. He did not treat him with contempt, as unworthy of further effort. He went to him at once. Ministers are never justified in leaving even the vilest men to themselves in their time of perplexity. They should visit them and render them all the aid in their power. The hypocrite must never be forsaken by the servant of God.
II. That the true minister will pray for the most obstinate sinner in the hour of distress. “As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the Lord.”
1. The prayer will be offered in private. “Out of the city.” Solitude is favourable to prayer. The minister should seek solitude. It is well for him to go outside of the city to meditate and to pray about obstinate men.
2. It will be offered with earnestness. “I will spread abroad my hands unto the Lord.” The ministers of God should employ their hands and hearts in prayer to heaven for the souls of wicked men.
III. That the true minister may assure the most obstinate sinner of the mercy of God toward him. A contrite heart shall not hear the thunder of retributive judgment.
IV. That the true minister must assert the unbending sovereignty of God to the most obstinate sinner.
V. That the true minister will deal faithfully with the most obstinate sinner who mat manifest tokens of repentance. Lessons:
1. That ministers are often perplexed as to the best method of conduct toward obstinate sinners.
2. They must pray for them.
3. They must be faithful to them. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The earth is the Lord’s
1. Then admire its beauty.
2. Then participate in its bounty.
3. Then tread it reverently.
4. Then use it generously. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
I know that ye will not fear the Lord God
1. Because your mind is dark.
2. Because your heart is hard.
3. Because your conscience is seared.
4. Because your will is rebellious.
5. Because your sin is a pleasure. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
He sinned yet more.
1. Sense of judgment and mercy without faith worketh more evil in sinners against God.
2. Mercies may prove occasions of hardening unto wicked souls; but no causes of their sin.
3. Wicked powers by unbelief harden themselves and others (Exodus 9:34).
4. God sets on hardening when sinners choose to be stubborn against God.
5. Breach of promise with God is nothing with sinners.
6. God’s foretelling of sinners ways aggravates that sin abundantly (Exodus 9:35). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Pharaoh’s conduct after the storm
I. Pharaoh’s conduct is often resembled by men of our day. Men’s views of themselves and life change as the dark clouds roll away, and the sun breaks forth to gild their path again. This has become proverbial.
II. Pharaoh’s conduct reveals that his heart had been unchanged. Afflictions do change some sinners into saints. They have come out of the storm new men. But it often produces no radical change. It does not change the heart. Love only awakens permanent resistance to sin.
III. Pharaoh’s conduct manifested the basest ingratitude. Sin is always lamentable, but more so in the face of Divine mercy. Such insensibility to mercy is sure to bring another judgment.
IV. Pharaoh’s conduct was most peesumptuous.
V. Pharaoh’s conduct shows the amount of depravity that may lurk in a human heart. Our only safety is in humiliating ourselves before the Lord, and seeking for His grace to overcome our own stubbornness and sins. (W. Lilley.)
The cessation of penitential sorrow
1. When calamity removed.
2. When mercy bestowed.
3. When gratitude expected. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Repentance under judgments
One day, visiting a prison chaplain, the Rev. W. Harness asked him whether his ministry had been attended with success. “With very little, I grieve to say,” was the reply. “A short time since I thought I had brought to a better state of mind a man who had attempted to murder a woman and had been condemned to death, he showed great signs of contrition after the sentence was passed upon him, and I thought I could observe the dawnings of grace upon the soul. I gave him a Bible, and he was most assiduous in the study of it, frequently quoting passages from it which he said convinced him of the heinousness of his offence. The man gave altogether such a promise of reformation, and of a change of heart and life, that I exerted myself to the utmost, and obtained for him such a commutation of his sentence as would enable him soon to begin the world again, and, as I hoped, with a happier result. I called to inform him of my success. His gratitude knew no bounds; he said I was his preserver--his deliverer. ‘And here,’ he added, as he grasped my hand in parting, ‘here is your Bible; I may as well return it to you, for I hope I shall never want it again.’”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent