Saturday, June 10th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 10". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ exodus-10.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 10". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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THE EIGHTH PLAGUE. Notwithstanding his self-condemnation and acknowledgment of the righteousness of God in all the judgments that had been sent upon him (Exodus 9:27), Pharaoh no sooner found that the seventh plague had ceased than he reverted to his old obstinacy. He both wilfully hardened his own heart (Exodus 9:34); and God, by the unfailing operation of his moral laws, further blunted or hardened it (Exodus 10:1). Accordingly, it became necessary that his stubbornness should be punished by one other severe infliction. Locusts, God's "great army," as they are elsewhere called (Joel 2:25), were the instrument chosen, so that once more the judgment should seem to come from heaven, and that it should be exactly fitted to complete the destruction which the hail had left unaccomplished (Exodus 10:5). Locusts, when they come in full force, are among the most terrible of all the judgments that can befall a country. "A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness" (Joel 2:3). They destroy every atom of foliage—crops, vegetables, shrubs, trees—even the bark of the fruit-trees suffers—the stems are injured, the smaller branches completely peeled and "made white" (Joel 1:7). When Moses threatened this infliction, his words produced at once a great effect. The officers of the court—"Pharaoh's servants," as they are called—for the first time endeavoured to exert an influence over the king—"Let the men go," they said; "knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" (Exodus 10:7). And the king so far yielded that—also for the first time—he let himself be influenced by the mere threat of a judgment. tie would have let the Israelites depart, before the locusts came, if only they would have left their "little ones" behind them (Exodus 10:8-11 ). Moses, however, could not consent to this limitation; and so the plague came in fall severity the locusts covered the whole face of the earth, so that the land was darkened with them (Exodus 10:15); and all that the hail had left, including the whole of the wheat and doora harvests, was destroyed. Then Pharaoh made fresh acknowledgment of his sin, and fresh appeals for intercession—with the old result that the plague was removed, and that he remained as obdurate as ever (Exodus 10:16-20).
Go in unto Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart. The word "I" is expressed in the original and is emphatic. It is not merely that Pharaoh has hardened himself (Exodus 9:34); but I have "dulled" or "hardened" him. Therefore condescend to see him once more, and to bear my message to him. The heart of his servants. Compare Exodus 9:34. As Pharaoh's determination began to waver the influence of the court officers increased. Hence the frequent mention of them in this part of the narrative. That I might shew them my signs. The "fierceness of man" was being "turned to God's praise." It resulted from the obstinacy of Pharaoh that more and greater miracles were wrought, more wonderful signs shown, and that by these means both the Israelites themselves, and the heathen nations in contact with them, were the more deeply impressed.
That thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son. The Psalms show how after generations dwelt in thought upon the memory of the great deeds done in Egypt and the deliverance wrought there. (See especially Psalms 78:1-72; Psalms 105:1-45; Psalms 106:1-48; but compare also Psalms 68:6, Psalms 68:7; Psalms 77:14-20; Psalms 81:5, Psalms 81:6; Psalms 114:1-3; Psalms 135:8, Psalms 135:9; Psalms 136:10-15.)
How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself! The confession recorded in Exodus 9:27 had been a distinct act of self-humiliation; but it had been cancelled by subsequent self-assertion (Exodus 9:34, Exodus 9:35). And, moreover, humility of speech was not what God had been for months requiring of Pharaoh, but submission in act. He would not really "humble himself" until he gave the oft- demanded permission to the Israelites, that they might depart from Egypt.
To-morrow. Again a warning is given, and a space of time interposed, during which the king may repent and submit himself, if he chooses. The locusts. The species intended is probably either the Aeridium peregrinum or the Oedipoda migratoria. Both are common in Arabia and Syria, and both are known in Egypt. They are said to be equally destructive. The Hebrew name, arbeh, points to the "multitudinous" character of the visitation. A traveller in Syria says—"It is difficult to express the effect produced on us by the sight of the whole atmosphere filled on all sides and to a great height by an innumerable quantity of these insects, whose flight was slow and uniform, and whose noise resembled that of rain; the sky was darkened, and the light of the sun considerably weakened. In a moment the terraces of the houses, the streets, and all the fields were covered by these insects." Into thy coast—i.e. "across thy border, into thy territories." The locust is only an occasional visitant in Egypt, and seems always to arrive from some foreign country.
They shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth. This is one of the points most frequently noticed by travellers. "The ground is covered with them for several leagues," says Volney. "The steppes," says Clarke, "were entirely covered by their bodies." "Over an area of 1600 or 1800 square miles," observes Barrow, "the whole surface might literally be said to be covered with them." They shall eat the residue of that which escaped. Locusts eat every atom of verdure in the district attacked by them. "In A.D. 1004," says Barhebraeus, "a large swarm of locusts appeared in the land of Mosul and Baghdad, and it was very grievous in Shiraz. It left no herb nor even leaf on the trees. When their swarms appear," writes Volney, "everything green vanishes instantaneously from the fields, as if a curtain were rolled up; the trees and plants stand leafless, and nothing is seen but naked boughs and stalks." And shall eat every tree. The damage done by locusts to trees is very great. "He (the locust) has laid my vine waste, and barked my fig-tree; he hath made it clean bare and east it away; the branches thereof are made white" (Joel 1:7). Travellers constantly notice this fact. "When they have devoured all other vegetables," says one, "they attack the trees, consuming first the leaves, then the bark." "After having consumed herbage, fruit, leaves of trees," says another, "they attacked even their young shoots and their bark." "They are particularly injurious to the palm-trees," writes a third; "these they strip of every leaf and green particle, the trees remaining like skeletons with bare branches." A fourth notes that "the bushes were eaten quite bare, though the animals could not have been long on the spot. They sat by hundreds on a bush, gnawing the rind and the woody fibres."
They shall fill thy houses. Compare Joel 2:9. The witness of modern travellers is to the same effect. Morier says "They entered the inmost recesses of the houses, were found in every corner, stuck to our clothes, and infested our food". Burckhardt observes—"They overwhelm the province of Nedjd sometimes to such a degree that, having destroyed the harvest, they penetrate by thousands into the private dwellings, and devour whatsoever they can find, even the leather of the water vessels". An older traveller, Beauplan, writes as follows:—"In June 1646, at Novgorod, it was prodigious to behold them, because they were hatched there that spring, and being as yet scarce able to fly, the ground was all covered, and the air so full of them that I could not eat in my chamber without a candle, all the houses being full of them, even the stables, barns, chambers, garrets, and cellars. I caused cannon-powder and sulphur to be burnt to expel them, but all to no purpose; for when the door Was opened, an infinite number came in, and the others went fluttering about; and it was a troublesome thing, when a man went abroad, to be hit on the face by those creatures, on the nose, eyes, or cheeks, so that there was no opening one's mouth but some would get in. Yet all this was nothing; for when we were to eat they gave us no respite; and when we went to cut a piece of meat, we cut a locust with it, and when a man opened his mouth to put in a morsel, he was sure to chew one of them." Oriental houses, it is to be borne in mind, have no better protection than lattice-work in the windows, so that locusts have free access to the apartments, even when the doers are shut. Which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers' fathers have seen. Inroads of locusts are not common in Egypt. Only one reference has been found to them in the native records. When they occur, they are as destructive as elsewhere. Denon witnessed one in the early part of the present century. Two others were witnessed by Carsten Niebuhr and Forskal in 1761 and 1762; and another by Tisehendorf comparatively recently. The meaning in the text is probably that no such visitation as that now sent had been seen previously, not that Egypt had been hitherto free from the scourge. He turned himself and went out. Moses did not wait to learn what effect his announcement would have. He" knew "that Pharaoh would not fear the Lord. (See Exodus 9:30.)
And Pharaoh's servants said unto him. This marks quite a new phase in the proceedings. Hitherto the courtiers generally had been dumb. Once the magicians had ventured to say—"This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19); but otherwise the entire court had been passive, and left the king to himself. They are even said to have "hardened their hearts" like him (Exodus 9:34). But now at last they break their silence and interfere. Having lost most of their cattle, and a large part of the year's crops, the great men became alarmed—they were large landed proprietors, and the destruction of the wheat and doora crops would seriously impoverish, if not actually ruin them. Moreover, it is to be noted that they interfere before the plague has begun, when it is simply threatened, which shows that they had come to believe in the power of Moses. Such a belief on the part of some had appeared, when the plague of hail was threatened (Exodus 9:20); now it would seem to have become general. A snare to us—i.e. "a peril"—"a source of danger," the species being put for the genus.
Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh. Pharaoh did not condescend so far as to send for them, but he allowed his courtiers to bring them to him. And he so far took the advice of his courtiers, that he began by a general permission to the Israelites to take their departure. This concession, however, he almost immediately retracted by a question, which implied that all were not to depart. Who are they that shall go? It seems somewhat strange that the king had not yet clearly understood what the demand made of him was. But perhaps he had not cared to know, since he had had no intention of granting it.
And Moses said, We will go with our young, and with our old. This statement was at any rate unambiguous, and no doubt could henceforth be even pretended as to what the demand was. The whole nation, with its flocks and herds, was to take its departure, since a feast was to be held in which all the nation ought to participate. The Egyptians were accustomed to the attendance of children at national festivals (Herod. 2.60).
And he said, etc. Pharaoh's reply to the plain statement of Moses is full of scorn and anger, as if he would say—"When was ever so extravagant and outrageous a demand made? How can it be supposed that I would listen to it? So may Jehovah help you, as I will help you in this—to let you go, with your families." (Taph is "family," or household, not "little ones." See Exodus 1:1.) Look to it; for evil is before you. Or, "Look to it; for you have evil in view." Beware, i.e; of what you are about. You entertain the evil design of robbing me of my slaves—a design which I shall not allow you to carry out. There is no direct threat, only an indirect one, implied in "Look to it."
Go now ye that are men. Or, "ye that are adult males." The word is different from that used in Exodus 10:7, which includes women and children. And serve the Lord; for that ye did desire. Pharaoh seems to argue that the request to "serve the Lord" implied the departure of the men only, as if women and children could not offer an acceptable service. But he must have known that women and children attended his own national festivals. (See the comment on Exodus 10:9.) Probably, he knew that his argument was sophistical. And they were driven out. Literally, "One drove them out." Pharaoh's manifest displeasure was an indication to the court officials that he wished the interview ended, and as the brothers did not at once voluntarily quit the presence, an officer thrust them out. This was an insult not previously offered them, and shows how Pharaoh's rage increased as he saw more and more clearly that he would have to yield and allow the departure of the entire nation.
The Lord brought an east wind. Locusts generally come with a wind; and, indeed, cannot fly far without one. An east wind would in this case have brought them from northern Arabia, which is a tract where they are often bred in large numbers. Denon, the French traveller, notes that an enormous cloud of locusts which invaded Egypt during his stay, came from the east. All that day. The rest of the day on which Moses and Aaron had had their interview with the Pharaoh.
The locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt. This statement is very emphatic, and seems to imply that the plague was more widely extended than any that had preceded it. Egypt extends about 520 miles from north to south, but except in the Delta is not more than about 20 miles wide. Columns of locusts of the length of 500 miles have been noticed by travellers (Moor in Kirby on Entomology, letter 6.), and 20 miles is not an unusual width for them. But such a length and such a breadth are not elsewhere recorded in combination. Thus the visitation was, in its extent as well as in its circumstances, plainly abnormal.
The land was darkened. It is not quite clear whether the darkness here spoken of was caused by the locusts when they were still on the wing or after they had settled. It is a fact that the insects come in such dense clouds that while on the wing they obscure the light of the sun, and turn noonday into twilight. And it is also a fact that with their dull brownish bodies and wings they darken the ground after they have settled. Perhaps it is most probable that this last is the fact noticed. (Compare Exodus 10:5.) All the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. Injury to fruit by the hail had not been expressly mentioned in the account of that plague, though perhaps it may be regarded as implied in the expression—that the hail "brake every tree of the field" (Exodus 10:25). The damage which locusts do to fruit is well known. They devour it with the green crops, the herbage, and the foliage, before setting to work upon the harder materials, as reeds, twigs, and the bark of trees. In Egypt the principal fruits would be figs, pomegranates; mulberries, grapes, olives, peaches, pears, plums, and apples; together with dates, and the produce of the persea, and the nebk or sidr. The fruit of the nebk is ripe in March. There remained not any green thing. "It is sufficient," observes one writer, "if these terrible columns stop half an hour on a spot, for everything growing on it, vines, olive-trees, and corn, to be entirely destroyed. After they have passed, nothing remains but the large branches and the roots, which, being underground, have escaped their voracity." "Where-ever they settle," says another, "it looks as if fire had burnt up everything." "The country did not seem to be burnt," declares a third, "but to be covered with snow, through the whiteness of the trees and the dryness of the herbs." A fourth sums up his account of the ravages committed by locusts thus—"According to all accounts, wherever the swarms of locusts arrive, the vegetables are entirely consumed and destroyed, appearing as if they had been burnt by fire."
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste. Literally, as in the margin, "hasted to call for M. and A." He had made similar appeals before (Exodus 8:8, Exodus 8:25; Exodus 9:27), but never with such haste and urgency. Evidently, the locusts were felt as a severer infliction than any previous one. I have sinned. So, after the plague of hail (Exodus 9:27); but here we have the further acknowledgment, against the Lord your God and against you; "against the Lord," in disobeying his commands; "against. you," in making you premises and then refusing to keep them (Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:34, Exodus 9:35).
Only this once. Compare Genesis 18:32. Pharaoh kept this promise. He did not ask any more for the removal of a plague. This death only—i.e. "this fatal visitation"—this visitation, which, by producing famine, causes numerous deaths in a nation. Pharaoh feels now, as his courtiers had felt when the plague was first threatened, that "Egypt is destroyed" (Genesis 18:7).
He … intreated the Lord. Moses complied, though Pharaoh had this time made no distinct promise of releasing the people. He had learnt that no dependence was to be placed on such promises, and that it was idle to exact them. If anything could have touched the dull and hard heart of the king, it would have been the gentleness and magnanimity shown by Moses in uttering no word of reproach, making no conditions, but simply granting his request as soon as it was made, and obtaining the removal of the plague.
And the Lord turned a mighty strong west wind. Literally, "a very strong sea-wind"—i.e. one which blew from the Mediterranean, and which might, therefore, so far, be north, north-west, or north-east. As it blew the locusts into the "Sea of Weeds," i.e. the Red Sea, it must have been actually a north-west wind, and so passing obliquely over Egypt, have carried the locusts in a south-easterly direction. Cast them into the Red Sea. Literally, "the Sea of Weeds." No commentater doubts that the Red Sea is here meant. It 'seems to have received its Hebrew appellation, Yam Suph, "Sea of Weeds," either from the quantity of sea-weed which it throws up, or, more probably, from the fact that anciently its north-western recess was connected with a marshy tract extending from the present head of the Gulf of Suez nearly to the Bitter Lakes, in which grew abundant weeds and water-plants. There remained not one locust. The sudden and entire departure of locusts is as remarkable as their coming. "At the hour of prime," says one writer, "they began to depart, and at midday there was not one remaining.", "A wind from the south-west," says another, "which had brought them, so completely drove them forwards that not a vestige of them was to be seen two hours afterwards".
But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart. The word used here is the intensive one, khazoq, instead of the milder kabod of Exodus 10:1. Pharaoh's prolonged obstinacy and impenitence was receiving aggravation by the working of the just laws of God. (See the comment on Exodus 4:21.)
Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:2
God's mercies and wondrous works to be kept in perpetual remembrance.
Man's forgetfulness of God's benefits is one of the saddest features of his existing condition and character. He needs continual urging and exhortation to the duty of remembering them.
I. HE FORGETS ESPECIALLY THOSE BENEFITS WHICH ARE CONSTANT AND CONTINUOUS.
(a) Temporal benefits. Life, strength, health, intellect, the power to act, the capacity to enjoy, the ability to think, speak, write, are God's gifts, bestowed lavishly on the human race, and in civilised countries possessed in some measure by almost every member of the community. And, for the most part, they are possessed continuously. At any moment any one of them might be withdrawn; but, as it pleases God to make them constant, they are scarcely viewed as gifts at all. The Church would have men thank God, at least twice a day, for their "creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life." But how few perform this duty! Creation, preservation, daily sustenance, even health, are taken as matters of course, which come to us naturally; not considered to be, as they are, precious gifts bestowed upon us by God.
(b) Spiritual benefits. Atonement, redemption, reconciliation, effected for us once for all by our Lord's death upon the Cross; and pardon, assisting grace, spiritual strength, given us continually, are equally ignored and forgotten. At any rate, the lively sense of them is wanting. Few say, with David, Constantly, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Psalms 103:1-5).
II. HE FORGETS EVEN EXTRAORDINARY MERCIES. A man escapes with life from an accident that might have been fatal; recovers from an illness in which his life was despaired of; is awakened suddenly to a sense of religion when he had long gone on in Coldness and utter deadness; and he thinks at first that nothing can ever take the thought of the blessing which he has received out of his remembrance. He is ready to exclaim, ten times a day, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he hath done for my soul!" But soon all fades away and grows dim; the vivid remembrance passes from him; he thinks less and less of what seems now a distant time; he neglects to speak of it, even to his children. Instead of "telling in the ears of his son, and of his son's son, what things God wrought for him in the old timer he does not so much as think of them. Very offensive to God must be this forgetfulness. He works his works of mercy and of power for the very purpose "that men may tell of them and have them in remembrance," may "teach them to their sons and their sons' sons," may keep them "as tokens upon their hands, and as frontlets between their eyes," may "tell them to the following generation."
III. PERPETUAL REMEMBRANCE OF EXTRAORDINARY MERCIES IS BEST SECURED BY THE OBSERVANCE OF ANNIVERSARIES. God instituted the Passover, and other Jewish feasts, that the memory of his great mercies to his people in Egypt and the wilderness should not pass away (Exodus 12:24 Exodus 12:27). So the Christian Church has observed Christmas Day, Good Friday, Ascension Day. Such occasions are properly called "commemorations." And individuals may well follow the Church, by commemorating important events in their own lives, so they do it—
(2) Prayerfully; and
God's long-suffering towards the wicked has a limit.
"How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself?" (Exodus 10:3). "The goodness of God endureth yet daily." His forbearance and long-suffering are wonderful. Yet they have a limit. God will not proceed to judgment—
I. UNTIL THE SINNER HAS HAD FULL OPPORTUNITY FOR REPENTANCE. Pharaoh had been first warned (Exodus 5:3), then shown a sign (Exodus 7:10-12); after this, punished by seven distinct plagues, each of which was well calculated to strike terror into the soul, and thereby to stir it to repentance. He had been told by his own magicians that one of them, at any rate, could be ascribed to nothing but "the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19). He had been impressed, alarmed, humbled so far as to make confession of sin (Exodus 9:27), and to promise three several times that he would let the Israelites depart from Egypt (Exodus 8:8, Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:28). But all had been of no avail. No sooner was a plague removed at his humble entreaty than he resumed all his old pride and arrogance, retracted his promise, and showed himself as stiff-necked as at the first. The time during which his trim had lasted, and God's patience endured, must have been more than a year—surely ample opportunity!
II. UNTIL IT IS MANIFEST THAT THERE IS NO HOPE THAT HE WILL REPENT. "What could have been done more in my vineyard, that I have not done to it?" God asks in Isaiah (Isaiah 5:4). And what more could he have done to turn Pharaoh from his evil ways, that he had not done on this occasion? Exhortations, warnings, miracles, light plagues, heavy plagues, had all been tried, and no real, permanent impression made. The worst of all was, that when some kind of impression was made, no good result ensued. Fear—abject, servile, cowardly fear—was the dominant feeling aroused; and even this did not last, but disappeared the moment that the plague was removed. Pharaoh was thus constantly "sinning yet more" (Exodus 9:34). Instead of improving under the chastening hand of God, he was continually growing worse. His heart was becoming harder. His reformation was more hopeless.
III. UNTIL GOD'S PURPOSES IN ALLOWING THE RESISTANCE OF HIS WILL BY THE SINNER ARE ACCOMPLISHED. God intended that through Pharaoh's resistance to his will, and the final failure of his resistance, his own name should be glorified and "declared throughout all the earth" (Exodus 9:16). It required a period of some length—a tolerably prolonged contest—to rivet the attention both of the Egyptians generally, and of the surrounding nations. After somewhat more than a year this result had been attained. There was, consequently, no need of further delay; and the last three plagues, which followed rapidly the one upon the other, were of the nature of judgments.
Man's interposition with good advice may come too late.
It is impossible to say what effect the opposition and remonstrances of his nobles and chief officers might not have had upon Pharaoh, if they had been persistently offered from the first. But his magicians had for some time aided and abetted his resistance to God's will, as declared by Moses; and had even used the arts whereof they were masters to make, the miracles which Moses wrought seem trifles. And the rest of the Court officials had held their peace, neither actively supporting the monarch, nor opposing him. It was only when the land had been afflicted by seven plagues, and an eighth was impending, that they summoned courage to express disapproval of the king's past conduct, and to recommend a different course. "How long shall this man be a snare unto us? Let the men go," they said. But the advice came too late. Pharaoh had, so to speak, committed himself. He had engaged in a contest from which he could not retire without disgrace. He had become heated and hardened; and, the more the conviction came home to him that he must yield the main demand, the more did it seem to him a point of honour not to grant the whole of what had been asked. But practically, this was the same thing as granting nothing, since Moses would not be content with less than the whole. The interposition of the Court officials was therefore futile. Let those whose position entitles them to offer advice to men in power bear in mind four things—
(1) The importance of promptness in bringing their influence to bear;
(2) the advantage of taking a consistent line from first to last;
(3) the danger of inaction and neutrality; and
(4) the necessity of pressing their advice when it has been once given, and of not allowing it to be set aside. If the "servants of Pharaoh" had followed up the interposition recorded in Exodus 10:7 by further representations and remonstrances, they would have had some slight chance of producing an effect. But a single isolated remonstrance was valueless.
The terribleness of God's severer judgments.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the bands of the living God." "Our God is a consuming fire." "If the wicked turn not, God will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors" (Psalms 7:11-13). Every calamity which can visit man is at his disposal. God's punishments are terrible—
I. BECAUSE HE IS OMNIPOTENT. He can smite with a thousand weapons—with all the varieties of physical pain—aches, sores, wounds, boils, nerve affections, inflammation, short breath, imperfect heart action, faintings, palpitations, weakness, cramps, chills, shiverings—with mental sufferings, bad spirits, depression, despondency, grief, anguish, fear, want of brain power, loss of self-controls distaste for exertion, etc.; with misfortunes—sickness, mutilation, loss of friends, ill-health, bereavement, death. He can accumulate sorrows, reiterate blows, allow no respite, proceed from bad to worse, utterly crush and destroy those who have offended him and made themselves his enemies.
II. BECAUSE HE IS ABSOLUTELY JUST. God's judgments are the outcome of his justice, and therefore most terrible. What have we not deserved at his hands? If, after all his gentle teaching, all his mild persuading, the preaching of his ministers, the promptings of his Holy Spirit, the warnings furnished by the circumstances of life, the special chastisements sent to evoke repentance, men continue obdurate—what remains but a "fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries"? (Hebrews 10:27.) If each sin committed is to receive its full, due, and appropriate penalty, what suffering can be sufficient? Even in this life, the vengeances that have overtaken the impenitent, have sometimes been most fearful; what must the full tale be if we take in the consideration of another?
III. BECAUSE HE IS FAITHFUL, AND CANNOT LIE OR REPENT. God in his Word has plainly, clearly, unmistakably, over and over again, declared that the impenitent sinner shall be punished everlastingly. In vain men attempt to escape the manifest force of the words and to turn them to another meaning. As surely as the life of the blessed is never-ending, so is the "death" of the wicked. Vainly says one, that he would willingly give up his hope of everlasting life, if so be that by such sacrifice he could end the eternal sufferings of the lost ones. It is not what man feels, what he thinks he would do, or even what he would actually do, were it in his power, that proves anything; the question is one of fact. God tells us what he is about to do, and he will assuredly do it, whatever we may think or feel. "These (the wicked) shall go into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life everlasting" (Matthew 25:46). Oh! terrible voice of most just judgment which shall be pronounced on those to whom it shall be said, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41)] The crowning terror of the judgment of God is the perpetuity which he has declared attaches to it.
The agency of nature used by God both in inflicting and removing judgments.
God's footsteps are not known. Since Eden was lost to us it has pleased him, for inscrutable reasons, to withdraw himself behind the screen of nature, and to work out his purposes—in the main, through natural agencies. He punishes idleness and imprudence by poverty and contempt; intemperance and uncleanness, by disease; inordinate ambition, by collapse of schemes, loss of battles, deposition, exile, early death. Civil government is one of the agencies which he uses for punishing a whole class of offences; hygienic laws are another. It is comparatively seldom that he descends visibly to judgment, as when he burnt up the cities of the plains. So, even when he was miraculously punishing Egypt and Pharaoh, he used, as far as was possible, the agency of nature. Frog, mosquitoes, beetles, thunder, hail, locusts, worked his will—natural agents, suited to the season and the country—only known by faith to have come at his bidding, and departed when he gave the order. And he brought the locusts and took them away, by a wind. So the temporal punishments of the wicked came constantly along the ordinary channels of life, rash speculation producing bankruptcy; profligacy, disease; dishonesty, distrust; ill-temper, general aversion. Men curse their ill-luck when calamity comes on them, and attribute to chance what is really the doing of God's retributive hand. The east wind, they say, brought the locusts on them; but they do not ask who brought the east wind out of his treasury. God uses natural means also to remove judgments. "A wind takes the locusts away." A severe winter stops a pestilence. An invasion of their own territory recalls devastating hordes to its defence, and frees the land which they were ravaging. Reaction sets in when revolution goes too far, and the guillotine makes short work of the revolutionists. Want stimulates industry, and industry removes the pressure of want. Even when men's prayers are manifestly answered by the cessation of thought, or rain, or the recovery from sickness of one given over by the physicians, the change comes about in a natural way. A little cloud rises up out of the deep, and overspreads the heavens, and the drought is gone. The wind shifts a few points, and the "plague of rain" ceases. The fever abates, little by little, the patient finds that he can take nourishment; so the crisis is past, and nature, or "the strength of his constitution," as men say, has saved him. The changes are natural ones; but God, who is behind nature, has caused the changes, and, as much as miracles, they are his work.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
A new Message.
Even yet God had not done with the King of Egypt. He sends Moses again to ply him with reproof and threatening. The final stroke is put off as long as possible. If "by all means" (1 Corinthians 9:22) Pharaoh can be saved, he will not be lost for want of the opportunity. God tells Moses his design in dealing with the monarch as he did, and gives him a new message to carry to the royal presence.
I. GOD'S DESIGN (Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:2). He had hardened Pharaoh's heart and the heart of his servants, that he might show these his signs before him, and that he might secure their being had in remembrance through all succeeding generations in Israel. This bespeaks, on God's part—
1. Definite purpose in the shaping of the events which culminated in the Exodus. As Jehovah, the all-ruling one, it lay with him to determine what shape these events would assume, so as best to accomplish the end he had in view in the deliverance. It was of his ordering that a ruler of Pharaoh's stamp occupied the throne of Egypt at that particular time; that the king was able to hold out as he did against his often reiterated, and powerfully enforced, command; that the monarch's life was spared, when he might have been smitten and destroyed (Exodus 9:15, Exodus 9:16); that the Exodus was of so glorious and memorable a character.
2. It indicates the nature of the design. "That ye may know how that I am the Lord' (Exodus 10:2). We have already seen (Exodus 6:1-30.) that the central motive in this whole series of events was the manifestation of God in his character of Jehovah—the absolute, all-ruling, omnipotent Lord, who works in history, in mercy, and judgment, for the accomplishment of gracious ends. The design was
(1) To demonstrate the fact that such a Being as is denoted by the name Jehovah, existed; that there is an absolute, all-ruling, omnipotent, gracious God;
(2) to raise the mind to a proper conception of his greatness, by giving an exhibition, on a scale of impressive magnitude, of his actual working in mercy and judgment for the salvation of his people; and
(3) to make thereby a revelation of himself which would lay the foundation of future covenant relations with Israel, and ultimately of an universal religion reposing on the truths of his unity, spirituality, sanctity, omnipotence, and love. Subordinate objects were the making known of his power and greatness to Pharaoh himself (Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:22; Exodus 9:13, Exodus 9:29), and to the surrounding nations (Exodus 9:16). The design thus indicated required that the facts should be of a kind which admitted of no dispute; that they should palpably and conclusively demonstrate the character of God to be as asserted; and that they should be of so striking and awful a description, as to print themselves indelibly upon the memory of the nation. These conditions were fulfilled in the events of the Exodus.
(3) It shows how God intended his mighty works to be kept in remembrance. "That thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son," etc. (Exodus 10:2). God provided for the handing down of a knowledge of these wonders
(1) By giving them a character which secured that they should not be forgotten. The memory of these "wonders in the land of Ham' (Psalms 105:27) rings down in Israel to the latest generations (see Psalms 78:1-72; Psalms 105:1-45; Psalms 106:1-48; Psalms 135:1-21; Psalms 126:1-6, etc.);
(2) by embodying them in a written record;
(3) by enjoining on parents the duty of faithfully narrating them to their children (Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 5:7, Deuteronomy 5:20-23; Deuteronomy 11:19; Psalms 78:3-7). Bible history will soon get to be forgotten if the story is not taken up and diligently taught by loving parental lips.
II. GOD'S REQUIREMENT—humility. "How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?" (Exodus 10:3.) This lays the finger on the root principle of Pharaoh's opposition, pride. Pride, the undue exaltation of the ego, is a hateful quality of character, even as between man and man. How much more, as between man and God! It is described as "the condemnation of the devil" (1 Timothy 4:6). Pride puffs the soul up in undue conceit of itself, and leads it to spurn at God's dictation and control. It aims at a false independence. It would wish to be as God. In the worldly spirit it manifests itself as "the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). In the self-righteous spirit it manifests itself as spiritual pride. It excludes every quality which ought to exist in a soul rightly exercised towards its Creator. Faith, love, humility, the feeling of dependence, gratitude for benefits, regard for the Creator's glory—it shuts out all. It is incompatible with the sense of sin, with the spirit of contrition, with humble acceptance of salvation through another. It is the great barrier to the submission of the heart to God and Christ, inciting instead to naked and impious rebellion. The degree and persistency of the opposition to God which pride is able to inspire may be well studied in the case of Pharaoh.
III. GOD'S THREAT (Exodus 10:4 Exodus 10:7). He would bring upon the land a plague of locusts. The magnitude of the visitation would place it beyond comparison with anything that had ever been known. See below.
IV. MOSES GOING OUT FROM PHARAOH. "And he turned himself, and went out from Pharaoh" (Exodus 10:6). He delivered his message, and did not wait for an answer. This should have told Pharaoh that the bow was now stretched to its utmost, and that to strain it further by continued resistance would be to break it. His courtiers seem to have perceived this (Exodus 10:7). Moses' going out was a prelude to the final breaking off of negotiations (Exodus 10:29). View it also as a studied intimation—
1. Of his indignation at the past conduct of the king (cf. Exodus 11:8).
2. Of his conviction of the hopelessness of producing any good impression on his hardened nature.
3. Of the certainty of God's purpose being fulfilled, whether Pharaoh willed it or no. It was for Pharaoh's interest to attend to the warning which had now again been given him, but his refusal to attend to it would only injure himself and his people; it would not prevent God's will from being accomplished.—J.O.
The plague of locusts.
Of the two principal terms used to denote "hardening," one means "to strengthen, or make firm," the other, "to make heavy, or obtuse." It is the latter of these (used also in Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:7) which is used in Exodus 9:34, and Exodus 10:1. The growing obtuseness of Pharaoh's mind is very apparent from the narrative. He is losing the power of right judgment. He began by hardening himself (making his heart strong and firm) against Jehovah, and he is reaping the penalty in a blinded understanding. This obtuseness shows itself in various ways, notably in the want of unity in his conduct. He is like a man at bay, who feels that he is powerless to resist, but cannot bring himself to yield. His power of self-control is leaving him, and his action, in consequence, consists of a succession of mad rushes, now in one direction, now in another. External influences—the remonstrance of courtiers, the terrors occasioned by the plagues—produce immediate effects upon him; but the recoil of pride and rage, which speedily supervenes, carries him further from reason than ever. Now he is suing in pitiable self-humiliation for forgiveness; again he is furious and unrestrained in his defiance. Passion is usurping the place of reason, and drives him to and fro with ungovernable violence. We are reminded of the heathen saying, "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first madden;' but it is not God who is destroying Pharaoh; it is Pharaoh who is destroying himself. If God maddens him, it is by plying him with the influences which ought to have had a directly opposite effect. Pharaoh, like every other sinner, must bear the responsibility of his own ruin.
I. THE INTERVENTION OF PHARAOH'S SERVANTS (Exodus 10:7). These may be the same servants who up to this time had hardened themselves (Exodus 9:34). If so, they now see the folly of further contest. More and more Pharaoh is being left to stand alone. First, his magicians gave in (Exodus 8:19), then a portion of his servants (Exodus 9:20); now, apparently, his courtiers are deserting him in a body. It shows the indomitable stubbornness of the king, that under these circumstances he should still hold out. Observe,
1. The subjects of a government have often a truer perception of what is needed for the safety of a country than their rulers and leaders. Pharaoh's servants saw the full gravity of the situation, to which the monarch was so blind. "Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" Rulers are frequently blinded by their pride, passion, prejudices, and private wishes, to the real necessities of a political situation.
2. Hardening against God makes the heart indifferent to the interests of others. The ungodly mind is at bottom selfish. We have seen already (Exodus 5:1-23.) to what lengths in cruelty ungodly men will go in pursuit of their personal ends. We have also seen that hardening at the centre of the nature is bound to spread till it embraces the whole man (on Exodus 7:3). Pharaoh is an illustration of this. He was unboundedly proud; and "pride," says Muller, "is the basest and most glaring form that selfishness can assume." It is an egoistic sin; a sin of the will more than of the affections; a sin rooted in the centre of the personality. But Pharaoh was more than proud; he was God-defying. He had consciously and wilfully hardened himself against the Almighty, under most terrible displays of his omnipotence. Driven to bay in such a contest, it was not to be expected that he would be much influenced by the thought of the suffering he was bringing upon others. Egypt might be destroyed, but Pharaoh recked little of that, or, possibly, still tried to persuade himself that the worst might be averted. The remonstrance of his courtiers produced a momentary wavering, but defiance breaks out again in Exodus 10:10 in stronger terms than ever.
II. A RENEWED ATTEMPT AT COMPROMISE (Exodus 10:8-12). Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron, and asks who they are that are to go to sacrifice (Exodus 10:8): the reply was decisive; "we will go with our young and with our old," etc. (Exodus 10:9). At this Pharaoh is transported with ungovernable rage. He accuses the Hebrew brothers of desiring to take an evil advantage of his permission, and practically challenges Jehovah to do his worst against him (Exodus 10:10). He will consent to the men going to serve the Lord, but to nothing more (Exodus 10:11). Moses and Aaron were then "driven" from his presence. We are reminded here of the transports of Saul, and his malicious rage at David (1 Samuel 19:1-24.). Notice on this,
1. Wicked men distrust God. Pharaoh had no reason to question Jehovah's sincerity. God had proved his sincerity by his previous dealings with him. And had God actually demanded—what ultimately would have been required—the entire departure of the people from the land, what right had he, their oppressor, to object?
2. Wicked men would fain compound with God. They will give up something, if God will let them retain the rest. There is a sweetness to a proud nature in being able to get even part of its own way.
3. The thing wicked men will not do is to concede the whole demand which God makes on them. What God requires supremely is the surrender of the will, and this the recalcitrant heart will not stoop to yield. Part it will surrender, but not the whole. Outward vices, pleasures, worldly possessions, friendships, these, at a pinch, may be given up; but not the heart's love and obedience, which is the thing chiefly asked for; not the" little ones" of the heart's secret sins, or the "flocks and herds" for the pure inward sacrifice (see Pusey on Micah 6:6-9).
III. THE LOCUST JUDGMENT (Exodus 10:12-16). The predicted plague was accordingly brought upon the land. It was the second of what we may call the greater plagues—the plagues that were to be laid upon the king's "heart" (Exodus 9:14). They were plagues of a character to appal and overwhelm; to lay hold of the nature on the side on which it is susceptible of impressions from the awful and terrific; to awaken into intense activity its slumbering sense of the infinite; to rouse in the soul the apprehension of present Deity. The first was the plague of hail, thunderings, and lightnings; the second was this plague of locusts. The points on which stress is laid in this second plague are—
1. The supernatural character of the visitation.
2. The appalling numbers of the enemy.
3. The havoc wrought by them.
We may compare the language here with the description of the locusts in Joel 2:1-32; and it may be concluded that the effects described as following from the latter visitation were more than paralleled by the terror and anguish created by the descent of this scourge on Egypt. "Before their face the people would be much pained; all faces would gather blackness" (Joel 2:6). It would seem as if the earth quaked before them; as if the heavens trembled; as if sun and moon had become dark, and the stars had withdrawn their shining (Joel 2:10)! The devastation was rapid and complete. "The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness" (Joel 2:3). Had the plague not speedily been removed Egypt verily would have been destroyed. How mighty is Jehovah! How universal his empire! These locusts were brought from afar (Joel 2:13). All agents in nature serve him; winds (cast and west), locusts (cf. Joel 2:11), as well as hail and thunder. He has but to speak the word, and all we have will be taken from us (Joel 2:15).
IV. PHARAOH'S PITIABLE PLIGHT AND FURTHER HARDENING (Joel 2:16-21). What we have here is a specimen of one of those violent contrasts in Pharaoh's later moods to which reference has been made above. Nothing could be more humiliating, more abject, more truly painful, in its self-effacement than this new appeal of the king to Moses. He had sinned, shined both against God, and against Moses and Aaron; would they forgive him this once, only this once, and entreat God that he would take away from him this death only? (Joel 2:16, Joel 2:17.) Contrast this with Joel 2:10, or with Joel 2:28, and it can hardly be believed that we are looking on the same man. Pharaoh had never humbled himself so far before. He beseeches for mercy; almost cringes before Moses and Aaron in his anxiety to have this dreadful plague removed. Yet there is no real change of heart. The moment the locusts are gone pride reasserts its sway, and he hardens himself as formerly. Learn—
1. That false repentance may be connected with other than superficial states of feeling. Pharaoh was here in real terror, in mortal anguish of spirit. The pains of hell had truly got hold on him (Psalms 116:3). Yet his repentance was a false one.
2. That false repentance may ape every outward symptom of real repentance. Who that saw Pharaoh in that bath of anguish, and heard him pouring out those impassioned entreaties and confessions, but would have supposed that the hard heart had at length been subdued? The confession of sin is unreserved and unqualified. The submission is absolute. Pharaoh was aware of how little he deserved to be further trusted, and pied to be tried again, "only this once," Yet the repentance was through and through a false one—the product of mere natural terror—the repentance of a heart, not one fibre of which was altered in its moral quality.
3. That false repentance may not be consciously insincere. There is no reason to question that Pharaoh was for the time sincere enough in the promises he' made. They were wrung from him, but he meant to give effect to them. But the momentary willingness he felt to purchase exemption from trouble by granting Jehovah's demand had quite disappeared by the time the plague was removed. The repentance was false.
4. The test of a repentance being false or true is the fruits yielded by it. The test is not the depth of our convictions, the anguish of our minds, the profuseness of our confessions, the apparent sincerity of our vows, it is the kind of deeds which follow (Matthew 3:8). We have need in this matter of repentance to distrust ourselves, to beware of being imposed on by others, and to be careful in public instruction that the real nature of repentance is lucidly expounded.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The Eighth Plague: the locusts.
I. CONSIDER THE EMPHATIC STATEMENT WITH RESPECT TO THE HARDENING OF THE HEART. In Exodus 9:34 we are told that when the hail and the thunder ceased, Pharaoh hardened his heart, he and his servants. Note here two things:
1. How Pharaoh's heart was hardened just after he had made a confession of sin; from which we see how little he understood by the word "sin," and how little he meant by the confession.
2. The combination of his servants with him in this hardening; from which we may judge that just as some among his servants had been taken further away from him by their prudent and believing action when the hail was threatened (Exodus 9:20), so others had been drawn still nearer to their master, and made larger sharers in his obstinacy and pride. The unbelieving, who left their servants and their cattle in the fields, not only lost their property when the hail descended, but afterwards they became worse men. And now in Exodus 10:1, not only is there a statement that the hearts of Pharaoh and his servants were hardened, but God in his own person says, "I have hardened his heart," etc. Then after this statement, so emphatic in the expression of it, however difficult to understand in the meaning of it, God goes on to explain why he has thus hardened the heart of Pharaoh and his servants. In the first place, it gives an opportunity for showing God's signs before Pharaoh—"all my plagues" (Exodus 9:14). Thus God would turn our attention here to the thing of chief importance, namely, what he was doing himself. Important it certainly is to notice what Pharaoh is doing, but far more important to notice what Jehovah is doing. We may easily give too much time to thinking of Pharaoh, and too little to thinking of Jehovah. Thus God would ever direct us into the steps of practical wisdom. We are constantly tempted to ask questions which cannot be answered, while we as constantly neglect to ask questions which both can be answered and ought to be answered. The conduct of Pharaoh is indeed a fascinating problem for those who love to consider the play of motives in the human heart. In considering him there is ample room for the imagination to work out the conception of a very impressive character. Thus, we might come to many conclusions with respect to Pharaoh, some of them right, but in all likelihood most of them wrong, perhaps egregiously wrong. These are matters in which God has not given opportunity for knowledge; the depths of Pharaoh's personality are concealed from us. There is true and important knowledge to be gained, but it is in another direction. The marvellous, exhaustless power of God is to be more prominent in our thoughts than the erratic and violent plunging of Pharaoh from one extreme to another. Amid all that is dark, densely dark, one thing is clear and clear because God meant it to be clear, and took care to make it so—namely, that all this conduct of Pharaoh was the occasion for unmistakable and multiplied signs of the power of God. One is here reminded of the question of the disciples to Jesus (John 9:2), "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" To this question more answers than one were possible; but Jesus gave the answer that was appropriate to the occasion. The man was born blind, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. So not only was Pharaoh's heart hardened, but God himself hardened that heart, in order that these signs might be shown before him. Then, in the second place, these signs being wrought before -Pharaoh, became also matters for consideration, recollection, and tradition to the Israelites themselves. Moses, taken as the representative of Israel, is to tell to his son, and to his son's son, what things God had done in Egypt. Here is ample occasion given for the observant and devout in Israel to note the doings of Jehovah and communicate them with all earnestness and reverence from age to age. Surely it was worth a little waiting, a little temporal suffering, to have such chapters written as these which record Israel's experiences in Egypt! What are the sufferings, merely in body and in circumstances, of one generation, compared with the ennobling thoughts of God, and the consequent inspiration and comfort which may through these very sufferings be transmitted to many generations following! Why it is even a great privilege for one generation to be poor, that through its poverty many generations may become rich.
III. CONSIDER HOW THE TERRIBLE MAGNITUDE OF THE LOCUST-PLAGUE IS SHOWN BY THE EFFECTS FOLLOWING ON THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF IT.
1. There are the expostulations of Pharaoh's servants with him (Exodus 10:7). They, at all events, are not disposed to wait for the coming of the locusts. That the locust-plague was a very dreadful one, we may partly gather from other intimations in the Scriptures with respect to these voracious insects, advancing in their innumerable hosts (Deuteronomy 28:38, Deuteronomy 28:42; 1Ki 8:37; 2 Chronicles 7:13; Joel 1:4; Nahum 3:15). The experiences of modern travellers in the East are also such as to assure us that the expectation of a visit from the locust is enough to excite the most alarming thoughts (see in particular Dr. Thomson's observations on the locust in The Land and the Book). But in truth we hardly need to go beyond the conduct of Pharaoh's servants themselves. The very name locust was enough to startle them into precautionary activity; they did not wait for the reality. Some of them, indeed, had anticipated the destructive effect of the hail, and taken suitable precautions; but others felt there was room for question whether, after all, the hail would be so pernicious. In their presumption they guessed that a hailstorm could inflict only a slight and reparable damage. But what could escape the locusts? Every green thing was well known to perish before their voracity. Even what might be called an ordinary visitation from them would be no trifle; how much more such a visitation as Pharaoh's servants had now every reason to believe would come upon them! For the time was long past when they doubted concerning the power of Moses to bring what he threatened. It is no longer a question of the power of Moses, but of the endurance of Egypt. In all likelihood the thought now prevailing in the minds of Pharaoh's servants—possibly in Pharaoh's own mind—was that this run of calamity would presently come to an end, if only it was patiently endured. For in ancient Egypt there was doubtless some such proverb as might be Englished into our common saying, "It is a long lane that has no turning." Egypt has known the long lane of seven plagues; surely it cannot be much longer. And yet it may easily be long enough to destroy them before they get out of it. Locusts to come, when Moses speaks about them, may be reckoned as good as come, if something be not done promptly to avert their approach; and once come, then how long will the food of Egypt remain, either for man or beast! No wonder, then, that Pharaoh's servants turned upon him with such warm—one may almost say threatening—expostulations. The prospect of an immediate and almost instantaneous stoppage of supplies was enough to bring them hastening, as with one consent, to beg a timely submission from their master.
2. There is the extraordinary yielding of Pharaoh to these expostulations. Nothing less than extraordinary can it be called. His yieldings hitherto have been under actual chastise-meat. He has waited for the blow to be struck before he begged for mercy. But now, upon the mere threatening of the blow, he is moved to make overtures of submission. We shall have to notice of what a partial and worthless sort this submission was; at present, the main thing to mark is that there was a submission at all. He could not afford to trifle with the warnings of his servants. Hitherto, in all probability, they had been largely flatterers, men who fooled Pharaoh to the top of his bent with compliments as to his absolute power; but now they are turned into speakers of plain and bitter truth; and though Pharaoh may not like it, the very fact that he is thus addressed is enough to show him that he must arrange terms of surrender before another battle has even begun. Thus, by merely studying the conduct of Pharaoh and his servants before the locusts came, we see very clearly what a terrible plague they were. The plague of the locusts was a great deal more than a variation from the plagues of the frogs, the gnats and the flies.
III. Consider how, in spite of all the dread inspired by the thought of these locusts, PHARAOH'S PRIDE STILL HINDERS COMPLETE SUBMISSION. It was in an emergency of his government, and under pressure from his panic-stricken servants, that he consented to treat with Moses. Moses comes, and Pharaoh makes him an offer, which Moses of course cannot accept, seeing that he really has no power to treat; he has but the one unchangeable demand; it is a righteous demand, and therefore the righteous Jehovah cannot permit it to be diminished. But the rejection of Pharaoh's offer gives him a convenient loophole of escape into his former stubbornness. He can turn to his servants and say, "See what an unreasonable man this is. He comes expecting that in the terms of peace I am to yield all, and he is to yield nothing. Better to risk the locusts, and if need be, perish in the midst of our desolated fields, than live dishonoured by yielding up all Israel at his inexorable request." Speaking in some such spirit as this, we may well believe that Pharaoh stirred up his servants, and won them to support him in continuing his dogged resistance. It is a noble principle to die with honour rather than live with shame; it is the very principle that in its holiest illustration has crowded the ranks of Christian martyrdom. But when a principle of this sort gets into the mouth of a Pharaoh, he may so pervert it as to bring about the worst results. There is no manlier way of closing life than to die for truth and Christ; but it is a poor thing to become, as Pharaoh evidently would have his servants become, the victims of a degraded patriotism. It was all very well to talk loud and drive Moses and Aaron from his presence; but what was the good? the locusts were coming none the less. The fact is, that all suggestions of prudent and timely surrender were cast to the winds. The pride of the tyrant is touched, and it makes him blind to everything else. He rushes ahead, reckless of what may come on the morrow, if only he can gain the passionate satisfaction of driving Moses out of his presence to-day. There is no reasoning With a man in a passion; all arguments are alike to him.
IV. CONSIDER PHARAOH'S ULTIMATE SUBMISSION AND THE CONSEQUENCE OF IT. He drove Moses and Aaron out of his presence, but nevertheless he had to yield, and that in a peculiarly humiliating way. When he saw the locusts actually at work, then he came face to face with reality; and reality sobers a man. He had to send in haste for the men whom he had driven away, for the locusts were in haste. Every minute he delayed brought Egypt nearer and nearer to starvation. Oh, foolish Pharaoh! just for the pleasure, the sweet, momentary pleasure of driving Moses out of your presence, to risk the horrors of this ravaging host. Notice further, for it is a remarkable thing, that while Pharaoh begs most humbly for mercy, he makes fie formal promise of liberation. The promise, we feel, was really there, all the more emphatic and more evidently unconditional, just because unspoken. Any way, the time had come when formal promises from Pharaoh mattered little, seeing they were never kept. The great thing was that he should be made to feel the pressure of God's hand upon him, so that he could not but cry to escape from it. Every time he thus cried and begged, as he here so piteously does—all his stubbornness for the time melted away into invisibility—he showed in the clearest manner the power of Jehovah. Jehovah's end, in this particular plague of the locusts, was gained when Pharaoh begged that they might be driven away—Y
The tales of a grandfather.
Jehovah tells Moses, as the representative of Israel, that these glorious Divine actions in Egypt are to be matters of careful instruction in after ages. Each parent is to speak of them to his children, and each grandparent to his grandchildren. And is there not something particularly suggestive in this expression, "thy son's son"? It brings before us the aged Israelite, his own part in the toil and strife of the world accomplished, his strength exhausted, the scene of his occupations left to a younger generation, and he himself quietly waiting for the close. How is he to occupy his time? Not in utter idleness, for that is good for no man, however long and hard he may have worked. Some part of his thoughts, it may be hoped, goes out in anticipations of the full and unmixed eternity now so near; but some part also will go backward into time, not without pensive and painful interest. He looks from the eminence he has attained, and two generations are behind him, his children and his children's children. His own children are busy. The world is with them constantly, and its demands are very pressing. They hardly see their offspring from Monday morning till Saturday night. It is only too easy for a man to get so absorbed in seeking the good of strangers, as to have no time for his own household. The following extract from the biography of Wilberforce bears in a very instructive way on this point. "It is said that his children seldom got a quiet minute with him during the sitting of Parliament. So long as they were infants he had not time to seek amusement from them. Even whilst they were of this age, it made a deep impression on his mind when, one of them beginning to cry as he took him up, the nurse said naturally, by way of explanation, 'He always is afraid of strangers.'" And if this danger of distance between him and his children came to a man like Wilberforce, we may be sure that it comes to thousands who are less sensitive and conscientious than he was. What a field of usefulness, then, is here indicated for a grandfather! In his retirement, and out of his long experience, he may speak of principles the soundness of which he has amply established, and errors which he has had painfully to correct; he may point to a rich harvest gathered from good seed he has been able to sow. Thus the grandfather finds opportunities for useful instruction which the father, alas! may not even seek. Of such it may be truly said, "They shall bring forth fruit in old age" (Psalms 92:14). Notice here two points:—
I. IT IS WELL FOR THE YOUNGER TO LOOK FORWARD WITH CONCERN TO THE OCCUPATIONS OF A POSSIBLE OLD AGE. The very fact that life is uncertain dictates the prudence of a consideration like this. Life may be shorter than we expect it to be, but it may also be longer. We must not reckon on old age, but that is no reason why we should not prepare for it. Boys and girls can hardly be expected to look so far ahead; but those who have come to manhood and womanhood and some exercise of reflective power, may well ask the question, "How shall I occupy old age if it comes?" And surely it is much to remember that if each stage in life is occupied as it ought to be, then this very fidelity and carefulness will help to provide congenial occupation for the last stage of all. Who would wish to spend the closing years of life in such stupor and lethargy as come over only too many, when there are sources of interest and usefulness such as Jehovah indicates to Moses here? Old age might be a brighter and more profitable scene than it usually is. Who can tell, indeed, whether much of the physical prostration, pain, and sensitive decay, which belong to the aged and tend to shut them out from the world, might not be spared, if there were but a wiser life in earlier years, a life spent in obedience to the laws which God has given for life Many of the most important of these laws we either misunderstand or ignore altogether. Old age is a season into which we should not drift, but advance with a calm consideration of what we may be able to do in it, for the glory of God and the good of men. If we live to be old, what are our reminiscences to be? You who are on the climbing side of life, ask yourselves what sort of life you are making, what chapters of autobiography you may hereafter be able to write. Can anything be sadder than some autobiographies and reminiscences? There are such books, sad with expressed sadness, where the vanity of life is confessed and bewailed on every page. But there are other books, far sadder even than the former sort, just because of the very satisfaction with life which they contain. The men who have written them seem to look back in much the same spirit as once they looked forward. They looked forward with all the eagerness and enjoying power of youth, and they look back without having discovered how selfish, frivolous and unworthy their lives have been. At eighty they are as well pleased with their notion that man has come into this world to enjoy himself as they were at eighteen. Whether we shall live into old age is not for us to settle, nor what our state of body and circumstances may be if we do so live. But one thing at all events we may seek to avoid, namely, a state of mind in old age such as that in which Wesley tells us he found a certain old man at Okehampton. "Our landlord here informed us that he was upwards of ninety, yet had not lost either his sight, hearing, or teeth. Nor had he found that for which he was born. Indeed he did not seem to have any more thought about it than a child of six years old."
II. OBSERVE, CONCERNING WHAT THINGS IN PARTICULAR GOD WOULD HAVE THE OLD SPEAK TO THE YOUNG. Not so much concerning what they have done, but concerning what God has done for them. Every old man, however foolish, blundering and wasted his own career may have been, has this resort—that he can look back on the dealings of God. It may be that he has to think of a late repentance on his own part; it may be that he has to think a great deal more of God's mercy to him after years of utter negligence, than God's help to him through years of struggling obedience. Even so, he can magnify God most abundantly and instructively. Magnifying God is the thing which all Christians should aim at when they look back on the time covered by their own individual life, or over that long, large tract through which authentic history extends. "Tell what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them." There will never be lack of voices to celebrate the achievements of men. But what a grand occupation for the aged Christian to turn the thoughts of children to the achievements of God, such works as the overthrow of Pharaoh and the guiding into Canaan, and, above all, the work which he does in the hearts of those who believe in his Son. To look on the works of men, on all their selfishness and rivalry, to see how the success of the few involves the failure of the many—all this is very humiliating. But how glorious to speak of the works of God, to point him out in Creation, in Providence, in Redemption; and then to call on the young, all their life through, to be fellow-labourers together with him—what an occupation is here suggested for old age! The "grey-headed and very aged men" (Job 15:10) may thus do much for us. When Boaz became the nourisher of Naomi's grey hairs, Naomi took the child of Boaz and Ruth, laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. And surely her nursing would include instruction, the telling of her own personal experiences to the growing Obed, full as these experiences were of things fitted to guide the youth to a good and noble manhood. A friend who called on C. M. Young, the celebrated actor, a few months before his death, reported that he gave a miserable account of himself, and wound up by saying, "Seventy-nine is telling its tale." True! Seventy-nine must tell a tale of exhausted physical energy, but the tale need not therefore be altogether doleful. Serious it must be, and not without touches of shame; but it will be the fault of the teller if it does not contain much to guide, inspire, and invigorate the young. (Job 32:9; Psalms 37:25; Titus 2:2-5; 1 Kings 12:6-8).—Y.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
God's Judgments on sin and their results for the righteous and the wicked.
I. THE FRUITS FOR GOD'S PEOPLE OF HIS JUDGMENTS UPON HIS ENEMIES.
1. The plagues of Egypt were to be an example to all the generations of Israel (Exodus 10:2).
(1) It drew them nearer God. They were his: he gave Egypt for them.
(2) It deepened their trust and fear.
2. It was the prophecy of how God will sanctify his people in the latter days.
3. How God sanctifies his people now. Their prolonged waiting and suffering is storing up power for the future. The night of trial makes the day of deliverance brighter and more fruitful.
II. THE WAY OF THE UNREPENTANT IS ONE OF DEEPENING LOSS. Pharaoh will not retain what God's mercy has left him. The locusts eat what the hail has spared. The path darkens evermore till the night falls to which no day succeeds.
III. GOD'S JUDGMENTS AWAKEN FEAR IN THE HEARTS OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS, BUT NO REPENTANCE. The advice of Pharaoh's counsellors.
1. Its selfishness. It was inspired not by love of righteousness, but by self interest. If it does not answer to enslave and persecute God's people; the world will desist; and if there is wealth and honour to be got by it, they will even favour them and desire to be numbered with them.
2. Its insufficiency. "Let the men go" They will not yield the whole of what God demands. They will not give up sin or resign the heart. The service of the selfish is as deficient in full obedience, as it is hateful in motive.
The plague of locusts.
I. GOD'S JUDGMENT.
1. Though restrained for a time, it will surely fall. It is no argument that the threatening is vain, because, while the servants of God try to persuade, there is no token of the coming judgment.
2. When it does come, it is not less than was foretold (14, 15). God's deed is his comment on his Word, and reveals the terror whose shadow lay in it. The flood was not less than Noah's warnings painted it, nor Jerusalem's judgment than the prophecies which predicted it. Nor shall the woes coming upon the nations, nor the end of sin, be less than God's Word has said.
II. PHARAOH'S CRY. It was sincere, both in confession and entreaty. He saw his folly, he desired relief, he purposed amendment. Good visits him, but it will not abide with him. The self-delusion of repentance born of the visitation of God and the need of heart-searching.
III. PHARAOH'S HEART HARDENED THROUGH DELIVERANCE. With the outward blessing we need inward grace. If we wait upon the Lord he will increase fear, and zeal, and tenderness of heart, but if we still keep far from him we are reserved only for heavier punishment. Instead of forsaking evil we shall build upon God's readiness to forgive, and repentance itself will become impossible through the soul's deep insincerity. Have we received no warnings which have been forgotten? Have we made no vows as yet unfulfilled? God's word says, "Flee from the wrath to come." Sin cries, "Tarry, there is no danger; wait for a more convenient season."—U.
THE NINTH PLAGUE. The ninth plague, like the third and the sixth, was inflicted without special warning. God had announced, after the plague of boils, that he was about to "send all his plagues upon the heart" of the king; and so a succession of inflictions was to be expected. The ninth plague probably followed the eighth after a very short interval. It is rightly regarded as an aggravation of a well-known natural phenomenon—the Khamsin, or "Wind of the Desert" which commonly visits Egypt about the time of the vernal equinox, and is accompanied by an awful and weird darkness. This is caused by the dense clouds of fine sand which the wind brings with it, which intercept the sun's light, and produce a darkness beyond that of our worst fogs, and compared by some travellers to "the most gloomy night." The wind is depressing and annoying to an extreme degree. "While it lasts no man rises from his place; men and beasts hide themselves; the inhabitants of towns and villages shut themselves up in their houses, in underground apartments, or vaults." It usually blows for a space of two, or at most three, days, and sometimes with great violence, though more often with only moderate force. The visitation here recorded was peculiar,
1. In its extent, covering as it did "all the land d Egypt;"
2. In its intensity—"they saw not one another" (Exodus 10:23)—"darkness which may be felt" (Exodus 10:21);
3. In its circumscription, extending, as it did, to all Egypt except only the land of Goshen (Exodus 10:23). These circumstances made Pharaoh at once recognise its heaven-sent character, and request its removal of Moses, whom he sought to persuade by conceding the departure of the Israelites with their families. He marred, however, the whole grace of this concession by a proviso that they should leave behind them their flocks and herds, viewing these as, equally with their families, a security for their return. Moses therefore indignantly rejected his offer—the flocks and the herds should go with them—he would not have a hoof left behind—they did not know what sacrifices would be required at the feast which they were about to keep, or how many (Exodus 10:25, Exodus 10:26)—therefore they must take all. Pharaoh, greatly angered, forthwith broke up the conference (Exodus 10:28), but not, as it would seem, before Moses, equally displeased, had announced the tenth plague, and the results which would follow it (Exodus 11:4-8).
Darkness which may be felt. Literally, "and one shall feel, or grasp, darkness." The hyperbole is no doubt extreme; but the general sentiment of mankind has approved the phrase, which exactly expresses what men feel in absolute and complete darkness. Kalisch renders, "a darkness in which men grope." But the grammatical construction does not allow of this.
A thick darkness.—Literally, "An obscurity of darkness." The phrase is intensitive.
They saw not one another. Or, "Man did not see his brother." The descriptive phrases previously used are poetic, and might imply many different degrees of obscurity. This seems distinctly to shew that pitch darkness is meant. Such absolute obscurity is far beyond anything which the khamsin produces, even when it is most severe, and indicates the miraculous character of the visitation. Neither rose any from his place for three days. It is not meant that no one moved about his house, but that no one quitted it. (Compare Exodus 16:29, where the phrase used is similar.) No one went out into the unnatural darkness out of doors, which he dreaded. All stayed at home, and did what they had to do by the artificial light of lamps or torches. All the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. It is not explained how this was effected. Some suppose that the sand-storm did not extend to the land of Goshen. But in that case, such Egyptians as lived among the Israelites—their neighbours. (Exodus 11:2)—would have shared the benefit, which seems not to have been the case. I should rather suppose that the storm was general, and that the Israelites were supplied with a light, not that of the sun, by miracle.
Only let your flocks and your herds be stayed. The pitch darkness is more than Pharaoh can bear. On the third day of its duration probably, he sends a messenger who succeeds in finding Moses, and conducting him to the monarch's presence. He has made up his mind to yield another point—that on which he insisted so strongly at the last interview (Exodus 10:10, Exodus 10:11)—he will let the Israelites go with their families—only, their flocks and herds must remain behind. This will be, he considers, a sufficient security for their return; since without cattle they would be unable to support life for many days in the wilderness. Your little ones. Rather, "your families."
Exodus 10:25, Exodus 10:26
Moses absolutely refuses the suggested compromise. He had already declared on a former occasion, "With our young and with our old we will go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go" (Exodus 10:9). He is not inclined to retract now, after two additional plagues, what he had demanded before them. He does not refuse, however, to set forth his reasons. The cattle must go because the feast which they are about to keep requires sacrifices- they must all go, because the Israelites do not as yet know what animals, or how many of each, will be required of them. The feast was a new thing, without precedent; its ritual was not yet laid down. No exact directions were to be expected, until the place was reached where God intended that it should be celebrated.
Hardened—Again the strong expression, yekhazak, is used, as in Exodus 10:20.
And Pharaoh said, etc. The reply of Pharaoh indicates violent anger. No doubt he thought that now the intention of Moses to deprive him altogether of the services of so many hundred thousand slaves was palpable, and scarcely concealed. Greatly enraged, he gives vent to his rage, with the want of self-control common among Oriental monarchs—rudely bids Moses be gone (Get thee from me), threatens him (take heed to thyself), and bids hires never more seek his presence, under the penalty of instant death, if he makes his appearance. Considering the degree of civilization, refinement, and politeness to which the Egyptians had attained under the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, such an outbreak must be regarded as abnormal, and as implying violent excitement.
And Moses said, etc. The reply of Moses, so far, is simple and dignified. Thou hast spoken well, he says—"thou hast made a right decision—further interviews between me and thee are useless, can lead to no result, only waste time. This shall be our last interview—I will see thy face no more." It is generally agreed however that Moses did not quit the presence with these words; but continued to address Pharaoh for some little time, making his parting speech in the terms which are recorded in Exodus 10:4-8 of the next chapter. Having announced the Tenth Plague, the coming destruction of the first-born, he turned and "went out from Pharaoh in a great anger" (Exodus 11:8).
The children of darkness have darkness, and the children of light have light as their portion.
From the beginning of the creation God "divided the light from the darkness" (Genesis 1:4); and ever since the two have been antagonistic the one to the other. Angels as well as men are divided into two classes—bright and glorious spirits that dwell in the light of God's presence, and are called" angels of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14); and gloomy spirits of evil, whom God has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for final judgment (Jude 1:6). So Scripture speaks of man as divided into those who are "of the night and of darkness," and those who are "children of light and of the day in (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
I. THE CHILDREN OF DARKNESS, THOSE WHO LOVE DARKNESS RATHER THAN LIGHT, HAVE DARKNESS ASSIGNED TO THEM.
1. Spiritual darkness. "Because they do not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gives them over to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28). Their "foolish heart is darkened" (Romans 1:21). They grow continually more blind and more ignorant, more incapable of seeing and understanding the things of the Spirit, since these are "spiritually discerned." Their senses not being "exercised by reason of use to discern both good and evil," they lose the power of discernment, and "put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." "The light that is within them"—i.e; the conscience—having "become darkness, how great is that darkness"!
2. Mental darkness. They "grope as the blind in darkness" (Deuteronomy 28:29). They have no clue to the real nature of the universe of which they are a part, or of the world in which they live. They are mentally sightless, unable to perceive the force of arguments and evidences which would convince any one whose mental vision God had not judicially blinded. They sometimes in these days call themselves "Agnostics," implying thereby that they know nothing, see nothing, have no convictions. Not unfrequently they allow them- selves to be imposed upon by the most gross illusions, giving that faith to the ravings of Spiritualists which they refuse to the Word of God. Or they accept as certain truth the unverified speculations and hypotheses of so-called scientific men, and consider Revelation to be overruled and set aside by the guesses of a few physiologists.
3. Ultimately, as it would seem, they receive as their portion, physical darknes. "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into cuter darkness" (Matthew 25:30). "The children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness" (Matthew 8:12). "Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever" (Jud Revelation 1:13).
II. THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT, THOSE WHO LOVE LIGHT, HAVE LIGHT FOR THEIR PORTION. "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Christ gives his followers,
1. Spiritual light. "The commandment is a lamp, the law is light" (Proverbs 6:23). "By doing the will of God, men come to know of the doctrine, whether it is of God' (John 7:17). Their spiritual discernment is continually increased. Whatever the amount of spiritual darkness around them—in the midst of the clouds of Deism, Pantheism, Agnosticism, scientific materialism, and Atheism, they "have light in their dwellings." Theirs is the true enlightenment. The Lord their God enlightens their darkness (Psalms 18:28); opens the eyes of their understanding (Ephesians 1:18); fills them with knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (Colossians 1:9).
2. Mental light. The true Christian "has a right judgment in all things." God gives to those who are his "the spirit of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). Not, that Christians are always clever—they may be slow, dull, devoid of all quickness or mental brightness. But they will be soberminded, not easily misled; they will see through sophisms, even if they cannot expose them; they will not be imposed upon by charlatans or soi-disant "philosophers." They will "try the spirits" that seek to lead them astray, and not very often be deceived by them.
3. A final reward of heavenly, ineffable, soul-satisfying light. After the resurrection of the dead, "they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament" (Daniel 12:3). They shall dwell where there is light, and" no darkness at all." "The nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light" of that city which shall have "no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God will lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Revelation 21:23, Revelation 21:24). "There shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light, and they shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 22:5).
Compromise the favourite resort of the worldly-minded, the abomination of the spiritually-minded.
Pharaoh had tried compromise more than once and failed (Exodus 8:25-28; Exodus 10:8-11); but he must needs try it again. This marks the tenacity with which the worldly-minded cling to what they think the height of policy, but what is, in reality, a weak and unworthy subterfuge. Pharaoh did not wish to grant any part of the request of Moses; but, if he must yield to some extent, he would save his dignity and his interest, he thought, by yielding less than what was demanded. On four occasions he makes four different offers.
I. THEY MAY WORSHIP GOD WHEREVER THEY PLEASE WITHIN THE LIMITS OF EGYPT (Exodus 8:25). A foolish offer, which, if accepted, would certainly have led to a riot and possibly to a civil war (Exodus 8:26). But Pharaoh had only thought of his own dignity, not of the consequences. So civil rulers frequently ask the Church of Christ to concede this or that for the honour of the State, when the concession would do the State the greatest possible injury. In their short-sightedness they do not see that in striking at the Church they will wound themselves. In their zeal for their own honour, they do not care how much the Church, or even how much the State suffers.
II. THEY MAY WORSHIP GOD IN THE WILDERNESS, ONLY THEY MUST NOT GO VERY FAR AWAY (Exodus 8:28). This offer was an improvement; it did not require a plain violation of the express command of God. But it was insidious. It was made with the view of compelling a return. Pharaoh suspected from the first that the message, "Let my people go," meant "let them go altogether." This, until stunned by the dread infliction of the last plague, he was fully resolved not to do. He would let them go as a cat lets a mouse go, so far but not further—not out of his reach. So kings will give their people liberty, or the Church liberty, but only within narrow limits—in seeming rather than in reality—to such an extent as will not interfere with their being the real master, and re-asserting their absolute power at their pleasure. Once more Pharaoh was short-sighted. Had his offer been accepted, and had he then attempted to compel a return, he would only have precipitated some such catastrophe as befel his army at the Red Sea.
III. THEY MAY GO THE THREE DAYS' JOURNEY INTO THE WILDERNESS, ONLY THEY MUST LEAVE THEIR FAMILIES BEHIND (Exodus 10:8-11). The rejection of his first and second offers left Pharaoh no choice but to allow of the Israelites departing beyond his reach. So he devises a compromise, by which he thinks to lure them back. They shall leave their families behind. But God had said, "Let my people go," and children are as essential an element in the composition of a nation as either women or men. This offer was therefore more contrary to the Divine message which he had received than his second one. Worldly-minded men will frequently, while pretending to offer a better compromise, offer a worse; and, both in private and public dealings, it behoves prudent persons to be on their guard, and not imagine that every fresh bid that is made must be an advance. The law of auction does not hold good either in private or in parliamentary bargaining.
IV. THEY MAY GO THE THREE DAYS' JOURNEY INTO THE WILDERNESS, AND TAKE THEIR FAMILIES, IF THEY WILL ONLY LEAVE THEIR CATTLE BEHIND (Exodus 10:24). This was the most crafty suggestion of all. The cattle had not been mentioned in the Divine message, nor could it be said that they were part of the nation. The king could require the detention of the cattle without infringing the letter of the Divine command. But he secured the return of the nation to Egypt as certainly by this plan as by the retention of the families. A nomadic people could not subsist for many weeks—scarcely for many days, without its flocks and herds. The Israelites would have been starved into surrender. Moses, however, without taking this objection, was able to point out that the terms of the message, rightly weighed with reference to all the circumstances, embraced the cattle, since sacrifice was spoken of, unaccompanied by any limitation. Once more, therefore, he was enabled to decline the compromise suggested as an infraction of the command which he had received, when its terms were rightly understood. Worldly men are continually placing their own construction on the words of God's messages, and saying that this or that should be given up as not plainly contained in them. The example of Moses justifies Christians in scanning narrowly the whole bearing and intention of each message, and insisting on what it implies as much as upon what it expresses. True wisdom will teach them not to be driven to a compromise by worldly men's explanations of the Divine Word. They will study it for themselves, and guide their conduct by their own reading (under God's guidance) of the commands given them. Further, the example of Moses in rejecting all the four offers of Pharaoh, may teach us to suspect, misdoubt, and carefully examine every proposed compromise; the essence of compromise in religion being the surrender of something Divinely ordered or instituted for the sake of some supposed temporal convenience or advantage. It can really never be right to give up the smallest fragment of revealed truth, or to allow the infraction of the least of God's commandments for even the greatest conceivable amount of temporal benefit either to ourselves or others.
Bad men, when unable to overcome good men's scruples, throw off the mask of friendliness, and show themselves in their true colours.
The circumstances of human life are continually bringing good men and bad men into contact and intercourse. Three results may follow:—
1. The bad may corrupt the good. This is the result too often. "Evil communications corrupt good manners." Few can touch pitch and not be defiled.
2. The good may convert the bad. The first Christians converted a world that lay in wickedness. Esther softened the heart of Ahasuerus. St. Ambrose, by long withstanding his will, converted Theodosius.
3. Neither may make any impression upon the other. In this case, while the good man merely regrets his inability to turn the bad man to righteousness, the bad man, baffled in his attempts to overcome the scruples of the good man and lead him astray, is apt to be greatly provoked, and to threaten, or even proceed to violence. "Take heed to thyself—in the day thou seest my face thou shalt die." What a spring of bitterness wells up from the evil heart of the sinner who feels himself opposed successfully, thwarted in his schemes, and baffled! While he still hopes to succeed all is smooth speaking. "I have sinned." "Forgive my sin this once only." "Go ye, serve the Lord." When he finds that he cannot prevail, there is a sudden and complete change. Benefits are forgotten; friendliness is a thing of the past; even the prescribed forms of politeness are set aside. The wild beast that lies hid in each unregenerate man shows itself, and the friendly acquaintance of months or years is ready to tear his opposer to pieces.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The plague of darkness.
This was the third of the great plagues, and it came, as in certain previous instances, unannounced.
I. THE LAST OF THE ADMONITORY PLAGUES (Exodus 10:21-24). The plagues, viewed as trials of Pharaoh's character, end with this one. The death of the first-born was a judgment, and gave Pharaoh no further space for repentance. We may view this last of the nine plagues:
1. As awful in itself. Whatever its natural basis, the preternatural intensity of the darkness now brought upon the land told plainly enough that it was one of the wonders of Jehovah. For three whole days no one human being in Egypt saw another, even artificial light, it would appear, failing them in their necessity. The fearfulness of the plague was heightened to those stricken by it by the fact that the Israelites "had light in their dwellings"; also by the fact that the sun in his different phases was the chief object of their worship. When one reflects on the terrors which accompany darkness in any case; on the singular effect it has in working on the imagination, and in intensifying its alarms, it will be felt how truly this was a plague laid upon the heart (Exodus 9:14). Darkness suddenly descending on a land invariably awakens superstitious fears, fills multitudes with forebodings of calamity, creates apprehensions of the near approach of the day of judgment; what, then, would be the effect on the Egyptians when they "saw their crystal atmosphere and resplendent heavens suddenly compelled to wear an aspect of indescribable terror and appalling gloom"? We may gather how great was the distress from the fact of the king being compelled, after all that had happened, again to send for Moses (Exodus 10:24).
2. As symbolic of a spiritual condition. Egypt was enveloped in the wrath of God. The stroke of that wrath, which might have been averted by timely repentance, was about to descend in the destruction of the first-born. Darkness was in the king's soul. The darkness of doom was weaving itself around his fortunes. Of all this, surely the physical darkness, which, like a dread funeral pall, descended on the land, must be taken as a symbol. When Christ, the sin-bearer, hung on Calvary, a great darkness, in like manner, covered the whole land (Matthew 27:45). The darkness without was but the symbol of a deeper darkness in which Christ's spirit was enveloped. The sinner's condition is one of darkness altogether. He is dark spiritually (2 Corinthians 4:4, 2 Corinthians 4:6). He is dark, as under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). God's people are "children of light," but the transgressor's soul is buried in deadliest gloom (Ephesians 5:8). The place of woe is described as "the outer darkness" (Matthew 25:30).
II. PHARAOH'S LAST ATTEMPT (Exodus 10:24-27).
1. It was made under dire compulsion. The darkness had shaken his heart to its foundations. It is noteworthy that each of these three last plagues extorted from him a full or partial consent. The lesser plagues, severe though they were, had not had this effect. He could hold out under two, and in one case under three of them.
2. It was, like the former, an attempt at compromise. He would let the "little ones" go, but the flocks and herds were to be left; an absurd prohibition, when the object was to sacrifice. It is made painfully evident that Pharaoh's judgment has left him; that he has become absolutely reckless; that he is no longer his own master; that he is being driven by his passions in opposition to all right reason and prudence; that the end, accordingly, is very near.
3. It testifies to his increasing hardness.
(1) There is on this occasion no confession of sin.
(2) Neither does Pharaoh concede the whole demand.
(3) He ends the scene with violence, ordering Moses never to appear again before him, under penalty of death.
III. PHARAOH'S REPROBATION (Exodus 10:29). Moses took Pharaoh at his word. "Thou hast spoken well; I will see thy face no more." God's work with this great, bad man was ended, save as the judgment for which he had prepared himself was now to be inflicted upon him. He had not been given up till every conceivable means had been exhausted to bring him to repentance. He had been tried with reason and with threatening; with gentleness and with severity; with mercy and with judgments. He had been reproved, expostulated with, warned, and frequently chastised. His prayers for respite had in every case been heard. He had been trusted in his promises to let Israel go, and when he had broken them was still forborne with and trusted again. Plagues of every kind had been sent upon him. He had suffered incalculable loss, had endured sore bodily pain, had been shaken in his soul with supernatural terrors. His first plea, of ignorance, and his second, of want of evidence, had been completely shattered. He had been made to confess that he had sinned, and that Jehovah was righteous. Yet under all and through all he had gone on hardening himself, till, finally, even God could wring no confession of sin from him, and his mind had become utterly fatuous, and regardless of consequences. What more was to be done with Pharaoh? Even that which must be done with ourselves under like circumstances—he was rejected, reprobated, given over to destruction. "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?" (Luke 13:7). It was the same fate which overtook Israel when the nation became finally corrupt and hardened.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The Ninth Plague-the darkness.
I. CONSIDER THE PLAGUE ITSELF. As with the plagues of the gnats and of the boils and blains, so with this plague—there is no record of any formal intimation of its coming. If such an intimation was absent, we feel that there was good reason for the absence. Though Pharaoh had abased himself in great fear and consternation, so that he might get rid of the locusts, yet the moment they were gone all his stubbornness returned in full force. What use was it, then, any longer to hold threatenings over a man of this sort? Indeed, the proper way of considering this ninth plague seems to be to regard it chiefly as a stepping-stone to the last and decisive visitation. An announcement beforehand would not have been wanting, if at all likely to make any serious difference in Pharaoh's conduct. With respect to the plague itself, four points are noticeable—the kind of it, the degree, the duration, and the customary exemption of the Israelites.
1. The kind of it. It was a plague of darkness. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. He is light, and light continually streams forth from him; and without him the minds of men are in dense darkness as to all that is best in knowledge and most substantial in hope for the time to come. When we consider how much is said about spiritual light and spiritual darkness in the Scriptures, it will be seen how appropriate it was that before Jehovah closed his earthly dealings with Pharaoh he should bring his land under this impenetrable cloud. It was a fitting scourge to come upon a king and people whose minds were so darkened to the perception of God. The light and truth which break forth from God vainly struggled to shine through into Pharaoh's heart. This plague was a sort of approach to the primal chaos, a movement towards dissolving the cosmos into the formless, unillumined mass from which it sprang. God's first great Word in making order was to say, "Let there be light"; now we almost imagine a corresponding word, "Let there be darkness." The sun, though it may pass over Egypt as usual, no longer rules the day; not a ray penetrates to accommodate and cheer the bewildered land.
2. The degree of this darkness. Jehovah tells Moses it will be a darkness which may be felt. Not that it was literally palpable, but rather that the darkness was so dense, so utterly beyond all experience, that it could not possibly be described by language taken from the use of the sense of vision. It was not enough to say, as with respect to the hail and the locusts, that there had been no such experience in Egypt since it became a nation. A new sort of darkness required a new mode of expression to indicate it; and thus by a bold figure the darkness is introduced as affecting not only the usual sense of sight, but the sense of touch as well. The privation of light was in the highest conceivable degree. And here it is surely well to dismiss from our minds all attempts, however well intended, to find a natural basis for this plague. That Jehovah might have made a darkness, and a very terrible one, by increasing and intensifying natural elements and causes is quite true; but somehow, such a view of this plague does not satisfy the demands of the strong terms which are used. Far better is it to suppose that in some mysterious way light lost its radiating power when it came into the Egyptian atmosphere. Doubtless even artificial lights proved useless. If the sun could not pierce into Egypt, little lamps and earth-lights were not likely to succeed.
3. The duration of it. It lasted for three days. In this duration lay its peculiar severity. Even a darkness that might be felt would not be much if it was a momentary visitation. But when it extended for three days, disarranging and paralyzing all work, then the magnitude of the visitation would fully appear. It was indeed a plague more terrible in reality than in threatening, and in continuance than in its first embrace. In itself it was not a painful thing; it did not irritate like the frogs, the gnats, and the flies; it did not destroy like the murrain, the hail, and the locusts. It simply settled down on the land, and while it lasted made one of the most informing and gladdening of the senses utterly useless. Even these who loved the darkness because their deeds were evil, would feel, after three days of it, that they were having too much of a good thing. It was just the kind of plague that by the very continuance of it would grow in horror, and at last precipitate a panic. Darkness is the time favourable to all terrifying imaginations.
4. The exemption of the Israelites. The district where they dwelt had light in their dwellings. Here was, indeed, a more impressive and significant separation than any Jehovah had yet made; and that he should thus separate between Israel and Egypt, as between light and the deepest darkness, was a thing to be expected, considering how soon the Israelites were to go out of the land altogether.
II. CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENT PROPOSITION BY PHARAOH AND THE RECEPTION OF IT BY MOSES. After three days of the darkness that might be felt, Pharaoh is again brought to his knees, suing for mercy, and, as usual, he offers something which formerly he had refused. Only a little while ago he had set his face against liberating the little ones of Israel. Now he has got so far as to say all the people may depart—all the human beings—but the flocks and herds must stay behind; and these, of course, were the very substance of Israel's wealth (Genesis 46:31; Genesis 47:6). And not only so, but at present they would look all the more considerable in comparison with the murrain-swept flocks and herds of Egypt. If Pharaoh can only get this request, he thinks he will both serve his dignity and do something to retrieve his fortunes. What a difference between this last interview with Moses and the first! Pharaoh, who began with refusing to yield anything, nay, who by way of answer made the existing bondage even more oppressive, is now, after a course of nine plagues, willing to yield everything—everything but the property of Israel. This, indeed, has been a great way to bring him, but it has all been done by a kind of main force. Pharaoh's ignorance of Jehovah's character and demands remains unabated, amid all his experience of Jehovah's power. He cannot yet understand that Jehovah is not to be bargained with. He wants the flocks and herds, as if it were a small matter to keep them back, whereas just one reason why the flocks and herds are so abundant is that there may be enough for sacrifice. Jehovah had a use and place for every Israelite, the oldest and the youngest, and all their belongings. It was an answer of Moses, profoundly suitable to the occasion, when he said, "We know not with what we must serve the Lord, until we come thither." He had been sent to Pharaoh to demand all, and he could take nothing less. Interesting questions arise here, but there is no information by which we can answer them. Pharaoh called to Moses (Exodus 10:24)—but how came they together in this dense darkness? or was it that Moses waited there in the darkness these three days? Then when Pharaoh spoke, did the darkness at once begin to pass away? We must almost assume that it did, the purpose of its coming having been served the moment Pharaoh is got another step onward in his yielding. But on all these points we have no direct information. Jehovah now hastens the readers of the narrative to the final catastrophe. Where we, in our curiosity, desire particulars, he omits, in order that he may be particular and exact in matters of abiding importance. He is presently to speak of the Passover with great minuteness. Details of future and continuous duty are of more moment than mere picturesque embellishments of a passing judgment on Egypt. Thus we are left to infer that the darkness had vanished when for the last time Pharaoh refused to let Israel go. And it must be admitted that there was everything in the inflexible answer of Moses to make Pharaoh, being such a man as he was, equally inflexible. "There shall not a hoof be left behind." Israel moves altogether, if it moves at all. This was a very exasperating way for a despot to be spoken to, especially one who felt that he had yielded so much. Indeed, it must have been very astonishing to him to reflect how far he had gone in a path where once it would have seemed ridiculous to suppose that he could take a single step. But now once again he says—in the same reasonless, passionate way that has marked him all along—"Not a step further." After nine plagues he is still the same man at heart. The slightest provocation, and his pride is all aflame, more sensitive than gunpowder to the spark. Nay, most marvellous of all, from the depth of nine successive humiliations he beans to threaten Moses with death. Surely this was the very quintessence of passion and blind rage. The only parallel we can find for it is in the furious, final rush of some great, savage brute, maddened by the shots of the hunter, and making recklessly towards him. What gains he by this advance? He simply comes within easy reach, and another shot from the same weapon, held with perfect coolness and control, lays him dead in the dust. The saddest part of the reflection on Pharaoh's career is, that it gives the essence of so many human lives beside. The hand with which God would clear our corruption away—were we only willing for it to be cleared—stirs it up into a more self-destroying energy and efficacy, if we in our perversity and ignorance determine that the corruption should remain.—Y.
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
A darkness which might be felt suggests the existence of a darkness which is not felt. Consider:—
I. THE UNFELT DARKNESS. [Illustration. Stream in summer on sunny day reflects sun, sky, etc. Contrast with condition in winter, hard, dull, icebound; it has hardened and no longer reflects. If it could be conscious, still flowing on, it might not feel much difference, scarcely aware of the strange casing shutting it out from warmth and beauty.] Pharaoh and his people, like the stream, once had light (cf. John 1:9; Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20). Then "hardened their hearts." So self-conditioned them that beneath God's influence they could not but harden (Exodus 10:1). The hard heart, like the hard ice-coating, shuts out the light and ensures darkness (Romans 1:21), none the less such darkness not felt (cf. Ephesians 4:17, Ephesians 4:18). A terrible judgment, moral darkness, usually resulting from man's own fault; little by little it grows and deepens until it shuts out not merely light, but even the memory of vanished light (cf. John 9:39-41). The immediate precursor of ruin, that "quenching of the Spirit," which paves the way for "blasphemy."
II. THE DARKNESS THAT WAS FELT. Pharaoh would not recognise Jehovah. He shut out the light from him and gloried in his moral darkness. Again and again did Jehovah flash home the truth of his existence to hearts which seemed almost judgment proof. Each new judgment was but followed by deeper darkness, the crack through which light seemed to pierce being deliberately blocked up when the fright was over. Self-chosen moral darkness is met by God-sent physical darkness; the darkness of the tempest, the darkness of the locust clouds, lastly, the concentrated darkness of this ninth plague. Through all, the object is to pierce and, if it may be, dispel the moral darkness; a kind of homoeopathic treatment, which, if it do not cure, may kill. [Illustration. The frozen stream. Light fire upon the surface. Clouds and flame shut out the sunlight more than ever, yet heat may melt the ice covering, and, if so, then light can enter. If not, when fire is extinguished, the ash-strewn surface more impervious to light than ever.] Pharaoh at first seemed to be thawing (Exodus 10:24), but he only felt the heat, he did not recognise the light. When the heat passed, darker than ever (27-29). The last chance gone, what left? (Jude 1:13). God still meets this self-chosen moral darkness by similar methods. Judgments which may be felt flash momentary light upon the self-inflicted darkness which is not felt. He wills that all men should come to repentance; if we shut our hearts to the inner voice, he summons us by outer voices, which cannot but attract attention. They may, however, be disregarded; the power of man's self-will in this world seems strong enough to resist anything.
III. LIGHT IN THE DWELLINGS.
1. Physical. Egyptians had made a difference between themselves and Israel, a difference which had driven Israel to seek help from God. Now God confirms that difference. The light, perhaps, not perfect. [If darkness caused by sand-storm from S.W. may have been such light as was obtainable at the fringe of the storm cloud.] Still it was sufficient, a sign of God's care and watchfulness for those who were prepared to receive and recognise it. And this the Israelites were prepared to do, for the light in the dwelling was the type of light in the heart.
2. Moral. They had been "in darkness," the darkness of slavery and idolatry (cf. Joshua 24:14); but the light had dawned upon them, and, however imperfectly, they had recognised and welcomed it. The cry in the darkness (Psalms 130:6) had been heard and answered. By God's help the inner light had been quickened and fostered; and to those who have the inner light, however feeble, he gives help that it may grow brighter. He will not quench the smoking flax, but fan it to a flame (cf. Psalms 18:27-28).
Application. There is one who is the Light of the World. The great thing for us is to walk in the light (1 John 1:5-7). If we do not, darkness can but deepen till the night come (John 9:4; cf. Job 18:18). Yet even those in darkness of their own making, God, in his love, still tries to lighten (cf. his dealings with the Egyptians; also our Lord's with the Jews, John 9:39). If the light is still resisted, then cf. Matthew 25:30. If we do walk in the light so far as we know it, then cf. Proverbs 4:18. Even when dark for others, still light for us, Isaiah 60:1, Isaiah 60:2; and if the darkness does, as it sometimes will, overshadow us, even so Psalm exit. 4; Isaiah 1:10.—G.