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THE FIFTH PLAGUE.
Hitherto the plagues had been directed rather against the persons of the Egyptians than against their property. Property had perhaps suffered somewhat in the preceding plague, if it was really one of the Blatta orientalis; but otherwise the various afflictions had caused nothing but pain and annoyance to the person. Now this was to be changed. Property was to be made to suffer. It remained to be seen whether the Pharaoh would be impressed more deeply by calamities which impoverished his subjects than by those which merely caused them personal annoyance and suffering. The hand of God was first laid upon the carrie, or rather upon the domesticated animals in general (Exodus 9:3). These were made to suffer from a "murrain" or epidemic pestilence, which carried off vast numbers. Such visitations are not uncommon in Egypt, and generally fall with especial force on the Delta, where the existing Pharaoh and the Hebrew people resided. The miraculous character of the visitation at this time was indicated,
1. By its announcement, and appearance on the day appointed (Exodus 9:3-6);
2. By its severity (Exodus 9:6); and
3. By its attacking the Egyptian cattle only (Exodus 9:7). Pharaoh seems, however, to have been almost lees moved by this plague than by any other.
Excepting in the designation of Jehovah as "the Lord God of the Hebrews," this verse is an almost exact repetition of the first verse of Exodus 8:1-32. Such repetitious are very characteristic of the most ancient writings.
Thy cattle which is in the field. The word "cattle" here is to be taken generally, as including under it the various kinds particularised. The cattle are mentioned as being at this time "in the field," because during the inundation all of them were brought in and housed, while, after the waters had retired, and the land had dried, most of them were turned out to graze. This is always the time at which epidemics break out. The horses, the asses, etc. Horses, which had been unknown prior to the Hyksos invasion, and which consequently do not appear in the list of animals presented to Abraham (Genesis 12:16), first became common under the eighteenth dynasty, when they seem to have been employed exclusively in war. Their use for agricultural purposes, which is perhaps here indicated, was not till later. The ass was employed in great numbers at all times in Egypt. Women and children rode on them, men sometimes in a sort of litter between two of them. They were chiefly used for carrying burthens, which were sometimes of enormous size (Lepsius, Denkmaler, Part 2. pls. 42a, 47, 56, 80c, etc.). The camels. Camels are not represented on any Egyptian monument; but they are occasionally mentioned in the inscriptions. They are called kauri or kamaru. There is no doubt of their employment by the Egyptians as beasts of burthen in the traffic with Syria and with the Sinaitic peninsula.
The Lord shall sever. Compare Exodus 8:22. There shall nothing die, etc The original is more emphatic, and might be rendered literally—" There shall not die of all that is the children's of Israel a thing."
To-morrow. God may have interposed the interval in order that such as believed the announcement might save their animals by bringing them in out of the fields. All the cattle died—i.e, all that were "in the field" (Exodus 9:3).
And Pharaoh sent. This time the king had the curiosity to send out and see whether the Israelites had been spared. Though he found the fact correspond to the announcement, he was not seriously impressed. Perhaps he thought the Israelites took better care of their cattle and were better cattle doctors than his own people. Or he may have attributed the escape of their animals to the more healthy air of Goshen. Pharaoh's heart was hardened. The plague affected him less than others had done, rather than more. He was so rich that an affliction which touched nothing but property seemed a trivial matter What cared he for the sufferings of the poor beasts, or the ruin of those who depended upon the breeding and feeding of cattle
The burthen of man's sin presses on the brute creation, as well as on man himself.
"The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22). Brutes are to a large extent co-partners with man in his sorrows and his wretchedness. But brute suffering is the product of man's sin. Mostly it is directly caused by man. Man not only kills animals for his food, but he chases them for his diversion, mutilates them for his convenience, vivisects them for his supposed benefit. In chasing them, he wounds more than he kills; in mutilating them, he often removes parts necessary for their comfort; in vivisecting them, he knowingly makes them suffer excruciating pain. His use of them as beasts of draught and burden is a lighter form of evil than any of these; but in the aggregate it causes, perhaps, as much suffering. Again, man makes the horse his companion in war, and exposes him to the most hideous wounds, the most horrid deaths. Nor does the list of his misdoings as respects the animal world end here. To children the wanton torture of insects seems to be a chief delight. For the production of certain delicacies of the table, turkeys and other animals are made to undergo untold agonies. Slow death is inflicted on calves, to make the veal white. Finally, animals are often involved in the Divine judgments by which nations are visited for their sins. "Much cattle" would have perished miserably, if Nineveh had not repented at Jonah's preaching. The beasts endure as much as the men when cities are blockaded. Occasionally, as in this plague, the beasts themselves are the direct sufferers, and God punishes man through them. No doubt there is a mystery in this. The suffering of innocent dumb animals is hard to reconcile with the goodness of God. His causing pain to them for man's fault is even more strange. How persons who have a fixed belief that the brute creation enjoys no future life, overcome the difficulty, we knew not. But the solution of it may, we think, be found in the Scripture which tells of "the spirit of the beast which goeth downward" (Ecclesiastes 3:21). If the spirit of a beast survives, it may find compensation in another life for what it has suffered here. Man's coldness and deadness with respect to animal suffering is as marvellous as anything in his nature and history. "Pharaoh's heart" was utterly hard to it. He did not even ask that the plague should be removed. The sufferings and miserable death of thousands of beasts made not the slightest impression upon him. Probably he did not give their sufferings a thought. And even among Christians, is it not much the same? How few protest against even such enormities as promiscuous vivisection! How few, in grieving over the horrors of war, think of the pain which is borne by the animals engaged in it! How few give so much as a sigh to the labour, the weariness, the suffering of millions of poor dumb brute beasts engaged in ministering to their pleasures, amusements, convenience! We grieve bitterly for our own troubles. We have a tear of sympathy, perhaps, for the griefs of humanity generally. But for the rest of creation, "groaning and travailing in pain together until now," we have scarcely a thought. How different from him who was led to spare Nineveh (Jonah 4:11) because therein were "more than six score thousand persons that could not discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle!'
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The plague of murrain of beasts.
I. THE ALTERNATIVE AGAIN (Exodus 9:1, Exodus 9:2). Surely Pharaoh was well warned. The analogy of the third plague would have led us to expect that on this occasion—after a second and glaring breach of faith—there would have been no warning. Yet mercy waits upon him. Faithless though he had been, if even yet he will let the people go, all will be forgiven. If not—then judgments. Mark how sacredly, in all this, the freedom of Pharaoh is respected. "He was not put on the actual rack or held over a slow fire till his cruel hand relaxed, and let the Hebrew bondmen go. The appeal was loud, and each time it was repeated he and his people were shaken more severely than before; but after every demand there was a respite, a pause, an opportunity to ponder, and either yield the point or recall a past concession." (Hamilton.)
II. A MURRAIN OF CATTLE (verses 3-7). This was the form assumed by the fifth plague. It is to be viewed,
1. As a new blow at Egyptian idolatry. The sacredness of the cow and ox are hinted at in Exodus 8:26. It may well have been that the sacred beasts themselves, the bull Apis, the calf Mnevis, and the rest, were smitten by the pestilence.
2. As a fresh illustration of the manifold resources of Jehovah. The mortality which came upon the cattle was universal in its sweep, carrying off, not only sheep and oxen, but horses, asses, and camels; destructive in its effects, the greater proportion of the cattle of each class falling victims to it; yet carefully discriminative, attacking the cattle of the Egyptians, but leaving unharmed those of the Israelites (Exodus 8:6).
3. As a plague of increased severity. The loss sustained by the Egyptians in this mowing down of their cattle was the greatest they had yet experienced. Cattle constitute a large part of the wealth of every nation. They are of importance for food, for burden, and for the produce of the dairy. What a loss it would be to our own nation were our sheep, cows, oxen, horses, and asses, all suddenly destroyed! In the East the oxen were employed for draught, and in the operations of agriculture. Yet the plague was but the intensification of a natural calamity—one with the effects of which we are not wholly unfamiliar. It may seem "advanced" to scoff at the agency of God in cattle-plague visitations, but the truer philosophy will reverently recognise the fact of such agency, and will not regard it as in the least incompatible with any secondary causes which may be shown to be involved in the production and spread of the disorder. God has this weapon equally with others at his command for chastening a disobedient people. Our wisdom, surely, is to be at peace with him.
4. As a forewarning of greater judgment. As yet the persons of the Egyptians had escaped. The plagues, however, were coming nearer and nearer them. Their cattle had been smitten, and what could the next stroke be, but an infliction upon themselves?
III. THIS PLAGUE ALSO INEFFECTUAL (Exodus 8:7). Pharaoh sent to see if any of the cattle of the children of Israel had died. The connection seems to indicate that his hardening was partly the result of the news that they had all escaped. This, instead of softening, maddened and embittered him. Hitherto Pharaoh has been seen hardening himself in spite of the influences brought to bear on him. The fact is to be noted that the plagues here begin to produce a positively evil effect. That which ought to have softened and converted, now only enrages, and confirms in the bad resolution.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The fifth plague-the murrain among the beasts.
I. THE USE WHICH GOD HERE MAKES OF THE LOWER CREATION. In the three plagues immediately preceding God made the lower creation his scourges. He took little creatures, the bare existence of which many, not perceiving the wisdom of God, think to be unnecessary; and these he increased into a vast and most vexatious multitude. The killing of a frog, a gnat, a fly, we are accustomed in our heedlessness to make nothing of; such killing is but sport to thoughtless lads. But we think very differently of such animals as are spoken of in this fifth plague; horses, oxen, asses, sheep, all animals comprehended here under the general term cattle. We should feel it hardly possible to have too many of them. This certainly was the view in ancient times in Scriptural countries, for we read of the wealth of men as being generally measured by the number of animals they possessed. Thus we are led to notice in the course of these plagues, how God, in his view of the lower creation, rises high above our view. We look at the lower animals according to their use to us, and thus classify them as helpful or hurtful; God looks at them according to their use to him, and in his hands they all become abundantly helpful to further his ends. He uses the frogs, gnats, and flies (or beetles) to inconvenience Pharaoh and his people, if thereby a change of mind may be wrought, and when this fails he takes the cattle and causes them to be destroyed in order to bring about, if possible, the same result. Thus creation serves Jehovah; whether living or dying, destroying or destroyed.
II. A MELANCHOLY ILLUSTRATION OF THE UNITY IN WHICH ALL CREATION IS BOUND. A question may be raised as to the goodness of God in thus destroying those creatures because of the wickedness of man. Why should they suffer because of Pharaoh's obduracy? The answer is that the whole creation of God is bound up in a marvellous unity, from the lowest thing that has life, right up to man himself. It is for man himself to help in settling how far the lower creation shall suffer for his sake. It is no more possible for man to do wrong and the rest of sentient creatures to escape the consequences of his wrong-doing, than it is for man to live recklessly in his own person and expect the organs and limbs of his body to escape suffering. Animals are not to be looked at in themselves, but as being created for the comfort and service of man, and especially that in his use of them it may be shown what his own notions of a right use are. Let man do right, and all living creatures within the circle of his influence share in the blessed consequences; let him do wrong, and their lives must also be disarranged.
III. OBSERVE IN THIS PLAGUE HOW FORCIBLE THE ILLUSTRATION IS OF ISRAEL'S EXEMPTION FROM THE MURRAIN. The wealth of Israel was peculiarly pastoral wealth; of the very kind, therefore, which was smitten in this plague. Hence all the more noticeable is the exemption of the Israelites and all the more impressive. If it had been a pestilence coming down upon the country generally, irrespective of territory and of special Divine control, it would have injured Israel a great deal more than Egypt.
IV. WHAT A CLEAR MANIFESTATION THERE IS IN THIS PLAGUE OF HOW REASONLESS AND INFATUATED THE OBDURACY OF PHARAOH IS BECOMING. He is inflexible, not only without reason, but against reason. Not content with dismissing the rumours that come to his ears concerning the exemption of Israel's cattle from the pestilence, he sends to certify himself of the fact, which makes his continued obduracy all the more evidently unreasonable. What excuse was there for a man who asked in the way Pharaoh asked, even after it had been made clear to him that of the cattle of the children of Israel not one had died? It is sad when a man dismisses in this way even the appearance of having reason for what he does, when he says, "I will not, because I will not, and there is an end of it."—Y.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
GOD'S MERCY IN TEMPORAL JUDGMENTS. Hitherto no great loss had been inflicted; now their cattle is taken. In God's mercy the afflictions deepen that Egypt may forsake the path of death. When the Lord's hand falls in heavier blows it is to save from something worse which lies beyond. Israel's calamities preceded her captivity. God's chastisements fall that we may not be condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32).
II. CONVICTION DOES NOT ALWAYS COMPEL OBEDIENCE. Pharaoh had already two proofs that the murrain was from the hand of God. He had foretold it, and it came at the time he said it would come. He himself seeks a third proof; he sends to Goshen, and finds that there was "not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead." Yet he does not bow under the hand of God. Conviction may co-exist with impenitence and stubborn persistence in sin, but, when it does, it is the mark of a soul given over to destruction. The devils believe and tremble.—U.
THE SIXTH PLAGUE. The sixth plague was sent, like the third, without notice given. It was also, like the third, a plague which inflicted direct injury upon the person. There was a very solemn warning in it; for the same power that could afflict the body with "boils and blains," i.e; with a severe cutaneous disease accompanied by pustulous ulcers—could also (it must have been felt) smite it with death. It is uncertain what exactly the malady was. Some have supposed elephantiasis, some "black leprosy," some merely an eruptive disease such as is even now common m Egypt during the autumn. But it is, at any rate, evident that the malady was exceedingly severe—"the magicians could not stand before Moses" because of it (Exodus 9:11). If it was "the botch of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 28:27), as seems probable, since the name in the Hebrew is the same, it was incurable. Pharaoh and his people were warned by it that God's power would be shown on themselves, not in the way of mere annoyance—as with the earlier plagues—but of serious injury—and if so, why not of death? Thus, the sixth plague heralded the tenth, and, except the tenth, was the most severe of all.
Ashes of the furnace. Rather "soot from the furnace." The word commonly used in Hebrew for "ashes" is different. Many recondite reasons have been brought forward for the directions here given. But perhaps the object was simply to show that as water, and earth (Exodus 8:13) and air (Exodus 10:13) could be turned into plagues, so fire could be. The "soot of the furnace" might well represent fire, and was peculiarly appropriate for the preduction of a disease which was in the main an "inflammation." It is not likely that Moses imitated any superstitious practice of the priests of Egypt. Toward the heaven. The act indicated that the plague would come from heaven—i.e. from God. In the sight of Pharaoh. Compare Exodus 7:20 It is probable that the symbolic act which brought the plague was performed "in the sight of Pharaoh" in every case, except where the plague was unannounced, though the fact is not always recorded.
It shall become small dust. Rather, "It shall be as dust." No physical change is intended by the expression used, but simply that the "soot" or "ash" should be spread by the air throughout all Egypt, as dust was wont to be spread. And shall be a boil breaking forth with blains. Literally, "an inflammation, begetting pustules." The description would apply to almost any eruptive disease. The attempts definitely to determine what exactly the malady was, seem to be futile—more especially as diseases are continually changing their forms, and a malady which belongs to the fourteenth or fifteenth century before our era is almost certain to have been different from any now prevalent. The word "blains"—now obsolete as a separate word—appears in "chilblains."
The furnace. It is perhaps not very important what kind of "furnace" is meant. But the point has been seriously debated. Some suppose a furnace for the consumption of victims, human or other; some a baking oven, or cooking stove; others a furnace for smelting metal; others again a limekiln. The ordinary meaning of the word used, kibshon, is a "brick-kiln;" but bricks were not often baked in Egypt. Nor is it at all clear that any victims were ever consumed in furnaces. Probably either a brick-kiln or a furnace for the smelting of metals is meant.
The magicians could not stand. It is gathered from this that the magicians had, up to this time, been always in attendance when the miracles were wrought, though they had now for some time failed to produce any counterfeits of them. On this occasion their persistency was punished by the sudden falling of the pestilence upon themselves with such severity that they were forced to quit the royal presence and hasten to their homes to be nursed.
And the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart. Up to this time the hardening of Pharaoh's heart has been ascribed to himself, or expressed indefinitely as a process that was continually going on—now for the first time it is positively stated that God hardened his heart, as he had threatened that he would (Exodus 4:21). On the general law of God's dealings with wicked men, see the comment on the above passage
Sin punished by physical suffering, but such suffering not always a punishment for sin.
God has many weapons in his quiver wherewith to chastise sin. One of them is physical pain. He can cause the limbs to ache, the temples to throb, the blood to be inflamed, the breathing to labour, the head to be racked, the nerves to thrill and tingle—the whole body, from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, to be nothing but a mass of "wounds and bruises, and putrifying sores." There is no part of our frame, no process, no function, but can be made the seat of an intolerable agony. God, for the most part, spares us, in the hope that his goodness and long-suffering will lead us to repentance. He had long spared Pharaoh and the Egyptians—had shown them his power in ways that annoyed and harassed, but did not seriously hurt. Now he must adopt severer measures. So his hand is laid upon their bodies, which are smitten with disease, disfigured, made loathsome to the eye, and racked with physical suffering. Here we may note three things:—
I. GOD PUNISHES SIN TO A LARGE EXTENT IN THIS WAY. Many sins have physical consequences attached to them by a natural law, which are in the highest degree painful, which injure the health, destroy the tissues, produce disease, madness, idiocy. Men know these consequences, but hope that they may individually escape them. As Moses and Aaron warned in vain, so now vain too often are the uplifted voices of God's ministers. Nine-tenths, probably, of the physical suffering in England at the present day is caused by those sins of intemperance and uncleanness which are the crying evils of our age and country, and which nothing seems able to uproot or even seriously to diminish. Children are born now for the most part with the seeds of disease in them, which are the consequence of their parents' vices. They lack the physical stamina and the moral vigour which they would have possessed, had their parents led good, pious, consistent, religious lives. They have unhealthy appetites, desires, cravings, which they would not have had but for their parents' sins. Too often, to all this is added the force of bad example. Intemperance and uncleanness follow, and the inborn germs of disease are stimulated into activity; pain follows pain, agony follows agony. A wretched, life is terminated by an early death. If they leave children behind them, their case is even more hopeless. The physical taint is deepened. The moral strength to resist is weaker. Happy is it if God takes the little ones away from the evil to come.
II. GOD DOES NOT EXEMPT FROM THIS PUNISHMENT, EITHER THE WEALTHY OR THE HIGHLY EDUCATED. "The boil was on the magicians." The taint of uncleanness, the mental weakness which results from habits of intemperance afflict the great, the rich, the "upper ten thousand," as surely as their humbler fellow-subjects who herd in courts and alleys. There are great families in which it is a well-known fact that intemperance has become hereditary. There are others where the heir never lives to the age of thirty. No rank—not even royal rank—exempts from subjection to hygienic laws. Neither does intellect nor education. It may be that the intellectual and highly educated are less likely than others to plunge into dissipation and sensual vices. But if, in spite of their higher nature, they give the reins to their lower, the same results follow as in the case of the least gifted of their fellow-men. Retribution reaches them. They "receive within themselves the reward of their iniquity." Their physical nature, no less than their moral, is tainted; and pain, suffering, often agony, are their portion.
III. THOSE WHO RECEIVE THE PUNISHMENT OFTEN HARDEN THEMSELVES. The boil was on the magicians; but we do not hear that the magicians submitted themselves, or owned the supremacy of Jehovah. So now, those whose sin draws down upon them suffering rarely repent, rarely forsake their sin, rarely humble themselves beneath the chastening rod of the Almighty. No doubt drunkards are occasionally reformed and profligates reclaimed. But for one lost sheep thus recovered, how many scores perish in their evil courses, and descend the rapid incline which conducts to the gulf of destruction? We are amazed at the obstinacy of Pharaoh; but we are most of us just as obstinate. Nothing will induce us to give up our pet vices. We cling to them, even when the boil is upon us. If we give them up for a time, we recur to them. If we leave them off in act, we dwell fondly upon them in thought and imagination. O hard human hearts, that will not yield to God's discipline of pain, when sent as chastisement! What can ye expect, but that chastisement will give place to vengeance? Physical suffering is sometimes sent, not to punish, but to refine and purify. Job's comforters supposed that one so afflicted must have committed some great crime, or be concealing some habitual vice of a grave character. But it was not so. The sufferings of saints are blessing. They give a fellowship with Christ, which nothing else can give. They make the saint rehearse in thought, over and over again, each step of that grievous, yet blessed via dolorosa, along which he went upon his way to the Cross of Calvary. They intensify faith and love—they give assurance of acceptance (Hebrews 12:6)—they elevate, purify, sanctify. Earth has no lovelier sight than that not uncommon one of a crippled sufferer, stretched day after day and year after year upon a bed of pain, yet always cheerful, always thoughtful for others, always helpful by advice, kind word, even (if their strength allows) kind acts. Such Blessed ones live with Christ, suffer with Christ, feel themselves to be in Christ; as St. Paul says, they "fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in their flesh" (Colossians 1:24), and "are joyful in their tribulation" (2 Corinthians 7:4).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The plague of boils and blains.
This plague, like the third, was unannounced. God varies his methods. There was need for some token being given of God's severe displeasure at Pharaoh's gross abuse of his goodness and forbearance. This plaque is distinguished from the rest by being introduced with a significant action.
I. THE ACTION INTRODUCING THE PLAGUE (Exodus 9:8-10). Hitherto the only actions employed had been the stretching out of Aaron's rod, and in the case of the third plague, the smiting of the dust with it. Now, Moses is instructed to take handfuls of the ashes from the furnace and sprinkle them towards heaven in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants. The performance of so solemn an act implied that a new stage was being reached in Pharaoh's hardening, as also in God's punitive dealings with him. From this point onwards matters are rapidly developed to a crisis. The act was symbolical, and may be variously interpreted.
1. As a challenge to the Egyptian Deities, specially Neit, "who bore the designation of, The Great Mother of the highest heaven" and was worshipped as the tutelary goddess of Lower Egypt" (Canon Cook).
2. As connected with the scattering of the ashes of human victims to avert evil from the land. This was done, or had been done, in the days of the Shepherds, in the worship of Sutech or Typhon. The victims were usually foreigners, perhaps often Hebrews. "After being burnt alive on a high altar, their ashes were scattered in the air by the priests, in the belief that they would avert evil from all parts whither they were blown" (Geikie). The sprinkling of ashes by Moses, and their descent, not in blessing, but in boils and blains, would thus have a terrible significance.
3. As symbolical of the laying of a curse upon the people. It is, at least in some parts of the East, a practice to take ashes and throw them into the air, in token of giving effect to an imprecation. Most probable of all,—
4. As a symbol of retribution for the sufferings of Israel. The "furnace" is a common Scripture emblem for the bitter slavery of the Hebrews (Genesis 15:17; Deu 4:20; 1 Kings 8:57; Isaiah 48:10; Jeremiah 11:4). Ashes taken from the furnace and sprinkled towards heaven, whence they descended in a plague, would thus naturally symbolise the return upon Pharaoh and his servants of the cruelties with Which they had afflicted Israel. The cry of the sufferers in the furnace had entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. The evil deeds of the afflicters were now to come back upon them in retribution. It was as though the ashes of the victims sacrificed in the long tyranny were rising in vengeance against the oppressor.
II. THE PECULIARITY OF THE PLAGUE IN THE SMITING OF THE PERSONS (verse 10). The disease with which the Egyptians were smitten was painful, loathsome, and excruciatingly severe as compared with ordinary inflictions of a similar nature: Tortured in their bodies, they were "receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was " … meet (Romans 1:27). This experience of sore personal suffering ought surely to have arrested their folly. It showed them how absolutely helpless they were in the hands of God. The plague was universal (verse 11). Not one could beast against another. The plague was peculiarly afflictive to a people which prided itself on its cleanliness. It smote beasts as well as men. What a terrible calamity! The whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the crown of the head there was no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores (Isaiah 1:6). Yet, instead of repenting, the people appear only to have been stung to further revolt. So it was, at least, with their king.
1. An image of the condition of the sinner.
2. A new proof of the power of God. The hand of God is to be seen in the infliction of diseases. God threatens, in Deuteronomy, to lay the evil diseases of Egypt upon the Israelites if they should prove disobedient (Deu 29:1-29 :60).
3. An instance of the inefficacy of bodily sufferings to produce repentance. Cf. Revelation 16:10, Revelation 16:11, "They gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds."
III. THE DEFEAT OF THE MAGICIANS (Revelation 16:11). They could not now even stand before Moses. Pharaoh is being left more and more alone in his resistance.
IV. PHARAOH STILL HARDENED (Revelation 16:12). Before, one plague was the utmost he could hold out against. He yielded under the second and the fourth. Now he maintains his attitude of resistance under two plagues in succession.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The sixth plague-the boils and blains.
Only the barest conjectures are possible as to why these ashes of the furnace were taken as materials whence to draw this sixth plague. If we look at the first two plagues we see that they come out of the water. The next plague, that of the gnats, comes out of the dust of the earth, and the flies may be taken as having the same origin. The murrain probably arose through a vitiating change in the food of the animals; and here again we are directed to look downwards to the earth, out of which comes the food both for man and beast. Next comes this sixth plague, and by the mention of ashes of the furnace it would almost seem as if God meant his people to understand that all the useful elements in nature were to do their part in plaguing Pharaoh. Water has had. its share, the earth its share, fire now gets its share; and there only remains the air above and around, and out of this, sure enough, there presently came the hail, the locusts,
Warping on the Eastern wind,
and the thick darkness. Thus, in all visible directions where man looks for blessing, God meets him with a stern intimation that he can turn the blessing into a curse. So much for the origin of this plague; now with regard to its form.—NOTE,
I. THAT GOD'S PUNISHMENTS NOW ADVANCE TO TAKE UP THEIR ABODE IN THE BODIES OF PHARAOH AND HIS PEOPLE. As God can take the lower animals, which he has made for our use, and turn them at his pleasure into a blessing or a curse, so he can come nearer still, and make our bodies, which are agents of the most exquisite pleasures, into agents of pain just as exquisite. Notice that in the very mode of infliction there was a mixture of severity and mercy. Severity, because undoubtedly there would be terrible pain; mercy, because probably the pain was confined to the surface of the body; none the easier to bear, certainly; and yet easier in this, that it did not belong to an affliction of the great vital organs. Severity again, on the other hand, just because it affected the sensitive surface of the body. It is through our sensations that God has caused so much both of pleasure and information to come. Thus God, who had given so much delight to Pharaoh and his people, through making them so sensitive to the outward world, now deranges all the minute nerves and vessels, and by spreading boils and blains over the surface of the body he effectually stops all enjoyment of life. We know that it is possible for a person to be seriously ill-even fatally so, perhaps confined as a hopeless invalid for years—and yet to get considerable enjoyment out of life, as in reading and in light occupations for the mind. But what pleasure can be got when, from head to foot, the body is covered with boils and blains? As long as this sort of pain lasts, little else can be thought of than how to get rid of it.
II. As in the plague of the gnats, so here in the plague of the boils and blains, OUR ATTENTION IS SPECIALLY DIRECTED TO THE MAGICIANS. On the former occasion, with or without sincerity, they had said, "This is the finger of God;" now they are in themselves, so to speak, the finger of God. They can neither avert nor dissemble their subjection to the power that works through Moses. At first, doubtless, they had looked upon him with haughtiness, audacity, and scorn, as being hardly worth a moment's attention. Very likely it was counted a great condescension to turn the rods into serpents. But now, whatever feeling be in their hearts, the hold that Jehovah has on their bodies is only too evident. Silence and outward serenity are impossible under such suffering as this. The twitchings of the face cannot be concealed, the groan cannot be suppressed, the unquailing attitude cannot be maintained. Who shall tell what individual humiliations and defeats lie behind this brief expression: "The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils." Because of the boils! It was not a very dignified sort of disaster; not very pleasant to recall in after times. These magicians, we may imagine, had scorned the very name of Jehovah, worse, mayhap, than Pharaoh himself. And now in these boils and blains there is, suppressed as it were, scorn and mockery from Jehovah in return. Opposers of God may not only have to be brought down from their wide, but in such a way as will involve them in ridicule and shame. The exposure of falsehood is only a work of time, and as we see here, it can be accomplished in a comparatively short time. Pain effectually drives away all dissembling, and nature proves too much even for the man to whom art has become second nature.—Y.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
I. The Sixth Plague. THE MEANS USED. Ashes were taken from the brick-kiln in which the Israelites toiled, and in Pharaoh's presence sprinkled in mute appeal toward heaven. The memorials of oppression lifted up before God will fall in anguish upon the oppressors (James 5:1-5). The French Revolution and the ages of giant wrong that had gone before. American slavery and its punishment.
II. THE SUDDENNESS OF THE INFLICTION. There was no warning. The dust was cast up, and immediately the plague was upon man and beast. The judgment of wickedness will come as in a moment. Sodom. The flood.
III. THE SHAME OF THE MAGICIANS.
1. Upon them the plague seems to have been more severe than upon others. Upon the abettors of other men's tyranny and wrong, God's judgment will fall heaviest. The deep responsibility of Christian teachers and men of influence and talent. Let them see to it that they are on the side of righteousness, and not of the world's class—selfishness and manifold wrong.
2. They were brought to shame in the presence of those who trusted in them. The falsehood of their pretensions was exposed by their inability to defend themselves. When God visits for the world's sin, there will be everlasting confusion and shame for its apologists and abettors.—U.
THE SEVENTH PLAGUE. The sixth plague had had no effect at all upon the hard heart of the Pharaoh, who cared nothing for the physical sufferings of his subjects, and apparently was not himself afflicted by the malady. Moses was therefore ordered to appear before him once more, and warn him of further and yet more terrible visitations which were impending. The long message (Exodus 9:13-19) is without any previous parallel, and contains matter calculated to make an impression even upon the most callous of mortals. First there is an announcement that God is about to send "all his plagues" upon king and people (Exodus 9:14); then a solemn warning that a pestilence might have been sent which would have swept both king and people from the face of the earth (Exodus 9:15); and finally (Exodus 9:18) an announcement of the actual judgment immediately impending, which is to be a hailstorm of a severity never previously known in Egypt, and but rarely experienced elsewhere. Pharaoh is moreover told that the whole object of his having been allowed by God to continue in existence is the glory about to accrue to his name from the exhibition of his power in the deliverance of his people (Exodus 9:16). A peculiar feature of the plague is the warning (Exodus 9:19) whereby those who believed the words of Moses, were enabled to escape a great part of the ill effects of the storm. It is a remarkable indication of the impression made by the previous plagues, that the warning was taken by a considerable number of the Egyptians, who by this means saved their cattle and their slaves (Exodus 9:20). The injury caused by the plague was very great. The flax and barley crops, which were the most advanced suffered complete destruction. Men and beasts were wounded by the hail-stones, which might have been—as hail-stones sometimes are—jagged pieces of ice; and some were even killed, either by the hail (see Joshua 10:11), or by the lightning which accompanied it. Even trees were damaged by the force of the storm, which destroyed the foliage and broke the branches.
Rise up early. Compare Exodus 7:15, and Exodus 8:20. The practice of the Egyptian kings to rise early and proceed at once to the dispatch of business is noted by Herodotus. It is a common practice of oriental monarchs. And say unto him. The same message is constantly repeated in the same words as a token of God's unchangingness. See Exodus 8:1-20; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 10:3; etc.
I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart. A very emphatic announcement. At this time contrasts the immediate future with the past, and tells Pharaoh that the hour of mild warnings and slight plagues is gone by. Now he is to expect something far more terrible God will send all his plagues—every worst form of evil—in rapid succession; and will send them against his heart. Each will strike a blow on that perverse and obdurate heart—each will stir his nature to its inmost depths. Conscience will wake up and insist on being heard. All the numerous brood of selfish fears and alarms will bestir themselves. He will tremble, and be amazed and perplexed. He will forego his pride and humble himself, and beg the Israelites to be gone, and even intreat that, ere they depart, the leaders whom he has so long opposed, will give him their blessing (Exodus 12:32). That thou mayest know. Pharaoh was himself to be convinced that the Lord God of Israel was, at any rate, the greatest of all gods. He was not likely to desert at once and altogether the religion in which he had been brought up, or to regard its gods as nonexistent. But he might be persuaded of one thing—that Jehovah was far above them. And this he practically acknowledges in Exodus 9:27 and Exodus 9:28.
For now I will stretch out my hand. It is generally agreed by modern writers that this translation fails to give the true sense of the original God does not here announce what he is going to do, but what he might have done, and would have done, but for certain considerations. Translate, "For now might I have stretched out my hand, and smitten thee and thy people with pestilence; and then thou hadst been cut off from the earth." Scripture shows that pestilence is always in God's power, and may at any time be let loose to scourge his foes, and sweep them into the pit of destruction. (See Le Exodus 26:25; Numbers 11:33; Numbers 14:12; Numbers 16:46; 2 Samuel 24:13-15, etc.) He had not done now what he might have done, and what Pharaoh's obstinacy might well have provoked him to do; and why? On account of the considerations contained in the next verse.
And in very deed, etc. Rather, "But truly for this cause have I caused thee to stand," i.e; "kept thee alive and sustained thee in the position thou occupiest" for to shew to thee my power—i.e; to impress thee, if it is possible that thou canst be impressed, with the greatness of my power, and the foolishness of any attempt to resist it, and also that my name may be declared throughout all the earth—i.e; that attention may be called widely among the neighbouring nations to the great truth that there is really but one God, who alone can deliver, and whom it is impossible to resist.
As yet. Rather "still." And the whole verse should be rendered—"Dost thou still oppose thyself against my people, so as not to let them go." The verb translated "oppose"—("exalt" in the A.V.)—is strictly "to raise a mound, or bank," thence "to obstruct," "oppose."
To-morrow about this time. As it might have been thought that Moses had done nothing very extraordinary in predicting a storm for the next day, a more exact note of time than usual was here given. Compare Exodus 8:23; Exodus 9:5. I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail. Rain, and, still more, hail are comparatively rare in Egypt, though not so rare as stated by some ancient authors (Herod, 3.10; Pomp. Mela, De Situ Orbis, 1.9). A good deal of rain falls in the Lower Country, where the north wind brings air loaded with vapour from the Mediterranean; particularly in the winter months from December to March. Snow, and hail, and thunder are during those months not very uncommon, having been witnessed by many modern travellers, as Pococke, Wansleben, Seetzen, Perry, Tooke, and others. They are seldom, however, of any great severity. Such a storm as here described (see especially Exodus 9:23, Exodus 9:24) would be quite strange and abnormal; no Egyptian would have experienced anything approaching to it, and hence the deep impression that it made (Exodus 9:27). Since the foundation thereof. Not "since the original formation of the country" at the Creation, or by subsequent alluvial deposits, as Herodotus thought (2.5-11), but "since Egypt became a nation" (see Exodus 9:24). Modern Egyptologists, or at any rate a large number of them, carry back this event to a date completely irreconcilable with the Biblical chronology—Bockh to b.c. 5702, Unger to b.c. 5613, Mariette and Lenormant to b.c. 5004, Brugsch to b.c. 4455, Lepsius to b.c. 3852, and Bunsen (in one place) to b.c. 3623. The early Egyptian chronology is, however, altogether uncertain, as the variety in these dates sufficiently intimates. Of the dynasties before the (so-called) eighteenth, only seven are proved to be historical, and the time that the Old and Middle Empires lasted is exceedingly doubtful. All the known facts are sufficiently met by such a date as b.c. 2500-2400 for the Pyramid Kings, before whose time we have nothing authentic. This is a date which comes well within the period allowed for the formation of nations by the chronology of the Septuagint and Samaritan versions.
Thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field. During winter and early spring, the Egyptians kept their cattle "in the field," as other nations commonly do. When the inundation began, they were obliged to bring them into the cities and enclosed villages, and house them. The time of the "Plague of Hail" appears by all the indications w have been the middle of February. They shall die. Human life was now for the first time threatened. Any herdsmen that remained with the cattle in the open field and did not seek the shelter of houses or sheds would be smitten by the huge jagged hailstones with such force that they would be killed outright, or else die of their wounds.
He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh. It is a new fact that any of the Egyptians had been brought to "fear the word of Jehovah." Probably, the effect of the plagues had been gradually to convince a considerable number, not so much that Jehovah was the one True God as that he was a great and powerful god, whose chastisements were to be feared. Consequently there were now a certain number among the "servants of Pharaoh" who pro-fired by the warning given (Exodus 9:19), and housed their cattle and herdsmen, in anticipation of the coming storm.
He that regarded not. If there were men who believed in the power and truthfulness of Jehovah, there were probably more who did not believe. As Lot "seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law" (Genesis 19:14), so Moses and Aaron appeared to the great mass of the Egyptians. As observed above, a hail-storm that could endanger life, either of man or beast, was beyond all Egyptian experience, and must have seemed almost impossible.
Stretch forth thine hand toward heaven. The action was appropriate, as the plague was to come from the heaven. Similarly, in the first and second plagues, Aaron's hand had been stretched out upon the waters (Exodus 7:19, Exodus 7:20; Exodus 8:6); and in the third upon "the dust of the ground" (Exodus 8:17). And upon every herb of the field—i.e; upon all forms of vegetable life. (Compare Genesis 1:30; Genesis 9:3.)
Moses stretched forth his rod. In the last set of three plagues, the earthly agent was Moses (Exodus 9:10; Exodus 10:13, Exodus 10:22), whose diffidence seems to have worn off as time went on, and he became accustomed to put himself forward. Thunder and hail. Thunder had not been predicted; but it is a common accompaniment of a hail-storm, the change of temperature produced by the discharge of electricity no doubt conducing to the formation of hailstones. The fire ran along upon the ground. Some very peculiar electrical display seems to be intended—something corresponding to the phenomena called "fireballs," where the electric fluid does not merely flash momentarily, but remains for several seconds, or even minutes, before it disappears.
Fire mingled with the hail. Rather, "There was hail, and in the midst of the hail a fire infolding itself." The expression used is the same which occurs in Ezekiel 1:4. It seems to mean a fire that was not a mere flash, but collected itself into a mass and was seen for some considerable time.
The hall smote. It is to the hail and not to the lightning that the great destruction of men and beasts is attributed. Such lightning, however, as is spoken of, would probably kill some. All that was in the field. According to the warning given (Exodus 9:19), the herdsmen and cattle left in the open air and not brought into the sheds were killed. The hail emote every herb of the field. Even in our own temperate climate, which is free from all atmospheric extremes, hailstorms occasionally do so much damage to crops that it has been found desirable to organise a special insurance against loss from this cause. Such hail as that described in the text would greatly injure every crop that was many inches above the soil, and entirely destroy such as had gone to ear. (See below, Exodus 9:31.) Broke every tree—i.e; damaged the smaller branches and twigs, thus destroying the prospect of fruit.
Only in the land of Goshen, etc. Compare Exodus 8:22; Exodus 9:4; Exodus 10:23.
The method of the Divine Rule over bad men illustrated by God's message to Pharaoh.
The message illustrates,
1. THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD TOWARDS SINNERS. "For now might I have stretched out my hand and smitten thee and thy people with pestilence"(Exodus 9:15). Pharaoh had opposed himself to God so long, had shown himself in various ways so wicked, that he well deserved to have been stricken with plague and made to perish miserably. He had been insolent and blasphemous, when first appealed to in the name of Jehovah (Exodus 5:2); cruel and vindictive, when he increased the Israelites' burdens (Exodus 5:7-9); hard-hearted, when the taskmasters complained to him (Exodus 5:15-18); obdurate and perverse, in resisting so many signs and wonders wrought for the purpose of moving him (Exodus 7:10-13, Exodus 7:20-23; Exodus 8:5, Exodus 8:6, Exodus 8:16-19, Exodus 8:20-24; Exodus 9:6, Exodus 9:7, Exodus 9:10-12); pitiless and false, in twice breaking his promises (Exodus 8:8-15, Exodus 8:28-32). Yet God had spared him. He had "made him to stand" (Exodus 9:16)—i.e; preserved him in being—and had retained him in his high station, when he might readily have caused his overthrow by conspiracy or otherwise. So long-suffering was he, that he even now addressed to him fresh warnings, and gave him fresh signs of his power, thus by his goodness striving to lead him to repentance.
II. THE POWER OF GOD TO BREAK THE WILL EVEN OF THE MOST DETERMINED SINNER. God can so multiply, and vary, and prolong his judgments, that at last the power of endurance, even in the case of the most obdurate sinner, is worn out. First he sends comparatively slight afflictions, then more serious ones; finally, if the stubborn will still refuses to bend, he visits the offender with "all his plagues" (Exodus 9:14). Man cannot triumph over God. Kings may oppose their wills to his, but they cannot make him succumb. He "refrains the spirit of princes," and shows himself "wonderful among the kings of the earth" (Psalms 76:12). Even the greatest monarchs—this present Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar—are powerless against him. He "refrains" them, breaks them, humbles them, works his will in spite of them. And at what a cost to themselves! Unfortunately kings, and even less exalted sinners, will rarely learn wisdom till too late. He has to send "all his plagues" upon them; whereas, if they had been wise, they might have escaped with a light chastisement.
III. THE FACT THAT ALL RESISTANCE OF GOD'S WILL BY SINNERS TENDS TO INCREASE, AND IS DESIGNED TO INCREASE, HIS GLORY. "The fierceness of man turns to God's praise; He has endowed men with free will, and allows them the free exercise of their free will, because, do as they like, they cannot thwart his purposes. Being, as he is, the God of order, and not of confusion or anarchy, he could not have allowed flee will at all to his creatures, if their employment of it prevented the accomplishment of his own designs and intentions. But it does not; it is foreseen, taken into account, provided for. And the only result of men's opposition to his will is the increase of his glory and of his praise. Great kings are seen arraying themselves against God, determining to take Jerusalem, like Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:35), or to destroy the infant Church, like Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1-3), or to rebuild Jerusalem, like the apostate Julian, or to crush the Reformation, like Philip II. of Spain—and they do their utmost; they levy armies, or man fleets, or collect materials and engage thousands of workmen, or murder and imprison at their pleasure-but nothing comes of it. Their efforts fail utterly. And the sole result of all their exertions is, that men see and recognise God's hand in their overthrow, and that his glory is thereby increased. All this is commonly declared in Scripture, and especially in the Psalms (Psalms 2:4; Psalms 5:10; Psalms 7:11-17; Psalms 9:15-20, etc.). The message sent by God to Pharaoh through Moses adds, that the result is designed. "For this cause have I made thee stand (marg.), for to show to thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth"(verse 16). Compare Exodus 14:17, Exodus 14:18; Exodus 15:14-16; Joshua 2:9-11.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The plague of hail.
This plague was introduced with ampler remonstrance. Moses was commanded to proceed to Pharaoh, and to warn him in stronger and more decisive language than he had yet employed of the folly of this insane resistance. Exodus 9:15 should probably be translated, "For now indeed had I stretched forth my hand, and smitten thee and thy people with the pestilence, thou hadst then been out off from the earth;" and then Exodus 9:16 will give the reason why God had not cut Pharaoh off, but had "made him stand" (marg.), viz.: that he might show forth in him his power. It does not follow that God would not have preferred to use Pharaoh for his glory in another way than that of destroying him. This strong representation of God's purpose was itself designed to influence the king for good, and had a spark of sense remained to him, it would have wrought an immediate change in his volitions. In that case God's procedure would have undergone a corresponding alteration. For God wills not the death of any sinner, and threatenings of this kind, as shown by the case of the Ninevites, are always conditional (Jonah 4:1-11.). At the same time, God's sovereignty is seen in the way in which he utilizes the wicked man whose persistence in his wickedness is foreseen by him. "God might have caused Pharaoh to be born in a cabin, where his proud obstinacy would have been displayed with no less self-will, but without any historical consequence; on the other hand, he might have placed on the throne of Egypt at that time a weak, easy-going man, who would have yielded at the first shock. What would have happened? Pharaoh in his obscure position would not have been less arrogant and perverse, but Israel would have gone forth from Egypt without eclat … God did not therefore create the indomitable pride of Pharaoh as it were to gain a point of resistance, and reflect his glory; he was content to use it for this purpose" (Godet on Romans 4:17, Romans 4:18). Notice—
I. THE TERRIBLE RAISING UP (Exodus 9:16). We are taught,
1. That God can find a use even for the wicked (Proverbs 16:4).
2. That God places wicked men in positions in which their true character is manifested, and his own power and righteousness are glorified in their judgment.
3. That this is not the primary desire of God in relation to any wicked man. He would prefer his conversion. If it be urged that the situations in which men are placed are not always those most favourable to their conversion, this may be conceded. But they are not placed in these positions arbitrarily, but under a system of administration which regards each individual, not simply as an end in himself, but as a means to a yet higher end, the carrying forward of the world purpose as a whole. God cannot deal with the individual as if there were no such thing as history, or as if that individual constituted the sum-total of humanity, or as if his salvation were the only and the all-ruling consideration in the arrangement of the world. God disposes of the evil of the world, decrees the lines and directions of its developments, the persons in whom, and the situations under which, it will be permitted to reveal and concentrate itself, but he neither creates the evil, nor delights in it, and is all the while working for its final and effectual overthrow. No situation in which God places man nessitates him to be evil.
4. That the sinner's evil, accordingly, is his own, and his ruin self-wrought. This is shown—and notably in the case of Pharaoh—by the fact that God's dealings with him are fitted to change him if he will be changed (Matthew 23:37).
II. A PLAGUE WITH APPALLING ATTENDANT CIRCUMSTANCES (Exodus 18:23-26). This plague, like many of its predecessors, was,
1. Severe in its character (Exodus 9:24).
2. Destructive in its effects (Exodus 9:25).
3. Distinguishing in its range. It spared the land of Goshen (Exodus 9:26). But the peculiar circumstance connected with it—that which marked it as the first of a new order of plagues—was,
4. Its combination of terror with sublimity, its power to appal as well as to punish. A last attempt was to be made to break down the opposition of the monarch by displays of God's majesty and omnipotence which should shake his very heart (Exodus 9:14). Instead of frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, and boils on man and beast, Pharaoh was now to be made to hear "voices of God" in the thunder (Exodus 9:28, Hebrews); was to see dreadful lightnings, masses of fire, descending from the sky, and rolling in balls of fire along the ground (Exodus 9:23); was to witness his land smitten with terrific hail "very grievous," the like of which had never been seen in Egypt "since it became a nation" (Exodus 9:24). A thunderstorm is at all times terrible, and when very severe, inspires an awe which few natures can resist. Accompanied by preternatural terrors, its effect would be simply overwhelming. This was the intention here. The strokes of God were to go to the king's heart. They were to convince him that there was "none like Jehovah in all the earth" (Exodus 9:14). They were to be plagues, as Calvin says, "that would not only strike the head and arms, but penetrate the very heart, and inflict a mortal wound." The thunder is introduced as being "the mightiest manifestation of the omnipotence of God, which speaks therein to men (Revelation 10:3, Revelation 10:4), and warns them of the terrors of judgment" (Keil). On the peculiar effect of the thunderstorm in awakening the religious nature, see a paper on "God in Nature and History," Expositor, March, 1881. To the superstitious minds of the heathen these unexampled terrors would seem of awful significance.
III. TWOFOLD EFFECTS OF WARNINGS (Exodus 9:20, Exodus 9:21).
1. God's judgments, like his overtures of grace, are seldom wholly ineffectual. If the king was hardened, there were at least some in Egypt who had become alive to the gravity of the situation, "who feared the word of the Lord." Such were to be found even among the servants of Pharaoh, in the palace itself. The preaching of the Gospel, even under the most unpropitious circumstances, will seldom fail of some fruit. There were "certain men" which "clave" to Paul, "and believed" at Athens; "among the which was Dionysius, the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them" (Acts 17:34). There were "saints"—mirabile dictu—even in Nero's palace (Philippians 4:22).
2. The division of men, in their relation to the Word of God, is a very simple one. There are those who fear and regard it, and there are those who disregard and disobey it. Paul speaks of those to whom Gospel-preaching is a savour of death unto death, and of those to whom it is a savour of life unto life (2 Corinthians 2:16). Between the two classes there is no third. The effects of his own preaching are thus summed up, "And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not" (Acts 28:24).
3. Faith reveals itself in obedience. He that feared God's word brought in his cattle; he that disregarded it left them in the fields.
4. The wisdom of regarding God, and the folly of disregarding him, were made manifest by the result.
IV. PHARAOH'S CAPITULATION (Exodus 9:27, Exodus 9:28). The supernatural concomitants of this appalling visitation so unnerved the king that he was induced again to send for Moses. tie did not yield till the plague was actually on the land, and only then, because he could not help it. The terms in which he makes his submission show,
1. His undisguised terror.
2. His thorough conviction that he was in the hands of the God of the whole earth. Pharaoh had by this time had a course of instruction in the "evidences," which left no room for further doubt. The most striking feature in his submission, however, is,
3. His confession of sin. "I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked" (Exodus 9:27). It was good that Pharaoh should be brought to see that it was a righteous demand he was resisting, and that he was inexcusable in resisting it. This much at least the plagues had forced him to acknowledge, and it gave his hardening a yet graver character when subsequently he retracted his word given. But the superficiality of the repentance is very obvious. "I have sinned this time;" there is here no adequate sense of the sin he had been guilty of. False repentances have their root in superficial views of sin. They may be produced by terror, under compulsion; but they are accompanied by no real change of heart; and renewed hardening is the only possible outcome of them. "As for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord God"(Exodus 9:30).
V. JUDGMENT TEMPERED WITH MERCY. God's mercy in connection with this plague is conspicuous—
1. In giving the warning, so that those who regarded his word had the opportunity of removing their servants and cattle (Exodus 9:20, Exodus 9:21).
2. In sparing the wheat and rye (Exodus 9:31, Exodus 9:32).
3. In removing the plague at the request of Pharaoh, presented through Moses (Exodus 9:28, Exodus 9:29).
VI. HARDENING NOTWITHSTANDING.
1. Pharaoh hardened himself (Exodus 9:34, Exodus 9:35). We ask, in surprise, how was such a thing possible? Pride, hate, anger, obstinacy furnish the explanation, though it is truly difficult to conceive how they could so madden a mind as to make it capable of persevering in a course of resistance. There is the fact, however, and it is full of terrible warning to us. The hardening was obviously now of the most serious possible kind. Pharaoh's nature had been thoroughly awakened. He was no loner sinning in ignorance, but against clear light and conviction. He had confessed his sin, and promised to obey. Hardening, under these circumstances, was as nearly "sin against the Holy Ghost" as was then possible (John 9:41).
2. His servants hardened themselves (Exodus 9:34). This is a fact which should be well pondered. It might have been thought that only a Pharaoh was capable of such fatuousness. We learn here that there were natures among his servants as susceptible of hardening as his own. We do not need to be Pharaohs to be capable of hardening our hearts against God. Persons in obscure positions can do it as readily as those on the pinnacles of greatness. The king's influence, however, had doubtless much to do with his servants' conduct. They took their cue from their lord. Had he submitted himself, they would have done so also. Because he hardened himself, they must follow suit. What folly! to destroy themselves for the sake of being like a king—of being in the fashion. Learn also the potency of example. Those in high positions have a powerful influence over those dependent upon them. Well for them if they use that influence for God's glory, and not to ruin souls!—J.O.
HOMILIES BY H. T. ROBJOHNS
The road to ruin.
"And in very deed for this cause," etc. (Exodus 9:16). The character and conduct of Pharaoh as a probationer under the moral government of the Ever Living God is worthy of special and separate consideration. That he was such a probationer should not be simply assumed, but made clearly manifest. All the great light of natural religion shone upon his path (Romans 1:19-25), like stars in heaven upon the path of every soul. Then there is the inward witness that speaks of the soul, of God, of duty, of immortality (Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15). Within the confines of his empire existed a nation of no less than two millions, to whom had already been confided a part, at least, of the "oracles of God." They were the recipients of such revelations as God had already vouchsafed. Their beliefs ought not to have been unknown to him. Two missionaries, direct from God, Moses and Aaron, were his teachers. They Came with full credentials. Providential judgments, not untempered with mercy (for warning after warning came), spake with trumpet tongue. Some of his own people, convinced, probably penitent, pleaded for the right. And yet this soul went from bad to worse. We indicate the stages on the road to ruin. It is only necessary to premise that though the stages are broadly manifest enough, they, in so complicated a character, occasionally overlap, and are blended with each other.
I. UNBELIEF. Pharaoh's of the blankest kind (Exodus 9:2). [Read correctly, "Who is Jehovah"?] The man a God unto himself, as all infidels practically are. The representative of the Sun-God. Note the independent stand he takes all through this controversy, as against Jehovah. [On this see Kurtz, Hist. of Old Cov. 2:292.]
II. SUPERSTITION. So does the pendulum ever swing back from the extremes of belief or non-belief. No soul can rest in that infidelity which virtually deifies self. Hence Pharaoh played off against the representatives of Jehovah, the representatives of the polytheism of Egypt—the magicians. SO in modern times. There are the credulities of atheism. Men who will not believe in the sublime truths of revelation fall to intellectual drivelling. Notable instance, Comte's "Religion of Humanity." After all, this is a witness that man cannot live without religion. [In this connection note the connection between magic and idolatry, and of that, possibly, with demons, Kurtz, 2:246-259.]
III. ALARM. In Pharaoh's case this was especially manifest after the second (Exodus 8:8), fourth (Exodus 8:25), seventh (Exodus 9:27), and eighth (Exodus 10:16) visitations.
IV. CONFESSION. After the seventh (Exodus 9:27). No wonder, for God had said before this judgment, "I will at this time send all my plagues upon thy heart." Coming calamity was to be of a deeper and more searching kind. The man seems to have had an access of real and honest feeling. Sees the sin of the people as well as his own. Confesses. But the confession was not followed up.
V. PROMISE—VIOLATION. After second (Exodus 8:8-15), fourth (Exodus 8:28-32), and seventh (Exodus 9:28-35) plagues. A very common thing with sinners under Divine discipline—promises of amendment—but the sweep onward of the bias toward iniquity is like that of a mighty river, and carries the most earnest vows into the gulf of oblivion.
VI. DISPOSITION TO COMPROMISE. See Exodus 8:25-28, Exodus 10:8-11, Exodus 10:24. Such penitence as Pharaoh had was one of conditions and compromise. Israel's festival must be "in the land;" then not "far away; "then only the men should go; then all might go, but the cattle must stay behind. So "We will give up sin, but only part of it. We will yield ninety-nine points, not the hundredth. We will give up what we do not care for so much, but keep What we peculiarly like. We will keep all the commandments, but not give up our money.** We will gain the credit and reputation of religion, but shun the pain and denial of it." (see on "Pharaoh," in Munro's "Sermons on Characters of the Old Testament," vol. 1. ser. 15.)
VII. INDIFFERENCE. Stolidity in matters of such high import as religion is a very dangerous condition. Pharaoh assumed after fifth and sixth visitations an attitude of hardened indifference (Exodus 9:7-12).
VIII. HARDNESS OF HEART. Except in the objective announcement made to Moses at the first, there is no statement that God hardened Pharaoh's heart till after the sixth plague (Exodus 9:12). Up to that time Pharaoh hardened his own heart, or the fact simply is stated, that his heart was hardened. In this matter man acts first sinfully, then God judicially.
IX. RESISTANCE TO APPEAL OF OTHERS. See Exodus 9:20, and Exodus 10:7.
HOMILIES BY HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The earth is the Lord's and the fulness of it.
In this comprehensive message from Jehovah, standing as it does about midway in the course of his judgments upon Pharaoh, we have a peculiar and impressive application of the foregoing word of the Psalmist (Psalms 24:1). The word "earth," it will be noticed, stands in a very prominent position in each of the Exodus 9:14, Exodus 9:15, Exodus 9:16. Evidently, then, we should give the word an equally prominent position in our thoughts, and connect with it the truths to be drawn out of this message. It will then be seen that Jehovah has many ways of showing that the earth is his and the fulness of it. It is all his; not Pharaoh's, not any other potentate's, not even Israel's—except as Israel is chosen by Jehovah, duly trained and prepared by him, subjected and obedient to him. We have to consider this message, then, under three heads, as suggested by the occurrence of the word "earth" in these three verses. Note, however, first, the way in which Moses approaches Pharaoh on this occasion. In Exodus 7:15, he is told to get to Pharaoh in the morning and meet him by the river's brink; thus there is a general indication of time and a particular indication of place. In Exodus 8:20, he is told to go early in the morning, as Pharaoh comes forth to the water; thus there is a more particular indication of time, Now, in Exodus 9:13, there is the same particular indication of time, but no reference to place. Thus it seems as if we got a gradation, a sign of increasing pressure and urgency upon Pharaoh. Moses has to be ready for Pharaoh at the very beginning of the day, and then, whenever and wherever he may meet with him, he can deliver his message at once. Pharaoh had the whole day to consider as to the things Which were about to happen on the morrow. And now—
I. THERE IS NO ONE LIKE JEHOVAH IN THE WHOLE EARTH, AND PHARAOH 18 TO BE MADE TO KNOW THIS. Such is the statement of Exodus 9:14; and of course the whole gist of it lies in the bringing of Pharaoh to a clear and unmistakable knowledge of the supremacy of God over all terrestrial powers. That there is none like God in all the earth may be true, but the thing wanted is to bring that truth distinctly and practically before our minds, and if profitably for us also, then so much the better This end had to be achieved in the instance of Pharaoh by persistent attacks of Jehovah upon him, attacks ever increasing in effective force, till at last they proved irresistible. It was not enough for others to be assured by Pharaoh's doom that there was none like God in all the earth. Pharaoh must know it for himself, and confess it, not by the ambiguous channel of speech, but by a most decisive act, the committal of which he cannot avoid (Exodus 12:31-33). And that he may be brought to such a knowledge is the reason of the severe plagues that remain. We might, indeed, count it enough to be told that Jehovah had sent all his plagues. We might rest upon Jehovah's character, and say that whatever he does is right, even though there be much that at first staggers us, and that continues to perplex. But the reason for all these plagues is plainly stated, and if it be looked into 'it will be seen an ample, cheering, and encouraging reason. Though Jehovah is Sovereign of the universe, he does not treat Pharaoh in an arbitrary way; he acts, not as one who says that might makes right, but as using his might in order to secure the attainment of right. Pharaoh's way, on the contrary, is an arbitrary one, without the slightest mitigation or concealment. Everything rests simply on his will; and yet will is too dignified a word—whim would be nearer the mark. And now that proud will is to be subdued and dissolved, so far, at least, as to flow forth in the liberation of Israel, even though immediately they be liberated it hardens again to its former rigidity. The announcement Moses was now to make to Pharaoh we may fairly say would have been inappropriate at an earlier time. It becomes God, in his first approaches to men, to draw them, if perchance for their own sakes they may willingly submit; afterwards, when they will not be drawn, then for the sake of others they have to be driven. It is not until Pharaoh fully manifests his selfishness, his malignity, and the reasonless persistency of his refusal, that God indicates the approach of all his plagues. The man has been humbled in his circumstances, but his pride of heart remains as erect as ever; and so the full force of Jehovah has to be Brought upon it in order to lay it low. tic is at last to feel in himself, whatever he may say, that the true question is not "Who is Jehovah, that Pharaoh should let Israel go?" but, "Who is Pharaoh, that he should keep Israel back?" He has gotten some rudiments and beginnings of this knowledge already, even though they have made no difference in his practice. Every time he has opened his eyes. he has seen something fresh, which, however quickly he might close his eyes again, he could not unsee. And now he is on the very point of getting more knowledge, and that in a way very disagreeable to a despot. With alarming rapidity, his people are about to be impressed with the supremacy of Jehovah (Exodus 9:20; Exodus 10:7).
II. Notice the peculiar reference in Exodus 9:15 to THE DESTRUCTION OF PHARAOH. It is spoken of as a being cut off from the earth. It seems that our English version does not give the right tense-rendering in this verse, and that the reference is not to what will happen in the future, but to what might have already happened in the past. If Pharaoh was not already a dead man, and Israel a free people, there was nothing in this delay for Pharaoh to plume himself upon. Jehovah might have smitten him with pestilence, and slain the strong, proud man on his bed, amid humiliations and pains which would have been aggravated by the vanity of the regal splendours around him. tie might have made Egypt one great expanse of the dead, a land which the Israelites could have spoiled at their leisure, and then gone forth at any time most convenient to themselves. And if Jehovah did not thus slay Pharaoh and liberate Israel, it was because he had purposes of his own to accomplish by the lengthened life of the one and the intensified sufferings of the other. But apart from the question ,of time, what awful significance there is in the expression, "cut off from the earth!" To this separation, made most effectual, Pharaoh came at last. In considering this expression, notice first of all the suggestion of our connection with the earth. A thing cannot be cut off from the earth unless first of all it is connected with it. In respect of many things the connection may seem very slight and unimportant; but in the instance of a human being, the connection is evidently intimate and important; and, until our connection with heaven is established, not only important, but all-important. We are connected with the earth by what we get from it. The very limitations of our bodily constitution remind us of our dependence upon the earth. We are not like the birds with wings to soar away from it, nor like fishes who can breathe vital air under water; we are emphatically of the solid earth. To its kindly fruits we look for our sustenance, and out of it also comes our clothing and shelter. And then from the earth in its still larger sense, "the great globe itself," consider what comes to us in the way of occupation, instruction, interest, pleasure, opportunities of getting and giving in all sorts of ways. From all this Pharaoh was at last cut off; and from all this we also must one day be cut off. Cut off from the earth, as the tree, at the roots of which the axe has long lain. When the tree has fallen it is still near the earth, but it gets nothing from it. The question for us to ask is, whether, while the tree of our natural earthly life still stands, we are having the roots of a nobler, richer life, even a Divine one, striking down into the heavenly places? The cutting off from earth will matter little, if the vanished life is found elsewhere, more flourishing and fruitful than ever it was here.
III. Notice from Exodus 9:16 that THE VERY PURPOSE OF PHARAOH'S EMINENCE IS TO MAKE A UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF THE POWER AND GLORY OF GOD. God did not treat Pharaoh differently from thousands of others, as far as the essence of his decling with him is concerned. All who act as Pharaoh acted will suffer as Pharaoh suffered. He was not a throned puppet, a mere machine in the hands of Divine power; if he had been, no instruction and no warning could be got from him for the guidance of voluntary beings like ourselves. But being a downright selfish, proud, malignant man, God put him in this high position that he might effectually publish both his folly and his doom, and the power and name of that great Being whom he had so pertinaciously defied. He was born a Pharaoh, put in royal prerogative and possessions by no choice of his own, but we may most truly say, by the sovereign disposal of Jehovah. Thousands have been as stubborn against chastisement as he, and have gone down to a destruction as real, even though its circumstances have not been miraculous, imposing and memorable. The difference is that Pharaoh's career was to be known; and not only known, but known as is the course of the sun and the moon, all round the earth. One such career is enough to be recorded in a way so prominent; one capital instance of human folly and weakness and Divine wisdom and power, blazing up like a beacon-fire out of the darkness of that distant past. Little did Pharaoh dream that, by his very perversity and humiliation, he was making a name for himself such as none made who went before or followed him, either in peace or in war. His memory is dragged in a perpetual procession of triumph at Jehovah's chariot-wheels. And as it is with evil men, so it is with good. As there have been many of the Pharaoh stubbornness, though only one of the Pharaoh notoriety, so there have been many meek and gentle as Moses, though only Moses has been set for the whole world to gaze upon. It is more important to have Abraham's faith than it is to have Abraham's fame; more important to have the spiritual susceptibilities, experiences and aspirations of David, than the power which could put them into immortal Psalms. A man is not to be reckoned more wicked because the story of his execrable deeds is borne on every wind. A man is not better because he is better known. A few are taken for examples and located in history, as only God in his wisdom is able to locate them. He is a God who presides not only over life, but over biography as well.—Y.
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
Harden not your hearts.
Our position in considering the dealings of God with men, resembles the position of scholars in some school observing and criticizing the conduct of the master. Certain inferences cannot be drawn from partial knowledge. Moreover, God's dealings with us resemble, to some extent, the dealings of a tutor with his scholars. Where intelligent appreciation is impossible through immaturity of intelligence, then action must seem arbitrary, however perfect may be the justification. Consider—
I. GOD'S DEALINGS WITH PHARAOH. We cannot, in this view, separate Pharaoh from the social conditions which shaped his life. Great king as he was, yet, in God's sight, he was but a man with great influence—a man intimately connected with other men whose training and destiny were as important as his own. [Illustration: In school—one boy specially influential. The conduct of the master towards him must be regulated by considerations as to what is due to the whole body of scholars. The master must act for the general welfare, without partiality towards any.] Had Pharaoh been the sole occupant of Egypt, he might have been treated differently. As one amongst many, the treatment he received is justified, if it can be shown to have tended to the benefit of the community of which he formed a part. [Illustration: Suppose boy in school, bigger and stronger than other scholars, exerting a bad influence, bullying. Teacher will speak to him. Knowing, however, his character, may foresee that speech will irritate, make him more obstinate. Still, speech ignored, must go on to enforce it by punishment, well knowing, all the while, that punishment will increase the obstinacy of the individual recipient. Finally, may have to expel; yet, in justice to the rest, only finally, seeing that premature expulsion would but weaken his authority.] So God
(1) spoke to Pharaoh by Moses (Exodus 5:1), then
(2) punished him again and again (Exodus 9:14), only
(3) finally expelled him; foreseeing all the while that his treatment would but harden the offender, yet persisting in it for the good of others, to strengthen and maintain his own authority (Exodus 9:16).
II. EFFECT ON PHARAOH OF GOD'S DEALINGS WITH HIM. Keeping to illustration, the effect on Pharaoh was just what might have been, and was, anticipated.
1. Effect of speech. Warnings and threats alike disregarded. The man so full of his own importance that he would not listen; would not allow the existence of a superior; only irritated; made more obstinate (cf. Exodus 5:1-23.).
2. Effect of punishment. Pain inflicted proves power to inflict pain. Pain felt prompts to any action which may bring relief. Hence we find:—
(1) Verbal confession, "I have sinned"[just like boy, feeling punishment, ready to say anything which may remit the pain].
(2) A hardened heart. The disposition was not altered by the infliction. "I have sinned" only meant "I have suffered." Once-remove the suffering, and the sufferer showed himself more obdurate than ever. It would have been easy to remove Pharaoh at once; but he occupied an exemplary position, and must, for the sake of others, be treated in an exemplary manner. Expulsion came at last, but God retained him in his position so long as it was needful thereby to teach others his power (Exodus 9:16). Perfectly just to all; for even Pharaoh, though his conduct was foreseen, yet had it in his own power to alter it. Hardened like clay beneath the sun's heat, his own self-determination made him like the clay; it might have made him like the snow, in which case his obduracy would have melted.
Apply. Many like Pharaoh, yet all do not act as he did under like treatment. (Cf. Jonah 3:1-10.; Daniel 4:31-34.) The same treatment may soften as well as harden. The heart, the self-will, the seat of the mischief—and there is a remedy for that (cf. Ezekiel 36:1-38.), but not whether we will or no (Hebrews 3:7, Hebrews 3:8). Other ways in which hearts are hardened—Pharaoh's by active resistance, others by persistent inattention. [Illustration—the disregarded alarum.] So Israel got used to God's dealing with them; so, too often we do (cf. Romans 2:4, Romans 2:5; Psalms 95:8).—G.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The seventh plague-the hail mingled with fire.
I. CONSIDER THE PLAGUE ITSELF,
1. God has his "to-morrow"(Exodus 9:18) as well as Pharaoh (Exodus 8:10). Only when Pharaoh's "to-morrow" comes, there comes with it the evidence that he means not what he says. But when God's" to-morrow" comes there is the evidence of his perfect stability, how he settles everything beforehand, even to the very hour. "Tomorrow, about this time." A whole twenty-four hours then Pharaoh gets for consideration, although really he needs it not, and cannot be expected to profit by it. But as we see presently, it is serviceable to protect the fight-minded among his people. Perhaps the very period of consideration would make Pharaoh even to despise the prediction. He would say to himself that a hailstorm, however severe, could be lived through, and the damage from it soon made right again.
2. This plague comes from a new direction. The heavens join the earth in serving God against Pharaoh. Our minds are at once directed to the opening of the windows of heaven (Genesis 7:11), and the raining upon Sodom and Gomorrah of brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. But we see at once the great difference between these two visitations and this one. Terrible as it was, it was not destructive as they, nor was it meant to be. God never acts so that obliteration comes instead of chastisement, or chastisement instead of obliteration. He nicely graduates his agencies so as to attain the desired results. And yet, though this plague was not a Sodom experience, it was a sufficiently dreadful one. There was nothing in Egyptian annals to dwarf it. All the power which God has stored up in the atmosphere, and which, by its wide and minute diffusion, he makes such a blessing, is now concentrated so as to become correspondingly destructive. When man will not obey, God can show the rest of his creation in remarkable obedience. Man is seen becoming more and more repugnant to Divine control, while over against him other things are seen becoming more and more amenable. What an impressive reminder is thus given to us, concerning our departure from God, and the discord that departure has produced. God sent thunder, and hail, and lightning. Even a slight thunder-storm disturbs the mind, and what a profound commotion of the soul this unequalled storm must have produced. The sound of that thunder, one would think, remained in the ears of those who heard it down to their latest hour. As to the lightning, we know more of its causes than did the Egyptians; but all our science will never rob it of its wonder and terror. Franklin has taken away the mystery of it to our intellects, but God has taken care that its power over our hearts should remain. When flash after flash fills the heavens, the most vulgar and sensual of men is awed out of his sordid composure, at least, for the time.
II. CONSIDER THE REMARKABLE DISCRIMINATION OF GOD IN THIS PLAGUE,
1. The exemption of Goshen from the storm. "Where the children of Israel were, there was no hail." This exemption now comes almost as a matter of course. How clear it thus becomes to those who receive this miracle of the hail in spirit and in truth, that God has complete power over all the order of the sky, sending rain, snow, hail, as it pleases him, gathering the most dreadful of tempests over one district, and leaving another district that skirted it—perhaps even lay inside of it as an inner circle—perfectly secure. In Goshen they heard the thunder, saw the lightning, marked the fall of the bruising hail-stones, but these things touched them not. Here is the oft quoted suave marl magno of Lucretius to perfection. God having thus shown here, as elsewhere, his control of the heavens, it is a rational thing enough to supplicate changes of the weather. We are then supplicating for what is quite possible of attainment, even though it might possibly be better in such things to take humbly and trustfully what God may send.
2. But much more notable here than the exemption of Goshen, is the discriminating way in which God treats the Egyptian people. More and more have they been getting the opportunity to discover whence and wherefore these visitations have come on their land. A certain preparation was necessary to give them the power fairly and fully to appreciate the appeal of Jehovah in Exodus 9:19. The very exemptions of Goshen already would have done much to lead them to some perception of the real state of affairs, and all along indeed each wonder had said, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." There are some who are deaf, even to thunder, and others to whom the still, small voice speaks in the clearest of tones and the plainest of words concerning all truth and duty. Notice with what wisdom God acted in taking a plague of this sort to discriminate among the Egyptians. They had the chance of sheltering themselves from its worst consequences by a timely attention to his warning. The test was effectual as to who feared the word of Jehovah. All that he wanted was that the fear should lead to belief in the prediction, and action corresponding with the belief. When it becomes needful to exempt Goshen, then assuredly it is also just to give right-minded, open-minded, and prudent Egyptians the chance, if not of exemption, at all events, of relief. They are not all Egypt who are of Egypt, as they are not all Israel who are Of Israel. Among the nominal believers there are the worst of infidels; and among the nominal infidels there may be, not, of course, the best of believers, but those whose germinant faith may grow up into the most abundant and glorious fruit-bearing. Notice how this was the experience of the Apostles; they constantly found faith and unbelief side by side (Acts 13:42-45; Acts 14:1-4; Acts 17:4, Acts 17:12, Acts 17:34; Acts 19:8, Acts 19:9). Nowhere is this stated more impressively and antithetically than at the very close of the apostolic story; "Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not" (Acts 28:24). Men themselves are continually making preliminary and unconscious separation between the sheep and the goats.
III. CONSIDER THE FRESH CONFESSION AND PROMISE WHICH THIS PLAGUE. AT LAST EXTORTS FROM PHARAOH. This confession has a very hopeful appearance upon the surface; but then we suddenly remember how hopeless God himself is of any permanent yielding from Pharaoh, any surrender of his entire nature. Nothing is easier than to say, "I have sinned;" nothing is harder than to say it with right knowledge of what sin is, and deep contrition and humiliation, because of its all-dominating presence in the life. Pharaoh uses strong words here, and there is a great appearance of spontaneity and sincerity, but God is not deceived; and we only need to look into the words to be very quickly undeceived ourselves. Indeed, as we examine Pharaoh's utterance, we find that by a most effective contrast it shows us how to discern the elements of an adequate and acceptable confession of sin.
1. Such a confession must have reference to a permanent state of the character. Sin is not a mere outward act, so that a man may sometimes be sinning, and sometimes not sinning. "I have sinned this time." This time! There you have the mark of a mere lip acknowledgment; of one who confounds the mere selfish dangers and discomforts that grow out of sin with sin itself. The right confession therefore, is the word of one who has come to a knowledge of the deep and accursed fountain within, of those reservoirs in the thoughts and intents of the heart whence all particular actions flow. He who rightly confesses knows that it is a life that needs to be cleansed, and not a mere limb that needs to be amputated.
2. It must be absorbingly personal. It must occupy in the most imperative fashion all the individual consciousness. If there is any time when, as one may say, it is a man's duty to look on his own things, and not the things of others, it is when he is labouring to get the proper conviction of sin. He is not to lose himself in the crowd; he is to stand out before his own mind's eye—self so unsparingly revealed to self—that nothing less will do to say than, "I am the chief of sinners." For not till a man knows what it is to be the chief of sinners is he in the way of discovering what it is to be the chief of saints. "I and my people are wicked," says Pharaoh. It was a false unity; a claim of unity dictated even by pride, for he had become incapable of thinking of his people apart from himself. He calls them one in wickedness, when they were not one; for some had this possibility of goodness at least, that they feared Jehovah enough to follow his counsels (Exodus 9:20). And later, when the mixed multitude went out with Israel (Exodus 12:38), what then became of the boast, "I and my people"?
3. It must desire the removal of sin itself; of the guilty conscience, the depraved imagination, the unbrotherly and unneighbourly feelings, the intellect darkened with ignorance and error. Above all, it will desire to have the life reconciled, filial, and serviceable towards God. What is the avoidance of physical suffering and loss, compared with the sweeping away of far more intimate elements of misery? Only when there are such desires in the heart will the word "I have sinned" operate to secure an immediate reversal of the life. Israel said "we have sinned," when they had rebelled against Jehovah because of the distasteful report of the spies. What their confession was worth is seen in the immediate sequel (Numbers 14:40 Numbers 14:45). Balaam said to the angel in the way, "I have sinned," but for all that he did not turn back; he was only too glad to go forward and work for the wages of unrighteousness (Numbers 22:34).
4. It must be a confession to God himself, and not a mere talk to others about God being righteous. All that Pharaoh wanted was to have Moses entreat for the withdrawal of present suffering. The acknowledgment, such as it was, was to Moses and not to Jehovah. Now confessions of this sort are useless. The thing wanted is, not a supplication to possible intercessors, but to the Holy One on high, seen through and above the mediating agent. It is not enough to be brought to a knowledge of Jesus as saving from sin; indeed we may only be deluding ourselves with mere words, except as we gain that glorious part of the salvation which consists in the knowledge of him whom Jesus himself knew so well, and desired, with such earnest desire, to reveal to his disciples also.—Y.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Mercy in Judgment.
I. GOD'S PURPOSE IN DEALING WITH THE WICKED BY CHASTISEMENT AND NOT BY JUDGMENT (13-16). God might have desolated the land, and let Israel pass unquestioned through the midst of it. But in Pharaoh and his people the Lord would, by foretold, continued, deepening chastisements, reveal the terror and resistlessness of his power. He would make the heart of the oppressor quail in every age and nation, and stir up the oppressed to hope and prayer. But for this prolonged contest with Pharaoh we should have lacked much that has gone to deepen holy fear of God and trust in him.
II. HOW GOD LEADS UP THE WEAKEST FAITH INTO STRENGTH (20, 21).
1. Warning was given, and those who had merely faith enough to believe that God's word might be kept, had time to save their servants and their cattle.
2. In the after contrast between themselves and those who had despised the warning, faith would spring up into full assurance. The trust we give to God, like the seed we cast into the soil, is given back to us an hundredfold. How God answers the prayer, "Lord increase our faith."—U.
The plague of hail impressed the Pharaoh more than any previous one. It was the first which had inflicted death on men. It was a most striking and terrible manifestation. It was quite unlike anything which the Egyptians had ever experienced before (Exodus 9:18, Exodus 9:24). It was, by manifest miracle, made to fall on the Egyptians only (Exodus 9:26). Pharaoh was therefore more humbled than ever previously. He acknowledged that he "had sinned" (Exodus 9:27); he added a confession that "Jehovah [alone] was righteous, he and his people wicked" (ibid.). And, as twice before, he expressed his willingness to let the Israelites take their departure if the plague were removed (Exodus 9:28). The ultimate results, however, were not any better than before. No sooner had Moses prayed to God, and procured the cessation of the plague, than the king repented of his repentance, "hardened his heart;" and, once more casting his promise to the winds, refused to permit the Israelites to depart (Exodus 9:33-35). His people joined him in this act of obduracy (Exodus 9:34), perhaps thinking that they had now suffered the worst that could befall them.
And Pharaoh sent. Compare Exodus 8:8, and Exodus 8:25-28. Pharaoh had been driven to entreat only twice before. I have sinned this time. The meaning is, "I acknowledge this time that I have sinned" (Kaliseh, Cook). "I do not any longer maintain that my conduct has been right." The confession is made for the first time, and seems to have been extorted by the terrible nature of the plague, which, instead of passing off, like most storms, continued. The Lord is righteous, etc. Literally, "Jehovah is the Just One; and I and my people are the sinners." The confession seems, at first sight, ample and satisfactory; but there is perhaps some shifting of sin, that was all his own, upon the Egyptian "people," which indicates disingenuousness.
Mighty thunderings. Literally, as in the margin, "voices of God." Thunder was regarded by many nations of antiquity as the actual voice of a god. In the Vedic theology, Indra spoke in thunder. The Egyptian view on the subject has not been ascertained.
As soon as I am gone out of the city. "The city" is probably Tanis (Zoan). We may gather from the expression of this verse, and again of Exodus 9:33, that Moses and Aaron did not live in the city, but in the country with the other Israelites. When it was necessary for them to have an interview with the king, they sought the city: when their interview was over they quitted it. To obtain for Pharaoh a speedy accomplishment of his wish, Moses undertakes to pray for the removal of the plague as soon as he is outside the city walls. That thou mayest know that the earth is the Lord's. The phrase used is ambiguous. It may mean either "that the earth is Jehovah's," or "that the land (of Egypt) is his." On the whole, perhaps the former rendering is the best. The other plagues sufficiently showed that Egypt was Jehovah's; this, which came from the open heaven that surrounds and embraces the whole world, indicated that the entire earth was his. (Comp. Psalms 24:1 : "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof: the world, and they that dwell therein.")
I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord. True fear of God is shown by obedience to his commands. Pharaoh and his servants had the sort of fear which devils have—" they believed and trembled." But they had not yet that real reverential fear which is joined with love, and has, as its fruit, obedience. So the event showed. (See Exodus 9:34, Exodus 9:35.)
Exodus 9:31, Exodus 9:32
These verses seem out of place, containing, as they do, an account of the damage done by the hail, and being thus exegetical of Exodus 9:25. They are a sort of afterthought, inserted parenthetically, and prepare the way for the understanding of the next plague; since, if the damage done by the hail had extended to all the crops, there would have been nothing left for the locusts to devour.
The flax and the barley was smitten. Flax was largely cultivated by the Egyptians, who preferred linen garments to any other (Herod. 2:37), and allowed the priests to wear nothing but linen. Several kinds of flax are mentioned as grown in Egypt (Plin. H. N. 19.1); and the neighbourhood of Tanis is expressly said to have been one of the places where the flax was produced. The flax is boiled, i.e. blossoms towards the end of January or beginning of February, and the barley comes into ear about the same time, being commonly cut in March. Barley was employed largely as the food of horses, and was used also for the manufacture of beer, which was a common Egyptian beverage. A certain quantity was made by the poorer classes into bread.
The wheat and the rie were not smitten, for they were not grown up. In Egypt the wheat harvest is at least a month later than the barley harvest, coming in April, whereas the barley harvest is finished by the end of March. Rye was not grown in Egypt; and it is generally agreed that the Hebrew word here translated "rie" means the Holcus sorghum, or doora, which is the only grain besides wheat and barley represented on the Egyptian monuments. The doora is now raised commonly as an after-crop; but, if sown late in the autumn, it would ripen about the same time as the wheat.
The rain was not poured upon the earth. Rain had not been previously mentioned, as it was no part of the plague, that is, it caused no damage. But Moses, recording the cessation as an eye-witness, recollects that rain was mingled with the hail, and that, at his prayer, the thunder, the hail, and the rain all ceased. The touch is one which no later writer would have introduced.
He sinned yet more, and hardened his heart. Altogether there are three different Hebrew verbs, which our translators have rendered by "harden," or "hardened"—kabad, qashah, and khazaq. The first of these, which occurs in Exodus 7:14; Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:7 and Exodus 9:34, is the weakest of the three, and means to be "dull" or "heavy," rather than "to be hard." The second, which appears in Exodus 7:3, and Exodus 13:15, is a stronger term, and means "to be hard," or, in the Hiphil, "to make hard." But the third has the most intensive sense, implying fixed and stubborn resolution. It occurs in Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:35; and elsewhere. He and his servants. Pharaoh's "servants," i.e. the officers of his court, still, it would seem, upheld the king in his impious and mad course, either out of complaisance, or because they were really not yet convinced of the resistless might of Jehovah. After the eighth plague, we shall find their tone change (Exodus 10:7).
As the Lord had spoken by Moses. Compare Exodus 3:19; Exodus 4:21; and Exodus 7:3, Exodus 7:4
The mock repentance of a half-awakened sinner counterfeits the true, but has features by which it may be known.
It is not always easy to distinguish between a true and a mock repentance. Here was the Pharaoh at this time very visibly—it might have seemed deeply—impressed. He was disquieted—he was alarmed—he was ready to humble himself—to make confession—to promise obedience in the future. In what did his repentance differ from true, godly penitence? What points did it possess in common with such penitence? What points did it lack?
I. IT POSSESSED THE FEATURE OF SELF-HUMILIATION. "I have sinned this time—I and my people are wicked." Confession of sin is a very important point in true penitence. There can be no true penitence without it. "I said, I will Confess my sin unto the Lord, and so thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin" (Psalms 32:5). But it may be made, under a sort of compulsion, as a necessity, without the rightful feeling of contrition, or sorrow for sin, out of which it should spring, and apart from which it is valueless. We may doubt whether Pharaoh's confession sprang from a true, contrite heart. There was a ring of insincerity in it. "I, and my people," he said, "are wicked." True penitence leads us to confess our own sins, not those of others. There was no occasion for introducing the mention of his people's sins, and, as it were, merging his own in theirs. The people had not been appealed to, in order that they might say whether the Israelites should be allowed to depart or not. They had no doubt many sins of their own to answer for; but they had had no part in this particular sin. There is a covert self-justification in the introduction of the words "and my people," as if the national sentiment had been too strong for him, and he had only "refused to let Israel go" in consequence of it.
II. IT POSSESSED THE FEATURE OF VINDICATING GOD'S HONOUR. "The Lord is righteous," or "Jehovah is the righteous one," was such a full and frank acknowledgment of the perfect justice and righteousness of God as the heart of man does not very readily make, unless in moments of exaltation. We need not suppose that the monarch was insincere in his utterance. He was temporarily lifted up out of himself—so impressed with the power and greatness of Jehovah, that he had for the time true thoughts and high thoughts concerning him. He had doubtless a very insufficient feeling or appreciation of the awful purity and holiness of God; but he did feel his justice. He knew in his inmost heart that he had deserved the judgments sent upon him, and meant to acknowledge this. He was willing that God should be "justified in his sayings, and overcome when He was judged" (Romans 3:4). He may not have had an adequate sense of the full meaning of his own words, but he had some sense of their meaning, and did not merely repeat, parrot-like, phrases from a ritual.
III. IT POSSESSED THE FEATURES OF SELF-DISTRUST AND OF APPEAL TO THE MINISTERS OF GOD FOR AID. Pharaoh "sent and called for Moses and Aaron." Not very long before, he had dismissed them from his presence as impertinent intruders, with the words, "Get you to your burdens" (Exodus 5:4). Now he appeals to them for succour. He asks their prayers—"Intreat for me." Such appeals are constantly made, both by the true and by the mock penitent. Reliance on self disappears. God's ministers take their due place as ambassadors for him and stewards of his mysteries. They are asked to intercede for the sinner, to frame a prayer for him, and offer it on his behalf. All this is fitting under the circumstances; for lips long unaccustomed to prayer cannot at once offer it acceptably, and intercessory prayer is especially valuable at the time when the half-awakened soul feels a yearning towards God, to which, if unassisted, it is unable to give effect.
IV. IT POSSESSED THE FEATURE OF MAKING PROMISE OF AMENDMENT. "I will let you go." Let but his prayer be granted, let but the plague be removed, and the king promises that all his opposition to the will of Jehovah shall cease—the children of Israel shall be "let go," they shall not be detained any longer. Amendment of life is the crown and apex of repentance, and is rightly first resolved upon, then professed, finally practised by the true penitent. But profession alone is no criterion of the nature of the repentance. The sole certain criterion is the result. If the resolutions made are kept, if the profession is carried out in act, then the repentance is proved to have been genuine; if the reverse is the case, then it was spurious. The event, however, can alone show how the case stands. Meanwhile, as we must "judge nothing before the time," it would seem to be best that in every case a professed repentance should be treated as real when it is put forward, whatever suspicions may be entertained respecting it. No harm is done by treating a mock penitent as if he were a real one. Great harm might be done by a mistaken rejection of a true penitent.
V. IT LACKED, HOWEVER, THE FEATURE OF INTENSE HATRED OF SIN. The sinner who truly repents desires above all things the pardon and removal of his sin. He cares little, comparatively, for the removal of its chastisement. Sin, which separates him from God, is the great object of his abhorrence; and when he asks the prayers of ministers or other pious persons, he requests them to intercede for him, that he may find pardon and cleansing, may have his past sins forgiven, and strength granted him to forsake sin in the future. When Pharaoh, instead of such a prayer as this, asked for nothing but the removal of the temporal evil which had been sent upon him as a punishment, it was easy for one experienced in the words of man to see that his was not a real, genuine repentance. And this Moses seems to have perceived. "As for thee and thy servants," he said to the king, "I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord God." I know that the fear which now fills your hearts is not the true fear of God—not a dread of his displeasure, but of the pains and sufferings that he can inflict. I know that what you seek is not reconcilement with God, but exemption from calamity. You are driven upon your course by alarm and terror, not drawn by love. I know that when the affliction is removed you will relapse into your former condition. Some more terrible judgment will be needed to make you really yield. Note, then, that the minister, if he possesses spiritual discernment, may generally detect an unreal repentance, and, however closely it apes the true, may escape being deceived by it.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
I. THE TERRORS OF GOD'S MIGHT. In that awful war of elements any moment might have been his last, and Pharaoh trembled. This plague evoked from him the first confession of sin. Hitherto he had reluctantly granted the request of Moses: now he casts himself as a sinner (27, 28) on God's mercy, and entreats the prayers of God's servant for himself and his people. There is a point at which the stoutest heart will be broken, and the cry be wrung from the lips, "I have sinned." "Can thine heart endure," etc. (Ezekiel 22:14).
III. THE VALUELESSNESS OF REPENTANCE BORN ONLY OF TERROR. God might thus bow all men under him, but the conquest would be worth nothing: men's hearts would not be won. When the terror is gone, Pharaoh's confession fails (30, 34, 35), for it has no root in any true knowledge of himself. He sees the darkness of God's frown, not the vileness of his transgressions. God is met with, not in the tempest and the fire, but in the still small voice which speaks within the breast. Many pass through gates of terror to hear this; but till God's voice is heard there, speaking of sin and righteousness and judgment, there is no true return of the soul to him.
III. THE FULNESS OF GOD'S MERCY. God knows the worthlessness of the confession, yet he is entreated for Pharaoh and the Egyptians. God's pity rests where men will have none upon themselves. Though they believe not, he cannot deny himself.—U.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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