Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. How the CALL to leave the land of one's fathers may sometimes be
1. Unexpected Jacob little expected to end his days in Egypt.
2. Trying. Canaan, the land of promise, where were the graves of his ancestors, etc.
3. Mysterious. An apparent reversal of the lines on which Providence had hitherto been moving. Yet -
4. Distinct. Jacob had no doubt that God's call had come to him. It came first in providence, and was ratified by direct Divine permission (Genesis 46:2-5). Many have the indirect call, who can scarcely doubt that it is also a direct one. Causes of emigration - Want and distress at home, with reasonable prospect of comfort and plenty abroad; opening of a better field for talents and energies; state of health, necessitating change of climate; persecution, as in case of Huguenots, Pilgrim Fathers, etc.
II. What CONSOLATIONS the emigrant may carry with him.
1. God accompanies him (Genesis 46:4).
2. He can serve God yonder as well as here.
3. He is furthering wise and beneficent purposes. Little doubt of that, if he is leaving at God's bidding. Israel's residence in Egypt secured for the tribes -
(1) A home.
(3) Room to grow.
(4) Education in arts and letters.
(5) Valuable discipline = - all preparatory to settlement in Canaan, and the fulfilment of their spiritual mission to the world.
4. The terminus is not Egypt, but Canaan. Jacob never saw again the Canaan he had left, but, dying in faith, he and his sons became heirs of the better Canaan. Whatever his earthly destination, let the emigrant keep in view a "better country, that is, an heavenly" (Hebrews 11:16).
III. The ADVANTAGES of emigration.
1. It is not always advantageous.
(1) Not always advantageous to the country left. A country that by misgovernment, bad laws, excessive taxation, or persecution, drives its best subjects from its soil, may be compared to a man who humours an insane bent by occasionally opening a vein.
(2) Not always advantageous to the country settled in. Emigrants may carry with them - too often do - low and immoral habits, and prove a curse, rather than a blessing, to the populations in whose midst they settle.
(3) Not always to the emigrant himself. His step may prove to have been hasty. He may have taken it On impulse, or on insufficient information, or in a spirit of adventure. He finds when too late that a sanguine disposition has deceived him. This is to go forth without a clear call. But -
2. Emigration, wisely and judiciously conducted, is of great benefit to society.
(1) It thins an overstocked country, and so relieves pressure on the means of subsistence.
(2) It occupies territory needing population to develop its resources.
(3) It affords room and scope for the vigorous expansion of a young race.
(4) It benefits native populations. The Egyptians would profit by the residence of the Hebrews in their midst.
(5) It may be made subservient to the diffusion of the knowledge of the true religion. How seldom is this thought of, yet what a responsibility rests on those who leave Christian shores, carrying with them, to lands sunk in the night of heathenism, the blessed truths of Christianity! The conclusion of the matter is: Let emigration be an act of faith. Do not, in so important a step in life, lean to your own understanding. Ask guidance and clear direction from on High. But if the way is open and the call plain, then, like Jacob, go forth, and go boldly, and in faith. Trust God to be with you. He goes before you to seek you out a place to dwell in, and will surely bless you in all you put your hand to (Deuteronomy 1:33; Deuteronomy 15:10). - J.O.
I. THE MEN. Here we are struck -
1. With the original unfitness of most of these men for the position of dignity they were afterwards called to occupy. How shall we describe them! Recall Reuben's incest; Simeon and Levi's cruelty; Judah's lewdness; the "evil report" which Joseph brought to his father of the sons of the handmaids. The picture in the later chapters of Genesis is crowded with shadows, and it is chiefly the sins of these men which are the causes of them. Joseph is the one bright exception. The rest appear to have been men of a violent, truculent disposition, capable of selling their younger brother into Egypt, and afterwards, to screen their fault, of imposing by wilful falsehood on their aged father. Even in Benjamin, traits of character were discernible which gave ground for the tribal prediction: "Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf" (Genesis 49:17). How unlikely that men of so ungodly a stamp, who began so ill, should end by being exalted to be patriarch-heads of a covenant nation! And neither in truth were they, till, by God's grace, a great change had passed upon them. Their crime in selling Joseph was, in a sense, their salvation. It was an act for which they never forgave themselves. Compunction wrought in them a better disposition, and laid the basis for "a train of humiliating and soul-stirring providences, tending to force on them the conviction that they were in the hands of an angry God, and to bring them to repentance of sin and amendment of life." See -
(1) The natural unfitness of man for God's service; "that which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6).
(2) What the grace of God can make even of very bad men. "By grace ye are saved" (Ephesians 2:5).
(3) How those whom God designs for honour in his kingdom, he first prepares for that honour. Whatever disciplines are needful for that purpose - and they may not be few - he will not withhold.
2. With the variety of gifts and dispositions found amongst them. This variety is taken note of in the blessings of Jacob and of Moses, and is reflected in the history. Judah is from the first a leader. He and Joseph were heads of what subsequently became the royal tribes. Reuben's impulsiveness reminds us of Peter, but he lacked Peter's underlying constancy. Levi's zeal wrought at first for evil, but afterwards for good. The other brethren were less distinguished, but, as shown by the blessings, all were gifted, and gifted diversely. Does this not teach us?
(1) That God can use, and
(2) that God requires, every variety of gift in his service. Hence,
(3) that there is both room and need in his kingdom for all types and varieties of character - for every species of gift. A type of religion is self-condemned which cannot find room in it for the play and development of every legitimate capability of human nature. This is but to say that the goal of God's kingdom is the perfecting of humanity, not in part, but in the totality of its powers and functions. Grace does not suppress individuality; it develops and sanctifies it. It does not trample on gifts, but lays hold upon, transforms, and utilises them.
3. With the existence of a law of heredity in spiritual as in natural descent. The characteristics of the patriarchs were stamped with remarkable distinctness on the tribes which bore their names. Reuben's instability, Judah's capacity of rule, Levi's zeal, Dan's agility, Benjamin's fierceness, etc. This reappearance of ancestral characteristics in the descendants is a fact with which we are familiar, and is only explained in part by inherited, organisation. Inheritance of ideas, customs, family traditions, etc., plays quite as important a part in producing the result. A law this, capable of being the vehicle of much good, but also of much evil. - as potent to punish as to bless.
II. THEIR NUMBER. The number twelve not to be regarded as fortuitous. Twelve (3 × 4), the symbol of the indwelling of God in the human family, of the interpenetration of the world by the Divinity. Three, the number of the Divine; four, the number of the world. Hence, twelve tribes, twelve cakes of shewbread, twelve apostles, twelve foundations and twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. The number twelve is kept up in spite of actual departures from it in fact. The" twelve tribes" are spoken of in the days of the apostles (Acts 26:17; James 1:1), though, counting Levi; there were really thirteen tribes, and after the Captivity only two. It was doubtless with reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, and therefore to the number of these patriarchs, that Christ chose the twelve apostles. View the patriarchs, accordingly, as representing the covenant race, not only -
1. In its natural heads, but symbolically -
2. In its spiritual privilege as a people of God, and
3. In its world-wide destiny. - J.O.
I. THE INDICATIONS OF THIS PROSPERITY. The prosperity is not only plainly stated, but the chapter abounds in indications of Jehovah's favour towards Israel, and his peculiar watchfulness over it.
1. The wonderful way in which God had brought a whole family into Egypt, and provided for their comfortable settlement in the land. Families usually get scattered; but here are the children of Israel and children's children all kept together. The very means which they had employed in order to get rid of one of their number who was an offence to them, had ended in their being brought together more closely than ever. Joseph went before, and all unconsciously made a solid foundation for the building of their prosperity. Through all domestic jealousies, in the perils of famine, and in their journeyings between Canaan and Egypt, the Lord had preserved these twelve men so that not one of them was lacking in his contribution to the future excellency of Israel.
2. The name by which they were described - the children of Israel. God had said to Jacob (Genesis 32:28), "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel," and yet down to the end of his life he is sometimes called Jacob and sometimes Israel, as if to keep before our minds both his natural character and also his new position and privileges gained in the memorable wrestling at Peniel. These twelve men, the fathers of the tribes, were children of Israel as well as sons of Jacob. Jacob himself had done many things to show the meanness and corruption of fallen human nature, and his sons had been not one whir better than himself (consider the revengeful action of Simeon and Levi in Genesis 34:25; the conduct of Reuben in Genesis 35:22; and especially the conduct of the brethren towards Joseph and the father who so doted upon him). But these sons of Jacob, with all their personal demerits, were also the children of him who by his sublime, persistent, courageous, and successful struggle had gained the name of Israel. It was a name to be transmitted from them to their children, full of significance, recalling a glorious experience in the past and promising a still more glorious experience in the future. It was a name not to be forfeited even in the greatest apostasies, and perhaps its chief splendour lay in this, that it pointed forward to a still more glorious fatherhood enjoyed by those who through the gracious work of him who taught Nicodemus concerning regeneration, are permitted to say, "Now are we the children and heirs of God."
3. The apprehensive attitude of Pharaoh. He is a witness to the greatness of Israel's prosperity, and to the Divine and miraculous origin of it, all the more valuable because he gives his evidence unconsciously. The more we consider his unaffected alarm and his continuous and energetic efforts to crush Israel, the more we feel what a real and Divine thing Israel's prosperity was, how it was nourished by the secret and unassailable strength of God. It should be a matter of great rejoicing to God's people when the world, in its hatred, suspicion, and instinctive sense of danger, takes to the instruments of persecution, for then there is unmistakable indication of prosperity within.
II. WHEREIN THE PROSPERITY CONSISTED. It did not consist in the accumulation of external possessions. The Israelites might have remained comparatively few or have increased in a way such as to excite no attention. Their increase might have been in external wealth, and this would have been reckoned, by many, true prosperity. But it would not have been prosperity after a godly sort. It was the purpose of God to show in Israel how our true resources come, not from things outside of us, but from the quality of the life which he puts within. Hence the prosperity of Israel was not the result of industry, personal ability, and fortunate circumstances. It was shown by the manifestation of a miraculous fulness of life. The husbandman does not reckon it anything wonderful that there should be among the trees of his vineyard a certain increase of fruitfulness, corresponding to the carefulness of his cultivation. But if all at once certain trees begin to put forth a fulness of fruit altogether beyond expectation, the husbandman would not claim that such a result came from him. There is the greatest possible difference between the prosperity lying in mere external possessions and that which comes from the energy of a Divine life working in us. It needs no special help from God to make a man a millionaire. There are but few who can be such; but place them in favourable circumstances, and the immense results of their industry and attention are quite intelligible. But to produce such a result as appears in the peculiar prosperity of Israel in Egypt required a special influx of Divine energy. We have not only unmistakable indications of the prosperity of Israel; it is an equally important thing to notice that this prosperity in its peculiar character is an indication of the presence of God. He was doing what none but himself could do. Learn then that our spiritual prosperity must be something produced by God manifesting his power in Our hearts. There is no chance of attributing it to our unaided industry, attention, and prudence. It is a growth more than anything else, and must show itself in the abundant and beautiful fruits of a Divine life within us.
III. A PAINFUL ACCOMPANIMENT OF THE PROSPERITY. Such prosperity as is indicated in ver. 7 could not but produce apprehension and opposition on the part of Pharaoh - inevitably assuming, as it did, the appearance of a menace to his kingdom. But it was better for Israel to go on increasing with the increase of God, even in the midst of persecutions, than to be without the persecutions on condition of being without the increase. Spiritual prosperity not only may be, but must be, accompanied with afflictions of the natural life. That is a very doubtful spirituality which manages to keep clear of all temporal troubles. They that will live godly must suffer persecution. Let us pray for spiritual prosperity, and hail its coming, and secure its stay, whatever pains be suffered and whatever lesser comforts be lost. The more the life of God is in us, the more we must expect the powers of evil to be stirred against us. - Y.
live history, every month seems important; when God records history a few sentences suffice for generations. Man's standpoint in the midst of the tumult is so different from God's: he "sitteth above the waterflood" and seeth "the end from the beginning" (Psalm 29:10; Isaiah 46:10). From God's standpoint we have here as of main consequence -
I. A LIST OF NAMES, vers. 1-5. Names of certain emigrants. More in them than seems at first sight. If I say, "William, Arthur etc., came to England at such and such a time," not much. If I say, "William, a great warrior; Arthur, a great inventor; we feel at once that with them elements are introduced which may prove important. In these early times names are connected with the characters of the men who bear them. All these names are significant. Illustrate from their meaning as given in Genesis 29., etc., and expanded in Jacob's blessing, Genesis 49. We are supposed, too, to know something of the men from the previous history. The whole, taken together, shows us, as it were, a nation in embryo - a nation of which the characteristics were wholly different from those of the Egyptians. "Seventy souls," but -
1. Seed souls; bound to develop through their offspring the characteristics they exhibited.
2. United, not isolated; a nation in embryo, not a collocation of units.
II. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BEARERS OF THE NAMES, ver. 6. All died-Joseph and all that generation. The common lot, but, from God's standpoint, the ordained method of development (John 12:24). What wailing, as each patriarch, in his own time, passed away! Yet with each death the harvest of the future was being ever more securely sown. Death, as it were, rounds off the life; pedestals it; sets it where it can become exemplary. So set it becomes fruitful; the old husk drops away, and the true life-grain is enfranchised, Gad, Asher, and the rest, very ordinary men, or, if not ordinary, not very high-class men; and yet, once dead, they are rightly reverenced as the fathers of their tribes. Which is better, the day of death or the day of birth? The day which makes life possible for us, or the day which, by sanctifying our memory, makes that life an ennobling influence for others?
III. HOW THE DESCENDANTS PROSPERED, ver. 7. So - through the vicissitudes of life; the varieties of character; the monotony of death - God works on, slowly but certainly, to his destined end. New generations, each more numerous, succeed the old. Power and prosperity, for a time, go hand-in-hand with increased numbers - the people "waxed exceeding mighty." [The shepherd life, even in Egypt, ensured some knowledge of warfare. Goshen, the border land - cf. "the borders' in the wars with Scotland. Perhaps Joseph had purposely placed his brethren as a defence to Egypt against raids from the desert.] Families grew into tribes, and the tribes learnt their first lessons in discipline and war. Egypt, God's Aldershot - the training-ground for his armies. Canaan had to be conquered and cleared, but God could take his own time about it. When at length the hour should come, it would find his preparations perfected. Application: - Would that man - God's child - would be content to copy his Father's methods - slow; thorough; a definite end in view; quiet, persistent preparation. No haste, no hurry, no delay (Isaiah 28:16). - G.
1. An ending.
2. A beginning.
It closed one chapter in God's providence, and opened a new one. It terminated the sojourn in Canaan; brought to a harmonious conclusion the complicated series of events which separated Joseph from his father, raised him to power in Egypt, wrought for the purification of his brethren's character, and prepared the way for the ultimate settlement of, the whole family in Goshen. It laid the foundation for new historical developments. There is now to be a pause, a breathing space, while the people are gradually multiplying, and exchanging the habits of nomadic life for those of agriculturists and dwellers in cities. The death of Joseph, and of his brethren, and of all that generation, is the proper close of this earlier period. Their part is played out, and the stage is cleared for new beginnings.
1. They died - so must we all. The common fate, yet infinitely pathetic when reflected on.
2. They died - the end of earthly greatness. Joseph had all he could wish for of earthly power and splendour, and he enjoyed it through a long lifetime. Yet he must part with it. Well for him that he had something better in prospect.
3. They died - the end of earthly disciplines. The lives of the brethren had been singularly eventful. By painful disciplines God had moulded them for good. Life to every one is a divinely ordained discipline. The end is to bring us to repentance, and build us up in faith and holiness. With some, the discipline succeeds; with others it fails. In either case death ends it. "After this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). The fact of discipline an argument for immortality. God does not spend a lifetime in perfecting a character, that just when the finishing touches have been put upon it, he may dash it into non-existence. Death ends discipline, but we carry with us the result and the responsibility.
4. They died - Joseph and his brethren - happily in faith. There was a future they did not live to see; but their faith grasped God's promise, and "Joseph, when he died, gave commandment concerning his bones" (Hebrews 11:22). And behind the earthly Canon loomed something better - an inheritance which they and we may share together. - J.O.
I. VIEW ISRAEL'S INCREASE AS A WORK OF DIVINE POWER. While -
1. Natural - that is, not miraculous, but due to the superabundant blessing of God on ordinary means - it was yet,
2. Extraordinary, and
3. Invincible - defying the efforts of the tyrant to check it. It may be legitimately viewed as a type of the spiritual increase of the Church. This also -
1. Excites astonishment. So great a fruitfulness had never before been known. It was a marvel to all who witnessed it. Like surprise is awakened by the facts of the history of the Church. Consider
(1) The smallness of the Church's beginnings.
(2) The rapidity of her growth.
(3) What opposition she has encountered.
(4) What efforts have been made to crush her.
(5) How she survives, and has from time to time renewed her youth.
(6) How she has even thriven in the fires of persecution.
(7) How, notwithstanding formidable resistance, and great internal lukewarmness and corruption, her progress is being steadily maintained.
2. Awakens jealousy and fear. The world does not relish the progress of the Gospel. It resents it as full of danger to itself. The filling of the land with sincere believers would mean the downfall of its power. Its spirit shown in opposition to revivals of religion, in decrying missions, in anger at bold and fearless preaching of Christ, followed by saving results, etc.
3. Can only be accounted for by ascribing it to God as its author, Naturalistic explanations have been offered. Gibbon has enumerated "secondary causes." So "secondary causes," might be pointed to in explaining the increase of Israel, yet these alone would not account for it. There was implied a Divine power, imparting to ordinary means an extraordinary efficacy. As little can the success of Christianity be explained on grounds of mere naturalism.
1. The Bible attributes it to Divine efficiency.
2. Those who experience its power unhesitatingly trace it to this source.
3. The Church is successful only as she relies on Divine assistance.
4. Naturalistic theories, one and all, break down in their attempts at explanation.
Each new one that appears founds itself on the failure of its predecessors. It, in turn, is exploded by a rival. The supernatural hypothesis is the only one which accounts for all the facts.
II. VIEW PHARAOH'S POLICY AS A TYPE OF WORLDLY POLICY GENERALLY. Leave it to describe itself, and it is -
3. Unsentimental. Napoleon was unsentimental: "What are a hundred thousand lives, more or less, to me!"
4. A necessity of the time. Describe it as it ought to be described, and it appears in a less favourable light.
1. Ever awake to selfish interests.
2. Acute to perceive (or imagine) danger.
3. Unrestrained by considerations of gratitude. The new king "knew not Joseph." Nations, like individuals, are often forgetful of their greatest benefactors.
4. Regardless of the rights of others.
5. Cruel - stops at nothing. It will, with Pharaoh, reduce a nation to slavery; or, with Napoleon, deluge continents with blood. Yet -
6. Is essentially short-sighted. All worldly policy is so. The King of Egypt could not have taken a more effectual means of bringing about the evils that he dreaded. He made it certain, if-it was uncertain before, that in the event of war, the Hebrews would take part with his enemies. He set in motion a train of causes, which, as it actually happened, led to the departure of the whole people from Egypt. His policy thus outwitted itself, proved suicidal, proclaimed itself to be folly. Learn -
1. The folly of trusting in man. "Beware of men" (Matthew 10:17).
2. How futile man's wisdom and cunning are when matched against God's power.
3. The short-sightedness of selfish and cruel action. - J.O.
shaped by circumstances. In Canaan the Israelites might learn hardihood, but no room for much growth; few opportunities for national organisation; the tendency would be for the families to separate, each seeking pasturage for its own flocks (cf. Abraham and Lot). To become a nation they had to be placed
(1) where they might increase and multiply, and
(2) where their slightly connected elements might coalesce and be welded into one. To attain this object God led his people into Egypt. [Cf. (1) Hothouse where plants may strike and grow before being planted out, and (2) Deuteronomy 4:20. Furnace where metal may be smelted into one homogeneous mass and the worst of. the dross removed.] We may notice in this view -
I. PROSPERITY AND ITS USES. Cf. ver. 7. In Goshen life simple and the means of subsistence plentiful, ample room and ample provision. Happy years without a history, passed in a land which even now yields the largest revenue in Egypt, and where the population still increases more rapidly than in any other province. Probably no incident of more importance than some occasional skirmish with border tribes. No wonder that "they increased abundantly and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty." Prosperity has its uses as well as adversity. The long unnoticed years through which the fruit-tree attains maturity are necessary antecedents to the fiery summers which see the fruit ripening. Not much to notice in such years. Still their existence is noteworthy. They make no small portion of the sum of human life, whether viewed in its national or individual aspect. History grows out of them even whilst it is compelled to forget them in its records. The fruit of Life draws from them its substance, though other years may give it its colour and flavour.
II. ADVERSITY AND ITS USES. Vers. 10-14 show how trouble came to Israel, and the nature of the trouble which did come. Originating in Pharaoh's natural jealousy at the increasing influence of an alien race, it took the form of enforced labour, such as - perhaps owing to Joseph's land law (Genesis 47:23, etc.) - he clearly had the acknowledged right to levy at will from all his subjects. Pharaoh however was but the instrument which God used for the education of his people; he knew that adversity was needed to carry on the work which prosperity had begun. Notice -
1. Affliction did not hinder progress. We gather from ver. 12 that it really advanced it. Prosperity long continued may be a greater hindrance than adversity. It tends to produce a stagnant condition [cf. the opening poems in Tennyson's 'Maud']. The after-history shows us that Israel had, to some extent, morally deteriorated; and moral deterioration in the long run must lead to physical degradation. When the stock needs pruning the pruning process stimulates growth.
2. Affliction proved morally helpful. The people had been getting careless and slothful, forgetting God (cf. Joshua 24:14, Ezekiel 20:5-8) or paying him a merely nominal service. Now, however, of. 2:23-25, God Could hear their cry because their cry was genuine; he could have respect unto them because they were learning to have respect unto him.
3. Affliction ensured national union. Hitherto the people was just a collection of families, united by a common name and common traditions. Mutual need begets mutual helpfulness, and it is by mutual help that tribes are dovetailed into one another and come to form one nation. [Isolated fragments of ore need smelting in the furnace to produce the consolidated metal.] It is in the heat of the furnace of affliction that rivalries, jealousies, and all kinds of tribal littlenesses can alone be finally dissolved. And affliction still has such uses. Prosperity is good, no doubt, but, in this world, it requires to be complemented by adversity. "Why is trouble permitted?" Because men cannot otherwise be perfected. It is just as necessary for our moral ripening as heat is necessary for the ripening of the fruit.
(1) It need not hinder any man's progress;
(2) If rightly used it should purge out the dross, from us and make us morally better;
(3) It tends to dissolve the barriers which selfishness erects between man and man, and works towards the formation of that holy brotherhood which embraces in one family all the nations of the earth. - G.
I. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE POLICY. This is indicated in vers. 9, 10. It was a policy of selfish fear, proceeding upon an unconcealed regard for the supremacy of Egypt. Whatever interfered with that supremacy was to be, if possible, swept completely out of the way. Pharaoh was dealing, not with the necessities of the present, but with the possibilities of the future. He made no pretence that Israel deserved to be dealt with in this merciless fashion. There was no attempt to cloak the cruelties of the tyrant under the aspect of needful severity against evil-doers. The fear of Pharaoh is seen in the very language he employs. It was not true as yet that the Israelites were more and mightier than the Egyptians: but Pharaoh feels that such a state of things is not improbable, and may not be remote. Something has already happened very different from what might have been expected. Who was to suppose that a handful of people from Canaan, instead of blending with the bulk of Egypt, would keep persistently separate and increase with such alarming rapidity? Seeing that such unexpected things have already happened, what may not be feared in the future? Who knows what allies Israel may ultimately find, and what escape it may achieve? Thus from this attitude and utterance of Pharaoh we learn -
1. Not to make our safety and our strength to consist in an unscrupulous weakening of others. The true strength, ever becoming more and more sufficient, is to be gained within ourselves. Pharaoh would have done more for his own safety and the safety of his people by putting away idolatry, injustice, and oppression, than by all his frantic attempts to destroy Israel. It is a sad business, if we must hold our chief possessions at the expense of others. If my gain is the loss or suffering of some one else, then by this very fact the gain is condemned, and however large and grateful it may be at present, it will end in the worst of all loss. Surely the luxuries of the few would become utterly nauseous and abhorrent, if it were only considered how often they depend on the privation and degradation of the many. Pharaoh's kingdom deserved to perish, and so deserve all kingdoms and all exalted stations of individuals, if their continuance can only be secured by turning all possible enemies into spiritless and emasculated slaves.
2. Not to set our affections on such things as lie at the mercy of others. Pharaoh had to be incessantly watching the foundations of his vast and imposing kingdom. Other nations only saw the superstructure' from a distance, and might be excused for concluding that the magnificence rested upon a solid base. But we may well believe that Pharaoh himself lived a life of incessant anxiety. The apprehensions which he here expresses must have been a fair sample of those continually passing through his mind. The world can give great possessions and many opportunities for carnal pleasure; but security, undisturbed enjoyment of the possession, it cannot give.
II. THE WORKING OUT OF THE POLICY. The thing aimed at was to keep the numbers of Israel within what were deemed safe bounds; and to this end Pharaoh began by trying to crush the spirits of the people. He judged - and perhaps not unwisely, according to the wisdom of this world - that a race oppressed as he proposed to oppress Israel would assuredly not increase to any dangerous extent. If only the rate of increase in Israel did not gain on the rate of increase in Egypt, then all would be safe. Pharaoh firmly believed that if only Egypt could keep more numerous than Israel, Egypt would be perfectly secure. Therefore he put these people into a state of bondage and oppression ever becoming more rigorous. Notice that he had peculiar advantages, from his point of view, in making this course of treatment successful. The Israelites had hitherto lived a free, wandering, pastoral life (Genesis 47:3-6), and now they were cooped-up under merciless taskmasters and set to hard manual toil. If any human policy had success in it, success seemed to be in this policy of Pharaoh. Nevertheless it utterly failed, from Pharaoh's point of view, for, whatever depressing effect it had on the spirits of the Israelites, there was no diminution in their numbers. The extraordinary and alarming increase still went on. The more the taskmasters did to hinder Israel, the more, in this particular matter of the numerical increase, it seemed to prosper. It was all very perplexing and unaccountable, but at last Pharaoh recognises the failure, even while he cannot explain it, and proceeds to a more direct method of action, which surely cannot fail in a perfectly efficacious result. He commands the men-children of Israel to be slain from the womb. But here he fails even in a more conspicuous and humiliating way than before. He was a despot, accustomed to have others go when he said "Go," and come when he said "Come" Accordingly, when he commanded men to become the agents of his harsh designs, he found obedient servants in plenty, and probably many who bettered his instructions. But now he turns to women - weak, despised women, who were reckoned to obey in the most obsequious manner - and he finds that they will not obey at all. It was an easy thing to do, if it had only been in their hearts to do it; for what is easier than to take away the breath of a new-born infant? They do not openly refuse; they even pretend compliance; but for all that they secretly disobey and effectively thwart Pharaoh's purpose. When we find others readily join with us in our evil purposes, then God interferes to disappoint both us and them; but we cannot always reckon even on the support of others. Notice lastly, that in carrying out this policy of defence against Israel, Pharaoh never seems to have thought of the one course which might have given him perfect safety. He might have expelled Israel altogether out of his coasts. But, so far from deeming this desirable, it was one of the very things he wished to guard against. Israel was a continual source of alarm and annoyance, a people beyond management, an insoluble problem; but it never occurred to him that Egypt would be better with them away. It would have had a very bad look to send them out of the land; it would have been a confession of inability and perplexity which those proud lips, so used to the privileged utterances of despotism, could not bring themselves to frame. III. THE TOTAL RESULT OF THE POLICY. Though it failed in attaining the particular end which it had in view, it did not fail altogether; nay, it rather succeeded, and that with a most complete success, seeing that in doing so it effectually served the purpose of God. Pharaoh failed as dealing with the children of Israel. He called them the children of Israel, but in profound ignorance of all that this description involved. He did not know that Israel was the son of him who was born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, contrary to all expectation and entirely of promise. But Pharaoh succeeded in a way he did not anticipate, in so far as he was dealing with the posterity of Jacob, the heirs of human infirmity. They did become, in the course of time, slaves in spirit as well as in body, personally so undeserving of freedom that when they had received it, they wished almost immediately to go back to the creature comforts of Egypt like a dog to its vomit, or a sow to her wallowing in the mire. Hence we see that God served himself, alike by Pharaoh's failure and Pharaoh's success. Pharaoh's failure showed how really and powerfully God was present with his people. It was another instance of the treasure being in an earthen vessel that the excellency of the power might be of God and not of men. And Pharaoh by his very success in making the iron to enter into the soul of Israel, was unconsciously working a way to make the stay of Israel in Egypt as full a type as possible of the tyrannous bondage of sin. As Egypt presented its pleasant side at first, so does sin. For a considerable time Egypt looked better than Canaan. There had been corn in Egypt; there had been a land of Goshen; there had been a reflected honour and comfort from the relation of the children of Israel to the all-powerful Joseph. But Joseph (lies, and then little by little it becomes plain that Egypt will be anything but a land of happiness. What the Israelites might have become if Pharaoh had not persecuted them, it is vain to speculate, as vain as to speculate what might happen to the sinner if he could go on sinning without suffering. We have to thank Pharaoh for helping to set before us in such a clear way the bitter bondage of sin, and the greatness of that deliverance by which God will liberate us from it. God moves in a mysterious way. He fills Israel with a strength whereby even in bondage and oppression their numbers are miraculously increased, but he denies to them the strength whereby they might have overthrown their oppressors. We can now see the why and wherefore of all this mysterious dealing. By the work of his Son God fills us with a life which, through all the discomforts of the present state, goes on undestroyed and still increasing into a state where these discomforts will be unknown. But at the same time God makes it clear that we cannot escape all the sufferings that belong to sin. So far as we have sown to the flesh, we must also out of the flesh reap corruption, Our joy is that, even in this world, amid all tribulation and all reaping the temporal results of sin, there is also the opportunity for another and better sowing, and the consequent opportunity for another and better reaping. ? Y.
III. THE TOTAL RESULT OF THE POLICY. Though it failed in attaining the particular end which it had in view, it did not fail altogether; nay, it rather succeeded, and that with a most complete success, seeing that in doing so it effectually served the purpose of God. Pharaoh failed as dealing with the children of Israel. He called them the children of Israel, but in profound ignorance of all that this description involved. He did not know that Israel was the son of him who was born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, contrary to all expectation and entirely of promise. But Pharaoh succeeded in a way he did not anticipate, in so far as he was dealing with the posterity of Jacob, the heirs of human infirmity. They did become, in the course of time, slaves in spirit as well as in body, personally so undeserving of freedom that when they had received it, they wished almost immediately to go back to the creature comforts of Egypt like a dog to its vomit, or a sow to her wallowing in the mire. Hence we see that God served himself, alike by Pharaoh's failure and Pharaoh's success. Pharaoh's failure showed how really and powerfully God was present with his people. It was another instance of the treasure being in an earthen vessel that the excellency of the power might be of God and not of men. And Pharaoh by his very success in making the iron to enter into the soul of Israel, was unconsciously working a way to make the stay of Israel in Egypt as full a type as possible of the tyrannous bondage of sin. As Egypt presented its pleasant side at first, so does sin. For a considerable time Egypt looked better than Canaan. There had been corn in Egypt; there had been a land of Goshen; there had been a reflected honour and comfort from the relation of the children of Israel to the all-powerful Joseph. But Joseph (lies, and then little by little it becomes plain that Egypt will be anything but a land of happiness. What the Israelites might have become if Pharaoh had not persecuted them, it is vain to speculate, as vain as to speculate what might happen to the sinner if he could go on sinning without suffering. We have to thank Pharaoh for helping to set before us in such a clear way the bitter bondage of sin, and the greatness of that deliverance by which God will liberate us from it. God moves in a mysterious way. He fills Israel with a strength whereby even in bondage and oppression their numbers are miraculously increased, but he denies to them the strength whereby they might have overthrown their oppressors. We can now see the why and wherefore of all this mysterious dealing. By the work of his Son God fills us with a life which, through all the discomforts of the present state, goes on undestroyed and still increasing into a state where these discomforts will be unknown. But at the same time God makes it clear that we cannot escape all the sufferings that belong to sin. So far as we have sown to the flesh, we must also out of the flesh reap corruption, Our joy is that, even in this world, amid all tribulation and all reaping the temporal results of sin, there is also the opportunity for another and better sowing, and the consequent opportunity for another and better reaping. ? Y.
I. NATIONAL WRONG-DOING THE SEED OF NATIONAL DISASTER. The story of Egypt's suffering begins with the story of Egypt's injustice. There was wisdom in Pharaoh's statesmanship, and a sincere desire to serve his country, and yet he was his country's worst foe. The service rendered by wickedness is in the end rebuke and ruin.
II. THE CARE SOUGHT TO BE REMOVED BY SIN BECOMES GREATER (10-12).
1. The bondage was imposed to prevent their multiplying: "but the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and grew."
2. The trouble was at first simply a possibility detected by the statesman's keen eye, and now all Egypt was "grieved because of the children of Israel." The way of wickedness is through a deepening flood.
III. WRONG GROWS INTO GREATER WRONG (13, 14). Egypt had gone too far to retreat. Israel's enmity was now a certainty, and they must be crushed. From being compelled to labour in the erection of strong cities, their lives are made bitter by all manner of hard bondage. Evil grows with an inward necessity. When a nation makes an unjust demand it does not mean murder, yet that is its next step. Satan dare not whisper all his counsel at first but by-and-by he can tell it all and have it all accomplished. - U.
I. HOW EFFECTED? Doubtless, partly by craft, and partly by force. To one in Pharaoh's position, where there was the will to enslave, there would soon be found the way.
1. The Israelites were politically weak. "The patriarchal family had grown into a horde; it must have lost its domestic character, yet it had no polity a people in this state was ripe for slavery" (Maurice).
2. And Pharaoh had no scruples. Those engaged in tillage and keeping of cattle could easily be ruined by heaping on them tributes and exactions. Liberty once forfeited, they were at Pharaoh's disposal, to do with as he listed. Of the rest, large numbers were probably already employed - as forced labourers - on Pharaoh's works of construction. Over these (ver. 11), it was proposed to set "taskmasters" - "chiefs of tribute" - to afflict them with their burdens.
3. Complaint was useless. The Hebrews soon found, as expressed afterwards (Exodus 5:19), that they were "in evil case" - that a general conspiracy, from the king downwards, had been entered into to rob, injure, and oppress them. Their subjugation in these circumstances was easily accomplished. Learn -
1. A nation may outgrow itself. It will do so if intelligence and morals, with suitable institutions, do not keep pace with numbers.
2. Great prosperity is not always an advantage. It
(1) excites jealousy;
(2) tempts cupidity;
(3) usually weakens by enervating.
II. WHY PERMITTED? This question may be answered by viewing the bondage
1. Is a punishment for sins. The Hebrews had doubtless greatly corrupted themselves in Egypt, and had become in their masses very like the people around them. This was in them a sin that could not pass unpunished. God cannot suspend his moral Laws even for his own people. If they do wrong, they must, no less than others, suffer for it. Nay, they will be punished with even greater severity than others are for similar offences. It is this which explains the bitter servitude of Israel. The nation is allowed to sink into a condition which is at once a fit retribution for its own sin, and an apt image of the condition of the sinner generally. For sin is slavery. It is inward bondage. It is degradation. It is rigorous service, and bitterness, and misery. God's law, the soul's own lusts, an exacting world, become in different ways taskmasters. It is unprofitable service. It sends a man to the husks, to the swine-troughs. It is slavery from which nothing but the power of God Almighty can redeem us. We bless God for our greater Moses, and the grander Exodus.
2. As a trial of faith. It would be so in a very especial degree to the godly portion of Israel. For why this long hiding of God's face - this keeping silence while his people were broiling and perishing under their terrible tasks? Did it not seem as though the promise had failed and God had forgotten to be gracious? (Psalm 77:8, 9.) Truly we need not wonder at anything in God's dealings with his Church when we reflect on how long and how fearfully Israel was afflicted. The faith which endured this trial must have come out of the furnace seven times purified,
3. As a moral preparation. It is now manifest, though it could hardly have been seen then, how needful was this affliction, protracted through successive generations -
(1) To wean the people's hearts from Egypt.
(2) To make them willing to leave it.
(3) To make the thought of Canaan sweet to them.
(4) To break up trust in self and man.
(5) To lead them to cry mightily to God.
The same reasons, in whole or part, serve to explain why God lays trials on ourselves; indicate at least the ends which affliction is used to subserve. Had everything been prosperous, the hearts of Israel would naturally have clung to the fleshpots; their hopes would have been forgotten; even their God would in time have been abjured. - J.O.
I. THE COMMAND TO THE MIDWIVES TO DESTROY THE MALES (ver. 16). This was a further stage in the persecution of the Hebrews. Happily the command was not obeyed. There is a limit even to the power of kings. Stronger than kings is -
1. The power of religion. "The midwives feared God" (ver. 17).
2. The force of patriotism. They were "Hebrew midwives" (ver. 15), and would not, even at the king's bidding, be murderers of their race.
3. The instincts of humanity. These came in to thwart both this and the next expedient for destroying the children.
4. The cunning of evasion. It is hopeless to attempt to force laws upon a people determined not to obey them. The midwives had only to stay away, and let the Hebrew women help themselves, to reduce the, king's decree to a dead letter. And this was probably what they did (ver. 19). The result shows how much better it is, even at some risk, to obey God than to obey man. The midwives -
1. Lost nothing.
2. Retained a good conscience.
3. Were signally honoured and rewarded: God made them houses (ver. 21). Kindness shown to God's people never fails of its reward.
II. THE COMMAND TO THE PEOPLE TO CAST THE MALES INTO THE RIVER (ver. 22). He must indeed have been a foolish king, if he thought to secure obedience to so inhuman a decree. Parents would not obey it. The work was of a kind which would soon grow hateful even to those who might at first be willing to do it for reward. The hearts of the most abandoned ere long sicken at murder. Public sympathy does not appear to have gone with the edict, and the number of males at the Exodus makes it certain that it was not long in operation. Its chief fruit was one little contemplated by the tyrant - the salvation and courtly upbringing of Moses. Learn -
1. How one cruelty leads to another, and increasingly hardens the heart. It is told of Robespierre that when judge at Arras, half-a-dozen years before he took his place in the popular mind of France and Europe as one of the bloodiest monsters of myth or history, he resigned his post in a fit of remorse after condemning a criminal to be executed. "He is a criminal, no doubt," he kept groaning to his sister, "a criminal no doubt; but to put a man to death!" (Morley).
2. The impotence of human devices.
3. The certainty of the Church surviving under the worst that man can do against it,. The more Pharaoh persecuted, the more the people multiplied and grew (vers. 12, 20). - J.O.
I. NOTICE WHAT WAS PRAISEWORTHY IN THEIR CONDUCT. "They did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive," and this conduct was made possible because behind it there was a praiseworthy feeling. "The midwives feared God." They saw how real was the power of Pharaoh in enslaving and oppressing the Israelites, but they were not thereby misled into supposing the power of Pharaoh to be greater than the power of God. They had ample opportunity, even more than the rest of Israel, to mark the Hand that was producing this extraordinary increase in the numbers of the people. Their very professional experience was of a kind to impress them deeply with the fact that Israel was increasing at a rate not to be accounted for by the ordinary processes of nature. They could not see God as they saw Pharaoh, but his superior power was made evident by the things he did. Then, on the other hand, with all the manifestations of Pharaoh's power, it was impossible for him to conceal that he was afraid himself. Moreover, as the oppression and affliction of Israel increased, it became still clearer that God was with the people, and the-more confirmed would the midwives be in their fear of him. Hence it would have been a very poor sort of prudence to comply with Pharaoh's order, to avoid his displeasure, perhaps to gain his rewards, and then find themselves face to face with an angry God, from whom there was no escape. What a rebuke, out of these depths of bondage and suffering, and out of a very imperfect moral state, these two women give to us! They feared God, and that fear kept them safe, and made them prosperous. The fear of man ever bringeth a snare; but a real, practical and all-dominating sense of the presence and the power of God takes snares and stumbling-blocks out of our path.
II. NOTICE WHAT WAS CENSURABLE IN THEIR CONDUCT. It must not be supposed that because they feared God, and God dealt well with them, everything therefore which they did was quite as it should be. With all their deep sense of God's presence, these women were living but in the twilight of the revelation, as far as they personally were concerned. They knew enough to fear God, i.e. they knew the reality and greatness of his power, but they did not know enough to love him. With them, conscience was in such a half-enlightened, half-awakened state, that while they felt it wrong to obey Pharaoh's command, and would probably not have obeyed it if the sword had been hanging over their heads, yet they have no scruple as to deceiving Pharaoh. Undoubtedly, women who had been fully instructed in all the will of God, and who were fully alive to all the round of duty, would have faced the king boldly, and said, "We cannot do this thing, come what may." But they were living, as we have already noticed, in a very imperfect moral state. They honestly felt that deceiving Pharaoh was a quite permissible way of showing their obedience to God. Hence, while upon certain considerations we may excuse their deception, we must not slur it over as a matter of no moment; and though it is said that God was pleased with them as it was, this does not prevent us from feeling that he would have been even better pleased if they had said straight out to Pharaoh, "How can we do this great wickedness and sin against God?"
III. CONSIDER THE CONDUCT OF THESE TWO WOMEN AS ILLUSTRATIVE OF A CERTAIN STAGE IN THE PROGRESS OF SINNERS TOWARDS GOD. There are many who have got so far as to fear God, and this is no small attainment. It may be that there is something slavish, terrifying, paralysing even in the fear; but, even so, it is better to have the fear than be as those who are completely destitute of it. For, with a feeling of real fear to lay hold of, God can do great things. He can gradually bring us nearer and nearer, so that we shall love as well as fear him. He can show us his loving spirit, and his power to fill our lives with blessing and surround them with security. He can show us that there is really no more reason to live in restless dread of him than there is for a little bird to fly hastily away at the approach of some kind-hearted human being. But where there is no fear of God, what can be done? When the chief thing you dread is the laughter of fools; or the censure of unsympathising friends and neighbours or threatening superiors; or the fear of temporal loss and pain in general.; what can then be done? Be thankful if you have got so far as to fear God. Fearing him, dreading him, trembling before him, feeling his power more than any other of his attributes - this is a long way short of loving him, but nevertheless it is a stage toward that glorious state of the heart; and it is incomparably better than to have no feeling for God at all, and to let an arrogant world fill his place. It is a great point gained, when once we clearly perceive, and act upon the perception, that to be safe and right with man is a mere trifle to the great necessity of being safe and right with God. One Pharaoh goes and another comes, but the God of Israel, the God who is bringing all these men-children to the birth, abides for ever. Before we begin to pity Shiphrah and Puah for their defective notions with regard to truth, we had better make sure that they do not rise in the judgment against us, on account of our gross indifference to the majesty and authority of God. - Y.
I. THE GROWING SHAMELESSNESS OF CRIME.
1. Murder was intended from the first - the hope was that the people should be diminished - but the intention was veiled.
2. (15, 16.) The crime was now looked in the face, but it was so arranged that. it might be done secretly.
3. When this failed, then public proclamation was made that the murder should be deliberately and openly done (22). No man steps at first into shameless commission of sin. Every sin is a deadening of the moral sense and a deepening of shame.
II. THOSE WHO REFUSE TO AID IN PHARAOH'S CRIME FIND BLESSING.
1. The refusal of the midwives was service to God.
(1) It prevented secret murder.
(2) It rebuked Pharaoh's sin.
2. Their refusal was justified because it sprang from obedience to a higher authority: "they feared God." Disobedience to human law must have a higher sanction than a factious spirit.
3. God gave them inheritance among his people. In that dread of sin and heroism for the right they were fit allies for God's people. Those who separate themselves from evil God will lead into the light.
III. THOSE WHO AID BRING JUDGMENT UPON THEMSELVES. The king appeals to his people and they make his crime their own. But Egypt's sin is set at last in the light of Egypt's desolation. Obedience to unjust laws will not protect us from God's just judgment. The wrong decreed by authority becomes by obedience a nation's crime. - U.