Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
natural. Pharaoh, on a previous occasion, had repulsed him. He had lost the ear even of his own people. The situation, since his former interview with the monarch, had altered for the worse. To proceed further was like rowing against wind and tide, with little prospect of ever reaching shore. Discouragement wrought in the usual way. It led him to magnify difficulties. He brought up again his old objection of his deficiencies of speech. Even with Aaron as an intermediary, he felt how awkward it would be to appear in the presence of Pharaoh, and not be able to deliver his own message. His inability of speech would certainly, he thought, expose him to contempt. Yet observe, God forebore with him. His reluctance was not without sin, but God, who knows our frame, does not expect to find in us all at once the perfection of angels, and is compassionate of our weakness. We have here, therefore -
I. A DISHEARTENED SERVANT SUITABLY ENCOURAGED. God told Moses -
1. That he would clothe him with an authority which even Pharaoh would be compelled to respect. "See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh" (ver. 1). It was not with words only that Moses was sent to Pharaoh. Powers would be given him to enforce his words with deeds. The judgments he would bring upon the land would clothe him with a supernatural terror - make him a superhuman and almost a divine person - in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants. (Cf. Exodus 12:3.) So God gives attestation to his servants still, making it evident by the power of the Holy Ghost upon them, that they come in his name, and speak with his authority. He accompanies their word with Divine power, giving it efficacy to arrest, convict, and convert, and compelling the haughtiest of the earth to acknowledge the source of their message. So Felix trembled before Paul (Acts 24:25). Paul's Gospel came to the Thessalonians, "not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance" (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
2. That the work of deliverance would be no longer delayed. This also was implied in what God said to Moses: the time had come for speech to be exchanged for action. Everything indicated that the "charge" with which Moses was now entrusted was to be the final one. It should encourage desponding servants to reflect that God has his "set time" for the fulfilment of every promise; and that, when this period arrives, all their mourning will be turned into joy.
II. THE COURSE OF ISRAEL'S DELIVERANCE FORETOLD.
1. Foretold because foreseen. It is God's prerogative that he knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 42:9). Nothing can take him by surprise. He knows all the way his purposes are to travel. The whole future lies mapped out, as in a clear-drawn chart, before him.
2. Foreseen because pre-ordained. God, like Christ in the miracle of the loaves, knew in himself what he would do (John 6:6). Nothing was left to chance in his arrangements. The steps in his plan were fixed beforehand. What would be done would be according to God's "determinate counsel and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23) - would be "whatsoever (his) hand and (his) counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28). The deliverance was arranged in such a way as most to glorify the power and greatness of the Deliverer, and demonstrate his superiority to heathen idols. This in no wise implies that violence was in the very least done to human freedom, though it suggests that God can so interweave the volitions of men, in the situations in which he places them, into his purposes, as to leave not one of them outside his settled plan. The chief difficulty is in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, here (ver. 3) represented as an ordained link in the chain of God's designs. But if this hardening simply means that God will place Pharaoh, already a bad man, in circumstances which he knows infallibly will harden his heart, and if this is done justly, and in punishment of former sins, the hardening taking effect through unalterable laws of the moral nature, which also are of God's ordainment, it is difficult to see what righteous objection can be taken to it.
(1) For the instruction of Moses, that he might be prepared for all that was to happen - that he might understand and cooperate with God in the execution of his designs.
(2) For the re-invigoration of Moses' faith.
(3) That it might be evidenced by the working-out of this fore-announced plan, that the God of Israel was indeed Jehovah, a free, personal Being, working in history for the accomplishment of gracious purposes. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psalm 25:14). God takes Moses into his counsel, and discovers to him something of his plan of operation. So he does in the Scriptures with his Church (Revelation 1:1).
II. A GLIMPSE OF GOD'S END IN PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT (vers. 3, 4). The end is twofold -
1. The manifestation of the utterly free and unconstrained character of his grace and mercy in the salvation of man; and
2. What is the necessary counterpart of this, the manifestation of his power and justice in the infliction of judgments upon his enemies. Even evil is thus made to contribute indirectly to the ultimate and eternal establishment of the righteousness of God. - J.O.
I. MOSES' WEAKNESS (chap. 6. vers, 28-30). The command was - "Speak thou unto Pharaoh." Moses in his despondency is overpowered by the sense of his infirmity. He fears the ridicule of the Egyptian court. There are times when the sense of our unfitness for speaking God's words crushes us. Let us take heed lest lowly self-judgment pass into unbelief and disobedience. The loss of faith in ourselves is no reason why we should cease to trust God.
II. GOD'S REMEDY (chap. 7. vers. 1, 2). Moses' slowness of speech is veiled by unthought-of glory. He that feared the derision of Pharaoh is surrounded with dreadful majesty and made as God to him. To obedient faith, felt incompetency for the task God calls us to, will only be the occasion of his bestowing upon us more abundant honour. Our very defects can be transformed into power. A man's very awkwardness often disarms criticism and appeals to the heart as the most faultless elegance can never do.
III. JEHOVAH WILL BE GLORIFIED IN PHARAOH'S UNBELIEF (vers. 3-5).
1. They are forewarned of Pharaoh's stubborn refusal. We are not sent on God's errand with False expectations.
2. God's purpose will be accomplished, not defeated, by that opposition. His defiance will only call forth the revelation of God's terribleness. Where sin has sought to dwell and to reign, the terrors of God's judgment will alone be remembered.
3. Egypt will also know that God is Jehovah - the faithful One. God's name will be written in their punishment as well as in Israel's redemption.
IV. THE VERY AGE OF GOD'S SERVANTS WILL PRAISE HIM (ver. 7). The childhood of Samuel, the youth of Daniel, the old age of Moses and Aaron are arguments of unconquerable strength for the feeble and despised to trust and toil.
1. There is a place for all.
2. No man's day is over if he will only yield to God. The dying thief who believed in his dying agonies has been among the mightiest preachers of God's infinite grace. - U.
Exodus 7-10Exodus 9:14. Keeping the last tremendous visitation apart, for it stands out in lone grandeur in the story, it is well to take the other nine plagues together in any homiletic, use we make of them; for -
1. They have many features in common.
2. And are closely connected with one another. A landscape should not be cut up, when we can see at a sweep the whole panorama. The subject, then, is Jehovah's conflict with this great idolatrous world-power.
I. THE AGENT. What was Moses? What was his Divine legation?
1. He was a patriot-deliverer, ranking with Tell, Bruce, etc. etc., as the saviour of his nation - but more!
2. A statesman - the creator (under God) of first a polity, and then a nation. He taught free men to govern themselves, under God. But Moses was more!
3. A prophet of the living God. Moses was intensely religious. He ranks with the greatest spiritual leaders of the world. His peer is Elijah, though Elijah was not quite equal. So great are they both that they appear on Tabor with the transfigured Lord. God, eternity, the soul, law, salvation, religion are the master motives of this great spirit. All that Moses was besides is to be traced to this deep root. The lesson is obvious: religion first - then the things that accompany salvation.
II. HIS DEEDS.
1. Their historic reality. Two facts certain -
(1) Israel in Egypt.
(2) Israel in Canaan. he historic problem is: How was the transition made?
(1) Kings are not in the habit of emancipating races (note! apparent exceptions - William III. and Revolution of 1688. Emancipation of serfs by the Russian Czar. Lincoln and the freedom of the four millions of slaves.)
(2) Israel never won its own freedom. Nor
(3) was Egypt overthrown by a foreign power, and so in the confusion Israel emerged to liberty.
(4) The Deliverer was God, and the mode, that described in the book.
2. Their exact nature. Exposition here of the miracles seriatim, with a careful note of the specialities of each. This as a foundation for the discussion of the question: Were the plagues natural or supernatural? They were either
(1) natural; or
(2) supernatural; or
(3) natural in kind,
(1) Their colossal proportions.
(2) Their concentration upon one epoch.
(3) Their relation to the moral controversy.
(4) Their gradation.
(5) Dependence on the word of Moses. [On the evidential value of the plagues, see 'Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 1:241.]
3. Their objective. This word here used in a military sense. What was the Divine object in these visitations? To hurl thunderbolts against the idolatries of Egypt: Exodus 12:12. For detail, see Dr. Alexander's Kitto's Cycle., p. 75l, vol. 1:4. Their superiority to the acts of the magicians. Full discussion of the questions - What the magicians really did, and how they did it, will be found in the Congregational Lectures by Rev. Walter Scott, of Airedale College, on "The Existence of Evil Spirits," 145-156. The conclusion, sustained by argument, is that they were adepts in sleight of hand. But, for homiletic purposes, show the grandeur of the scale on which Moses acted, and the imposing character of his deeds as a moral demonstration to the idolaters of Egypt.
5. Their climacteric character. When God deals with sinners, he begins afar off, and only very gradually draws near and close to their deepest life and acutest feeling. So here he touches first the river - then comfort (frogs, Ice, flies) - then cattle - then the skin of the people - then food (hail and locusts) - then threatens life by the suffocating effects of the fifty days' sand-storm darkness - at last life itself. "I will sing of mercy as well as of judgment," etc.
III. HIS WORDS. Fine homiletic use may be made of the verbal controversy which went on between Moses and Pharaoh all the time of these visitations, and which increased in tragic vehemence as blow after blow descended. Note Pharaoh's waverings, relentings, and anon persistence; and also the occasional passionate entreaties of the hardened sinner on behalf of the awestruck and repentant people. But "whom the gods purpose to destroy they first of all madden."
1. On the Egyptians. Leading some finally to attach themselves to the redeemed of the Lord.
2. On Moses. Called to a stupendous work. Timid. Trained to confidence in God, and obedience to his slightest word. Note! - So God is ever training his servants.
3. On Israel, through Moses.
V. LESSONS. The main ones of this great controversy.
1. The object of God in dealing with men. To beat down the idolatries of the human heart - to reveal himself - his law - his salvation - to reconcile men with himself.
2. The inevitable conflict, i.e. until God's purpose be accomplished. Show the reality of this conflict in the case of every sinner. Message after message, mercy after mercy, judgment after judgment. If men will not be reconciled, then there must be antagonism; to that antagonism there can be but one end. It is in this sense that Amos challenges Israel - "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel." This is the word of the Lord as "a man of war."
3. The futility of the repentance of fear. Case of Pharaoh. Case of every sinner. Fear, however, has its mission - to awaken to concern. But no repentance is solid, lasting in its effect, but that which takes place in view of the love of our Father as seen in the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord. - R.
Exodus 7-10Genesis 13:10). The river, the source of its fertility, was fenced off from desert on either side by cliff ranges - canopied from morning to evening by the ever blue, bright sky. No wonder that the inhabitants should think much of such a land, that they should come to say of river, land, sky, "These be thy gods, O Egypt!" The veil of nature, which should reveal - as by shadow cast on sheet - may hide, the unseen God: cf. Romans 1:20. The struggle with Pharaoh shows us God asserting himself - proving himself "God of gods" as well as "Lord of lords." Regarding the river as the source of fertility; the land as the sphere for fertility; the sky as the guardian of fertility - see how God openly manifests the dependence of each and all on him.
I. THE RIVER. "The beneficent Nile, the very life of the state and of the people" (Stanley).
(1) Middle of June - season of annual overflow. To all appearance more than ever divine-Pharaoh (Exodus 7:15) probably openly acknowledging its divinity. Suddenly turned into blood - loathsome; no longer a source of fertility, but a source of corruption and death - at the command of Jehovah, the unrecognised invisible source whence the fertilising power had been derived.
(2) Later. Subsidence of the water. The river mud seems to breed frogs. Compelled at the Divine command to fructify not grain but reptiles.
(3) Later. Even the dust of the sun-dried mud turned by Jehovah into a tormenting pest. "The river is mine, and the soil which it deposits is mine; even the very dust which it leaves is mine. Have not I, the Lord, made all these things?"
II. THE LAND. So far the fiver has been made to plague the land; but Jehovah needs no intermediary. He has direct power over the land also.
(1) Exodus 8:21, 22. Swarms of flies (gnats) coming up as it were out of the ground. Yet land severed from land - Goshen spared, "so that thou mayest know that I am Jehovah in the midst of the land"
(2) Exodus 9:3. Murrain in the cattle - the creatures most nearly connected with the land; identified with its prosperity; deified as its representatives - at a set time, within appointed limits.
(3) Exodus 9:9. Pestilence on man and beast. The furnace-ash strewed heavenwards. The land as modified by human agency turned into a plague upon the men who used it. "The land is mine, and the cattle are mine, the very furnace-ash which ye might almost clam as self-made is mine. Have not I, the Lord, made all these things?"
III. THE SKY. The previous plague (Exodus 9:8) "toward the heaven," seems to challenge the sky divinities. Now they also are to be proved subject.
1. Exodus 9:22. At the word of Jehovah the protector becomes the devastator. Clouds gather and pour out water. Pharaoh and Egypt, too, shall know that the earth belongs to no sky divinity, but to Jehovah: chap. 5:29.
2. Exodus 10:13. The winds, compelled into Jehovah's service, become charioteers for his locust armies.
3. Exodus 10:21. The sun, source of light, chief of the gods - even he is draped in darkness at the word of Jehovah. "The sky is mine with its clouds and winds, even the sun in all his glory. Have not I, the Lord, made all these things?" Application: - People still forget God - still, practically, deify his gifts, and so plant them as to hide the Giver of them. The world, our respectable every-day world, not unlike Egypt. Health (life, ζωὴ), the river that fertilises it. Circumstances (life, βίος), the land fertilised. Thought, intelligence, wisdom, the sky which seems to canopy and protect both. Deify them and forget the God above them, and God will yet manifest himself by strange plagues on your divinities. Your river shall be turned into blood, and your sun into darkness [cf. Tennyson, "Palace of Art."] These things, too - health, happiness, intelligence - he will surely show that he and no other has maple them all. - G.
Exodus 4:21. The present seems an appropriate place for a somewhat fuller treatment.
I. HARDENING AS PROCEEDING FROM GOD. "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." This, assuredly, is more than simple permission. God hardens the heart -
1. Through the operation of the laws of our moral constitution, These laws, of which God is the author, and through which he operates in the soul, ordain hardening as the penalty of evil conduct, of resistance to truth, and of all misimprovement and abuse of privilege.
2. Through his providence - as when God, in the execution of his judgments, places a wicked man in situations which he knows can only have a hardening effect upon him. He does this in righteousness. "God, having permitted evil to exist, must thereafter of necessity permit it also to run its whole course in the way of showing itself to be what it really is, as that which aims at the defeat of the Divine purpose, and the consequent dissolution of the universe." This involves hardening.
3. Through a direct judgment in the soul of the individual, God smiting him with a spirit of blindness and infatuation in punishment of obstinate resistance to the truth. This is the most difficult of all aspects of hardening, but it only cuts the knot, does not untie it, to put superficial meanings upon the scriptures which allege the reality of the judgment (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). It is to be viewed as connected with what may be called the internal providence of God in the workings of the human mind; his government of the mind in the wide and obscure regions of its involuntary activities. The direction taken by these activities, seeing that they do not spring from man's own will, must be as truly under the regulation of Providence, and be determined in quite as special a manner, as are the outward circumstances of our lot, or those so-called fortuities concerning which we are assured: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matthew 10:29). It is a significant fact that, as sin advances, the sinner becomes less and less a free agent, falls increasingly under the dominion of necessity. The involuntary activities of the soul gain ground upon the voluntary. The hardening may be conceived of, partly as the result of a withdrawal of light and restraining grace; partly as a giving of the sou] up to the delusions of the adversary, "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2), whose will gradually occupies the region in the moral life vacated by the human will, and asserts there a correspondingly greater power of control; and partly as the result of a direct Divine ordering of the course of thought, feeling, and imagination. Hengstenberg acutely remarks: "It appears to proceed from design, that the hardening at the beginning of the plagues is attributed, in a preponderating degree, to Pharaoh, and towards the end to God. The higher the plagues rise, so much the more does Pharaoh's hardening assume a supernatural character, so much the more obvious is it to refer it to its supernatural causality."
II. HARDENING IN ITSELF CONSIDERED. The heart is the centre of personality, the source of moral life, the seat of the will, the conscience, and the affections (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:18). The hardening of the heart may be viewed under two aspects:
1. More generally as the result of growth in sin, with consequent loss of moral and religious susceptibility; and
2. As hardening against God, the author of its moral life. We have but to put these two things together - the heart, the seat of moral life, hardening itself against the Author of its moral life - to see that such hardening is of necessity fatal, an act of moral suicide. It may elucidate the subject to remark that in every process of hardening there is something which the heart parts with, something which it resists, and something which it becomes. There is, in other words
(1) That which the heart hardens itself in, viz. some evil quality, say injustice, cruelty, lust, hate, secret enmity to God, which quality gradually becomes a fixed element in character;
(2) that which the heart hardens itself against, viz. the influences of truth, love, and righteousness, in whatever ways these are brought to bear upon it, whether in the promptings of conscience, the movements of natural sensibility, the remonstrances of parents and friends, the Word of God, the internal strivings of the Spirit; and
(3) that which the heart parts with in hardening, viz. with its original susceptibility to truth, with its sensitiveness to moral influences, with its religious feeling, with its natural generosity, etc. The result is blindness, callousness, lostness to the feeling of right, to the sense of shame, to the authority of God, to the voice of truth, even to true self-interest. All hardening is thus double-sided; hardening in hate, e.g., being at the same time hardening against love, with a loss of the capacity of love; hardening in injustice being a hardening against justice, with a loss of the capacity for moral discernment; hardening in cruelty being a hardening against kindliness, with a corresponding destruction of the benevolent sensibilities; hardening against God being at the same time hardening in self-hood, in egoism, with a loss of the capacity of faith. We hence conclude:
1. All evil hardens, and all hardening in moral evil is in principle hardening against God. The hardening may begin at the circumference of the moral nature, and involve the centre, or it may begin at the centre, and work out to the circumference. Men may be enemies to God in their mind by wicked works (Colossians 1:21), they may have "the understanding darkened," and be "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness (marg. hardness) of their hearts," and being "past feeling" may give "themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:17-19), and yet be strangers to God's revealed truth. All sin, all resistance to light, all disobedience to conscience, has this hardening effect (cf. Romans 1:19-32). But it is a will which has broken from God which is thus in various ways hardening itself, and enmity to God is latent in the process. The moment the truth of God is brought to bear on such a nature, this latent enmity is made manifest, and, as in the case of Pharaoh, further hardening is the result. Conversely,
2. Hardening against God is hardening in moral evil. The hardening may begin at the centre, in resistance to God's known will, and to the strivings of his Spirit, and thence spread through the whole moral nature. This is the deepest and fundamental hardening, and of itself gives a character to the being. A heart hardened in its interior against its Maker would be entitled to be called hard, no matter what superficial qualities of a pleasant kind remained to it, and no matter how correct the moral conduct.
3. Hardening results in a very special degree from resistance to the Word of God, to Divine revelation. This is the type of hardening which is chiefly spoken of in Scripture, and which gives rise to what it specially calls "the hard and impenitent heart" (Romans 2:5). All revelation of God, especially his revelation in Christ, has a testing power, and if resisted produces a hardness which speedily becomes obduracy. God may be resisted in his Word, his Spirit, his servants, his chastisements, and in the testimony to his existence and authority written on the soul itself. But the highest form of resistance - the worst and deadliest - is resistance to the Spirit drawing to Christ.
III. THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH COMPARED WITH HARDENING UNDER THE GOSPEL. Pharaoh stands out in Scripture as the typical instance of hardening of the heart.
1. He and Jehovah stood in direct opposition to each other.
2. God's will was made known to him in a way he could not mistake. He pretended at first to doubt, but doubt soon became impossible.
3. He resisted to the last. And the longer he resisted, his heart grew harder.
4. His resistance was his ruin. In considering the case of this monarch, however, and comparing it with our own, we have to remember -
1. That Pharaoh was a heathen king. He was naturally prejudiced in favour of the gods of Egypt. He had at first no knowledge of Jehovah. But we have had from infancy the advantage of a knowledge of the true God, of his existence, his attributes, and his demands.
2. Pharaoh had a heathen upbringing. His moral training was vastly inferior to that which most have enjoyed who hear the Gospel.
3. The influences he resisted were outward influences - strokes of judgment. The hardening produced by resistance to the inward influences of Christianity, strivings of the Spirit, etc., is necessarily of a deeper kind.
4. What was demanded of Pharaoh was the liberation of a nation of slaves - in our case it is required that we part with sins, and yield up heart and will to the Creator and Redeemer. Outward compliance would have sufficed in his case; in ours, the Compliance must be inward and spiritual. Here, again, inasmuch as the demand goes deeper, the hardening produced by resistance is of necessity deeper also. There is now possible to man the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 6:4 6).
5. The motives in the two eases are not comparable. In the one case, God revealed in judgments; in the other, in transcendent love and mercy. Conclusion: - "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Hebrews 3:7, 8, 13, 15, 4:7). Beware, in Connection with this hardening, of "the deceitfulness of sin," The heart has many ways of disguising from itself the fact that it is resisting God, and hardening itself in opposition to him. One form is procrastination. Not yet - a more convenient season. A second is compromise. We shall find attempts at this with Pharaoh. By Conceding part of what is asked-giving up some sin to which the heart is less attached - we hide from ourselves the fact that we are resisting the chief demand. Herod observed John the Baptist, and "when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly' (Mark 6:20). The forms of godliness, as in the Pharisees, may Conceal from the heart its denial of the power thereof. Conscience is quieted by church-membership, by a religious profession. There is disguised resistance in all insincere repentance. This is seen in Pharaoh's relentings. Even when the resistance becomes more avowed, there are ways of partially disguising the fact that it is indeed God we are resisting. Possibly the heart tries to wriggle out of the duty of submission by cavilling at the evidence of revelation. Or, objection is perhaps taken to something in the manner or form in which the truth has been presented; some alleged defect of taste, or infelicity of illustration, or rashness of statement, or blunder in science, or possibly a slip in grammar. Any straw will serve which admits of being clutched at. So conviction is pushed off, decision is delayed, resistance is kept up, and all the while the heart is getting harder - less sensible of the truth, more ensnared in error. It is well also to remember that even failure to profit by the word, without active resistance to it (if such a thing is possible) - simple want of care in the cherishing of good impressions, and too rash an exposure to the influences which tend to dissipate and destroy them - will result in their disappearance, and in a consequent hardening of the heart. The impressions will not readily return with the same vividness. To-day, then, and now, hear and obey the voice of God. - J.O.
I. ITS SIGNIFICANCE.
1. Its distinctness from the similar sign wrought for the conviction of the Israelites. On the meaning of the latter, see Exodus 4:1-6. There the serpent into which the rod was turned seemed to denote the power of the monarch - the royal and divine power of Egypt - of which the serpent was an Egyptian emblem. However threatening the aspect of this power to Moses and the Israelites, the sign taught them not to fear it, and promised victory over -it. Here, on the contrary, the serpent is a menace to Pharaoh. It speaks to him in his own language, and tells him of a royal and Divine power opposed to his which he will do well not to provoke. The sign was harmless in itself, but menacing in its import.
2. Its relation to Egyptian magic. On this, see the exposition. The magicians produced an imitation of the miracle, but this very circumstance was turned into an occasion of greater humiliation to them. "Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods." The truth taught was the impotence of magic arts as opposed to the power of Jehovah. Royalty, divinity, magic, all are represented as overthrown in this significant marvel. Note - God seldom destroys a sinner without first warning him. The warnings are such that, if taken in time, worse consequences may be escaped. Conscience warns, the Spirit warns, providence warns. Red danger-signals stand at the opening of every path of crime, if the deluded transgressor would but take heed to them.
II. ITS EVIDENTIAL VALUE. It was ordered to be wrought in answer to Pharaoh's demand for a miracle (ver. 9). Presumably, Pharaoh made the request, then the wonder was performed. Note here -
1. The human mind naturally craves for miracle as an evidence of revelation. The evidence of outward miracle is not the highest, but neither' should it be disparaged. It is the kind of evidence which minds at an inferior stage of development are most capable of appreciating, while, in connection with other circumstances, it is a powerful confirmation to the faith even of those who might possibly dispense with it. Christ's repeated refusal of a sign was not based upon the principle that signs were unnecessary, but upon the fact that a superabundance of signs had already been given. A faith resting merely on miracles (John 2:23, 24) may be destitute of moral worth, but miracles had their value in certifying the source of the message, as well as in arousing attention, and they were themselves vehicles of moral teaching.
2. God satisfies this craving of the mind by granting the evidence required. It does not lessen, but greatly enhances, the value of this evidence that most of the miracles of Scripture are not merely credentials of the revelation, but constitutive parts of it. See this truth wrought out in the chapter on "The Function of Miracle in Revelation' in Dr. Alex. Bruce's book, 'The Chief End of Revelation.' This able writer, however, is unnecessarily vehement in his polemic against the view that miracles are also wrought in proof of revelation; especially as in the latter part of his discussion he really admits all that the advocates of the so-called "traditional" view would think worth contending for. "Take away miracle from a revelation of grace, and the revelation can hardly be known for what it is... With the miracles retained as an essential part of the story, a gracious purpose towards a chosen people is indubitable; without them, it is very doubtful indeed Retain the miracles, and the gracious purpose is stringently proved, and the contrary opinion excluded as untenable. The miracles and the purpose thus stand or fall together. To certify, beyond all doubt, a gracious purpose, miracle is necessary. (pp. 175-177). In the case before us, the evidential function must be allowed to be the leading one.
3. Pharaoh's request for the miracle. It is a significant circumstance that whereas on the previous occasion (Exodus 5:1-5) Pharaoh made no request for a sign, he asks for one at this second interview. The unexpected reappearance of these two men, renewing their former demand, and doing so with even more emphasis and decision than at first, must have produced a startling effect upon him. Truth, to a certain extent, carries its own credentials with it. There must have been that in the manner and speech of these grave and aged men (ver. 7) which repelled the hypothesis that they were impostors. Probably Pharaoh had never been quite sure that their mission was mere pretence. A secret fear of the God whose worshippers he knew he was maltreating may have mingled with his thoughts, and kept him in vague uneasiness. He may thus have been more disturbed by the former demand than he cared to allow, and now thought it prudent to satisfy himself further. Professed disbelief in the Bible is in the same way often accompanied by a lurking suspicion that there is more in its teaching than is admitted.
III. ITS EFFECT UPON THE MONARCH.
1. He permitted himself to be imposed on by the counterfeit of the magicians. Their imitation of the miracle furnished him with a plausible excuse for ascribing the work to magic. It gave him a pretext for unbelief. He wished one, and he got it. He ignored the strong points in the evidence, and fixed on the partial resemblance to the miracle in the feats of his tricksters. There were at least three circumstances which should have made him pause, and, if not convinced, ask for further proof.
(1) The miracle of Moses and Aaron was not done by enchantments.
(2) The men who did the wonder themselves asserted that it was wrought by Divine power.
(3) The superiority of their power to that of the magicians was evinced by Aaron's rod swallowing up the rods of the others. And seeing that the miracle of God's messengers was real, while that of the magicians was (so far as we can judge) but a juggler's trick, there were probably numerous other circumstances of difference between them, on which, had Pharaoh been anxious to ascertain the truth, his mind would naturally have rested. But Pharaoh's mind was not honest. He wished to disbelieve, and he did it.
2. He refused the request. He hardened himself, i.e. the unwillingness of his heart to look at the truth, now that it had got something to stay itself upon, solidified into a fixed, hard determination to resist the demand made upon him. Note -
(1) God tries men's dispositions by furnishing them with evidence which, while abundantly sufficient to convince minds that are honest, leaves numerous loopholes of escape to those indisposed to receive it.
(2) It is the easiest thing in the world, if one wants to do it, to find pretexts for unbelief. We are far from asserting that all doubt is dishonest, but it is unquestionable that under the cloak of honest intellectual inquiry a great dean that is not honest is frequently concealed. To a mind unwilling to be convinced, there is nothing easier than to evade evidence. Specious counter-arguments are never far to seek. Any specious reply to Christian books, any naturalistic hypothesis, any flimsy parallel, will serve the purpose. The text directs attention to the method of false parallels - a favourite one with modern sceptics. Parallels are hunted up between Christianity and the ethnic religions. Superficial resemblances in ethics, doctrine and ritual, are laid hold upon and magnified. Christ is compared with Buddha and Confucius, or his miracles are put in comparison with the ecclesiastical miracles of the middle ages. And thus his religion is supposed to be reduced to the naturalistic level. The defeat of all such attempts is shadowed forth in the miracle before us. - J.O.
I. THE DEMANDS OF GOD, THOUGH REJECTED, CANNOT BE BANISHED. The rod which Pharaoh refuses to be shepherded by, cast down before him, springs into life. To those who refuse obedience to God's Word, that Word will cling and become a living thing. Israel thought to have done with God and to be like the heathen: it was a vain dream. Pharaoh would shake off care, and become like one of whom God had asked nothing: the dream was equally vain. We may deny God, but his words will live and pursue us.
II. THE REJECTED GUIDANCE WILL BE THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FROWARD. The rod cast from the hand becomes a serpent. The vain demand for righteousness will at last become the sentence of condemnation, and the sin that is clung to, the sting of death.
III. THE WARNING BECOMES THE LOUDER, THE GREATER THE EFFORT TO DEADEN ITS EFFECT. The rods of the magicians were swallowed up and the rod of God left more terrible than it was before. The Divine retribution will swallow up every comfort and stay which the sinful may summon to sustain them. - U.
I. NOTICE THE REMARKABLE REQUEST WHICH JEHOVAH INDICATES THAT PHARAOH MAY MAKE. Perhaps we might even say, will make. "When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you." This is a great change from his former attitude, that he should be capable of stooping to such a request. But men who have despotic power sometimes do strange and contradictory things. The freaks of tyrants in the way of a seeming liberality and kindliness are among the curiosities of history. Pharaoh may have said to himself, "It will be rare sport to give this monomaniac full scope; let him with his own failure expose the delusion under which he is suffering; it may be the shortest way out of the difficulty." On the other hand, it is not at all improbable that some news of the signs wrought before Israel had percolated through all the barriers which stand between a palace and the life of the common people; and Pharaoh may have wished to discover how far the rumour was founded in reality. Though when we have said all by way of suggesting secondary causes for the request, we must come in the end to this feeling, that the only sufficient way of accounting for it is to treat it as an impulse from Jehovah himself. Certainly his providence must have much to do with gaining access to Pharaoh and keeping up the communications of Moses with him. God can lead Pharaoh, even when he knows not that he is led. Men are walking in the way of God's providence and serving his purposes, even when quite satisfied in the ignorance of their hearts that they are walking in their own way.
II. NOTICE THE MIRACLE ITSELF. Doubtless the rod in question was the same which had been a serpent twice already; so that by this time Moses must have looked upon it with great serenity of confidence. It is now impossible for us to say why the Lord began his manifestations of power to Pharaoh with this rather than with some other sign. Reasons discernible at the time are not discernible now; the light which would have revealed them has long since died away. We can but see that there was much in the miracle which would have taught valuable lessons to Pharaoh, if only he had received it in the simplicity of one who is really looking for truth and guidance. He would have learned not to despise the absence of promise in the external appearance of things. He would have learned that a thing is not ridiculous because it is laughed at. He would have felt, too, that as the innocent and unimposing rod became suddenly a dangerous serpent, so this Moses - humble, unsustained and impotent as he seemed - might also become all at once a destroying force utterly beyond resistance by any Egyptian defence. Nor must we forget that the choice of this particular sign. may have been influenced by the fact that the magicians had a favourite and imposing trick of their art which, to the uninstructed eye, resembled it. They seemed to do, by their magic, what Moses really did by Divine power, and so their skill, while it had for one result a renewed defiance of Jehovah on the part of Pharaoh, had another result in this, that it led up to a strengthening of the faith of Moses. He might not be able to explain how the magicians did their wonders; but he knew very well that he was no magician himself, and that his rod had been Divinely changed, whatever cause had been at work to change the others. And then, at last, whatever perplexity remained in his mind was swept away when he saw the power of God rising supreme over mere trickery, and the serpent from his rod swallowing up the serpents from the other rods.
III. NOTICE THE THOROUGH WICKEDNESS OF THESE MAGICIANS. They know that their wonders are lying wonders. Powers great by nature, trained and increased with the utmost ingenuity, and which were intended to be and might have been for the good of their fellow-men, they turn without any compunction into instruments for the promotion of their selfish glory. They know that, whatever their pretences may be, they are not acting in a straightforward and humble service of supernatural power. They know that when Pharaoh puts confidence in them, he is putting confidence in a lie. Furthermore, they must have known that there was something in the transformation of Moses' rod which wanted accounting for. Magicians understand each other's tricks quite well, and it must have been evident to them that Moses was no magician. They know in their consciences that he is greater than themselves; but what can they say? Committed to lies, they must go on with them. They must pretend to have as much power as Moses, even if they have it not; and thus the induced necessities of their dark and secret arts compel them to hide the truth from Pharaoh. Nor was it any real excuse that Pharaoh was willing to be deceived. His destruction ultimately came from his own perversity; but he also presents the melancholy spectacle of being surrounded by those who, if only they had been truthful, might have interposed some obstacles in his downward way.
IV. NOTICE THE STATE IN WHICH PHARAOH WAS LEFT, EVEN AFTER THE COMPLETION OF THE MIRACLE. When Aaron's rod had swallowed up the others, he still remained unimpressed. It seems as if he had allowed his attention to be fixed on one part of the miracle, while another he regarded but carelessly. When his magicians seemed to produce serpents from rods, this was just according to his inclinations, and he made much of it. Moses could do nothing more than the magicians could do. But when their serpents were swallowed up - well, it was not a very encouraging sight - but still it might be accounted for. And so we are in danger of depreciating the significance of God's works by not looking at them in every part. Every part is to be regarded, if we are to get the full impression of the whole. If the magicians did what Moses did, it was equally evident that Moses did what the magicians did. A child could see that his power was at least equal to theirs. If Pharaoh had not been blinded by vanity and by traditional reliance on his magicians, he would have demanded that these magicians should do something more than Moses had done. What an illustration we have here, of how, when a man gets away from right thoughts of God, he soon comes to call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Pharaoh believes his lying magicians, though he will not believe the truthful servant of a true God. He has no discriminating power to find the difference between things, which, however they may resemble each other outwardly, are yet inwardly quite opposed. He thinks that he has power enough with his gods to meet whatever power has yet been brought against him. It has been already made evident that there is no sense of pity or justice in him; and it is now made plain that he is not to be reached by the exhibition before him of a significant symbol of pain and destruction. Pharaoh must be touched more closely still - must be made to suffer, and suffer most dreadfully, before he will consent to let Israel go. - Y.
1. The water was rendered wholly unfit for use.
2. It became deadly in its properties (ver. 18).
3. The stroke was instantaneous.
4. It was pre-announced.
5. It descended on the river at the summons of Moses and Aaron.
6. It lasted exactly seven days (ver. 25).
An event of this kind was palpably of supernatural origin. Contrast Moses with Christ, the one beginning the series of wonders by turning the river into blood; the other, in his first miracle, turning the water into wine (John 2:1-12). The contrast of judgment and mercy, of law and Gospel. Consider -
I. THE DEMAND RENEWED WITH THE ACCOMPANIMENT OF THREAT (vers. 16-19).
1. The demand was that which Pharaoh had hitherto resisted. It was a demand righteous and reasonable in itself - "Let my people go," etc. It had come to him, moreover, as the command of Jehovah, and proof had been given him that such was its character. Still he had resisted it. This, however, did not dispose of the demand, which now confronts him again.
2. The demand which Pharaoh would not freely grant, he is now to be compelled to grant. If he will not bow to reason, to persuasion, to evidence, he must bow to power. An unprecedented calamity would overtake his land: "In this shalt thou know that I am the Lord; behold, I will smite with the rod," etc. (ver. 17). Note -
(1) Reasonable means are exhausted with the sinner before compulsion is resorted to. God is unwilling to proceed to extremities.
(2) Nevertheless, if gentler methods fail, means will be used which will compel submission. "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God" (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10, 11).
(3) Excuses are not admitted for wilful unbelief. Pharaoh would probably have pleaded as a ground for his refusal, that he did not believe that the command in question proceeded from Jehovah. No such plea will be admitted in the court of heaven. Every allowance will be made for involuntary ignorance, but none for wilful unbelief. What the sinner is asked to do is righteous and reasonable in itself; is made known to him as God's will; and is evidenced to be such by many infallible proofs. Refusal to acknowledge the sufficiency of this evidence does not exculpate from the guilt of disobedience. The question is not - Does he, or will he, admit its sufficiency, but is it sufficient? Not, Does it convince him? but, Ought it to convince him? Our errors, follies, and mistakes will not hinder the Almighty from executing his purposes. If we stand in the way of them, and will not bend, we must be crushed.
II. THE PLAGUE AS A SIGN TO EGYPT. The smiting of the Nile was -
1. A proof of the power of Jehovah (ver. 17). It showed him to be an actually existing Being, demonstrated his supremacy in nature, and made manifest his determination to punish resistance to his will.
2. A blow at Egyptian idolatry. It turned the river Nile, which itself was worshipped as a divinity, into an object of loathsomeness and source of death to its worshippers. They were the chief gods of Egypt, too, who were supposed to be embodied in the river. How clear the proof of the vanity of the idols, and of the unchallengeable superiority of Jehovah! Yet we do net learn that one idol the less was worshipped in Egypt as the result of it.
3. A warning of worse evil to come. The Nile was in a sense symbolical of Egypt, of whose prosperity it was the source. The turning of this river into blood was in fact a prophecy or threat of utter ruin to the state. The succeeding plagues are merely the unfolding of the threat contained in this one.
4. The removal of the plague at the end of seven days betokened the unwillingness of God to proceed to extremities. It is very noticeable that the plague was removed unasked, and while Pharaoh was still hardening his heart. So long-suffering is God that he will try all means with sinners before finally giving them up. The lessons for ourselves from this plague are these -
(1) The certainty of God's threatenings being executed.
(2) The terrible punishments in reserve for disobedience.
(3) The ease with which God can smite a nation, and bring it to the point of ruin. The smiting of the Erie meant the immediate paralysis of all industry, commerce, and agriculture throughout the land of Egypt, while, had the plague lasted a few days longer, the result would have been the death of the whole population. We call this "miracle," but miracle is only the coming forth into visibility of the hand which is at all times working in the phenomena of nature, and in the affairs of history. By famine, by pestilence, by blight of crops, by clap of war, turning the river of a nation's life into very literal blood (so France in 1870), by the simplest natural agencies, if so it pleased him-could Jehovah speedily reduce our national pride, and smite at the fountain-heads the sources of our national prosperity. A very sensible proof was given of this - of the readiness with which the trade of a whole country could be paralysed, and great cities reduced in no long period to absolute starvation, by a slight change in natural conditions - in the great snowstorm of January 1881. (See the Spectator of 29th January, 1881.) Had the storm lasted but a week or two longer, the effects would have been as serious to cities like London, and to the country as a whole, as this smiting. of the Nile in Egypt.
(4) God's judgments are anticipative. Judgments in this life forewarn of judgments beyond.
III. THE PUERILE IMITATION OF THE MAGICIANS (ver. 22).
1. The magicians could not remove the plague; they could only with the few drops of water at their command produce a feeble imitation of it. How futile is this as a disproof of God's agency! So it is a pitiable way of disposing of God's judgments to show that something like them can be produced by undivine means. The savant, e.g., may produce in his laboratory an imitation of rain or thunder, and may think that he has thereby disproved God's agency in any infliction he may send upon a land through these instrumentalities; but this is small comfort to the country that is being smitten by them.
2. The attempts of the magicians to refute the pretensions of Moses only resulted in making the supernatural character of the plague more manifest. In the same way, the efforts of sceptics to disprove, e.g., the Divine origin of the religion of the Bible, or of the book itself, only end in making its Divinity more apparent. "The more conclusively you demonstrate to the human reason that that which exists ought not to exist, so much the more do you enhance the miracle of its existence. That must be the most astounding of all facts that still exists notwithstanding the gravest objections to its existence."
IV. THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH (vers. 22, 23). The hardening of Pharaoh here enters on a new phase. It was -
1. Hardening against conviction. Pharaoh must have felt in this case that he was in presence of a true work of God. The puny efforts of his magicians could not possibly impose upon him. But he would not yield. He would not obey conviction.
2. Hardening under punishment. Pharaoh was in the position of one who, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck (Proverbs 29:1). He had risked, even after this last warning, the chances of the threatening turning out to be untrue. Now, to his utter discomfiture, the stroke descends, and his empire is on the point of ruin. Yet he hardened himself in resistance.
3. Hardening which was deliberate. "Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also" (ver. 23). He had reached a point at which he could only stiffen himself in his determination to resist God, by refusing to think, by deliberately turning away from the light and resolving not to face the question of his duty. The monarch knows his duty, and knows that he knows it, yet. he will not obey.
4. Hardening obstinately persevered in. He held out through all the seven days of the duration of the plague. Hardening of this kind speedily robs the soul of its few remaining sparks of susceptibility to truth. - J.O.
I. THE PUNISHMENT. There were two elements in it.
1. The deprivation: water, one of the most essential of all God's gifts, was suddenly made useless.
2. The horror. Had all the water of Egypt suddenly disappeared, the punishment had been infinitely less. Instead of water, there was blood and corruption.
3. It was a judgment on Egypt's idolatry. The things we set in God's stead will be made an abomination and a horror to us.
4. It was the revelation of Egypt's guilt; beneath these waters the babes of Israel had sunk in their hopeless struggle with death. The abused gifts of God will be removed, but the horror of their abuse will abide.
I. THE ATTEMPT TO DISCREDIT GOD'S AGENCY IN THE CALAMITY. The magicians could increase the plague, and therefore it was not from the hand of God! The same argument is used still to prevent misfortune being considered as a chastisement and warning from God. Men can see in it chance only, or man's hand, not the Lord's.
III. PHARAOH'S DOGGED REFUSAL TO OBEY. He "turned and went into his house" (ver. 23). This would prolong his punishment, but could not conquer God. Instead of bowing to God's word, we may shut ourselves in with our sin, but we only bind judgment upon us, and tempt God to inflict a heavier blow. - U.
I. THE PLACE WHERE MOSES WAS TO MEET PHARAOH. Moses was not always to be put to it to find his entrance into the palace. God can arrange things so that Pharaoh shall come to meet him. The instructions given to Moses at once call to our minds how Pharaoh's daughter, eighty years before, had come down to the river to find and protect a helpless babe, and how that same babe - having passed through many chequered years, and many strange experiences at the hands both of God and men - has to meet with another Pharaoh. We are not told why Pharaoh went down to the water; it may have been to worship, for the Egyptians held the Nile in pious regard. But as the narrative says nothing on this point, we had better not assume it. It is sufficient to observe that Pharaoh was led down to the stream, to see it, the great benefactor of his land, turned into a curse (that is, if it was down to the Nile that he went. M. de Lesseps maintains that the city of the Pharaohs was not on the Nile, but on a tributary of it. See Hunter's 'Life of Lord Mayo,' vol. 1. p. 132).
II. THE DISTINCT WARNING GIVEN TO PHARAOH OF WHAT IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN. This warning is not peculiar to the first plague. Warning is mentioned as having been given along with most of the others, and possibly it was given where it is not mentioned. But it is of course a thing to be specially noted that God did not begin this succession of disasters without due and solemn warning. Not that there was any formal appeal to Pharaoh. It rather seems to be taken for granted that an appeal will be of no use. But even though Pharaoh disregarded, it was a good thing to say beforehand what was about to happen. Moses himself, and Aaron, and all devout Israelites who had eyes to perceive, could thus see God's plan opening out more and more. All information is good that makes us feel how God is working upon an ascertained and settled plan.
III. THE PLAGUE ITSELF, Water is changed to blood. Two of the great elements that belong to life are thus put in sharp contrast. Water is an element scarcely less distributed than the air itself. It is one of those common blessings which are so common that we take them with no manner of doubt that we are perfectly sure of them, come what may. The importance of water is seen by nothing more than by the frequent references to it in Scripture as illustrative of spiritual blessings. There is water to drink; water to cleanse; water to fertilise vegetation. This element God takes, and all at once, over a wide stretch of territory, turns it to blood. Thus we see how he can make mere natural things a blessing or a curse according to his will. Water is a blessing, and blood a blessing, according to circumstances of time and place. There is suffering when blood is where water ought to be; and equally there is suffering if water is where blood ought to be. Here there was great suffering because blood was where water was meant to be. When the people came for water to drink, to cook, to wash, to water plants, they found only blood; and yet that very blood was the same in its composition with the liquid which flowed incessantly through their own bodies. Their health depended on its richness, its purity, and the regularity of its flow. On the other hand, consider the poor man who came to Christ to be cured of the dropsy (Luke 14:2). He had to complain, not that blood was where water ought to be, but that water was where blood ought to be. And here we claim that this miracle is not sufficiently explained by saying that the water was turned into something like blood. We must take it that there was a conversion of the water literally into blood. We are here just at the beginning of a critical and sublime exhibition of signs and wonders. Why, then, needlessly make admissions which will diminish the force of these? Granting the supernatural at all, let us be ready to grant it to the full where the statements of the text require it. The Being who changed a rod to a serpent could change, if need were, the waters of the whole globe into blood. We should be careful not to admit, without sufficient reason, anything to diminish the horrors of this plague. What a poor picture it presents to the imagination to think of streams stained with red earth or microscopic infusoria! How much more impressive in every way - how much more consistent with high conceptions of the anger of Jehovah, and of the punitive aspect of his power - to think of blood, real blood everywhere, "vast rolling streams, florid and high-coloured," and becoming after a while, a stagnating, clotting, putrescent mass. Very fitly does Matthew Henry remark on this plague: - "One of the first miracles Moses wrought was turning water into blood, but one of the first miracles our Lord Jesus wrought was turning water into wine; for the law was given by Moses, and it was a dispensation of death and terror; but grace and truth, which, like wine, make glad the heart, came by Jesus Christ."
IV. THE APPARENTLY SUCCESSFUL RIVALRY OF THE MAGICIANS. They also were able, or seemed to be able, to turn water into blood. There are, indeed, some difficulties in understanding the nature of their action here - whether it was mere trickery and deception, or whether God did allow water, as it passed through their hands, to be changed to blood. An understanding of these points is, however, of secondary importance. The thing of moment is to mark how unimpressed the magicians themselves seem to have been with the terrible spectacle presented to them. It was not for Pharaoh only to take heed to this river of blood; the intimation was for them also. But they clung, as privileged men almost always do cling, to their position and influence. Not only was Pharaoh's kingdom in danger, but their standing as the professed agents of supernatural powers. They went on, vainly contending against this new manifestation of power, though surely in their hearts they must have felt it was destined to prevail And their conduct was made worse by the fact that they were pursuing it in the midst of general suffering.
V. THE INTERVAL TO THE NEXT PLAGUE. What was this interval for? Surely to give Pharaoh time - time to consider the miracle in all its bearings, and get over the rashness and pride which prompted his first thoughts of continued resistance. We know not if, during these seven days, the river slowly returned to its natural state. Perhaps there was no sharp dividing line between the plagues; one may have come on as another faded away. Seven days, then, were given to Pharaoh to change his mind; but it is very hard for a man, even in seven days, to say he has been utterly wrong. And then there is the success of these magicians to keep him astray. Yet what was there in them to give satisfaction? It seemed they could do the same thing which Moses was doing, viz. change water into blood. If only they could have changed blood into water again, then they might have been of some use and comfort to Pharaoh. - Y.