Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE ALTERNATIVE AGAIN (vers. 1, 2). Surely Pharaoh was well warned. The analogy of the third plague would have led us to expect that on this occasion - after a second and glaring breach of faith - there would have been no warning. Yet mercy waits upon him. Faithless though he had been, if even yet he will let the people go, all will be forgiven. If not - then judgments. Mark how sacredly, in all this, the freedom of Pharaoh is respected. "He was not put on the actual rack or held over a slow fire till his cruel hand relaxed, and let the Hebrew bondmen go. The appeal was loud, and each time it was repeated he and his people were shaken more severely than before; but after every demand there was a respite, a pause, an opportunity to ponder, and either yield the point or recall a past concession." (Hamilton.)
II. A MURRAIN OF CATTLE (vers. 3-7). This was the form assumed by the fifth plague. It is to be viewed,
1. As a new blow at Egyptian idolatry. The sacredness of the cow and ox are hinted at in Exodus 8:26. It may well have been that the sacred beasts themselves, the bull Apis, the calf Mnevis, and the rest, were smitten by the pestilence.
2. As a fresh illustration of the manifold resources of Jehovah. The mortality which came upon the cattle was universal in its sweep, carrying off, not only sheep and oxen, but horses, asses, and camels; destructive in its effects, the greater proportion of the cattle of each class falling victims to it; yet carefully discriminative, attacking the cattle of the Egyptians, but leaving unharmed those of the Israelites (ver. 6).
3. As a plague of increased severity. The loss sustained by the Egyptians in this mowing down of their cattle was the greatest they had yet experienced. Cattle constitute a large part of the wealth of every nation. They are of importance for food, for burden, and for the produce of the dairy. What a loss it would be to our own nation were our sheep, cows, oxen, horses, and asses, all suddenly destroyed! In the East the oxen were employed for draught, and in the operations of agriculture. Yet the plague was but the intensification of a natural calamity - one with the effects of which we are not wholly unfamiliar. It may seem "advanced to scoff at the agency of God in cattle-plague visitations, but the truer philosophy will reverently recognise the fact of such agency, and will not regard it as in the least incompatible with any secondary causes which may be shown to be involved in the production and spread of the disorder. God has this weapon equally with others at his command for chastening a disobedient people. Our wisdom, surely, is to be at peace with him.
4. As a forewarning of greater judgment. As yet the persons of the Egyptians had escaped. The plagues, however, were coming nearer and nearer them. Their cattle had been smitten, and what could the next stroke be, but an infliction upon themselves?
III. THIS PLAGUE ALSO INEFFECTUAL (ver. 7). Pharaoh sent to see if any of the cattle of the children of Israel had died. The connection seems to indicate that his hardening was partly the result of the news that they had all escaped. This, instead of softening, maddened and embittered him. Hitherto Pharaoh has been seen hardening himself in spite of the influences brought to bear on him. The fact is to be noted that the plagues here begin to produce a positively evil effect. That which ought to have softened and converted, now only enrages, and confirms in the bad resolution. - J.O.
I. THE USE WHICH GOD HERE MAKES OF THE LOWER CREATION. In the three plagues immediately preceding God made the lower creation his scourges. He took little creatures, the bare existence of which many, not perceiving the wisdom of God, think to be unnecessary; and these he increased into a vast and most vexatious multitude. The killing of a frog, a gnat, a fly, we are accustomed in our heedlessness to make nothing of; such killing is but sport to thoughtless lads. But we think very differently of such animals as are spoken of in this fifth plague; horses, oxen, asses, sheep, all animals comprehended here under the general term cattle. We should feel it hardly possible to have too many of them. This certainly was the view in ancient times in Scriptural countries, for we read of the wealth of men as being generally measured by the number of animals they possessed. Thus we are led to notice in the course of these plagues, how God, in his view of the lower creation, rises high above our view. We look at the lower animals according to their use to us, and thus classify them as helpful or hurtful; God looks at them according to their use to him, and in his hands they all become abundantly helpful to further his ends. He uses the frogs, gnats, and flies (or beetles) to inconvenience Pharaoh and his people, if thereby a change of mind may be wrought, and when this fails he takes the cattle and causes them to be destroyed in order to bring about, if possible, the same result. Thus creation serves Jehovah; whether living or dying, destroying or destroyed.
II. A MELANCHOLY ILLUSTRATION OF THE UNITY IN WHICH ALL CREATION IS BOUND. A question may be raised as to the goodness of God in thus destroying those creatures because of the wickedness of man. Why should they suffer because of Pharaoh's obduracy? The answer is that the whole creation of God is bound up in a marvellous unity, from the lowest thing that has life, right up to man himself. It is for man himself to help in settling how far the lower creation shall suffer for his sake. It is no more possible for man to do wrong and the rest of sentient creatures to escape the consequences of his wrong-doing, than it is for man to live recklessly in his own person and expect the organs and limbs of his body to escape suffering. Animals are not to be looked at in themselves, but as being created for the comfort and service of man, and especially that in his use of them it may be shown what his own notions of a right use are. Let man do right, and all living creatures within the circle of his influence share in the blessed consequences; let him do wrong, and their lives must also be disarranged.
III. OBSERVE IN THIS PLAGUE HOW FORCIBLE THE ILLUSTRATION IS OF ISRAEL'S EXEMPTION FROM THE MURRAIN. The wealth of Israel was peculiarly pastoral wealth; of the very kind, therefore, which was smitten in this plague. Hence all the more noticeable is the exemption of the Israelites and all the more impressive. If it had been a pestilence coming down upon the country generally, irrespective of territory and of special Divine control, it would have injured Israel a great deal more than Egypt.
IV. WHAT A CLEAR MANIFESTATION THERE IS IN THIS PLAGUE OF HOW REASONLESS AND INFATUATED THE OBDURACY OF PHARAOH IS BECOMING. He is inflexible, not only without reason, but against reason. Not content with dismissing the rumours that come to his ears concerning the exemption of Israel's cattle from the pestilence, he sends to certify himself of the fact, which makes his continued obduracy all the more evidently unreasonable. What excuse was there for a man who asked in the way Pharaoh asked, even after it had been made clear to him that of the cattle of the children of Israel not one had died? It is sad when a man dismisses in this way even the appearance of having reason for what he does, when he says, "I will not, because I will not, and there is an end of it." - Y.
1 Corinthians 11:32).
II. CONVICTION DOES NOT ALWAYS COMPEL OBEDIENCE. Pharaoh had already two proofs that the murrain was from the hand of God. He had foretold it, and it came at the time he said it would come. He himself seeks a third proof; he sends to Goshen, and finds that there was "not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead." Yet he does not bow under the hand of God. Conviction may co-exist with impenitence and stubborn persistence in sin, but, when it does, it is the mark of a soul given over to destruction. The devils believe and tremble. - U.
I. THE ACTION INTRODUCING THE PLAGUE (vers. 8-10). Hitherto the only actions employed had been the stretching out of Aaron's rod, and in the case of the third plague, the smiting of the dust with it. Now, Moses is instructed to take handfuls of the ashes from the furnace and sprinkle them towards heaven in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants. The performance of so solemn an act implied that a new stage was being reached in Pharaoh's hardening, as also in God's punitive dealings with him. From this point onwards matters are rapidly developed to a crisis. The act was symbolical, and may be variously interpreted.
1. As a challenge to the Egyptian Deities, specially Neit, "who bore the designation of, The Great Mother of the highest heaven" and was worshipped as the tutelary goddess of Lower Egypt" (Canon Cook).
2. As connected with the scattering of the ashes of human victims to avert evil from the land. This was done, or had been done, in the days of the Shepherds, in the worship of Sutech or Typhon. The victims were usually foreigners, perhaps often Hebrews. "After being burnt alive on a high altar, their ashes were scattered in the air by the priests, in the belief that they would avert evil from all parts whither they were blown" (Geikie). The sprinkling of ashes by Moses, and their descent, not in blessing, but in boils and blains, would thus have a terrible significance.
3. As symbolical of the laying of a curse upon the people. It is, at least in some parts of the East, a practice to take ashes and throw them into the air, in token of giving effect to an imprecation. Most probable of all, -
4. As a symbol of retribution for the ]PGBR> sufferings of Israel. The "furnace" is a common Scripture emblem for the bitter slavery of the Hebrews (Genesis 15:17; Deuteronomy 4:20; 1 Kings 8:57; Isaiah 48:10; Jeremiah 11:4). Ashes taken from the furnace and sprinkled towards heaven, whence they descended in a plague, would thus naturally symbolise the return upon Pharaoh and his servants of the cruelties with Which they had afflicted Israel. The cry of the sufferers in the furnace had entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. The evil deeds of the afflicters were now to come back upon them in retribution. It was as though the ashes of the victims sacrificed in the long tyranny were rising in vengeance against the oppressor. II. THE PECULIARITY OF THE PLAGUE IN THE SMITING OF THE PERSONS (ver. 10). The disease with which the Egyptians were smitten was painful, loathsome, and excruciatingly severe as compared with ordinary inflictions of a similar nature: Tortured in their bodies, they were "receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was " ... . meet (Romans 1:27). This experience of sore personal suffering ought surely to have arrested their folly. It showed them how absolutely helpless they were in the hands of God. The plague was universal (ver. 11). Not one could beast against another. The plague was peculiarly afflictive to a people which prided itself on its cleanliness. It smote beasts as well as men. What a terrible calamity! The whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the crown of the head there was no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores (Isaiah 1:6). Yet, instead of repenting, the people appear only to have been stung to further revolt. So it was, at least, with their king. 1. An image of the condition of the sinner. 2. A new proof of the power of God. The hand of God is to be seen in the infliction of diseases. God threatens, in Deuteronomy, to lay the evil diseases of Egypt upon the Israelites if they should prove disobedient (Deuteronomy 29:60). 3. An instance of the inefficacy of bodily sufferings to produce repentance. Cf. Revelation 16:10, 11, "They gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds." III. THE DEFEAT OF THE MAGICIANS (ver. 11). They could not now even stand before Moses. Pharaoh is being left more and more alone in his resistance. IV. PHARAOH STILL HARDENED (ver. 12). Before, one plague was the utmost he could hold out against. He yielded under the second and the fourth. Now he maintains his attitude of resistance under two plagues in succession. - J.O.
II. THE PECULIARITY OF THE PLAGUE IN THE SMITING OF THE PERSONS (ver. 10). The disease with which the Egyptians were smitten was painful, loathsome, and excruciatingly severe as compared with ordinary inflictions of a similar nature: Tortured in their bodies, they were "receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was " ... . meet (Romans 1:27). This experience of sore personal suffering ought surely to have arrested their folly. It showed them how absolutely helpless they were in the hands of God. The plague was universal (ver. 11). Not one could beast against another. The plague was peculiarly afflictive to a people which prided itself on its cleanliness. It smote beasts as well as men. What a terrible calamity! The whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the crown of the head there was no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores (Isaiah 1:6). Yet, instead of repenting, the people appear only to have been stung to further revolt. So it was, at least, with their king.
1. An image of the condition of the sinner.
2. A new proof of the power of God. The hand of God is to be seen in the infliction of diseases. God threatens, in Deuteronomy, to lay the evil diseases of Egypt upon the Israelites if they should prove disobedient (Deuteronomy 29:60).
3. An instance of the inefficacy of bodily sufferings to produce repentance. Cf. Revelation 16:10, 11, "They gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds."
III. THE DEFEAT OF THE MAGICIANS (ver. 11). They could not now even stand before Moses. Pharaoh is being left more and more alone in his resistance.
IV. PHARAOH STILL HARDENED (ver. 12). Before, one plague was the utmost he could hold out against. He yielded under the second and the fourth. Now he maintains his attitude of resistance under two plagues in succession. - J.O.
Warping on the Eastern wind, and the thick darkness. Thus, in all visible directions where man looks for blessing, God meets him with a stern intimation that he can turn the blessing into a curse. So much for the origin of this plague; now with regard to its form. - NOTE, I. THAT GOD'S PUNISHMENTS NOW ADVANCE TO TAKE UP THEIR ABODE IN THE BODIES OF PHARAOH AND HIS PEOPLE. As God can take the lower animals, which he has made for our use, and turn them at his pleasure into a blessing or a curse, so he can come nearer still, and make our bodies, which are agents of the most exquisite pleasures, into agents of pain just as exquisite. Notice that in the very mode of infliction there was a mixture of severity and mercy. Severity, because undoubtedly there would be terrible pain; mercy, because probably the pain was confined to the surface of the body; none the easier to bear, certainly; and yet easier in this, that it did not belong to an affliction of the great vital organs. Severity again, on the other hand, just because it affected the sensitive surface of the body. It is through our sensations that God has caused so much both of pleasure and information to come. Thus God, who had given so much delight to Pharaoh and his people, through making them so sensitive to the outward world, now deranges all the minute nerves and vessels, and by spreading boils and blains over the surface of the body he effectually stops all enjoyment of life. We know that it is possible for a person to be seriously ill-even fatally so, perhaps confined as a hopeless invalid for years - and yet to get considerable enjoyment out of life, as in reading and in light occupations for the mind. But what pleasure can be got when, from head to foot, the body is covered with boils and blains? As long as this sort of pain lasts, little else can be thought of than how to get rid of it. II. As in the plague of the gnats, so here in the plague of the boils and blains, OUR ATTENTION IS SPECIALLY DIRECTED TO THE MAGICIANS. On the former occasion, with or without sincerity, they had said, "This is the finger of God;" now they are in themselves, so to speak, the finger of God. They can neither avert nor dissemble their subjection to the power that works through Moses. At first, doubtless, they had looked upon him with haughtiness, audacity, and scorn, as being hardly worth a moment's attention. Very likely it was counted a great condescension to turn the rods into serpents. But now, whatever feeling be in their hearts, the hold that Jehovah has on their bodies is only too evident. Silence and outward serenity are impossible under such suffering as this. The twitchings of the face cannot be concealed, the groan cannot be suppressed, the unquailing attitude cannot be maintained. Who shall tell what individual humiliations and defeats lie behind this brief expression: "The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils." Because of the boils! It was not a very dignified sort of disaster; not very pleasant to recall in after times. These magicians, we may imagine, had scorned the very name of Jehovah, worse, mayhap, than Pharaoh himself. And now in these boils and blains there is, suppressed as it were, scorn and mockery from Jehovah in return. Opposers of God may not only have to be brought down from their wide, but in such a way as will involve them in ridicule and shame. The exposure of falsehood is only a work of time, and as we see here, it can be accomplished in a comparatively short time. Pain effectually drives away all dissembling, and nature proves too much even for the man to whom art has become second nature. - Y.
I. THAT GOD'S PUNISHMENTS NOW ADVANCE TO TAKE UP THEIR ABODE IN THE BODIES OF PHARAOH AND HIS PEOPLE. As God can take the lower animals, which he has made for our use, and turn them at his pleasure into a blessing or a curse, so he can come nearer still, and make our bodies, which are agents of the most exquisite pleasures, into agents of pain just as exquisite. Notice that in the very mode of infliction there was a mixture of severity and mercy. Severity, because undoubtedly there would be terrible pain; mercy, because probably the pain was confined to the surface of the body; none the easier to bear, certainly; and yet easier in this, that it did not belong to an affliction of the great vital organs. Severity again, on the other hand, just because it affected the sensitive surface of the body. It is through our sensations that God has caused so much both of pleasure and information to come. Thus God, who had given so much delight to Pharaoh and his people, through making them so sensitive to the outward world, now deranges all the minute nerves and vessels, and by spreading boils and blains over the surface of the body he effectually stops all enjoyment of life. We know that it is possible for a person to be seriously ill-even fatally so, perhaps confined as a hopeless invalid for years - and yet to get considerable enjoyment out of life, as in reading and in light occupations for the mind. But what pleasure can be got when, from head to foot, the body is covered with boils and blains? As long as this sort of pain lasts, little else can be thought of than how to get rid of it.
II. As in the plague of the gnats, so here in the plague of the boils and blains, OUR ATTENTION IS SPECIALLY DIRECTED TO THE MAGICIANS. On the former occasion, with or without sincerity, they had said, "This is the finger of God;" now they are in themselves, so to speak, the finger of God. They can neither avert nor dissemble their subjection to the power that works through Moses. At first, doubtless, they had looked upon him with haughtiness, audacity, and scorn, as being hardly worth a moment's attention. Very likely it was counted a great condescension to turn the rods into serpents. But now, whatever feeling be in their hearts, the hold that Jehovah has on their bodies is only too evident. Silence and outward serenity are impossible under such suffering as this. The twitchings of the face cannot be concealed, the groan cannot be suppressed, the unquailing attitude cannot be maintained. Who shall tell what individual humiliations and defeats lie behind this brief expression: "The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils." Because of the boils! It was not a very dignified sort of disaster; not very pleasant to recall in after times. These magicians, we may imagine, had scorned the very name of Jehovah, worse, mayhap, than Pharaoh himself. And now in these boils and blains there is, suppressed as it were, scorn and mockery from Jehovah in return. Opposers of God may not only have to be brought down from their wide, but in such a way as will involve them in ridicule and shame. The exposure of falsehood is only a work of time, and as we see here, it can be accomplished in a comparatively short time. Pain effectually drives away all dissembling, and nature proves too much even for the man to whom art has become second nature. - Y.
Exodus 9:8-12Exodus 9:8-12.
I. The Sixth Plague. THE MEANS USED. Ashes were taken from the brick-kiln in which the Israelites toiled, and in Pharaoh's presence sprinkled in mute appeal toward heaven. The memorials of oppression lifted up before God will fall in anguish upon the oppressors (James 5:1-5). The French Revolution and the ages of giant wrong that had gone before. American slavery and its punishment.
II. THE SUDDENNESS OF THE INFLICTION. There was no warning. The dust was cast up, and immediately the plague was upon man and beast. The judgment of wickedness will come as in a moment. Sodom. The flood.
III. THE SHAME OF THE MAGICIANS.
1. Upon them the plague seems to have been more severe than upon others. Upon the abettors of other men's tyranny and wrong, God's judgment will fall heaviest. The deep responsibility of Christian teachers and men of influence and talent. Let them see to it that they are on the side of righteousness, and not of the world's class - selfishness and manifold wrong.
2. They were brought to shame in the presence of those who trusted in them. The falsehood of their pretensions was exposed by their inability to defend themselves. When God visits for the world's sin, there will be everlasting confusion and shame for its apologists and abettors. - U.
Jonah 4.). At the same time, God's sovereignty is seen in the way in which he utilizes the wicked man whose persistence in his wickedness is foreseen by him. "God might have caused Pharaoh to be born in a cabin, where his proud obstinacy would have been displayed with no less self-will, but without any historical consequence; on the other hand, he might have placed on the throne of Egypt at that time a weak, easy-going man, who would have yielded at the first shock. What would have happened? Pharaoh in his obscure position would not have been less arrogant and perverse, but Israel would have gone forth from Egypt without eclat... God did not therefore create the indomitable pride of Pharaoh as it were to gain a point of resistance, and reflect his glory; he was content to use it for this purpose" (Godet on Romans 4:17, 18). Notice -
I. THE TERRIBLE RAISING UP (ver. 16). We are taught,
1. That God can find a use even for the wicked (Proverbs 16:4).
2. That God places wicked men in positions in which their true character is manifested, and his own power and righteousness are glorified in their judgment.
3. That this is not the primary desire of God in relation to any wicked man. He would prefer his conversion. If it be urged that the situations in which men are placed are not always those most favourable to their conversion, this may be conceded. But they are not placed in these positions arbitrarily, but under a system of administration which regards each individual, not simply as an end in himself, but as a means to a yet higher end, the carrying forward of the world purpose as a whole. God cannot deal with the individual as if there were no such thing as history, or as if that individual constituted the sum-total of humanity, or as if his salvation were the only and the all-ruling consideration in the arrangement of the world. God disposes of the evil of the world, decrees the lines and directions of its developments, the persons in whom, and the situations under which, it will be permitted to reveal and concentrate itself, but he neither creates the evil, nor delights in it, and is all the while working for its final and effectual overthrow. No situation in which God places man nessitates him to be evil.
4. That the sinner's evil, accordingly, is his own, and his ruin self-wrought. This is shown - and notably in the case of Pharaoh - by the fact that God's dealings with him are fitted to change him if he will be changed (Matthew 23:37).
II. A PLAGUE WITH APPALLING ATTENDANT CIRCUMSTANCES (verse 18:23-26). This plague, like many of its predecessors, was,
1. Severe in its character (ver. 24).
2. Destructive in its effects (ver. 25).
3. Distinguishing in its range. It spared the land of Goshen (ver. 26). But the peculiar circumstance connected with it - that which marked it as the first of a new order of plagues - was,
4. Its combination of terror with sublimity, its power to appal as well as to punish. A last attempt was to be made to break down the opposition of the monarch by displays of God's majesty and omnipotence which should shake his very heart (ver. 14). Instead of frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, and boils on man and beast, Pharaoh was now to be made to hear "voices of God" in the thunder (ver. 28, Hebrews); was to see dreadful lightnings, masses of fire, descending from the sky, and rolling in balls of fire along the ground (ver. 23); was to witness his land smitten with terrific hail "very grievous," the like of which had never been seen in Egypt "since it became a nation" (ver. 24). A thunderstorm is at all times terrible, and when very severe, inspires an awe which few natures can resist. Accompanied by preternatural terrors, its effect would be simply overwhelming. This was the intention here. The strokes of God were to go to the king's heart. They were to convince him that there was "none like Jehovah in all the earth" (ver. 14). They were to be plagues, as Calvin says, "that would not only strike the head and arms, but penetrate the very heart, and inflict a mortal wound." The thunder is introduced as being "the mightiest manifestation of the omnipotence of God, which speaks therein to men (Revelation 10:3, 4), and warns them of the terrors of judgment" (Keil). On the peculiar effect of the thunderstorm in awakening the religious nature, see a paper on "God in Nature and History," Expositor, March, 1881. To the superstitious minds of the heathen these unexampled terrors would seem of awful significance.
III. TWOFOLD EFFECTS OF WARNINGS (vers. 20, 21).
1. God's judgments, like his overtures of grace, are seldom wholly ineffectual. If the king was hardened, there were at least some in Egypt who had become alive to the gravity of the situation, "who feared the word of the Lord." Such were to be found even among the servants of Pharaoh, in the palace itself. The preaching of the Gospel, even under the most unpropitious circumstances, will seldom fail of some fruit. There were "certain men" which "clave" to Paul, "and believed" at Athens; "among the which was Dionysius, the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them" (Acts 17:34). There were "saints" - mirabile dictu - even in Nero's palace (Philippians 4:22).
2. The division of men, in their relation to the Word of God, is a very simple one. There are those who fear and regard it, and there are those who disregard and disobey it. Paul speaks of those to whom Gospel-preaching is a savour of death unto death, and of those to whom it is a savour of life unto life (2 Corinthians 2:16). Between the two classes there is no third. The effects of his own preaching are thus summed up, "And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not" (Acts 28:24).
3. Faith reveals itself in obedience. He that feared God's word brought in his cattle; he that disregarded it left them in the fields.
4. The wisdom of regarding God, and the folly of disregarding him, were made manifest by the result.
IV. PHARAOH'S CAPITULATION (vers. 27, 28). The supernatural concomitants of this appalling visitation so unnerved the king that he was induced again to send for Moses. He did not yield till the plague was actually on the land, and only then, because he could not help it. The terms in which he makes his submission show,
1. His undisguised terror.
2. His thorough conviction that he was in the hands of the God of the whole earth. Pharaoh had by this time had a course of instruction in the "evidences," which left no room for further doubt. The most striking feature in his submission, however, is,
3. His confession of sin. "I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked" (ver. 27). It was good that Pharaoh should be brought to see that it was a righteous demand he was resisting, and that he was inexcusable in resisting it. This much at least the plagues had forced him to acknowledge, and it gave his hardening a yet graver character when subsequently he retracted his word given. But the superficiality of the repentance is very obvious. "I have sinned this time;" there is here no adequate sense of the sin he had been guilty of. False repentances have their root in superficial views of sin. They may be produced by terror, under compulsion; but they are accompanied by no real change of heart; and renewed hardening is the only possible outcome of them. "As for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord God"(ver. 30).
V. JUDGMENT TEMPERED WITH MERCY. God's mercy in connection with this plague is conspicuous -
1. In giving the warning, so that those who regarded his word had the opportunity of removing their servants and cattle (vers. 20, 21).
2. In sparing the wheat and rye (vers. 31, 32).
3. In removing the plague at the request of Pharaoh, presented through Moses (vers. 28, 29).
VI. HARDENING NOTWITHSTANDING.
1. Pharaoh hardened himself (vers. 34, 35). We ask, in surprise, how was such a thing possible? Pride, hate, anger, obstinacy furnish the explanation, though it is truly difficult to conceive how they could so madden a mind as to make it capable of persevering in a course of resistance. There is the fact, however, and it is full of terrible warning to us. The hardening was obviously now of the most serious possible kind. Pharaoh's nature had been thoroughly awakened. He was no loner sinning in ignorance, but against clear light and conviction. He had confessed his sin, and promised to obey. Hardening, under these circumstances, was as nearly "sin against the Holy Ghost" as was then possible (John 9:41).
2. His servants hardened themselves (vers. 34). This is a fact which should be well pondered. It might have been thought that only a Pharaoh was capable of such fatuousness. We learn here that there were natures among his servants as susceptible of hardening as his own. We do not need to be Pharaohs to be capable of hardening our hearts against God. Persons in obscure positions can do it as readily as those on the pinnacles of greatness. The king's influence, however, had doubtless much to do with his servants' conduct. They took their cue from their lord. Had he submitted himself, they would have done so also. Because he hardened himself, they must follow suit. What folly! to destroy themselves for the sake of being like a king - of being in the fashion. Learn also the potency of example. Those in high positions have a powerful influence over those dependent upon them. Well for them if they use that influence for God's glory, and not to ruin souls! - J.O.
Psalm 24:1). The word "earth," it will be noticed, stands in a very prominent position in each of the verses 14, 15, 16. Evidently, then, we should give the word an equally prominent position in our thoughts, and connect with it the truths to be drawn out of this message. It will then be seen that Jehovah has many ways of showing that the earth is his and the fulness of it. It is all his; not Pharaoh's, not any other potentate's, not even Israel's - except as Israel is chosen by Jehovah, duly trained and prepared by him, subjected and obedient to him. We have to consider this message, then, under three heads, as suggested by the occurrence of the word "earth" in these three verses. Note, however, first, the way in which Moses approaches Pharaoh on this occasion. In Exodus 7:15, he is told to get to Pharaoh in the morning and meet him by the river's brink; thus there is a general indication of time and a particular indication of place. In Exodus 8:20, he is told to go early in the morning, as Pharaoh comes forth to the water; thus there is a more particular indication of time, Now, in Exodus 9:13, there is the same particular indication of time, but no reference to place. Thus it seems as if we got a gradation, a sign of increasing pressure and urgency upon Pharaoh. Moses has to be ready for Pharaoh at the very beginning of the day, and then, whenever and wherever he may meet with him, he can deliver his message at once. Pharaoh had the whole day to consider as to the things Which were about to happen on the morrow. And now -
I. THERE IS NO ONE LIKE JEHOVAH IN THE WHOLE EARTH, AND PHARAOH 18 TO BE MADE TO KNOW THIS. Such is the statement of ver. 14; and of course the whole gist of it lies in the bringing of Pharaoh to a clear and unmistakable knowledge of the supremacy of God over all terrestrial powers. That there is none like God in all the earth may be true, but the thing wanted is to bring that truth distinctly and practically before our minds, and if profitably for us also, then so much the better This end had to be achieved in the instance of Pharaoh by persistent attacks of Jehovah upon him, attacks ever increasing in effective force, till at last they proved irresistible. It was not enough for others to be assured by Pharaoh's doom that there was none like God in all the earth. Pharaoh must know it for himself, and confess it, not by the ambiguous channel of speech, but by a most decisive act, the committal of which he cannot avoid (Exodus 12:31-33). And that he may be brought to such a knowledge is the reason of the severe plagues that remain. We might, indeed, count it enough to be told that Jehovah had sent all his plagues. We might rest upon Jehovah's character, and say that whatever he does is right, even though there be much that at first staggers us, and that continues to perplex. But the reason for all these plagues is plainly stated, and if it be looked into 'it will be seen an ample, cheering, and encouraging reason. Though Jehovah is Sovereign of the universe, he does not treat Pharaoh in an arbitrary way; he acts, not as one who says that might makes right, but as using his might in order to secure the attainment of right. Pharaoh's way, on the contrary, is an arbitrary one, without the slightest mitigation or concealment. Everything rests simply on his will; and yet will is too dignified a word - whim would be nearer the mark. And now that proud will is to be subdued and dissolved, so far, at least, as to flow forth in the liberation of Israel, even though immediately they be liberated it hardens again to its former rigidity. The announcement Moses was now to make to Pharaoh we may fairly say would have been inappropriate at an earlier time. It becomes God, in his first approaches to men, to draw them, if perchance for their own sakes they may willingly submit; afterwards, when they will not be drawn, then for the sake of others they have to be driven. It is not until Pharaoh fully manifests his selfishness, his malignity, and the reasonless persistency of his refusal, that God indicates the approach of all his plagues. The man has been humbled in his circumstances, but his pride of heart remains as erect as ever; and so the full force of Jehovah has to be Brought upon it in order to lay it low. tic is at last to feel in himself, whatever he may say, that the true question is not "Who is Jehovah, that Pharaoh should let Israel go?" but, "Who is Pharaoh, that he should keep Israel back?" He has gotten some rudiments and beginnings of this knowledge already, even though they have made no difference in his practice. Every time he has opened his eyes. he has seen something fresh, which, however quickly he might close his eyes again, he could not unsee. And now he is on the very point of getting more knowledge, and that in a way very disagreeable to a despot. With alarming rapidity, his people are about to be impressed with the supremacy of Jehovah (Exodus 9:20; Exodus 10:7).
II. Notice the peculiar reference in ver. 15 to THE DESTRUCTION OF PHARAOH. It is spoken of as a being cut off from the earth. It seems that our English version does not give the right tense-rendering in this verse, and that the reference is not to what will happen in the future, but to what might have already happened in the past. If Pharaoh was not already a dead man, and Israel a free people, there was nothing in this delay for Pharaoh to plume himself upon. Jehovah might have smitten him with pestilence, and slain the strong, proud man on his bed, amid humiliations and pains which would have been aggravated by the vanity of the regal splendours around him. He might have made Egypt one great expanse of the dead, a land which the Israelites could have spoiled at their leisure, and then gone forth at any time most convenient to themselves. And if Jehovah did not thus slay Pharaoh and liberate Israel, it was because he had purposes of his own to accomplish by the lengthened life of the one and the intensified sufferings of the other. But apart from the question of time, what awful significance there is in the expression, "cut off from the earth!" To this separation, made most effectual, Pharaoh came at last. In considering this expression, notice first of all the suggestion of our connection with the earth. A thing cannot be cut off from the earth unless first of all it is connected with it. In respect of many things the connection may seem very slight and unimportant; but in the instance of a human being, the connection is evidently intimate and important; and, until our connection with heaven is established, not only important, but all-important. We are connected with the earth by what we get from it. The very limitations of our bodily constitution remind us of our dependence upon the earth. We are not like the birds with wings to soar away from it, nor like fishes who can breathe vital air under water; we are emphatically of the solid earth. To its kindly fruits we look for our sustenance, and out of it also comes our clothing and shelter. And then from the earth in its still larger sense, "the great globe itself," consider what comes to us in the way of occupation, instruction, interest, pleasure, opportunities of getting and giving in all sorts of ways. From all this Pharaoh was at last cut off; and from all this we also must one day be cut off. Cut off from the earth, as the tree, at the roots of which the axe has long lain. When the tree has fallen it is still near the earth, but it gets nothing from it. The question for us to ask is, whether, while the tree of our natural earthly life still stands, we are having the roots of a nobler, richer life, even a Divine one, striking down into the heavenly places? The cutting off from earth will matter little, if the vanished life is found elsewhere, more flourishing and fruitful than ever it was here.
III. Notice from ver. 16 that THE VERY PURPOSE OF PHARAOH'S EMINENCE IS TO MAKE A UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF THE POWER AND GLORY OF GOD. God did not treat Pharaoh differently from thousands of others, as far as the essence of his decling with him is concerned. All who act as Pharaoh acted will suffer as Pharaoh suffered. He was not a throned puppet, a mere machine in the hands of Divine power; if he had been, no instruction and no warning could be got from him for the guidance of voluntary beings like ourselves. But being a downright selfish, proud, malignant man, God put him in this high position that he might effectually publish both his folly and his doom, and the power and name of that great Being whom he had so pertinaciously defied. He was born a Pharaoh, put in royal prerogative and possessions by no choice of his own, but we may most truly say, by the sovereign disposal of Jehovah. Thousands have been as stubborn against chastisement as he, and have gone down to a destruction as real, even though its circumstances have not been miraculous, imposing and memorable. The difference is that Pharaoh's career was to be known; and not only known, but known as is the course of the sun and the moon, all round the earth. One such career is enough to be recorded in a way so prominent; one capital instance of human folly and weakness and Divine wisdom and power, blazing up like a beacon-fire out of the darkness of that distant past. Little did Pharaoh dream that, by his very perversity and humiliation, he was making a name for himself such as none made who went before or followed him, either in peace or in war. His memory is dragged in a perpetual procession of triumph at Jehovah's chariot-wheels. And as it is with evil men, so it is with good. As there have been many of the Pharaoh stubbornness, though only one of the Pharaoh notoriety, so there have been many meek and gentle as Moses, though only Moses has been set for the whole world to gaze upon. It is more important to have Abraham's faith than it is to have Abraham's fame; more important to have the spiritual susceptibilities, experiences and aspirations of David, than the power which could put them into immortal Psalms. A man is not to be reckoned more wicked because the story of his execrable deeds is borne on every wind. A man is not better because he is better known. A few are taken for examples and located in history, as only God in his wisdom is able to locate them. He is a God who presides not only over life, but over biography as well. - Y.
I. GOD'S PURPOSE IN DEALING WITH THE WICKED BY CHASTISEMENT AND NOT BY JUDGMENT (13-16). God might have desolated the land, and let Israel pass unquestioned through the midst of it. But in Pharaoh and his people the Lord would, by foretold, continued, deepening chastisements, reveal the terror and resistlessness of his power. He would make the heart of the oppressor quail in every age and nation, and stir up the oppressed to hope and prayer. But for this prolonged contest with Pharaoh we should have lacked much that has gone to deepen holy fear of God and trust in him.
II. HOW GOD LEADS UP THE WEAKEST FAITH INTO STRENGTH (20, 21).
1. Warning was given, and those who had merely faith enough to believe that God's word might be kept, had time to save their servants and their cattle.
2. In the after contrast between themselves and those who had despised the warning, faith would spring up into full assurance. The trust we give to God, like the seed we cast into the soil, is given back to us an hundredfold. How God answers the prayer, "Lord increase our faith." - U.
Certain inferences cannot be drawn from partial knowledge. Moreover, God's dealings with us resemble, to some extent, the dealings of a tutor with his scholars. Where intelligent appreciation is impossible through immaturity of intelligence, then action must seem arbitrary, however perfect may be the justification. Consider -
I. GOD'S DEALINGS WITH PHARAOH. We cannot, in this view, separate Pharaoh from the social conditions which shaped his life. Great king as he was, yet, in God's sight, he was but a man with great influence - a man intimately connected with other men whose training and destiny were as important as his own. [Illustration: In school - one boy specially influential. The conduct of the master towards him must be regulated by considerations as to what is due to the whole body of scholars. The master must act for the general welfare, without partiality towards any.] Had Pharaoh been the sole occupant of Egypt, he might have been treated differently. As one amongst many, the treatment he received is justified, if it can be shown to have tended to the benefit of the community of which he formed a part. [Illustration: Suppose boy in school, bigger and stronger than other scholars, exerting a bad influence, bullying. Teacher will speak to him. Knowing, however, his character, may foresee that speech will irritate, make him more obstinate. Still, speech ignored, must go on to enforce it by punishment, well knowing, all the while, that punishment will increase the obstinacy of the individual recipient. Finally, may have to expel; yet, in justice to the rest, only finally, seeing that premature expulsion would but weaken his authority.] So God
(1) spoke to Pharaoh by Moses (Exodus 5:1), then
(2) punished him again and again (Exodus 9:14), only
(3) finally expelled him; foreseeing all the while that his treatment would but harden the offender, yet persisting in it for the good of others, to strengthen and maintain his own authority (Exodus 9:16).
II. EFFECT ON PHARAOH OF GOD'S DEALINGS WITH HIM. Keeping to illustration, the effect on Pharaoh was just what might have been, and was, anticipated.
1. Effect of speech. Warnings and threats alike disregarded. The man so full of his own importance that he would not listen; would not allow the existence of a superior; only irritated; made more obstinate (cf. chapter 5.).
2. Effect of punishment. Pain inflicted proves power to inflict pain. Pain felt prompts to any action which may bring relief. Hence we find: -
(1) Verbal confession, "I have sinned"[just like boy, feeling punishment, ready to say anything which may remit the pain].
(2) A hardened heart. The disposition was not altered by the infliction. "I have sinned" only meant "I have suffered." Once-remove the suffering, and the sufferer showed himself more obdurate than ever. It would have been easy to remove Pharaoh at once; but he occupied an exemplary position, and must, for the sake of others, be treated in an exemplary manner. Expulsion came at last, but God retained him in his position so long as it was needful thereby to teach others his power (Exodus 9:16). Perfectly just to all; for even Pharaoh, though his conduct was foreseen, yet had it in his own power to alter it. Hardened like clay beneath the sun's heat, his own self-determination made him like the clay; it might have made him like the snow, in which case his obduracy would have melted. Apply. Many like Pharaoh, yet all do not act as he did under like treatment. (Cf. Jonah 3.; Daniel 4:31-3-4.) The same treatment may soften as well as harden. The heart, the self-will, the seat of the mischief - and there is a remedy for that (cf. Ezekiel 36.), but not whether we will or no (Hebrews 3:7, 8). Other ways in which hearts are hardened - Pharaoh's by active resistance, others by persistent inattention. [Illustration - the disregarded alarum.] So Israel got used to God's dealing with them; so, too often we do (cf. Romans 2:4, 5; Psalm 95:8). - G.
Exodus 9:16). The character and conduct of Pharaoh as a probationer under the moral government of the Ever Living God is worthy of special and separate consideration. That he was such a probationer should not be simply assumed, but made clearly manifest. All the great light of natural religion shone upon his path (Romans 1:19-25), like stars in heaven upon the path of every soul. Then there is the inward witness that speaks of the soul, of God, of duty, of immortality (Romans 2:14, 15). Within the confines of his empire existed a nation of no less than two millions, to whom had already been confided a part, at least, of the "oracles of God." They were the recipients of such revelations as God had already vouchsafed. Their beliefs ought not to have been unknown to him. Two missionaries, direct from God, Moses and Aaron, were his teachers. They Came with full credentials. Providential judgments, not untempered with mercy (for warning after warning came), spake with trumpet tongue. Some of his own people, convinced, probably penitent, pleaded for the right. And yet this soul went from bad to worse. We indicate the stages on the road to ruin. It is only necessary to premise that though the stages are broadly manifest enough, they, in so complicated a character, occasionally overlap, and are blended with each other.
I. UNBELIEF. Pharaoh's of the blankest kind (ver. 2). [Read correctly, "Who is Jehovah?] The man a God unto himself, as all infidels practically are. The representative of the Sun-God. Note the independent stand he takes all through this controversy, as against Jehovah. [On this see Kurtz, Hist. of Old Cov. 2:292.]
II. SUPERSTITION. So does the pendulum ever swing back from the extremes of belief or non-belief. No soul can rest in that infidelity which virtually deifies self. Hence Pharaoh played off against the representatives of Jehovah, the representatives of the polytheism of Egypt - the magicians. SO in modern times. There are the credulities of atheism. Men who will not believe in the sublime truths of revelation fall to intellectual drivelling. Notable instance, Comte's Religion of Humanity." After all, this is a witness that man cannot live without religion. [In this connection note the connection between magic and idolatry, and of that, possibly, with demons, Kurtz, 2:246-259.]
IV. CONFESSION. After the seventh (Exodus 9:27). No wonder, for God had said before this judgment, "I will at this time send all my plagues upon thy heart. Coming calamity was to be of a deeper and more searching kind. The man seems to have had an access of real and honest feeling. Sees the sin of the people as well as his own. Confesses. But the confession was not followed up.
V. PROMISE - VIOLATION. After second (Exodus 8:8-15), fourth (Exodus 8:28-32), and seventh (Exodus 9:28-35) plagues. A very common thing with sinners under Divine discipline - promises of amendment - but the sweep onward of the bias toward iniquity is like that of a mighty river, and carries the most earnest vows into the gulf of oblivion.
VI. DISPOSITION TO COMPROMISE. See Exodus 8:25-28, 10:8-11, 10:24. Such penitence as Pharaoh had was one of conditions and compromise. Israel's festival must be in the land;" then not "far away; "then only the men should go; then all might go, but the cattle must stay behind. So "We will give up sin, but only part of it. We will yield ninety-nine points, not the hundredth. We will give up what we do not care for so much, but keep What we peculiarly like. We will keep all the commandments, but not give up our money.** We will gain the credit and reputation of religion, but shun the pain and denial of it." (see on "Pharaoh," in Munro's "Sermons on Characters of the Old Testament," vol. 1. ser. 15.)
VII. INDIFFERENCE. Stolidity in matters of such high import as religion is a very dangerous condition. Pharaoh assumed after fifth and sixth visitations an attitude of hardened indifference (Exodus 9:7-12).
VIII. HARDNESS OF HEART. Except in the objective announcement made to Moses at the first, there is no statement that God hardened Pharaoh's heart till after the sixth plague (Exodus 9:12). Up to that time Pharaoh hardened his own heart, or the fact simply is stated, that his heart was hardened. In this matter man acts first sinfully, then God judicially.
IX. RESISTANCE TO APPEAL OF OTHERS. See Exodus 9:20, and Exodus 10:7.
X. RUIN. - R.
I. CONSIDER THE PLAGUE ITSELF,
1. God has his "to-morrow"(ver. 18) as well as Pharaoh (Exodus 8:10). Only when Pharaoh's "to-morrow" comes, there comes with it the evidence that he means not what he says. But when God's" to-morrow" comes there is the evidence of his perfect stability, how he settles everything beforehand, even to the very hour. "Tomorrow, about this time." A whole twenty-four hours then Pharaoh gets for consideration, although really he needs it not, and cannot be expected to profit by it. But as we see presently, it is serviceable to protect the fight-minded among his people. Perhaps the very period of consideration would make Pharaoh even to despise the prediction. He would say to himself that a hailstorm, however severe, could be lived through, and the damage from it soon made right again.
2. This plague comes from a new direction. The heavens join the earth in serving God against Pharaoh. Our minds are at once directed to the opening of the windows of heaven (Genesis 7:11), and the raining upon Sodom and Gomorrah of brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. But we see at once the great difference between these two visitations and this one. Terrible as it was, it was not destructive as they, nor was it meant to be. God never acts so that obliteration comes instead of chastisement, or chastisement instead of obliteration. He nicely graduates his agencies so as to attain the desired results. And yet, though this plague was not a Sodom experience, it was a sufficiently dreadful one. There was nothing in Egyptian annals to dwarf it. All the power which God has stored up in the atmosphere, and which, by its wide and minute diffusion, he makes such a blessing, is now concentrated so as to become correspondingly destructive. When man will not obey, God can show the rest of his creation in remarkable obedience. Man is seen becoming more and more repugnant to Divine control, while over against him other things are seen becoming more and more amenable. What an impressive reminder is thus given to us, concerning our departure from God, and the discord that departure has produced. God sent thunder, and hail, and lightning. Even a slight thunder-storm disturbs the mind, and what a profound commotion of the soul this unequalled storm must have produced. The sound of that thunder, one would think, remained in the ears of those who heard it down to their latest hour. As to the lightning, we know more of its causes than did the Egyptians; but all our science will never rob it of its wonder and terror. Franklin has taken away the mystery of it to our intellects, but God has taken care that its power over our hearts should remain. When flash after flash fills the heavens, the most vulgar and sensual of men is awed out of his sordid composure, at least, for the time.
II. CONSIDER THE REMARKABLE DISCRIMINATION OF GOD IN THIS PLAGUE,
1. The exemption of Goshen from the storm. "Where the children of Israel were, there was no hail." This exemption now comes almost as a matter of course. (For though Goshen is not mentioned as exempted from the ravages of the locusts, we may fairly conclude that it was exempted.) How clear it thus becomes to those who receive this miracle of the hail in spirit and in truth, that God has complete power over all the order of the sky, sending rain, snow, hail, as it pleases him, gathering the most dreadful of tempests over one district, and leaving another district that skirted it - perhaps even lay inside of it as an inner circle - perfectly secure. In Goshen they heard the thunder, saw the lightning, marked the fall of the bruising hail-stones, but these things touched them not. Here is the oft quoted suave marl magno of Lucretius to perfection. God having thus shown here, as elsewhere, his control of the heavens, it is a rational thing enough to supplicate changes of the weather. We are then supplicating for what is quite possible of attainment, even though it might possibly be better in such things to take humbly and trustfully what God may send.
2. But much more notable here than the exemption of Goshen, is the discriminating way in which God treats the Egyptian people. More and more have they been getting the opportunity to discover whence and wherefore these visitations have come on their land. A certain preparation was necessary to give them the power fairly and fully to appreciate the appeal of Jehovah in ver. 19. The very exemptions of Goshen already would have done much to lead them to some perception of the real state of affairs, and all along indeed each wonder had said, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." There are some who are deaf, even to thunder, and others to whom the still, small voice speaks in the clearest of tones and the plainest of words concerning all truth and duty. Notice with what wisdom God acted in taking a plague of this sort to discriminate among the Egyptians. They had the chance of sheltering themselves from its worst consequences by a timely attention to his warning. The test was effectual as to who feared the word of Jehovah. All that he wanted was that the fear should lead to belief in the prediction, and action corresponding with the belief. When it becomes needful to exempt Goshen, then assuredly it is also just to give right-minded, open-minded, and prudent Egyptians the chance, if not of exemption, at all events, of relief. They are not all Egypt who are of Egypt, as they are not all Israel who are Of Israel. Among the nominal believers there are the worst of infidels; and among the nominal infidels there may be, not, of course, the best of believers, but those whose germinant faith may grow up into the most abundant and glorious fruit-bearing. Notice how this was the experience of the Apostles; they constantly found faith and unbelief side by side (Acts 13:42-45; Acts 14:1-4; Acts 17:4, 12, 34; Acts 19:8, 9). Nowhere is this stated more impressively and antithetically than at the very close of the apostolic story; "Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not" (Acts 28:24). Men themselves are continually making preliminary and unconscious separation between the sheep and the goats.
III. CONSIDER THE FRESH CONFESSION AND PROMISE WHICH THIS PLAGUE. AT LAST EXTORTS FROM PHARAOH. This confession has a very hopeful appearance upon the surface; but then we suddenly remember how hopeless God himself is of any permanent yielding from Pharaoh, any surrender of his entire nature. Nothing is easier than to say, "I have sinned;" nothing is harder than to say it with right knowledge of what sin is, and deep contrition and humiliation, because of its all-dominating presence in the life. Pharaoh uses strong words here, and there is a great appearance of spontaneity and sincerity, but God is not deceived; and we only need to look into the words to be very quickly undeceived ourselves. Indeed, as we examine Pharaoh's utterance, we find that by a most effective contrast it shows us how to discern the elements of an adequate and acceptable confession of sin.
1. Such a confession must have reference to a permanent state of the character. Sin is not a mere outward act, so that a man may sometimes be sinning, and sometimes not sinning. "I have sinned this time." This time! There you have the mark of a mere lip acknowledgment; of one who confounds the mere selfish dangers and discomforts that grow out of sin with sin itself. The right confession therefore, is the word of one who has come to a knowledge of the deep and accursed fountain within, of those reservoirs in the thoughts and intents of the heart whence all particular actions flow. He who rightly confesses knows that it is a life that needs to be cleansed, and not a mere limb that needs to be amputated.
2. It must be absorbingly personal. It must occupy in the most imperative fashion all the individual consciousness. If there is any time when, as one may say, it is a man's duty to look on his own things, and not the things of others, it is when he is labouring to get the proper conviction of sin. He is not to lose himself in the crowd; he is to stand out before his own mind's eye - self so unsparingly revealed to self - that nothing less will do to say than, "I am the chief of sinners." For not till a man knows what it is to be the chief of sinners is he in the way of discovering what it is to be the chief of saints. "I and my people are wicked," says Pharaoh. It was a false unity; a claim of unity dictated even by pride, for he had become incapable of thinking of his people apart from himself. He calls them one in wickedness, when they were not one; for some had this possibility of goodness at least, that they feared Jehovah enough to follow his counsels (ver. 20). And later, when the mixed multitude went out with Israel (Exodus 12:38), what then became of the boast, "I and my people"?
3. It must desire the removal of sin itself; of the guilty conscience, the depraved imagination, the unbrotherly and unneighbourly feelings, the intellect darkened with ignorance and error. Above all, it will desire to have the life reconciled, filial, and serviceable towards God. What is the avoidance of physical suffering and loss, compared with the sweeping away of far more intimate elements of misery? Only when there are such desires in the heart will the word "I have sinned" operate to secure an immediate reversal of the life. Israel said "we have sinned," when they had rebelled against Jehovah because of the distasteful report of the spies. What their confession was worth is seen in the immediate sequel (Numbers 14:40 45). Balaam said to the angel in the way, "I have sinned," but for all that he did not turn back; he was only too glad to go forward and work for the wages of unrighteousness (Numbers 22:34).
4. It must be a confession to God himself, and not a mere talk to others about God being righteous. All that Pharaoh wanted was to have Moses entreat for the withdrawal of present suffering. The acknowledgment, such as it was, was to Moses and not to Jehovah. Now confessions of this sort are useless. The thing wanted is, not a supplication to possible intercessors, but to the Holy One on high, seen through and above the mediating agent. It is not enough to be brought to a knowledge of Jesus as saving from sin; indeed we may only be deluding ourselves with mere words, except as we gain that glorious part of the salvation which consists in the knowledge of him whom Jesus himself knew so well, and desired, with such earnest desire, to reveal to his disciples also. - Y.
Exodus 9:22-35Exodus 9:22-35.
I. THE TERRORS OF GOD'S MIGHT. In that awful war of elements any moment might have been his last, and Pharaoh trembled. This plague evoked from him the first confession of sin. Hitherto he had reluctantly granted the request of Moses: now he casts himself as a sinner (27, 28) on God's mercy, and entreats the prayers of God's servant for himself and his people. There is a point at which the stoutest heart will be broken, and the cry be wrung from the lips, "I have sinned." "Can thine heart endure," etc. (Ezekiel 22:14).
III. THE VALUELESSNESS OF REPENTANCE BORN ONLY OF TERROR. God might thus bow all men under him, but the conquest would be worth nothing: men's hearts would not be won. When the terror is gone, Pharaoh's confession fails (30, 34, 35), for it has no root in any true knowledge of himself. He sees the darkness of God's frown, not the vileness of his transgressions. God is met with, not in the tempest and the fire, but in the still small voice which speaks within the breast. Many pass through gates of terror to hear this; but till God's voice is heard there, speaking of sin and righteousness and judgment, there is no true return of the soul to him.
III. THE FULNESS OF GOD'S MERCY. God knows the worthlessness of the confession, yet he is entreated for Pharaoh and the Egyptians. God's pity rests where men will have none upon themselves. Though they believe not, he cannot deny himself. - U.