For the scripture said to Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you…
1. How can we reconcile it with the Divine justice and mercy that a man should be brought upon the stage of life to illustrate the powerlessness of the creature who presumes to measure himself against the will of the Creator? The truth is, that such passages of Holy Scripture state only one side of the complete truth, viz., God's sovereignty. They do not notice, as other passages, man's persistent free-will and entire responsibility. God raises up men like Pharaoh to be what he became by their own resolve and rejection of the light which might have saved them.
2. Pharaoh was not without means of shrewdly suspecting something of the true character and mission of Israel. His bearing before Moses implies this, and it may be gathered from independent considerations. The earliest religion of Egypt had belief in one supreme power, and this had only become degraded into idolatry in the course of long ages. The secret of the ancient truth was still preserved by the priestly colleges attached to the temples, and each monarch could, if he wished, be initiated into it. This was the wisdom of the Egyptians in which Moses was learned. Then in the dynasty which immediately preceded, the king had actually endeavoured to restore the worship of one God under the crude form of devotion to the sun's disc. When Moses stood before Pharaoh, he therefore touched a chord, if not of sympathy, at least of apprehension, in the conscience of his royal hearer, and the conduct of Pharaoh was of a man who wishes not only to awe an opponent, but to crush his personal misgiving. Thus it was that he was by turns obdurate and yielding, until at last he engaged in the enterprise which led to the triumph of Israel. The event, indeed, is not mentioned in the inscriptions on the monuments — no national disasters ever are, but its effects are written on the face of history, and Pharaoh's name is remembered as that of one whose destiny it was to show forth the power of Him whose will he resisted. Note: —
I. THE PATHETIC AND AWFUL SPECTACLE OF THE GROWTH OF A HUMAN BEING INTO AN ATTITUDE OF FIXED OPPOSITION TO THE ALL-HOLY AND ALMIGHTY GOD.
1. No man becomes utterly evil all at once; he is only, perhaps, half conscious of the change which is slowly but surely going on within him. There was a time, no doubt, when Pharaoh was a bright, thoughtless boy, with a kind mother, and, as he grew up, he was probably, at first, and generally, well-meaning according to his lights, and his actions might have been at any rate first shaped in part by the traditions of his family, or the necessities of his position. But these were not irresistible, and at last the work of hardening was complete, and by a well-known licence of language God is said to have done that which He permitted — to have hardened Pharaoh's heart.
2. Throughout the ages of Jewish history no name more represents emphatic hostility to the honour of God, or the discomfiture which, sooner or later, awaits that hostility, than that of Pharaoh. As the Jew passed in review the names of the enemies of his people, none seemed to loom so large. And as the Christian looks back, he, too, sees in the enemies of God's people that which the Jews saw. But with his clearer faith he knows that they are dark shadows on earth of that invisible spirit who can mould man into being his instrument. Isaiah's description of the descent of the King of Babylon into the world of the dead melts insensibly into the more awful picture of the fall of Satan. "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" And in the same way the words which Moses addressed to Pharaoh are less true of mortal man than the fallen archangel. Satan had his time of trial, he was not forced to be the Prince of Evil, he became it in the abuse of his free will. But having chosen to be the first-born of rebellion, he was not simply a disturbing force: the evil which God could not have created He might control; in the vast universe there was a function assigned to the apostle of universal revolt. "For that cause have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee," etc., a power exhibited when our Lord by His Cross spoiled principalities and powers, and destroyed him that had the power of death.
3. And Satan is only an instance of that which takes place in human experience. And the gradual growth of the spirit of resistance culminates at last, not in the triumph of the rebel, but in his being assigned an awful place in the plans of the Divine providence, in which he is to illustrate the justice of the Omnipotent.
II. SOME GOOD NATURAL QUALITIES MAY EXIST IN A MAN WHO, NEVERTHELESS, PERHAPS, DIES AS AN OPPONENT TO THE WILL OF GOD.
1. There is a bust of Pharaoh in the museum at Cairo, and as we stand before the grave, but by no means unkindly Coptic face, it is difficult to think that it represents a human being to whom these stern words were addressed in the name of the All-Merciful. And yet that this is possible is a matter of experience. A man may be respectable, and even interesting, and yet throughout his life opposed to God through some warp in the will or lack of sensitiveness in the conscience. And this is much more dreadful than when a thoroughly bad man is opposed to God. That Nero should burn the Christians in order to amuse the Roman populace and divert public attention from his own wrong-doing, seems to be quite natural, considering who Nero was. But contrast Nero with Julian. Julian was a man whom to know was to respect. It is true that he had advantages which were unknown to Nero; he knew what the Christian life was, and what it could be, and yet he devoted his great powers to uprooting Christianity and restoring Paganism. But he died, owning that the Galilean had been too strong for him. If he had been an idle, profligate sensualist, his case would have been less pathetic. Julian seems like Pharaoh to have been raised up, that the crucified and risen Redeemer might show in him His power, and His name might be declared in all the earth.
2. These examples apply on a smaller scale. Good natural qualities — industry, justice, temperance, kindliness, etc. — are consistent with a general drift of life which is opposed to God's will; they are no guarantee that a man has that tenderness and sensitiveness of conscience which will enable him to see the line of duty in difficult circumstances, which will save him from the misery of finding himself at the last among those who have fought against God. Have we not, perhaps, reason to fear lest we ourselves should be of the number of petty Pharaohs who will illustrate God's power rather than His mercy on the Day of Judgment?
III. HOW EASILY THOSE WHO ARE IN SUPERIOR AND ENGROSSING POSITIONS MAY BE FATALLY BLINDED TO THE HIGHEST AND BEST INTERESTS OF OTHERS WHO ARE DEPENDENT UPON THEM. Pharaoh, no doubt, had his head and hands full of great affairs of state — too full, he may have thought, to give much time to the complaints of a troublesome tribe of Asiatic bondsmen. He closed his eyes, ears, and heart when he ought to have kept them wide open to all the indications of God's will and human needs round him, and so he drifted on to his ruin. May not something of the same kind occur to any who are entrusted by Providence with the care of others — not only the rulers of nations and churches, but the great employers of labour, and the heads of educational institutions, and the fathers and mothers of families? An Israel may be close round them, to whose real wants they are insensible, but of which they have had ample warning, and meanwhile time is passing, and they are approaching some catastrophe: the ruin of families, societies, institutions may be due to some fatal insensibility on the part of those who direct them, some inability to enter into their moral and spiritual requirements.
IV. THERE IS HERE GREAT COMFORT FOR THOSE WHO DESIRE TO SERVE GOD IN THE CONVICTION THAT IN THE END HE WILL TRIUMPH OVER ALL HIS OPPONENTS, HOWEVER LONG THE TRIUMPH BE DELAYED. Pharaoh was sitting on his throne in all the pride of the Egyptian monarchy's brightest days when Moses dared to tell him that he was raised up to set forth the power of God. God allows much evil to exist. This is a distress and perplexity to His servants. Wait, and you will see. If God is patient, it is because He is eternal. Pharaoh for a while was borne with, remonstrated with, before the Red Sea closed upon him and his army. Still more sure of this should we Christians be who can gaze into the empty sepulchre, and who know that He who has left it holds the keys of hell and of death. Sin may still be strong, death may still be terrible, Satan still a standing menace, but these enemies will only illustrate our Redeemer's power.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.