Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me and said: I have surely attended to you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.
I. THE MESSAGE TO THE ELDERS OF ISRAEL (vers. 16-18). Moses was to go first to the elders of the people. First - before he went to Pharaoh; and first - before communicating with any of the people. This arrangement was -
1. Necessary. The people's consent must be obtained to their own deliverance. God would have them co-operate with him -
(2) Intelligently; would carry them with him as free agents in all he did.
This applies to the higher Redemption. Men cannot be saved without their own consent. We must, in the sense of Philippians 2:12, work out our own salvation - must co-operate with God, by freely adopting and falling in with his method of grace. There must be free choice of Christ as our Saviour, free compliance with the directions of the Gospel, free co-operation with the Spirit in the work of our sanctification.
2. Wise. The elders were the representatives of the people. They had a claim to be approached first. They were men of experience, and were better able to judge deliberately of the proposals laid before them. They had exceptional facilities for diffusing information, while communication with them would have the additional advantage of greater privacy. If Moses could satisfy the elders of his Divine commission, and could gain their intelligent consent to his proposals, the consent of the people would readily be forthcoming. So Paul, in going up to Jerusalem, communicated the Gospel he had received "privately to them which were of reputation," - to "James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars" (Galatians 2:2-9). And it was not till Jesus had been decisively rejected by the authorities in Jerusalem that he commenced a popular ministry in Galilee. Learn lessons -
(1) Of the respect due to constituted authorities.
(2) Of the value of representative institutions.
(3) Of the need of prudence and caution in the initiation and conduct of public movements.
3. Kindly. No time was to be lost in carrying to the Israelites the tidings of approaching deliverance. The message brought to them was a true gospel. Mark its nature. It told how God had seen their affliction, and had visited them, and would redeem them from bondage. This gives no sanction to Ewald's theory, that the Exodus had its origin in a powerful movement in the nation itself - "the most extraordinary exertions, and most noble activities of the spirit wrestling for freedom." The narrative says nothing of this mighty spiritual movement, but represents the people as lying hopeless and helpless till God visited them; their help did not come from themselves, but from God. The two views well illustrate the two ways of conceiving the possibility of man's deliverance from the woes that oppress him. The one - the humanitarian - trusts to recuperative powers inherent in the race, to its own "extraordinary exertions" and noble spiritual activities - and predicts for it a glorious future wrought out by its own efforts. The other - the Christian - has no such hope. It views the race as lying in a state of moral and spiritual helplessness, and recognises the necessity of a salvation coming to it from without. "We look," says Neander, "upon Christianity, not as a power that has sprung up out of the hidden depths of man's nature, but as one which descended from above, when heaven opened itself anew to man's long-alienated race; a power which, as both in its origin and essence it is exalted above all that human nature can create out of its own resources, was designed to impart to that nature a new life, and to change it in its inmost principles."
II. THE MESSAGE TO PHARAOH (ver. 18). Moses, with the elders, was to go to Pharaoh, and demand of him that the Hebrews be allowed to take a three days' journey into the wilderness, there to sacrifice to Jehovah. Note on this request -
1. Its honesty. The ultimate design was to lead Israel out of Egypt altogether. If this first request was studiously made moderate, it was not with the intention of deceiving Pharaoh, but that it might be the easier for him to grant it. The demand was made in perfectly good faith. What was asked sufficed to test the king's disposition. Had Pharaoh yielded, no advantage would have been taken of his compliance to effect a dishonourable escape from Egypt. New announcements would doubtless have been made to him, rewarding him as amply for obedience to this first word of God as afterwards he was punished for disobedience to it, and informing him further of the Divine intentions.
2. Its incompleteness. For this demand bore on the face of it that it was not the whole. It told Pharaoh his immediate duty, but beyond that left matters in a position requiring further revelation. Whatever was to follow the three days' journey, it was certain that "the God of the Hebrews," who had met with them, would never consent to his worshippers being sent back again to bondage. That Pharaoh must plainly enough have perceived, and Moses made no attempt to dissemble it. Learn -
(1) God's counsels are revealed to men bit by bit.
(2) When present duty is revealed to us, we ought to act on that, though ignorant of all that is to follow.
(3) God partially hides his counsels from men, that the spirit of obedience may be tested.
(4) The gravest consequences may hang on first acts of obedience or disobedience.
III. PHARAOH'S REJECTION OF GOD'S MESSAGE (vers. 18-22.)
1. It was foreseen by God (ver. 19). Yet -
2. It did not hinder the execution of God's purpose (ver. 20). Whether Pharaoh willed or not, the Exodus would take place. If not with his consent, then against it, and "by a mighty hand." Pharaoh's disobedience would be overruled
(1) To God's glory. The clay cannot escape from the hand of the potter (Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:21). If Pharaoh will not be made a vessel unto honour, he will be moulded into a vessel unto dishonour, and made to subserve God's purpose in another way (Exodus 9:16).
(2) To his own hurt (ver. 20). His disobedience would bring on him wrath and destruction. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!" (Isaiah 45:9).
(3) To the enrichment of the people (vers. 21-22). The Egyptians would be glad in the end to give the Hebrews whatever they wished. So would they "spoil the Egyptians." Believers' trials tend to their ultimate enrichment (2 Corinthians 4:18). And it is the saints of God who shall yet inherit the earth. Learn also that whatever is valuable in the world's learning, science, literature, or art, is not to be despised, but to be freely appropriated by the Church, and used in God's service. - J.O.
Gather the elders.I. THIS WOULD BE THE MOST EFFECTIVE METHOD OF ENLIGHTENING THE MIND OF THE NATION IN REFERENCE TO THE DIVINE INTENTION.
1. This afforded Moses a good opportunity for personal explanations.
2. It was a good precaution against the ignorance and fanaticism of the common people. The more agencies a man can bring into his life-work the better.
II. IT WOULD BE THE MOST EFFECTIVE METHOD OF GAINING THE SYMPATHY OF THE NATION. All great workers should be judicious in their movement.
III. IT WOULD THUS BE THE MOST EFFECTIVE METHOD OF WORKING OUT THE DIVINE PROJECT IN REFERENCE TO THE NATION.
1. How considerate of the Divine Being to give Moses this idea of working! Many men will not listen to the Divine instructions. This is the occasion of the great failure of so much religious energy.
2. How numerous are the agencies put in motion for the performance of Divine projects. God is the source of all commissions for the moral good of man.
3. All great workers may find a pattern here. Not to trust their new and Divine enterprises to the tide of popular opinion — storms may gather — may be wrecked. Launch them first on the more tranquil waters of the few — afterwards they will be more likely to weather the national gale.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
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