But I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go unless a mighty hand compels him.
I. THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR APPROACHING PHARAOH. Moses was not left to approach Pharaoh in any way that might seem best to himself. God ordered who the suppliants were to be, and what the exact petition they were to present.
1. The suppliants. They are Moses and the elders of Israel. There is a due, general and dignified representation of the whole people. Moses is to go, not only as the messenger of God, but undeniably as the spokesman of his enslaved brethren. God assures him that he will win the companionship and support of the older and experienced men among them. It is not to be some hot, rebellious crowd of youths that will seek to break in upon Pharaoh. A representative body, most if not all of them well up in years, and headed by a man of fourscore, are to approach him in a dignified way, respectful to him and respectful to themselves. Those who are the advocates of a righteous cause must not spoil or dishonour it by a rash, provocative and boisterous line of conduct. Pharaoh is to be made conscious that he is dealing with those who have every right and competency to speak. If he meets them in an angry, unyielding spirit, he will be left with no chance of finding excuse for himself in the spirit in which he has been approached.
2. The petition. The petitioners are to ask for only a small part of what is really required. The request has been called by some a deceptive one. It is wonderful how quick the worldly mind is, being so full of trickery and deceit itself, to find out deceit in God. If this had been purely the request of Israel, then it would have been deceitful, but it was emphatically God's request, and it served more purposes than one. In the first place, the character of the boon desired indicated to Israel, and especially to these responsible men the elders, what God was expecting from them. He who had told Moses, in direct terms, concerning the service in "this mountain" (ver. 12), was now intimating to them, indirectly, but not less forcibly, something of the same kind. God has more ways than one of setting our duties before us. Secondly, the request was a very searching test of Pharaoh himself. It was a test with regard to the spirit and reality of his own religion. If to him religion was a real necessity, a real source of strength, then there was an appeal to whatever might be noble and generous in his heart not to shut out the Hebrews from such blessings as were to be procured in worshipping Jehovah their God, and the request searched Pharaoh's heart in many ways besides. God well knew beforehand what the result would be, and he chose such an introductory message as would most completely serve his own purposes. These threatened wonders were to start from plain reasons of necessity. We must constantly bear in mind the comprehensiveness of the Divine plans, the certainty with which God discerns beforehand the conduct of men. If we keep this truth before us we shall not be deceived by the shallow talk of would-be ethical purists concerning the deceptions found in Scripture. We must not argue from ourselves, wandering in a labyrinth of contingencies, to a God who is above them all.
II. GOD NOW SEEKS TO MAKE CLEAR TO MOSES THAT WHAT PHARAOH EMPHATICALLY REFUSES TO GRANT AT FIRST, HE WILL BE COMPELLED TO GRANT AT LAST. Thus God makes luminous another important point in the future. That future now stretches before Moses, like a road in the dark, with lamps fixed at certain intervals. Between the lamps there may be much darkness, but they are sufficient to indicate the direction of the path. God had lighted one lamp to assure Moses of a favourable reception by his own people; another to show the kind of treatment which would have to be adopted towards Pharaoh; a third to show the complete success of this treatment; and a fourth shining all the way from Sinai, to make plain that in due course Moses and his liberated brethren would arrive there. God was quickly adding one thing after another, to increase and assure the faith of his servant, and make him calm, courageous, and self-possessed in the prosecution of a momentous enterprise. Only let Moses be faithful in certain matters that are comparatively little, such as making a prompt return to Egypt, and then delivering his messages, first of all to Israel and afterwards to Pharaoh; and God will take care of all the rest. At the beginning Pharaoh will thunder forth a decided and apparently decisive "No!" - but in spite of all his present resolution, the end will see Israel hurried out of the land by a nation smitten with universal bereavement and terror. And, to make this point clearer still, God gives to Israel the marvellous assurance that Egypt will rush from the one extreme of pitiless extortion to the other of lavish generosity. God would secure to Israel much of its own again, even in the secondary matter of external possessions. The Egyptian wealth that had been gained by oppressing the people would be largely disgorged. They were not to go out as impoverished fugitives, but as bearing the rich spoils of God's own great battle. Thus does God invite his servant to bear in mind this mighty compelling force. Pharaoh is great and rich and strong, but God is about to do things in the midst of his land which will force him to confess that there is One far greater and far stronger than himself. - Y.
I am sure the king of Egypt will not let you go.I. THAT GOD IS THOROUGHLY ACQUAINTED WITH THE MORAL OBSTINACY OF MEN.
1. There are many people who act like Pharaoh in relation to the commands of God. God knows such people. Their names are vocal on His lips. He tells His servants about them. He indicates judgments in reference to them. Such people are almost beyond the reach of ministerial influence. The minister is not altogether responsible for the success of his mission. He cannot force men to be good.
2. In all the commissions of human life God recognises the free agency of the wicked. Is it not a mystery that man has the ability to oppose the will of God?
3. We may inquire into the utility of employing Christian agency where the result will be ineffectual. To leave impenitent sinners without excuse.
II. THAT GOD IS THOROUGHLY ACQUAINTED WITH THE METHOD HE WILL PURSUE IN REFERENCE TO THE MORALLY OBSTINATE.
1. God deals with the morally obstinate after the method of a consecutive plan. First, He prepares the messenger to visit and teach them; then gives him the message; then tells him how to make it known; then smites in judgments, successive, severe. Thus God does not deal with the morally obstinate according to the impulse of the moment — fitfully, incidentally, but according to a harmonious, merciful, self-consistent plan — a plan that will admit of the repentance and faith of the sinner.
2. God sometimes meets the morally obstinate with demonstrations of His power. "I will stretch out," etc.
III. THAT GOD CAN THWART THE INTENTION OF THE MORALLY OBSTINATE BY THEIR OWN WICKEDNESS, AND BY THE CONDUCT OF THEIR COMRADES (ver. 22).
(J. S. Exell, M. A.).
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