But the king of Egypt said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people away from their work? Get back to your work!"
I. OF THE VIEW WHICH A WORLDLY MAN TAXES OF RELIGION. "Ye are idle" (ver. 8). This way of putting the matter was partly a pretext - a tyrant's excuse for adding to burdens already sufficiently heavy; but it had so far a ground in Pharaoh's real way of viewing things, that he doubtless regarded the desire to go and sacrifice as an idle, foolish notion, one which would not have come into the people's heads had they been worked hard enough, and which it was his interest to drive out again as soon as possible. Observe in this -
1. A total incapacity to understand the origin of religious aspirations. Pharaoh had no better account to give of them than that they sprang from idleness. They were the fruit of a roving, unsettled disposition. The cure for them was harder work. This is precisely how the world looks on religion. It is the unpractical dream of people whose working faculties are not in sufficiently vigorous exercise. Of a true thirsting of the soul for God the world has not the slightest comprehension.
2. A total want of sympathy with these aspirations. Indulgence in them would be idling - a foolish and profitless waste of time. It is not idling to watch the markets, to speculate on stock, to read novels, to attend the Derby, to run to theatres, to spend evenings in the ball-room, to hunt, fish, shoot, or travel on the Continent, to waste hours in society gossip; but it would be idling to pray, or worship God, or engage in Christian work, or attend to the interests of the soul. To snatch an hour from business to attend a prayer-meeting would be reckoned egregious folly, and as little are the hours at one's disposal when business is over to be spent in such "foolishness." Even the Sabbath, so far as it cannot be utilised for pleasure, is deemed a day "wasted " - a weariness (Amos 8:6; Malachi 2:13).
3. A total disregard of the rights of others in connection with these aspirations. Thoroughgoing men of the world neither take pains to conceal their own contempt for religion ("vain words," ver. 9), nor trouble themselves with any scruples as to the rights of others. They will, without hesitation, take from the religiously-disposed their opportunities of serving God, if these stand in the way of their own interests. Gladly, had they the power, would they turn the Sabbath into a work-day for the many that it might become (as on the Continent) a play-day for the few. Their own domestics and workpeople are over-driven, and unscrupulously deprived of Sabbath and sanctuary privileges. Where even the plea of humanity is disregarded, the plea of religion is not likely to be allowed much weight.
II. OF THE ALARMS FELT BY A TYRANT AT THE UPRISING OF FREE ASPIRATIONS IN THE SUBJECTS OF HIS TYRANNY. Pharaoh shrewdly foresaw the consequences of a further spread of these new-fangled ideas among the people. The request to go and sacrifice would not be long in being followed by a demand for freedom. Despotism and the spirit of liberty cannot coalesce. The tyrant knows that his power is put in peril the moment people begin to think for themselves - to cherish dreams of freedom - to be moved by religious enthusiasms. His rule can only be maintained at the cost of the extinction in his subjects of the last vestige of mental and spiritual independence. If a spiritual movement like this which sprang up in Israel begins to show itself, it must be stamped out at once, and at whatever cost of suffering and bloodshed. Whatever tends to produce such movements is looked on with hostility. This applies to all kinds of despotisms - civil, ecclesiastical, industrial, social. Hence, under despotic governments, the gagging of the press, suppression of free institutions, restriction of liberty of speech, ostracism of men of public spirit, and opposition to progress and to liberal ideas generally. Hence the antagonism of the Roman Church to learning and science, with the baleful effects which have followed from that antagonism in countries where her influence is supreme (see Laveleye on 'Protestantism and Catholicism in their Bearings upon the Liberty and Prosperity of Nations'; and histories of the Reformation in Spain and Italy). "It has been wittily said, that in Madrid, provided you avoid saying anything concerning government, or religion, or politics, or morals, or statesmen, or bodies of reputation, or the opera, or any other public amusement, or any one who is engaged in any business, you may print what you please, under correction of two or three censors' (McCrie). Hence the antipathy of the slave-drivers of industry - those who grind the faces of the poor, making their profit out of their poverty and helplessness - to the diffusion of intelligence among the masses. Hence, in slave-holding countries, the laws against teaching slaves to read, etc. The-slave-holder cannot afford to encourage the spread of intelligence, of anything which will enable his slave to realise his manhood. But tyranny of this kind is self-condemned.
1. As unnatural. It requires the extinction and suppression of everything noble and good in human nature. It sets itself in opposition to intelligence, freedom, progress, religion, and all holy and spiritual aspirations.
2. As inhuman. In consolidating its dominion, it stoops to perpetrate the grossest cruelties. Think of the work of the Inquisition! Think of the blood that has been shed on the shrine of civil liberty! Think of the George Harrises of slavery! "What business had his slave to be marching round the country, inventing machines, and holding up his head among gentlemen? He'd soon put a stop to it. He'd take him back, and put him to hoeing and digging, and see if he'd step about so smart?" ('Uncle Tom's Cabin.') See also,
3. Its weakness. Tyranny of this kind cannot endure. Under the influence of ideas from without, a mental and moral awakening is certain to come some day, and the tyrant's power is doomed.
III. OF THE PITILESS CRUELTY OF WHICH MEN GET TO BE CAPABLE IN THE PURSUIT OF INIQUITOUS ENDS: vers. 6-9. Pharaoh was determined to keep the Hebrews in slavery; and so, to suppress this new spirit of discontent which had broken out among them, he must heat their furnace sevenfold, and heap cruelty on cruelty. He may have urged the plea of state necessity, and justified himself by the reflection that less severe measures would not have served his purpose - that he was driven to cruelty by the logic of events. A vain plea in any case, and one which only a heart rendered callous by a long course of inhumanity could have brought itself to entertain. Yet Pharaoh was thus far right, that, once a career of iniquity has been entered upon, events take the matter out of the sinner's hands, and leave him no alternative but either to abandon his evil courses, or be driven on from one cruelty to a worse. And, contemporaneously with the movement of events, there is going on a hardening of the heart, which makes the cruelty possible. It is wonderful what pitiless deeds men get to be capable of, who have others in their power, and who acknowledge no higher law than their own interests. We have only to recall the iniquities of the slave-trade, connived at by many of our most respectable merchants; the inhumanities attendant on the employment of women and young children in mines and factories, as brought to light by Parliamentary Commissions; the former semi-brutal condition of agricultural labourers; the underpaying of needle-women; the horrors of the "sweating system;" the instances of cruelty and rapacity exhibited in the emigration trade, which are described as "among the most atrocious that have ever disgraced human nature" (Chambers's 'Encyc.'); the reckless disregard of the lives of sailors in their being sent to sea in heavily laden and untrustworthy ships (Plimsoll) - to see how far, even in a civilised country, the thirst of gain will carry men, under circumstances where they can count upon impunity, and evade the censure of public opinion. A Pharaoh could hardly do worse. "Small manufacturers, working with insufficient capital, and in times of depression not having the wherewith to meet their engagements, are often obliged to become dependants on the wholesale houses with which they deal; and are then cruelly taken advantage of ... He (the manufacturer) is obliged to work at the wholesaler's terms, and ruin almost certainly follows ... As was said to us by one of the larger silk-hosiers, who had watched the destruction of many of his smaller brethren - 'They may be spared for a while as a cat spares a mouse; but they are sure to be eaten up in the end ... "We read that in Hindostan, the ryots, when crops fall short, borrow from the Jews to buy seed, and once in their clutches are doomed. It seems that our commercial world can furnish parallels" (H. Spencer). Learn:
1. To avoid the beginning of a course of injustice.
2. To guard against the hardening of the heart by cruelty.
3. To have an open ear to the cry of the oppressed, and a readiness to support every righteous measure for their protection and relief.
4. See in Pharaoh's tyranny an image of the pitiless tyranny of Satan. He, too, is absolutely merciless in the power he obtains over us. His service is one which grows increasingly more rigorous. He, too, would have us make bricks without straw, driving us on by our lusts and passions in pursuit of ends impossible (in his service) of attainment. More acute than Pharaoh, be gets the sinner himself to believe that it is "idle" to sacrifice to God, and by this means lures him to his service, where he soon binds him in chains more terrible and galling than any which earthly tyrant ever put upon his slaves. - J.O.
I. Now, dark as this picture is, I do not hesitate to say that it is FAITHFULLY REPRODUCED AT THE PRESENT TIME. You may see the same thing any day in this metropolis. The bondsmen, whose lives are now made bitter with hard bondage, are the artizans who make the garments you now have on; the men, the women, the children, who minister to your fashions and your luxuries; the shopmen and shopwomen who wait on your convenience, the industrial classes in general, by whose toil this country is rich and luxurious, who are forced to spend the marrow of their strength, and make their lives short and bitter, in providing superfluities for others. The Pharaoh at whose bidding all this is done is the spirit of commerce, that lust of filthy lucre, that morbid and unbridled zeal of competition, which reigns supreme over so large a portion of the world of business.
Get you unto your burdens.
1. In respect to their motives.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
I. LET US CONSIDER WHAT IT IS THAT GOD REQUIRES. In the case of Israel we see that He requires what I may sum up in three particulars.
1. He requires that they should acknowledge Him publicly as their God; that is the first principle. "Let My people go, that they may hold," etc.
2. He requires of Israel that there should be a marked acceptance of His way of reconciliation. "Let us go and sacrifice unto the Lord our God." From the very first when man sinned, there was God's revealed way by which the sinner must come near to Him; and, therefore, the feast that was to be held unto Jehovah, was a feast that was to be founded upon sacrifice.
3. God requires that everything else should give way and yield to the discharge of these required duties. They were to go at once to Pharaoh, and ask his permission to go and obey God's commands, and to sacrifice unto Him as their Lord. They were not to be withheld from doing this by their knowledge of Pharaoh's tyrannical disposition. They were not to be withheld by the remembrance of their worldly duties, or of the hardships and the toils connected with these duties. Now is there anything peculiar to Israel and to God's requirements of Israel in all this? Do we not see, underlying this narrative, a principle which is universally applicable to all those to whom God's message comes? What doth the Lord require of us, to whom the word of this salvation is sent? Does He not demand of us acknowledgment, acceptance of His salvation, and immediate decision?
II. But now WHAT DOES MAN THINK OF THE REQUIREMENTS OF GOD? Let us answer this question by referring to the case of Pharaoh. Pharaoh said, "Ye be idle; therefore ye say, let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord. Therefore now go and work." And then again, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." And again, "Let more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein, and let them not regard vain words." What is the meaning of this language? May I not render it truly, but simply, when I say that in Pharaoh's mind there was an opinion that there was no need of so much religion? "Let them go and work"; there was no need of going to sacrifice to the Lord their God. And then when he heard God's threatenings to those who neglected His commands, how did Pharaoh feel then? He maintains that there is no danger in neglecting the supposed commands of God in this matter. He thinks them vain words, all about God's threatenings to those who do not acknowledge Him, and who do not accept His terms of reconciliation. "All these are vain words, pay no attention to them, go and work." That was Pharaoh's way of thinking. And then, further, he thought that there was no sincerity in those who professed to want to worship God. "Ye are idle; therefore ye cry, Let us go and sacrifice. You do not mean to go and sacrifice; you do not want to go and sacrifice; it is your idleness, your hypocrisy." So that you will observe Pharaoh thought thus of God's requirements; first, that there was no need of them; secondly, that there was no danger in neglecting them; and thirdly, that those who professed did not intend to worship, they did not mean what they said. Now is Pharaoh at all singular in the ideas which are thus attributed to him? Is it not still the case that an unconverted man acts in the same way as Pharaoh acted? And then when Pharaoh is reminded of the awful language in which God speaks to those who neglect His requirements, and His judgments against those who know not the Lord, and who obey not the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, what does Pharaoh, and what do unconverted men now say, but that in their opinion all these are vain words? Pharaoh thought they were vain words; and so do men now.
(W. Cadman, M. A.)
II. Let us therefore inquire WHETHER ANY REMEDY CAN BE APPLIED TO THESE GREAT AND SORE EVILS? Can we individually or collectively do anything towards delivering our brethren from these oppressions and wrongs? Now, it appears to me that there is but one perfect and thorough remedy, and that is the dethronement of the Pharaoh who tyrannizes so cruelly over his subjects; I mean the overthrow of that vicious commercial spirit which has enslaved the great mass of the public. If this were done, if every one traded in a fair and legitimate manner, if every one dealt by others as he would wish to be dealt by himself, if no one entered into the arena of dishonest and ruinous competition, if every employer were as determined to give fair wages to his workpeople, as to secure a fair profit to himself; if these principles were universal, then oppressions would cease in our midst, and our courts and alleys would be the abodes of happiness. But this is not to be yet. The evil and the good will be mingled together until the harvest, which is the end of the world. We can only hope at present for improvements and palliatives. Now —
1. With respect to shopkeepers, much evil might be remedied if all the members of each several trade would meet together and bind themselves by a mutual covenant not to keep their shops open beyond a certain reasonable hour.
2. To shop-assistants and operatives, I would suggest that the members of each trade or establishment might with great ]propriety express their opinions on the subject in a manly and temperate spirit to their employers.
3. And now to the large class of persons who are ordinary purchasers — the public in general — I would say, it is in supplying your wants or conveniences, that all this competition, and oppression, and cruelty is engendered. Much good might be effected by a determination on the part of purchasers never to buy after a certain reasonable hour.
III. THE RESTRICTING OF THE HOURS OF LABOUR. WITHIN JUST AND REASONABLE LIMITS WOULD BE THE CAUSE OF IMMENSE BENEFIT NOT ONLY TO THE LABOURING MAN, BUT TO ALL CLASSES. I believe that the employers would be gainers even in a money point of view by the improvements now advocated. The men would work with more spirit and energy, because they would feel that they were men, because they would be in a much higher physical condition than when they were overtasked; they would labour with more cheerfulness and good will; the work would be done more skilfully, because with more sustained attention. There would be less drunkenness amongst the men, because in the intervals of labour they would feel less exhausted and have less craving for stimulus. Then, again, the public would be gainers. They would be better served; articles of commerce would not be cheaper possibly, but they would be better in quality, and therefore really cheaper in the end. Moreover, the country would be a gainer, by having a strong, energetic, and numerous race of labouring men, in the stead of thy present pale, jaded, and dyspeptic race. Lastly, the Church of Christ would gain many members. There is scarcely any greater hindrance to the progress of religion amongst our industrial classes than this Egyptian system of overtasking the strength. How can that man give due attention to his religious duties on Sunday who is exhausted and prostrate by a week of excessive toil?
(J. Tagg, M. A.)
Scientific Illustrations.The llama, or guanaco (Auchenia llama), is found among the recesses of the Andes. In the silver mines his utility is very great, as he frequently carries the metal from the mines in places where the declivities are so steep that neither asses nor mules can keep their footing. The burden carried by this useful animal, the camel of the New World, should not exceed from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five pounds. If the load be too heavy he lies down, and no force or persuasion will induce him to resume his journey until the excess be removed. Thus he teaches us the uuwisdom of endeavouring to exact too much from those who are willing to serve us well.
S. S. Times.That complaint has been made by a good many interested employers since the days of Pharaoh. "How these evangelists do hinder trade"! "What a clog on business this revival is!" "How much money these missionary causes do divert from the shopkeepers!" "This Sunday-go-to-meeting notion takes the profits off of the menagerie; or of the agricultural fair!" "These thanksgivings and fast-days interfere wretchedly with steady work!" "Why can't things go on regular, week in and week out, without any bother about religion?" This is the way the Pharaoh class looks at attention to God's service. But is it the right way?
(S. S. Times.)
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