And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them."
Exodus 4:21. The present seems an appropriate place for a somewhat fuller treatment.
I. HARDENING AS PROCEEDING FROM GOD. "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." This, assuredly, is more than simple permission. God hardens the heart -
1. Through the operation of the laws of our moral constitution, These laws, of which God is the author, and through which he operates in the soul, ordain hardening as the penalty of evil conduct, of resistance to truth, and of all misimprovement and abuse of privilege.
2. Through his providence - as when God, in the execution of his judgments, places a wicked man in situations which he knows can only have a hardening effect upon him. He does this in righteousness. "God, having permitted evil to exist, must thereafter of necessity permit it also to run its whole course in the way of showing itself to be what it really is, as that which aims at the defeat of the Divine purpose, and the consequent dissolution of the universe." This involves hardening.
3. Through a direct judgment in the soul of the individual, God smiting him with a spirit of blindness and infatuation in punishment of obstinate resistance to the truth. This is the most difficult of all aspects of hardening, but it only cuts the knot, does not untie it, to put superficial meanings upon the scriptures which allege the reality of the judgment (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). It is to be viewed as connected with what may be called the internal providence of God in the workings of the human mind; his government of the mind in the wide and obscure regions of its involuntary activities. The direction taken by these activities, seeing that they do not spring from man's own will, must be as truly under the regulation of Providence, and be determined in quite as special a manner, as are the outward circumstances of our lot, or those so-called fortuities concerning which we are assured: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matthew 10:29). It is a significant fact that, as sin advances, the sinner becomes less and less a free agent, falls increasingly under the dominion of necessity. The involuntary activities of the soul gain ground upon the voluntary. The hardening may be conceived of, partly as the result of a withdrawal of light and restraining grace; partly as a giving of the sou] up to the delusions of the adversary, "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2), whose will gradually occupies the region in the moral life vacated by the human will, and asserts there a correspondingly greater power of control; and partly as the result of a direct Divine ordering of the course of thought, feeling, and imagination. Hengstenberg acutely remarks: "It appears to proceed from design, that the hardening at the beginning of the plagues is attributed, in a preponderating degree, to Pharaoh, and towards the end to God. The higher the plagues rise, so much the more does Pharaoh's hardening assume a supernatural character, so much the more obvious is it to refer it to its supernatural causality."
II. HARDENING IN ITSELF CONSIDERED. The heart is the centre of personality, the source of moral life, the seat of the will, the conscience, and the affections (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:18). The hardening of the heart may be viewed under two aspects:
1. More generally as the result of growth in sin, with consequent loss of moral and religious susceptibility; and
2. As hardening against God, the author of its moral life. We have but to put these two things together - the heart, the seat of moral life, hardening itself against the Author of its moral life - to see that such hardening is of necessity fatal, an act of moral suicide. It may elucidate the subject to remark that in every process of hardening there is something which the heart parts with, something which it resists, and something which it becomes. There is, in other words
(1) That which the heart hardens itself in, viz. some evil quality, say injustice, cruelty, lust, hate, secret enmity to God, which quality gradually becomes a fixed element in character;
(2) that which the heart hardens itself against, viz. the influences of truth, love, and righteousness, in whatever ways these are brought to bear upon it, whether in the promptings of conscience, the movements of natural sensibility, the remonstrances of parents and friends, the Word of God, the internal strivings of the Spirit; and
(3) that which the heart parts with in hardening, viz. with its original susceptibility to truth, with its sensitiveness to moral influences, with its religious feeling, with its natural generosity, etc. The result is blindness, callousness, lostness to the feeling of right, to the sense of shame, to the authority of God, to the voice of truth, even to true self-interest. All hardening is thus double-sided; hardening in hate, e.g., being at the same time hardening against love, with a loss of the capacity of love; hardening in injustice being a hardening against justice, with a loss of the capacity for moral discernment; hardening in cruelty being a hardening against kindliness, with a corresponding destruction of the benevolent sensibilities; hardening against God being at the same time hardening in self-hood, in egoism, with a loss of the capacity of faith. We hence conclude:
1. All evil hardens, and all hardening in moral evil is in principle hardening against God. The hardening may begin at the circumference of the moral nature, and involve the centre, or it may begin at the centre, and work out to the circumference. Men may be enemies to God in their mind by wicked works (Colossians 1:21), they may have "the understanding darkened," and be "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness (marg. hardness) of their hearts," and being "past feeling" may give "themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:17-19), and yet be strangers to God's revealed truth. All sin, all resistance to light, all disobedience to conscience, has this hardening effect (cf. Romans 1:19-32). But it is a will which has broken from God which is thus in various ways hardening itself, and enmity to God is latent in the process. The moment the truth of God is brought to bear on such a nature, this latent enmity is made manifest, and, as in the case of Pharaoh, further hardening is the result. Conversely,
2. Hardening against God is hardening in moral evil. The hardening may begin at the centre, in resistance to God's known will, and to the strivings of his Spirit, and thence spread through the whole moral nature. This is the deepest and fundamental hardening, and of itself gives a character to the being. A heart hardened in its interior against its Maker would be entitled to be called hard, no matter what superficial qualities of a pleasant kind remained to it, and no matter how correct the moral conduct.
3. Hardening results in a very special degree from resistance to the Word of God, to Divine revelation. This is the type of hardening which is chiefly spoken of in Scripture, and which gives rise to what it specially calls "the hard and impenitent heart" (Romans 2:5). All revelation of God, especially his revelation in Christ, has a testing power, and if resisted produces a hardness which speedily becomes obduracy. God may be resisted in his Word, his Spirit, his servants, his chastisements, and in the testimony to his existence and authority written on the soul itself. But the highest form of resistance - the worst and deadliest - is resistance to the Spirit drawing to Christ.
III. THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH COMPARED WITH HARDENING UNDER THE GOSPEL. Pharaoh stands out in Scripture as the typical instance of hardening of the heart.
1. He and Jehovah stood in direct opposition to each other.
2. God's will was made known to him in a way he could not mistake. He pretended at first to doubt, but doubt soon became impossible.
3. He resisted to the last. And the longer he resisted, his heart grew harder.
4. His resistance was his ruin. In considering the case of this monarch, however, and comparing it with our own, we have to remember -
1. That Pharaoh was a heathen king. He was naturally prejudiced in favour of the gods of Egypt. He had at first no knowledge of Jehovah. But we have had from infancy the advantage of a knowledge of the true God, of his existence, his attributes, and his demands.
2. Pharaoh had a heathen upbringing. His moral training was vastly inferior to that which most have enjoyed who hear the Gospel.
3. The influences he resisted were outward influences - strokes of judgment. The hardening produced by resistance to the inward influences of Christianity, strivings of the Spirit, etc., is necessarily of a deeper kind.
4. What was demanded of Pharaoh was the liberation of a nation of slaves - in our case it is required that we part with sins, and yield up heart and will to the Creator and Redeemer. Outward compliance would have sufficed in his case; in ours, the Compliance must be inward and spiritual. Here, again, inasmuch as the demand goes deeper, the hardening produced by resistance is of necessity deeper also. There is now possible to man the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 6:4 6).
5. The motives in the two eases are not comparable. In the one case, God revealed in judgments; in the other, in transcendent love and mercy. Conclusion: - "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Hebrews 3:7, 8, 13, 15, 4:7). Beware, in Connection with this hardening, of "the deceitfulness of sin," The heart has many ways of disguising from itself the fact that it is resisting God, and hardening itself in opposition to him. One form is procrastination. Not yet - a more convenient season. A second is compromise. We shall find attempts at this with Pharaoh. By Conceding part of what is asked-giving up some sin to which the heart is less attached - we hide from ourselves the fact that we are resisting the chief demand. Herod observed John the Baptist, and "when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly' (Mark 6:20). The forms of godliness, as in the Pharisees, may Conceal from the heart its denial of the power thereof. Conscience is quieted by church-membership, by a religious profession. There is disguised resistance in all insincere repentance. This is seen in Pharaoh's relentings. Even when the resistance becomes more avowed, there are ways of partially disguising the fact that it is indeed God we are resisting. Possibly the heart tries to wriggle out of the duty of submission by cavilling at the evidence of revelation. Or, objection is perhaps taken to something in the manner or form in which the truth has been presented; some alleged defect of taste, or infelicity of illustration, or rashness of statement, or blunder in science, or possibly a slip in grammar. Any straw will serve which admits of being clutched at. So conviction is pushed off, decision is delayed, resistance is kept up, and all the while the heart is getting harder - less sensible of the truth, more ensnared in error. It is well also to remember that even failure to profit by the word, without active resistance to it (if such a thing is possible) - simple want of care in the cherishing of good impressions, and too rash an exposure to the influences which tend to dissipate and destroy them - will result in their disappearance, and in a consequent hardening of the heart. The impressions will not readily return with the same vividness. To-day, then, and now, hear and obey the voice of God. - J.O.
1. These plagues are arranged in regular order, and gradually advance from the external to the internal, and from the mediate to the immediate hand of God. They are in number ten, which is one of the numbers denoting perfection. They are divided first into nine and one, the last one standing clearly apart from all the others in the awful shriek of woe which it draws forth from every Egyptian home. The nine are arranged in threes. In the first of each three the warning is given to Pharaoh in the morning (ver. 15; Exodus 8:20; Exodus 9:13). In the first and second of each three the plague is announced beforehand (Exodus 8:1; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 10:1); in the third not (Exodus 8:16; Exodus 9:8; Exodus 10:21). At the third the magicians of Pharaoh acknowledge the finger of God (Exodus 8:19), at the sixth they cannot stand before Moses (Exodus 9:11), and at the ninth Pharaoh refuses to see the face of Moses any more (Exodus 10:28). In the first three Aaron uses the rod, in the second three it is not mentioned, in the third three Moses uses it, though in the last of them only his hand is mentioned. All these marks of order lie on the face of the narrative, and point to a deeper order of nature and reason out of which they spring.
The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.I. THAT THE WORST OF MEN WILL ONE DAY HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THE REALITY OF THE DIVINE EXISTENCE. "And the Egyptians shall know," etc.
1. Men of bad moral character shall know this.
2. Men of sceptical dispositions shall know this.
II. THAT THEY WILL BE BROUGHT TO A RECOGNITION OF THE DIVINE EXISTENCE BY SEVERE JUDGMENTS.
1. Some men will listen to the voice of reason. The Egyptians would not.
2. Such will learn the existence of God by judgment.
III. THAT THE EXISTENCE OF GOD IS A GUARANTEE FOR THE SAFETY OF THE GOOD. "And bring out," etc., from moral and temporal bondage into Canaan, of peace and quiet.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
2. The plagues were characterized by increasing severity, a method of procedure to which we see an analogy in the warnings which the providential government of the world often puts before the sinner.
3. These plagues were of a miraculous character. As such the historian obviously intends us to regard them, and they are elsewhere spoken of as the "wonders" which God wrought in the land of Ham (Psalm 105:27), as His miracles in Egypt (Psalm 106:7), and as His signs and prodigies which He sent into the midst of Egypt (Psalm 135:9). It is only under this aspect that we can accept the narrative as historical.
4. That the immediate design of these inflictions was the delivering of the Israelites from their cruel bondage lies on the surface of the narrative, but with this other ends were contemplated. The manifestation of God's own glory was here, as in all His works, the highest object in view, and this required that the powers of Egyptian idolatry, with which the interest of Satan was at that time peculiarly identified, should be brought into the conflict and manifestly confounded. For this reason it was that nearly every miracle performed by Moses had relation to some object of idolatrous worship among the Egyptians (see Exodus 12:12). For this reason, also, it was that the first wonders wrought had such distinct reference to the exploits of the magicians, who were the wonder-workers connected with that gigantic system of idolatry, and the main instruments of its support and credit in the world. They were thus naturally drawn, as well as Pharaoh, into the contest, and became, along with him, the visible heads and representatives of the "spiritual wickedness" of Egypt. And since they refused to own the supremacy and accede to the demands of Jehovah, or witnessing that first, and as it may be called harmless, triumph of His power over theirs — since they resolved, as the adversaries of God's and the instruments of Satan's interest in the world, to prolong the contest, there remained no alternative but to visit the land with a series of judgments, such as might clearly prove the utter impotence of its fancied deities to protect their votaries from the might and vengeance of the living God.
(A. Nevin, D. D.)
I. THEY WERE PLAGUED BY ALL KIND OF CREATURES.
1. By all the elements; as water, earth, air and fire.
2. By sundry animals; as frogs, lice, caterpillars, flies, and locusts.
3. By men; as Moses and Aaron were instruments in God's hand.
4. By the angels who ministered those plagues, both the evil angels (Psalm 78:44), whom He sent among them, and the good that were employed in destroying their firstborn (Exodus 12:3, etc.), yea, by the very stars, who all combined against them — with the sun and moon — in suspending their light from that land — during the three days darkness — as all ashamed to look upon such sinful inhabitants thereof, etc.
II. THEY WERE PLAGUED IN ALL THINGS WHEREIN THEY MOST DELIGHTED.
1. In all manner of their luscious and delicious fruit, by its being universally blasted or devoured, etc.
2. In their goodliest cattle — some of which they worshipped — all destroyed by murrain, etc.
3. In their River Nilus, which they adored, and for which end, it is supposed, Pharaoh was going down to pay his homage to that idol, when God bade Moses go meet him in the morning (ver. 15). This is intimated in Ezekiel 29:3, 9, where they are twitted twice for idolizing it, but God made it loathsome to them (ver. 18).
4. In the fish, which was their daily and delicate diet (Numbers 11:5), for the flesh of many beasts they, out of superstition, would not eat of, as abominable (Exodus 8:26). All the fish died when their water was turned into blood (ver. 21).
5. In their bodies, wherein they greatly prided themselves, but the boils God smote them which spoiled all their beauties in their wellbuilt bodies.
III. THEY WERE PLAGUED IN ALL THEIR SENSES.
1. In their seeing; for they lost all sight when the plague of darkness took away their light for three days, unless it were horrible sights mentioned in Apocrypha (Wisdom 17:6, 7). However, their comfort of seeing they lost.
2. In their hearing. Oh, what a consternation! Dread and terror seized upon them when God uttered His terrible voice in those frightful thunders in the plague of hail, when fire ran along upon the ground, yet did not melt the hailstones (Exodus 9:23). This must be supernatural, and therefore the more dreadful, which might make them think that God was come to rain hell-fire out of heaven upon them as He had done, before this, upon wicked Sodom (Genesis 19.). How did this voice of the Lord break the cedars, etc. (Psalm 29:5, 6, etc.), yea, every tree of the field (Exodus 9:25).
3. In their smelling, both by the stench of the frogs (Exodus 8:14), which might mind them of their sin that made them stink before God, and likewise by the stinking rotten matter that ran out of those ulcers wherewith they were smitten (Exodus 9:9-11). As they had oppressed God's people with furnace work in making brick, so the ashes of that furnace became burning boils that break forth into putrid running sores, etc.
4. In their tasting, both by the waters turned into blood, because in them they had shed the blood of the male Hebrew children. These bloody men had blood to drink, for they were worthy (Revelation 16:6). Their River Nilus they used to boast of to the Grecians, saying, in mockery to them, "If God should forget to rain, they might chance to perish for it." The rain, they thought, was of God, but not their river (Ezekiel 29:3, 9), therefore, to confute them in their confidence, as God threatens to dry it up (Isaiah 19:5, 6), so here to bereave them of all the comfortable use of it; they now loathed to drink of it (vers. 18-20). God cursed their blessings (Malachi 2:2), and also by their thirst thereby procured. Drinking such bloody water did rather torture their taste than please their palate, or quench their thirst.
5. In their touching or feeling, by their dolorous shooting pangs in their body, when the sin of their souls broke forth into sores of their bodies, which pained them so, that, as they could not now sleep in a whole skin, so they gnawed their own tongues for pain. This was superadded to the bitings of flies, wasps, flying-serpents, etc., whereby some might be stung to death (Psalm 78:45), and the magicians themselves, who had so insolently imitated Moses, the devil being God's ape, were branded with those boils to detect their contumacy. Besides, also, the frogs ravaging upon their bodies so irresistibly, etc., must needs be very offensive to their sense of touching.
IV. Lastly, as if all this had been too little to fill up the measure of their plagues and punishments, Pharaoh and all his forces, that hitherto had escaped, were all drawn blindfold into the noose, by fair way, weather, etc., and then were drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:8, 9, 21, 24, 28).
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