When Pharaoh saw there was relief, however, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.
1. As an intensification of the natural plagues of the land.
2. As a proof of the almightiness of Jehovah (see on Exodus 7:17), and of the folly of further contest with him (vers. 10, 22).
3. As a demonstration of the vanity of the idols. The Egyptian gods were utterly powerless to aid their worshippers. There was not the shadow of help to be derived from them. This was the more remarkable that several of the gods were worshipped as protectors from the very classes of plagues which were here brought upon the country. There were fly-gods, to protect against flies, deities to protect against frogs, etc. And the defeat of the idols was remarkable from this other fact, that several of the agents employed as scourges of Egypt were themselves ranked as deities. This was the case with the river, and with many of the creatures, e.g. the beetle, probably included under "flies."
4. The removal of the plagues when Pharaoh showed signs of submission, was a proof of God's mercy, and a token to the monarch of his sincerity in his dealings with him generally. Taken in connection with Pharaoh's behaviour under them, the three plagues read us valuable lessons. They teach -
I. THE SUPREMACY OF GOD in THE KINGDOM OF NATURE. All creatures, all agencies, are under his control. They come and go, march and countermarch, act in separation or combination, at his pleasure. He sent the hornets before the Israelites to drive out the Amorites from their strong castles (Exodus 22:28). He frequently punished Israel by sending armies of locusts to devour the produce of the fields (Joel 1, 2; Amos 4.). Jehovah was at the head of these armies (Joel 2:11), and so was he at the head of the armies of frogs, gnats, flies, and other noxious insects that drove the Egyptians to a state of desperation. This is a striking thought, in as full accordance with a sound philosophy and with the facts presented to us in nature, as with the teaching of Christ, who bids us see the Father's hand even in the fall of a sparrow. What account can be given, e.g., of the minatory instincts of birds, save that suggested by this thought of Jehovah's rule, regulating their motions, and guiding them in their long and perilous journeys (Jeremiah 8:7). He rules. He alone rules. "An idol is nothing"(1 Corinthians 8:4).
II. THE IMPOTENCE OF MAN IN THE HANDS OF JEHOVAH.
1. God's entire control of all things in creation gives him command of exhaustless resources for the punishment of his enemies. When the river was healed at the end of seven days, Pharaoh may have thought that his trouble had blown past - that the plagues were at an end. But lo! a new plague is brought upon him, of which he had never dreamed, a plague of "frogs," also from the river. Then in swift successive strokes came the plagues of gnats, of mixed insects, of murrain of beasts, of boils, etc., each breaking out from some new and totally unexpected quarter. If ever the Egyptians thought, Surely the arrows in the quiver of this mighty god are at length all spent, they were speedily undeceived by the breaking forth upon them of some fresh plague. The Almighty's quiver is not thus easily exhausted. There is at every stage in his chastisements an infinite reserve of power to chastise us further, and in new forms.
2. Natural agents are a frequent means by which God chastises the rebellious. It is really a truer philosophy which sees God behind all action of natural force, and all movements of the irrational creatures, than that which sees only second causes, only laws and instincts, and refuses to recognise the Supreme Orderer in their movements and combinations. There need be no scruple in acknowledging second causes, or even, in a sense, a reign of unvarying law; but the "laws" of nature are one thing, and the "course" of nature another, and this latter the Theist believes to be no more of chance than the former, while the Christian is taught to trace a Divine purpose and end in its minutest ramifications. Hail, snow, fire, and vapour; stormy wind; rain and thunder; insect and reptile life; plague and famine; disease in its myriad forms - all are weapons in the hands of God by which he can fulfil his. righteous will to punish.
3. The minutest forms of life are used by God as his sorest scourges. Thomas Scott acutely remarks that the plagues would have been easier to bear, and would not have been felt to be so humiliating, had the agents in them been lions and tigers, or other animals of the nobler sort; or perhaps foreign enemies. There would at least have been dignity in succumbing to the attacks of hordes of powerful foes. But how intolerably humiliating to be conquered by shoals of frogs or by insignificant and contemptible creatures like lice and flies! Yet Pharaoh could more easily have contended with the former classes of enemies than with these latter. One army can charge another with at least some chance of success; and protection is possible against enemies that are of a size which admits of their being shot, hunted, trapped, or kept out by walls and defences; but nothing of this kind is possible with the minuter creatures. It was impossible to erect defences against locusts; and to this hour, man is helpless against their ravages. A stray Colorado beetle may be put to death; but if that form of life were developed to but a small extent among us, it would be impossible to shield ourselves effectually from its destructive operations. Numbers of diseases have now been traced to the presence of germs in the atmosphere and in our food and drink, and it is the very minuteness of these germs - their microscopic and infinitesimal character - which makes them so deadly and so difficult to cope with. When the potato disease appeared in 1846, nothing could be done to check its spread, and little can be done yet to guard against its assaults! The fungus is of a kind which eludes our efforts to deal with it. Plague and pestilence (Plague of London, Black Death, Cholera, etc.), while depending to a very large extent on material conditions for their development, yet seem connected in their origin with similar organic germs. In this whole wide region, accordingly, God has under his control potent invisible agencies, which ordinarily his providence keeps in check, but which at any hour might be converted into most terrific scourges. He has at command a literally exhaustless array of weapons with which to assail us, if we provoke his chastisements; armies countless in numbers, invisible in form, unseen in their modes of attack, and against which no weapons can be forged likely to secure safety. As knowledge advances, means are discovered for partially protecting ourselves against this or that disorder (sanitary science, vaccination, etc.); but just as, perhaps, we are beginning to think with the Egyptians that the evil day is past, some new plague develops itself (e.g. the potato murrain) of which formerly we had no conception. We are still in God's hands and as helpless as ever. The "last days" will probably be marked by a singular intensification of natural plagues (Luke 21:25; Revelation 16:1-12).
III. THE POSSIBILITIES OF RESISTANCE TO GOD THAT LIE IN HUMAN NATURE. It might have been judged impossible that, after being convinced, as Pharaoh at an early stage in these proceedings must have been, of the reality and power of the Being with whom he was contending - that he was indeed Jehovah, the God of the whole earth - the monarch should still have persevered in his mad resistance. Twice, in the course of this chapter, he is brought to the point of acknowledging the futility of further opposition; yet, immediately on the plague being removed, he reverts to the policy of non-submission. He must have known that he had nothing to gain by it. If he was infatuated enough at first to think that the Almighty, having removed one plague, could not, or would not, send another, he must have been speedily disabused of that impression. It was no longer a question of self-interest with him, for the loss and pain caused by these successive plagues more than counterbalanced any gain he could hope to derive from the retention of the Israelites. Neither had he on his side, in opposition to this command of the Hebrews' God, the least shadow of right or reason, with which to sustain himself. Yet without one conceivable motive save that furnished by his own pride and obstinacy, and by hatred of the Being who was thus coercing him, Pharaoh continued to resist. Conquered for the moment, he returned to his defiant attitude the instant pressure was removed. And this defiant attitude he maintained, with increasing hardness of heart till the very end. Here then we see the possibility of a being finally resisting grace. It appals us to think of the possibilities of resistance to the Almighty thus tying in the constitution of our wills, but the fact is not to be ignored. It is a proof of our original greatness. It reveals to us our immortality. It shows us the possibility of a final loss of the soul. If it be thought that Gospel influences are certain to accomplish that which could not be expected by terrors and judgments, and that changes may be wrought in eternity, which cannot be wrought in time, we have to remember that an even worse hardening is possible under the dispensation of the Son and Spirit than was possible to Pharaoh, and that human nature in the future state is essentially the same as human nature now. No good reason can be shown why a will which resists all that God can do to subdue it here may not from the same motives resist all gracious influences brought to bear on it hereafter. No one, at least, looking to the possibilities of resistance manifested on earth, could guarantee that it will not do so. The tendency to a fixed state of the will in evil as in good, renders the possibility of an ultimate recovery of those who habitually resist light here extremely problematical, even on the grounds of philosophy. If we turn to Scripture, it is difficult to see what warrant we have to expect it. The dream of a future dispensation of grace, and of universal restoration, must find support somewhere else than in its statements. ]f we accept the plain teaching of Christ and the Apostles, there are those who will finally resist, and their number will not be few. The gift of will is a great, but it is also an infinitely perilous one. Even Dr. Farrar says, "I cannot tell whether some souls may not resist God for ever, and therefore may not be for ever shut out from his presence"(Mercy and Judgment, p. 485).
IV. GOD'S READINESS TO BE ENTREATED OF THE SINNER. Though Pharaoh had hardened himself so obstinately, yet, on the first signs of his relenting, mercy was shown to him (ver. 9). There was on God's part, even a hastening to be gracious. Pharaoh was taken at his word. He was trusted. No guarantees were taken from him that he would fulfil his word, save his simple promise. God might have delayed the removal of the plague till the actual order for Israel's departure from the land had been given. But the plague was removed at once, that Pharaoh might be left to his freedom, and that his heart might be won by the exhibition of the divine goodness to him. And this was done, not merely on the first, but on the second occasion of his entreaty, and after his first promise had been broken (ver. 29). So willing is God to do the sinner every justice, and to grant him every opportunity, which may result in his salvation, lie does not wait for complete conversion, but welcomes in man the first signs of a disposition to return to Him. He is as plenteous in mercy as tie is severe in judgment, if mercy is despised.
V. THE EFFECT OF CONTINUED IMPENITENCE IN PRODUCING INCREASED HARDNESS OF HEART. It is obvious from this chapter that Pharaoh was making rapid progress in hardening himself. Going back a stage or two, we can trace that progress in very marked degrees. We find him hardening himself -
1. Against a miracle which was plainly from God, but which he tried to persuade himself was only a work of magic - the conversion of the rod into a serpent.
2. Against a miracle which he knew to be from God, but against the influence of which his obstinacy enabled him to hold out - the turning of the Nile into blood.
3. Against a miracle which he not only knew to be from God, but which convinced him of the hopelessness of further resistance, and which was removed from him at his own request - the plague of frogs.
4. Against his own promise to release the Israelites.
5. Against a miracle which even his magicians failed to imitate, and declared to be the finger of God, (ver. 19) - the plague of lice. Having broken his promise, Pharaoh now felt, probably, that he must brave it out.
6. Against a miracle which showed yet more distinctly that the work was God's by the difference which was put between the Egyptians and the Israelites dwelling in Goshen - the plague of flies (vers. 22, 23). This seems to have produced a powerful impression upon the king, and he again besought the removal of the plague.
7. Against a second solemn promise, and after being expressly warned against deceitful dealing (ver. 29). As the result of all, Pharaoh was acquiring facility in hardening himself, was rapidly losing his susceptibility to truth, was becoming infatuated in his obstinacy, and was strengthening his will in the habit of resistance. Thus fatally does hardening make progress! - J.O.
When Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart.I. I observe, that when God issues out His terrible threatenings against sinners, HE IS WONT TO SUSPEND OR STAY THE FULL EXECUTION OF HIS SENTENCE, AND GIVE THEM MANY AN INTERVAL FOR REPENTANCE. A criminal shut up in the condemned cell, is said to be respited when, by a royal grant, his punishment is put off from the day appointed. This practice in the administration of human laws, may serve the purpose of illustrating the dispensations of Providence, or the dealings of God with men. The stubborn rebel is often admonished ere he meets the stern arrest of justice; and the guilty soul is often respited before the sentence is carried into execution. It seems to me, that this procedure of the great Judge in the mysterious ways of Providence is a bright display of mercy, blended even with the tokens of His displeasure. Each interval between successive warnings and judgments is a space given for repentance. But the final term of forbearance is not far distant; and with some of you it may be now the very last reprieve.
II. I observe, THAT IT PROVES A STATE OF MOST DREADFUL DEPRAVITY, WHEN MEN TAKE OCCASION, FROM THE VERY COMPASSIONS AND MERCIES OF GOD, TO HARDEN THEMSELVES IN SIN. The goodness of God is designed to lead you to repentance; but if you either do not know, or will not consider this, then the most lovely and attractive of all the Divine perfections is shamefully abused and contemned by you. But can you hope to escape? Is it possible to evade the eye of Omniscience, or resist the hand of Omnipotence? Where can you find an asylum for your souls, when the only Refuge which God has prepared, is scorned and set at nought?
III. I observe, THAT GOD PERFECTLY KNOWS ALL THE DEEDS OF WICKED MEN BEFORE THEY ARE DONE, AND ALL THEIR DESIGNS BEFORE THEY ARE CONCEIVED.
IV. Do you now ask, WHAT ARE THE SIGNS BY WHICH IT MAY BE KNOWN, THAT ANY MAN IS GIVEN UP TO HARDNESS OF HEART?
1. It is a dark sign that the heart is desperately hardened, when men sin on knowingly and deliberately. A crime is deeply aggravated, which is committed with the full consent of the will, in defiance of the clearest dictates of the understanding and the conscience.
2. It is a dark sign that the heart is desperately hardened, when men hate and shun those who faithfully warn and reprove them, and affectionately labour to reclaim them.
3. It is a dark sign that the heart is desperately hardened, when the very intervals and opportunities which mercy gives for repentance, are perverted to the purpose of adding sin to sin. Are there not some of you, who have been brought under the scourge of God's afflicting hand? Remember, it is written, "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall be suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy."
( J. Owen, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)Flowers from a Puritan's Garden.")
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
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