Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "Go, sacrifice to your God within this land."
I. PHARAOH FINDS AS BEFORE THAT THERE IS NO ESCAPING FROM THE HANDS OF GOD. He is met at the brink of the river, and confronted with the old alternative - "Let my people go else," etc. (vers, 20, 21). The king, when he saw Moses, would have no difficulty in anticipating what was coming. The bitter greeting he would give him would be akin to that of Ahab to Elijah - "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?"(1 Kings 21:20); nor would Moses' reply be very different from that given by the prophet - "I have found thee; because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord." What madness in the king to keep up this foolish, this suicidal contest! But the conflict of every sinner with Jehovah is of the same infatuated character. Stroke after stroke descends, yet impenitence is persevered in. Well may God say, "Why should ye be stricken any more?"(Isaiah 1:5.) His demand, through all, abides unchanged.
II. THE FOURTH PLAGUE SPRINGS FROM THE AIR. The sphere of judgment is widening and extending, taking in constantly new regions - water, earth, air. The voices that summon to repentance are heard from every side. A new demonstration of the universality of Jehovah's rule-of the unlimited sweep of his dominion (ver. 22). Flies are agents which God can employ as a scourge of nations still. We read of singular feats in the way of insect-taming; of flies, bees, and even lice being trained to obey orders, and go through wonderful evolutions. Man's power of control over these minute creatures is but a feeble image of the power exercised over them by God. He enrols them among his battalions, and uses them to execute his commissions.
III. A NEW SIGN IS THIS TIME GIVEN - THE SEVERANCE OF THE LAND OF GOSHEN FROM THE REST OF EGYPT (vers. 22, 23). The Israelites had probably been made fellow-sufferers with the Egyptians, at least in part, in the inconvenience experienced from the first three plagues. This was permitted, at once as a chastisement for their unbelief and murmurings, and as a purifying discipline. Nothing has been said as to the effect produced upon their minds by the outbreak of these terrific plagues; but they must have shown the Israelites the folly of their recent conduct, and wrought them up to a high pitch of expectation in the confidence that the day of their redemption was drawing near. With the production of this change of mind in the dwellers in Goshen, the nell for further inflictions upon them ceased, and a difference was thereafter put between them and the Egyptians. This astonishing separation was as clear a proof as could have been given of Jehovah's absoluteness in the government of the creatures, of the extent of his rule, and of the care he exercised over his chosen people. Possibly, Pharaoh had hitherto been taking encouragement from the fact that Israel was involved in the calamities. He may have been led to question:
1. God's power, seeing that he could not protect his own worshippers. It may have suggested itself to him that Jehovah's power was limited, and therefore might successfully be braved.
2. God's love for Israel. For if he loved them so much, why did he allow them to suffer? And if his interest in them was as weak as facts seemed to show, it was not impossible, if resistance was continued, that he might abandon them altogether.
3. The likelihood of God's proceeding to extremities. God, Pharaoh may have thought, must stop somewhere, else his own people will be destroyed together with mine. The need of protecting them is a safeguard against his proceeding to extremes with me. The severance now effected between Goshen and the rest of Egypt was a cruel blow to all such hopes. Thenceforward it was plain that God did care for Israel, that his power was as great as his/ore, and that whatever happened to Egypt, Israel was as safe as the pavilion of the Divine protection could make it. The fact is not without significance to ourselves. It teaches us that a deep and broad line of demarcation is really being put in God's thoughts between his own people and the rest of mankind, and that, whatever be the nature of his outward providence, he has their interests and well-being continually at heart. Those who encourage themselves in sin because they see that the righteous suffer with the wicked, and judge that this proves an absence of interest or care on the part of God, must submit to a great undeceiving. The last judgment will make a final separation (Matthew 25:31-35).
IV. THE FOURTH PLAGUE BROUGHT PHARAOH A SECOND TIME TO THE POINT OF SUBMISSION TO GOD'S COMMANDS. The separation of the territory of Israel seems greatly to have startled him, and he sent anew for Moses. The unwillingness of his mind to grant the required consent to the departure of the people is apparent from the interview.
1. Pharaoh proposes a compromise (Exodus 5:25). This is a common expedient with those who are hard pushed with questions of religion. It is, however, only a veil for the spirit of disobedience working underneath. The compromise proposed was unhesitatingly rejected by Moses. He had no authority to accept it. It was in its own nature an untenable one (ver. 26). Nothing was to be gained by accepting it. By standing firm to his demand, he was certain to get the whole of what he wanted (ver. 28), why then take a part? Had he accepted the compromise, it would probably only have embeldened Pharaoh to further resistance. God's servants will do well to imitate Moses in this distrust of compromises. Little good ever comes of them. Principle, not expediency, should rule the Christian's conduct. The intrusion of expediency into matters ecclesiastical has been a grievous source of weakness, of scandal, and of loss of spiritual power.
2. He ultimately yields. He concedes the whole demand; qualified only by the injunction not to go far away (ver. 28). The interview leaves on one's mind the impression of sincerity - of a real relenting, of however short a duration, on the part of Pharaoh. Just so much the more fatal to his spiritual life was the subsequent hardening.
V. THOUGH WARNED BY MOSES OF THE PERIL OF ACTING DECEITFULLY, PHARAOH ANEW HARDENED HIS HEART (ver. 32). Hardening, after the experience just described, may be regarded as almost settling Pharaoh's doom. He would soon be, if he was not already, irrecoverable. God had trusted him a second time, and this was the result. Obstinacy was passing into obduracy. - J.O.
I. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF MAINTAINING A SECRET OR HIDDEN CHRISTIAN LIFE. The life of Christ in the soul will come out in real manifestation and in public recognition of God. In the first place, the very initial demand of Christ upon His disciples is to confess Him before men, and to take up the cross and come after Him daily. There is no such thing as a private and concealed faith allowed or alluded to in the Scriptures. Christianity is no secret organization, but a life that openly and boldly declares itself. Besides, the very fact that Christianity is a life in the soul makes it impossible to keep it a secret. A tree might just as well say, "Can I not be a real living tree without giving forth buds and leaves in the springtime?" or a rose, "Can I not be a rose without bursting into leaf, and in due time sending forth my flowers in their sweetness to rejoice the eye and delight the smell of man?" A prominent fruit merchant in one of our New England cities was converted at one of our meetings, and he determined to keep the fact secret. He was ashamed to confess Christ before his companions, among whom he had been a very profane and godless man. His special and besetting sin was an awful habit of the wildest profanity, which used to burst out of his mouth at the least provocation to his quick and passionate temper. Some of his employes told me that when he came to the warehouse, where his fruit was sorted and stored after being received from the ships, he would swear and curse at such a rate that they all dreaded his coming. And especially was this so if a cargo of oranges or bananas turned out badly. The next morning after he had decided to give himself to Christ he went down to his receiving store. A large cargo of oranges had been received the day before, and the men were engaged in opening and sorting them. They were dreading his appearance, well knowing that the condition the fruit was in would excite his wrath to the uttermost. Well, he came in, and without a word he looked over the oranges. To the astonishment of his men, he said to them pleasantly, "Well, boys, this is rather a bad lot, to be sure. Just sort them over, and make the best of them. I suppose it can't be helped." Now, that man did not exactly confess Christ in so many words, but the absence of certain expressions from his conversation, and the presence of a new spirit, revealed the fact that he had seen Jesus. At once the men came to the conclusion as to what had happened. They were not wrong. One of them told me the occurrence the next day. That night I related this incident. I did not know the man by sight, and was not sure that he was present; but at the close of the meeting the merchant sprang to his feet and confessed that he was the man; and he there and then publicly confessed Jesus Christ as his Saviour. You see he could not hide the fact from those round about him, nor could he keep from confessing it.
It is not meet so to do.I. THAT THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE IN CHRISTIAN MORALITY. "And Moses said, It is not meet to do so."
1. Because they do not like to give up their sins.
2. Because they will not summon resolution enough to break the force of old and continued habit.
II. THAT THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE IN CHRISTIAN WORSHIP. "We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the Lord our God, as He shall command us." It is not enough to worship God; we must worship Him in the manner He has made known. Men should not place themselves in temptation by going to unhallowed sanctuaries.
1. Christian worship must not he compromised by idolatry.
2. Christian worship must not be compromised by levity. Prayer must be the dominant impulse of the soul.
III. THAT THE SERVANTS OF GOD MUST REJECT ALL ATTEMPTS AT RELIGIOUS COMPROMISE.
1. Because religious compromise brings contempt upon the Christian life.
2. Because religious compromise brings contempt upon Christian worship.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
II. A MAN CANNOT BE A CHRISTIAN AND WORSHIP GOD IN THE LAND WITHOUT OFFENDING THE WORLD. A gentleman in Boston was converted at one of Mr. Moody's meetings. He purposed keeping it a secret. He belonged to a wealthy and aristocratic family and circle, among whom it was fashionable to sneer at evangelical religion, and at that time especially at Mr. Moody and the great work going on in that city. Shortly afterwards this gentleman was guest at a large dinner-party. In course of the dinner, the tabernacle meetings and Mr. Moody came up for discussion and ridicule. From bad they went to worse, and began to sneer at Jesus and His cross. By and by, when he could bear it no longer, he arose in his place, trembling with embarrassment, yet courageous in purpose, and said, addressing his host: "I do not wish to seem rude; but I cannot be true to myself or to my God, and let this conversation go on any longer. I beg to say that Mr. Moody, though I am personally unknown to him, is my friend; and in that same old 'tabernacle' which is the object of your ridicule, and in one of those meetings which you hold in such contempt, he was the means of awakening me to a true knowledge of my condition before God, and of leading me to Christ, whom I believe to be the very Son of God — and through the merits of His blood I am trusting for forgiveness and eternal life. I cannot let the conversation go on without at least confessing so much. And not wishing to disturb the freedom of your party, or restrain you by my presence, I beg leave of my kind host to retire from this table."
III. "WE WILL GO THREE DAYS' JOURNEY INTO THE WILDERNESS." Israel could not worship God in the land, because God had commanded them to go out of the land. "Three days' journey into the wilderness." Where is that? Surely it must teach us that the Christian's place is in resurrection with the Lord. From the cross to the resurrection was three days. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above" (Colossians 3:1).
(G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
I. "NOT VERY FAR AWAY" IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE FIRST LAW OF CHRISTIAN LIFE, which demands that we shall break with this world. "For our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). "The whole world lieth in the evil one" (1 John 5:19); and to abide in the world is to take up quarters on Satan's ground. Besides, the very object that Moses had in going down to Egypt was to bring the people up out of that land into a good land and large. How could they ever reach Canaan if they consented not to go "very far away"? And how shall we be separated from this present evil world if we, as confessors of Christ, insist on lingering about the borders of the old life?
II. "NOT VERY FAR AWAY" IS ENTIRELY INCOMPATIBLE WITH A HAPPY CHRISTIAN LIFE. In the times of the old border wars between the Scots and the English, the people living in the border counties had a most wretched time of it. First the Scots would come pouring down into the northern counties of England, and devastate and destroy there; and then the English would invade the southern counties of Scotland, and desolation and death would be their portion. So it is with the border-Christians. The Word of God catches them in the world, and pricks and cuts without healing; and if they are only a little way in the kingdom they are thoroughly exposed to the temptations and buffetings of Satan. With the back to the world and face to Christ, ever marching forward, is the only way of peace and happiness.
III. "NOT VERY FAR AWAY" IS A DANGEROUS PLACE TO BE IN. I once heard of a little girl who fell out of bed during the night. The mother heard the child's fall and cry, and ran to her little one. After she had picked her up and somewhat pacified her, she asked the little girl, "How did you come to fall out, my dear?" The child replied, "Oh, I suppose I went to sleep too near to the edge of the bed where I fell out," and then, quickly correcting her statement, said, "No, I mean I went to sleep too near to the place where I got in." That was the real truth of it. There are a great many persons who profess conversion; but they do not get very far into the kingdom; and then they go to sleep, and when they fall out the real reason is that they did not get far enough in. "Not far away" is a most dangerous compromise to consent to.
IV. "NOT VERY FAR AWAY" IS A POSITION FROM WHICH GOD CAN CHOOSE NO WORKERS. I am very free to say that God can make little or no use of a worldly half-and-half Christian. In the first place, the world has no confidence in a Christian who is hand-and-glove with it, while at the same time professing to have found something infinitely better, and to have been saved from the world. In the second place, a half-and-half Christian cannot do with "all his might" what God would give him to do. Consecration and service go necessarily together; and no consecrated life can be maintained on the edge of the world or on the edge of the Church.
(G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
(G. F. Pentecost, D. D.).
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