Still, you lord it over My people and do not allow them to go.
I. CONSIDER THE PLAGUE ITSELF,
1. God has his "to-morrow"(ver. 18) as well as Pharaoh (Exodus 8:10). Only when Pharaoh's "to-morrow" comes, there comes with it the evidence that he means not what he says. But when God's" to-morrow" comes there is the evidence of his perfect stability, how he settles everything beforehand, even to the very hour. "Tomorrow, about this time." A whole twenty-four hours then Pharaoh gets for consideration, although really he needs it not, and cannot be expected to profit by it. But as we see presently, it is serviceable to protect the fight-minded among his people. Perhaps the very period of consideration would make Pharaoh even to despise the prediction. He would say to himself that a hailstorm, however severe, could be lived through, and the damage from it soon made right again.
2. This plague comes from a new direction. The heavens join the earth in serving God against Pharaoh. Our minds are at once directed to the opening of the windows of heaven (Genesis 7:11), and the raining upon Sodom and Gomorrah of brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. But we see at once the great difference between these two visitations and this one. Terrible as it was, it was not destructive as they, nor was it meant to be. God never acts so that obliteration comes instead of chastisement, or chastisement instead of obliteration. He nicely graduates his agencies so as to attain the desired results. And yet, though this plague was not a Sodom experience, it was a sufficiently dreadful one. There was nothing in Egyptian annals to dwarf it. All the power which God has stored up in the atmosphere, and which, by its wide and minute diffusion, he makes such a blessing, is now concentrated so as to become correspondingly destructive. When man will not obey, God can show the rest of his creation in remarkable obedience. Man is seen becoming more and more repugnant to Divine control, while over against him other things are seen becoming more and more amenable. What an impressive reminder is thus given to us, concerning our departure from God, and the discord that departure has produced. God sent thunder, and hail, and lightning. Even a slight thunder-storm disturbs the mind, and what a profound commotion of the soul this unequalled storm must have produced. The sound of that thunder, one would think, remained in the ears of those who heard it down to their latest hour. As to the lightning, we know more of its causes than did the Egyptians; but all our science will never rob it of its wonder and terror. Franklin has taken away the mystery of it to our intellects, but God has taken care that its power over our hearts should remain. When flash after flash fills the heavens, the most vulgar and sensual of men is awed out of his sordid composure, at least, for the time.
II. CONSIDER THE REMARKABLE DISCRIMINATION OF GOD IN THIS PLAGUE,
1. The exemption of Goshen from the storm. "Where the children of Israel were, there was no hail." This exemption now comes almost as a matter of course. (For though Goshen is not mentioned as exempted from the ravages of the locusts, we may fairly conclude that it was exempted.) How clear it thus becomes to those who receive this miracle of the hail in spirit and in truth, that God has complete power over all the order of the sky, sending rain, snow, hail, as it pleases him, gathering the most dreadful of tempests over one district, and leaving another district that skirted it - perhaps even lay inside of it as an inner circle - perfectly secure. In Goshen they heard the thunder, saw the lightning, marked the fall of the bruising hail-stones, but these things touched them not. Here is the oft quoted suave marl magno of Lucretius to perfection. God having thus shown here, as elsewhere, his control of the heavens, it is a rational thing enough to supplicate changes of the weather. We are then supplicating for what is quite possible of attainment, even though it might possibly be better in such things to take humbly and trustfully what God may send.
2. But much more notable here than the exemption of Goshen, is the discriminating way in which God treats the Egyptian people. More and more have they been getting the opportunity to discover whence and wherefore these visitations have come on their land. A certain preparation was necessary to give them the power fairly and fully to appreciate the appeal of Jehovah in ver. 19. The very exemptions of Goshen already would have done much to lead them to some perception of the real state of affairs, and all along indeed each wonder had said, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." There are some who are deaf, even to thunder, and others to whom the still, small voice speaks in the clearest of tones and the plainest of words concerning all truth and duty. Notice with what wisdom God acted in taking a plague of this sort to discriminate among the Egyptians. They had the chance of sheltering themselves from its worst consequences by a timely attention to his warning. The test was effectual as to who feared the word of Jehovah. All that he wanted was that the fear should lead to belief in the prediction, and action corresponding with the belief. When it becomes needful to exempt Goshen, then assuredly it is also just to give right-minded, open-minded, and prudent Egyptians the chance, if not of exemption, at all events, of relief. They are not all Egypt who are of Egypt, as they are not all Israel who are Of Israel. Among the nominal believers there are the worst of infidels; and among the nominal infidels there may be, not, of course, the best of believers, but those whose germinant faith may grow up into the most abundant and glorious fruit-bearing. Notice how this was the experience of the Apostles; they constantly found faith and unbelief side by side (Acts 13:42-45; Acts 14:1-4; Acts 17:4, 12, 34; Acts 19:8, 9). Nowhere is this stated more impressively and antithetically than at the very close of the apostolic story; "Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not" (Acts 28:24). Men themselves are continually making preliminary and unconscious separation between the sheep and the goats.
III. CONSIDER THE FRESH CONFESSION AND PROMISE WHICH THIS PLAGUE. AT LAST EXTORTS FROM PHARAOH. This confession has a very hopeful appearance upon the surface; but then we suddenly remember how hopeless God himself is of any permanent yielding from Pharaoh, any surrender of his entire nature. Nothing is easier than to say, "I have sinned;" nothing is harder than to say it with right knowledge of what sin is, and deep contrition and humiliation, because of its all-dominating presence in the life. Pharaoh uses strong words here, and there is a great appearance of spontaneity and sincerity, but God is not deceived; and we only need to look into the words to be very quickly undeceived ourselves. Indeed, as we examine Pharaoh's utterance, we find that by a most effective contrast it shows us how to discern the elements of an adequate and acceptable confession of sin.
1. Such a confession must have reference to a permanent state of the character. Sin is not a mere outward act, so that a man may sometimes be sinning, and sometimes not sinning. "I have sinned this time." This time! There you have the mark of a mere lip acknowledgment; of one who confounds the mere selfish dangers and discomforts that grow out of sin with sin itself. The right confession therefore, is the word of one who has come to a knowledge of the deep and accursed fountain within, of those reservoirs in the thoughts and intents of the heart whence all particular actions flow. He who rightly confesses knows that it is a life that needs to be cleansed, and not a mere limb that needs to be amputated.
2. It must be absorbingly personal. It must occupy in the most imperative fashion all the individual consciousness. If there is any time when, as one may say, it is a man's duty to look on his own things, and not the things of others, it is when he is labouring to get the proper conviction of sin. He is not to lose himself in the crowd; he is to stand out before his own mind's eye - self so unsparingly revealed to self - that nothing less will do to say than, "I am the chief of sinners." For not till a man knows what it is to be the chief of sinners is he in the way of discovering what it is to be the chief of saints. "I and my people are wicked," says Pharaoh. It was a false unity; a claim of unity dictated even by pride, for he had become incapable of thinking of his people apart from himself. He calls them one in wickedness, when they were not one; for some had this possibility of goodness at least, that they feared Jehovah enough to follow his counsels (ver. 20). And later, when the mixed multitude went out with Israel (Exodus 12:38), what then became of the boast, "I and my people"?
3. It must desire the removal of sin itself; of the guilty conscience, the depraved imagination, the unbrotherly and unneighbourly feelings, the intellect darkened with ignorance and error. Above all, it will desire to have the life reconciled, filial, and serviceable towards God. What is the avoidance of physical suffering and loss, compared with the sweeping away of far more intimate elements of misery? Only when there are such desires in the heart will the word "I have sinned" operate to secure an immediate reversal of the life. Israel said "we have sinned," when they had rebelled against Jehovah because of the distasteful report of the spies. What their confession was worth is seen in the immediate sequel (Numbers 14:40 45). Balaam said to the angel in the way, "I have sinned," but for all that he did not turn back; he was only too glad to go forward and work for the wages of unrighteousness (Numbers 22:34).
4. It must be a confession to God himself, and not a mere talk to others about God being righteous. All that Pharaoh wanted was to have Moses entreat for the withdrawal of present suffering. The acknowledgment, such as it was, was to Moses and not to Jehovah. Now confessions of this sort are useless. The thing wanted is, not a supplication to possible intercessors, but to the Holy One on high, seen through and above the mediating agent. It is not enough to be brought to a knowledge of Jesus as saving from sin; indeed we may only be deluding ourselves with mere words, except as we gain that glorious part of the salvation which consists in the knowledge of him whom Jesus himself knew so well, and desired, with such earnest desire, to reveal to his disciples also. - Y.
I. THAT THERE IS A GREAT AND AWFUL JUDGMENT THREATENED UPON MAN IN THE FUTURE. Time known only to God. Enough that fact is certain.
As yet exaltest thou thyselfI. THAT A SELF-EXALTED MAN OFTEN TREATS WITH CONTEMPT THE CLAIMS OF DUTY.
II. THAT A SELF-EXALTED MAN OFTEN TREATS WITH CONTEMPT THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
III. THAT A SELF-EXALTED MAN IS OFTEN HUMILIATED BY THE SAD DISCIPLINE OF LIFE. Self-conceit is self-destruction.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
II. THAT THERE IS A SHELTER PROVIDED FROM THE FINAL JUDGMENT OF THE FUTURE.
1. Divinely made known.
2. Mercifully sufficient.
3. Gratefully welcomed.
III. THAT ONLY THOSE WHO HEED THE WARNING OF GOD, AND AVAIL THEMSELVES OF THE SHELTER PROVIDED, WILL BE SAFE IN THE FINAL JUDGMENT OF LIFE.
IV. THAT MANY, THROUGH UNBELIEF, OR THROUGH NEGLECT OF THE WORD OF GOD, WILL PERISH IN THE FINAL JUDGMENT OF LIFE. Lessons:
1. Believe in the judgment to come.
2. Believe in the mercy of Christ.
3. Flee from the wrath to come.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
I. THE DIVINE WARNING.
1. It was "the word of Jehovah." It was sent through a specially commissioned messenger.
2. It was sword of mercy. The Lord willeth not the death of a sinner.
3. It was a word of threatening. But the threat was only against those whose wilful disobedience would merit judgment.
II. THE DIFFERENT WAYS IN WHICH IT WAS REGARDED.
1. Wholesome fear. This fear was a fruit of faith. A feeble spark of faith, perhaps, but enough to stimulate action.
2. Careless neglect. Proverbs 14:16, gives well the contrast of the two classes. This "carnal security" a very common source of spiritual danger.
III. THE DEFINITE APPLICATION TO OURSELVES. God has sent His word to us, full of mingled promises and warnings, declarations of mercy and judgment. Are we taking heed thereto? By startling events, by secret stirrings of conscience, by the Bible, by His special messengers, "the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God," God speaks. Do we listen? or do we, listless, if not openly scornful, let the utterance be to us as an idle tale? The gospel of Christ, as proclaimed to men, offers a refuge from God's just wrath against sinful man. If we refuse, we shall be worthy of worse punishment than heathen who have never heard, and it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of judgment than for us. Before the hailstorm of judgment come, let us "set our heart to" the word of the Lord; so shall we be safe in the evil day.
(W. Saumarez Smith, B. D.)
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