Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Corinthians 9:22) Pharaoh can be saved, he will not be lost for want of the opportunity. God tells Moses his design in dealing with the monarch as he did, and gives him a new message to carry to the royal presence.
I. GOD'S DESIGN (vers. 1, 2). He had hardened Pharaoh's heart and the heart of his servants, that he might show these his signs before him, and that he might secure their being had in remembrance through all succeeding generations in Israel. This bespeaks, on God's part -
1. Definite purpose in the shaping of the events which culminated in the Exodus. As Jehovah, the all-ruling one, it lay with him to determine what shape these events would assume, so as best to accomplish the end he had in view in the deliverance. It was of his ordering that a ruler of Pharaoh's stamp occupied the throne of Egypt at that particular time; that the king was able to hold out as he did against his often reiterated, and powerfully enforced, command; that the monarch's life was spared, when he might have been smitten and destroyed (Exodus 9:15, 16); that the Exodus was of so glorious and memorable a character.
2. It indicates the nature of the design. "That ye may know how that I am the Lord' (ver. 2). We have already seen (ch. 6.) that the central motive in this whole series of events was the manifestation of God in his character of Jehovah - the absolute, all-ruling, omnipotent Lord, who works in history, in mercy, and judgment, for the accomplishment of gracious ends. The design was
(1) To demonstrate the fact that such a Being as is denoted by the name Jehovah, existed; that there is an absolute, all-ruling, omnipotent, gracious God;
(2) to raise the mind to a proper conception of his greatness, by giving an exhibition, on a scale of impressive magnitude, of his actual working in mercy and judgment for the salvation of his people; and
(3) to make thereby a revelation of himself which would lay the foundation of future covenant relations with Israel, and ultimately of an universal religion reposing on the truths of his unity, spirituality, sanctity, omnipotence, and love. Subordinate objects were the making known of his power and greatness to Pharaoh himself (Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:22; Exodus 9:13, 29), and to the surrounding nations (Exodus 9:16). The design thus indicated required that the facts should be of a kind which admitted of no dispute; that they should palpably and conclusively demonstrate the character of God to be as asserted; and that they should be of so striking and awful a description, as to print themselves indelibly upon the memory of the nation. These conditions were fulfilled in the events of the Exodus.
(3) It shows how God intended his mighty works to be kept in remembrance. "That thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son," etc. (ver. 2). God provided for the handing down of a knowledge of these wonders
(1) By giving them a character which secured that they should not be forgotten. The memory of these "wonders in the land of Ham' (Psalm 105:27) rings down in Israel to the latest generations (see Psalm 78.; 105.; 106. 135.; 126., etc.);
(2) by embodying them in a written record;
(3) by enjoining on parents the duty of faithfully narrating them to their children (Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 5:7, 20-23; Deuteronomy 11:19; Psalm 78:3-7). Bible history will soon get to be forgotten if the story is not taken up and diligently taught by loving parental lips.
II. GOD'S REQUIREMENT - humility. "How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?" (ver. 3.) This lays the finger on the root principle of Pharaoh's opposition, pride. Pride, the undue exaltation of the ego, is a hateful quality of character, even as between man and man. How much more, as between man and God! It is described as "the condemnation of the devil" (1 Timothy 4:6). Pride puffs the soul up in undue conceit of itself, and leads it to spurn at God's dictation and control. It aims at a false independence. It would wish to be as God. In the worldly spirit it manifests itself as "the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). In the self-righteous spirit it manifests itself as spiritual pride. It excludes every quality which ought to exist in a soul rightly exercised towards its Creator. Faith, love, humility, the feeling of dependence, gratitude for benefits, regard for the Creator's glory - it shuts out all. It is incompatible with the sense of sin, with the spirit of contrition, with humble acceptance of salvation through another. It is the great barrier to the submission of the heart to God and Christ, inciting instead to naked and impious rebellion. The degree and persistency of the opposition to God which pride is able to inspire may be well studied in the case of Pharaoh.
III. GOD'S THREAT (vers. 4 7). He would bring upon the land a plague of locusts. The magnitude of the visitation would place it beyond comparison with anything that had ever been known. See below.
IV. MOSES GOING OUT FROM PHARAOH. "And he turned himself, and went out from Pharaoh" (ver. 6). He delivered his message, and did not wait for an answer. This should have told Pharaoh that the bow was now stretched to its utmost, and that to strain it further by continued resistance would be to break it. His courtiers seem to have perceived this (ver. 7). Moses' going out was a prelude to the final breaking off of negotiations (ver. 29). View it also as a studied intimation -
1. Of his indignation at the past conduct of the king (cf. Exodus 11:8).
2. Of his conviction of the hopelessness of producing any good impression on his hardened nature.
3. Of the certainty of God's purpose being fulfilled, whether Pharaoh willed it or no. It was for Pharaoh's interest to attend to the warning which had now again been given him, but his refusal to attend to it would only injure himself and his people; it would not prevent God's will from being accomplished. - J.O.
I. CONSIDER THE EMPHATIC STATEMENT WITH RESPECT TO THE HARDENING OF THE HEART. In Exodus 9:34 we are told that when the hail and the thunder ceased, Pharaoh hardened his heart, he and his servants. Note here two things:
1. How Pharaoh's heart was hardened just after he had made a confession of sin; from which we see how little he understood by the word "sin," and how little he meant by the confession.
2. The combination of his servants with him in this hardening; from which we may judge that just as some among his servants had been taken further away from him by their prudent and believing action when the hail was threatened (Exodus 9:20), so others had been drawn still nearer to their master, and made larger sharers in his obstinacy and pride. The unbelieving, who left their servants and their cattle in the fields, not only lost their property when the hail descended, but afterwards they became worse men. And now in Exodus 10:1, not only is there a statement that the hearts of Pharaoh and his servants were hardened, but God in his own person says, "I have hardened his heart," etc. Then after this statement, so emphatic in the expression of it, however difficult to understand in the meaning of it, God goes on to explain why he has thus hardened the heart of Pharaoh and his servants. In the first place, it gives an opportunity for showing God's signs before Pharaoh - "all my plagues" (Exodus 9:14). Thus God would turn our attention here to the thing of chief importance, namely, what he was doing himself. Important it certainly is to notice what Pharaoh is doing, but far more important to notice what Jehovah is doing. We may easily give too much time to thinking of Pharaoh, and too little to thinking of Jehovah. Thus God would ever direct us into the steps of practical wisdom. We are constantly tempted to ask questions which cannot be answered, while we as constantly neglect to ask questions which both can be answered and ought to be answered. The conduct of Pharaoh is indeed a fascinating problem for those who love to consider the play of motives in the human heart. In considering him there is ample room for the imagination to work out the conception of a very impressive character. Thus, we might come to many conclusions with respect to Pharaoh, some of them right, but in all likelihood most of them wrong, perhaps egregiously wrong. These are matters in which God has not given opportunity for knowledge; the depths of Pharaoh's personality are concealed from us. There is true and important knowledge to be gained, but it is in another direction. The marvellous, exhaustless power of God is to be more prominent in our thoughts than the erratic and violent plunging of Pharaoh from one extreme to another. Amid all that is dark, densely dark, one thing is clear and clear because God meant it to be clear, and took care to make it so - namely, that all this conduct of Pharaoh was the occasion for unmistakable and multiplied signs of the power of God. One is here reminded of the question of the disciples to Jesus (John 9:2), "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" To this question more answers than one were possible; but Jesus gave the answer that was appropriate to the occasion. The man was born blind, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. So not only was Pharaoh's heart hardened, but God himself hardened that heart, in order that these signs might be shown before him. Then, in the second place, these signs being wrought before -Pharaoh, became also matters for consideration, recollection, and tradition to the Israelites themselves. Moses, taken as the representative of Israel, is to tell to his son, and to his son's son, what things God had done in Egypt. Here is ample occasion given for the observant and devout in Israel to note the doings of Jehovah and communicate them with all earnestness and reverence from age to age. Surely it was worth a little waiting, a little temporal suffering, to have such chapters written as these which record Israel's experiences in Egypt! What are the sufferings, merely in body and in circumstances, of one generation, compared with the ennobling thoughts of God, and the consequent inspiration and comfort which may through these very sufferings be transmitted to many generations following! Why it is even a great privilege for one generation to be poor, that through its poverty many generations may become rich.
III. CONSIDER HOW THE TERRIBLE MAGNITUDE OF THE LOCUST-PLAGUE IS SHOWN BY THE EFFECTS FOLLOWING ON THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF IT.
1. There are the expostulations of Pharaoh's servants with him (ver. 7). They, at all events, are not disposed to wait for the coming of the locusts. That the locust-plague was a very dreadful one, we may partly gather from other intimations in the Scriptures with respect to these voracious insects, advancing in their innumerable hosts (Deuteronomy 28:38, 42; 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 7:13; Joel 1:4; Nahum 3:15). The experiences of modern travellers in the East are also such as to assure us that the expectation of a visit from the locust is enough to excite the most alarming thoughts (see in particular Dr. Thomson's observations on the locust in The Land and the Book). But in truth we hardly need to go beyond the conduct of Pharaoh's servants themselves. The very name locust was enough to startle them into precautionary activity; they did not wait for the reality. Some of them, indeed, had anticipated the destructive effect of the hail, and taken suitable precautions; but others felt there was room for question whether, after all, the hail would be so pernicious. In their presumption they guessed that a hailstorm could inflict only a slight and reparable damage. But what could escape the locusts? Every green thing was well known to perish before their voracity. Even what might be called an ordinary visitation from them would be no trifle; how much more such a visitation as Pharaoh's servants had now every reason to believe would come upon them! For the time was long past when they doubted concerning the power of Moses to bring what he threatened. It is no longer a question of the power of Moses, but of the endurance of Egypt. In all likelihood the thought now prevailing in the minds of Pharaoh's servants - possibly in Pharaoh's own mind - was that this run of calamity would presently come to an end, if only it was patiently endured. For in ancient Egypt there was doubtless some such proverb as might be Englished into our common saying, "It is a long lane that has no turning." Egypt has known the long lane of seven plagues; surely it cannot be much longer. And yet it may easily be long enough to destroy them before they get out of it. Locusts to come, when Moses speaks about them, may be reckoned as good as come, if something be not done promptly to avert their approach; and once come, then how long will the food of Egypt remain, either for man or beast! No wonder, then, that Pharaoh's servants turned upon him with such warm - one may almost say threatening - expostulations. The prospect of an immediate and almost instantaneous stoppage of supplies was enough to bring them hastening, as with one consent, to beg a timely submission from their master.
2. There is the extraordinary yielding of Pharaoh to these expostulations. Nothing less than extraordinary can it be called. His yieldings hitherto have been under actual chastise-meat. He has waited for the blow to be struck before he begged for mercy. But now, upon the mere threatening of the blow, he is moved to make overtures of submission. We shall have to notice of what a partial and worthless sort this submission was; at present, the main thing to mark is that there was a submission at all. He could not afford to trifle with the warnings of his servants. Hitherto, in all probability, they had been largely flatterers, men who fooled Pharaoh to the top of his bent with compliments as to his absolute power; but now they are turned into speakers of plain and bitter truth; and though Pharaoh may not like it, the very fact that he is thus addressed is enough to show him that he must arrange terms of surrender before another battle has even begun. Thus, by merely studying the conduct of Pharaoh and his servants before the locusts came, we see very clearly what a terrible plague they were. The plague of the locusts was a great deal more than a variation from the plagues of the frogs, the gnats and the flies.
III. Consider how, in spite of all the dread inspired by the thought of these locusts, PHARAOH'S PRIDE STILL HINDERS COMPLETE SUBMISSION. It was in an emergency of his government, and under pressure from his panic-stricken servants, that he consented to treat with Moses. Moses comes, and Pharaoh makes him an offer, which Moses of course cannot accept, seeing that he really has no power to treat; he has but the one unchangeable demand; it is a righteous demand, and therefore the righteous Jehovah cannot permit it to be diminished. But the rejection of Pharaoh's offer gives him a convenient loophole of escape into his former stubbornness. He can turn to his servants and say, "See what an unreasonable man this is. He comes expecting that in the terms of peace I am to yield all, and he is to yield nothing. Better to risk the locusts, and if need be, perish in the midst of our desolated fields, than live dishonoured by yielding up all Israel at his inexorable request." Speaking in some such spirit as this, we may well believe that Pharaoh stirred up his servants, and won them to support him in continuing his dogged resistance. It is a noble principle to die with honour rather than live with shame; it is the very principle that in its holiest illustration has crowded the ranks of Christian martyrdom. But when a principle of this sort gets into the mouth of a Pharaoh, he may so pervert it as to bring about the worst results. There is no manlier way of closing life than to die for truth and Christ; but it is a poor thing to become, as Pharaoh evidently would have his servants become, the victims of a degraded patriotism. It was all very well to talk loud and drive Moses and Aaron from his presence; but what was the good? the locusts were coming none the less. The fact is, that all suggestions of prudent and timely surrender were cast to the winds. The pride of the tyrant is touched, and it makes him blind to everything else. He rushes ahead, reckless of what may come on the morrow, if only he can gain the passionate satisfaction of driving Moses out of his presence to-day. There is no reasoning With a man in a passion; all arguments are alike to him.
IV. CONSIDER PHARAOH'S ULTIMATE SUBMISSION AND THE CONSEQUENCE OF IT. He drove Moses and Aaron out of his presence, but nevertheless he had to yield, and that in a peculiarly humiliating way. When he saw the locusts actually at work, then he came face to face with reality; and reality sobers a man. He had to send in haste for the men whom he had driven away, for the locusts were in haste. Every minute he delayed brought Egypt nearer and nearer to starvation. Oh, foolish Pharaoh! just for the pleasure, the sweet, momentary pleasure of driving Moses out of your presence, to risk the horrors of this ravaging host. Notice further, for it is a remarkable thing, that while Pharaoh begs most humbly for mercy, he makes fie formal promise of liberation. The promise, we feel, was really there, all the more emphatic and more evidently unconditional, just because unspoken. Any way, the time had come when formal promises from Pharaoh mattered little, seeing they were never kept. The great thing was that he should be made to feel the pressure of God's hand upon him, so that he could not but cry to escape from it. Every time he thus cried and begged, as he here so piteously does - all his stubbornness for the time melted away into invisibility - he showed in the clearest manner the power of Jehovah. Jehovah's end, in this particular plague of the locusts, was gained when Pharaoh begged that they might be driven away - Y
I. THE FRUITS FOR GOD'S PEOPLE OF HIS JUDGMENTS UPON HIS ENEMIES.
1. The plagues of Egypt were to be an example to all the generations of Israel (ver. 2).
(1) It drew them nearer God. They were his: he gave Egypt for them.
(2) It deepened their trust and fear.
2. It was the prophecy of how God will sanctify his people in the latter days.
3. How God sanctifies his people now. Their prolonged waiting and suffering is storing up power for the future. The night of trial makes the day of deliverance brighter and more fruitful.
II. THE WAY OF THE UNREPENTANT IS ONE OF DEEPENING LOSS. Pharaoh will not retain what God's mercy has left him. The locusts eat what the hail has spared. The path darkens evermore till the night falls to which no day succeeds.
III. GOD'S JUDGMENTS AWAKEN FEAR IN THE HEARTS OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS, BUT NO REPENTANCE. The advice of Pharaoh's counsellors.
1. Its selfishness. It was inspired not by love of righteousness, but by self interest. If it does not answer to enslave and persecute God's people; the world will desist; and if there is wealth and honour to be got by it, they will even favour them and desire to be numbered with them.
2. Its insufficiency. "Let the men go" They will not yield the whole of what God demands. They will not give up sin or resign the heart. The service of the selfish is as deficient in full obedience, as it is hateful in motive.
Psalm 92:14). Notice here two points: -
I. IT IS WELL FOR THE YOUNGER TO LOOK FORWARD WITH CONCERN TO THE OCCUPATIONS OF A POSSIBLE OLD AGE. The very fact that life is uncertain dictates the prudence of a consideration like this. Life may be shorter than we expect it to be, but it may also be longer. We must not reckon on old age, but that is no reason why we should not prepare for it. Boys and girls can hardly be expected to look so far ahead; but those who have come to manhood and womanhood and some exercise of reflective power, may well ask the question, "How shall I occupy old age if it comes?" And surely it is much to remember that if each stage in life is occupied as it ought to be, then this very fidelity and carefulness will help to provide congenial occupation for the last stage of all. Who would wish to spend the closing years of life in such stupor and lethargy as come over only too many, when there are sources of interest and usefulness such as Jehovah indicates to Moses here? Old age might be a brighter and more profitable scene than it usually is. Who can tell, indeed, whether much of the physical prostration, pain, and sensitive decay, which belong to the aged and tend to shut them out from the world, might not be spared, if there were but a wiser life in earlier years, a life spent in obedience to the laws which God has given for life Many of the most important of these laws we either misunderstand or ignore altogether. Old age is a season into which we should not drift, but advance with a calm consideration of what we may be able to do in it, for the glory of God and the good of men. If we live to be old, what are our reminiscences to be? You who are on the climbing side of life, ask yourselves what sort of life you are making, what chapters of autobiography you may hereafter be able to write. Can anything be sadder than some autobiographies and reminiscences? There are such books, sad with expressed sadness, where the vanity of life is confessed and bewailed on every page. But there are other books, far sadder even than the former sort, just because of the very satisfaction with life which they contain. The men who have written them seem to look back in much the same spirit as once they looked forward. They looked forward with all the eagerness and enjoying power of youth, and they look back without having discovered how selfish, frivolous and unworthy their lives have been. At eighty they are as well pleased with their notion that man has come into this world to enjoy himself as they were at eighteen. Whether we shall live into old age is not for us to settle, nor what our state of body and circumstances may be if we do so live. But one thing at all events we may seek to avoid, namely, a state of mind in old age such as that in which Wesley tells us he found a certain old man at Okehampton. "Our landlord here informed us that he was upwards of ninety, yet had not lost either his sight, hearing, or teeth. Nor had he found that for which he was born. Indeed he did not seem to have any more thought about it than a child of six years old."
II. OBSERVE, CONCERNING WHAT THINGS IN PARTICULAR GOD WOULD HAVE THE OLD SPEAK TO THE YOUNG. Not so much concerning what they have done, but concerning what God has done for them. Every old man, however foolish, blundering and wasted his own career may have been, has this resort - that he can look back on the dealings of God. It may be that he has to think of a late repentance on his own part; it may be that he has to think a great deal more of God's mercy to him after years of utter negligence, than God's help to him through years of struggling obedience. Even so, he can magnify God most abundantly and instructively. Magnifying God is the thing which all Christians should aim at when they look back on the time covered by their own individual life, or over that long, large tract through which authentic history extends. "Tell what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them." There will never be lack of voices to celebrate the achievements of men. But what a grand occupation for the aged Christian to turn the thoughts of children to the achievements of God, such works as the overthrow of Pharaoh and the guiding into Canaan, and, above all, the work which he does in the hearts of those who believe in his Son. To look on the works of men, on all their selfishness and rivalry, to see how the success of the few involves the failure of the many - all this is very humiliating. But how glorious to speak of the works of God, to point him out in Creation, in Providence, in Redemption; and then to call on the young, all their life through, to be fellow-labourers together with him - what an occupation is here suggested for old age! The "grey-headed and very aged men" (Job 15:10) may thus do much for us. When Boaz became the nourisher of Naomi's grey hairs, Naomi took the child of Boaz and Ruth, laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. And surely her nursing would include instruction, the telling of her own personal experiences to the growing Obed, full as these experiences were of things fitted to guide the youth to a good and noble manhood. A friend who called on C. M. Young, the celebrated actor, a few months before his death, reported that he gave a miserable account of himself, and wound up by saying, "Seventy-nine is telling its tale." True! Seventy-nine must tell a tale of exhausted physical energy, but the tale need not therefore be altogether doleful. Serious it must be, and not without touches of shame; but it will be the fault of the teller if it does not contain much to guide, inspire, and invigorate the young. (Job 32:9; Psalm 37:25; Titus 2:2-5; 1 Kings 12:6-8). - Y.
Exodus 8:15, 32; Exodus 9:7) which is used in Exodus 9:34, and Exodus 10:1. The growing obtuseness of Pharaoh's mind is very apparent from the narrative. He is losing the power of right judgment. He began by hardening himself (making his heart strong and firm) against Jehovah, and he is reaping the penalty in a blinded understanding. This obtuseness shows itself in various ways, notably in the want of unity in his conduct. He is like a man at bay, who feels that he is powerless to resist, but cannot bring himself to yield. His power of self-control is leaving him, and his action, in consequence, consists of a succession of mad rushes, now in one direction, now in another. External influences - the remonstrance of courtiers, the terrors occasioned by the plagues - produce immediate effects upon him; but the recoil of pride and rage, which speedily supervenes, carries him further from reason than ever. Now he is suing in pitiable self-humiliation for forgiveness; again he is furious and unrestrained in his defiance. Passion is usurping the place of reason, and drives him to and fro with ungovernable violence. We are reminded of the heathen saying, "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first madden;' but it is not God who is destroying Pharaoh; it is Pharaoh who is destroying himself. If God maddens him, it is by plying him with the influences which ought to have had a directly opposite effect. Pharaoh, like every other sinner, must bear the responsibility of his own ruin.
I. THE INTERVENTION OF PHARAOH'S SERVANTS (ver. 7). These may be the same servants who up to this time had hardened themselves (Exodus 9:34). If so, they now see the folly of further contest. More and more Pharaoh is being left to stand alone. First, his magicians gave in (Exodus 8:19), then a portion of his servants (Exodus 9:20); now, apparently, his courtiers are deserting him in a body. It shows the indomitable stubbornness of the king, that under these circumstances he should still hold out. Observe,
1. The subjects of a government have often a truer perception of what is needed for the safety of a country than their rulers and leaders. Pharaoh's servants saw the full gravity of the situation, to which the monarch was so blind. "Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" Rulers are frequently blinded by their pride, passion, prejudices, and private wishes, to the real necessities of a political situation.
2. Hardening against God makes the heart indifferent to the interests of others. The ungodly mind is at bottom selfish. We have seen already (ch. 5.) to what lengths in cruelty ungodly men will go in pursuit of their personal ends. We have also seen that hardening at the centre of the nature is bound to spread till it embraces the whole man (on Exodus 7:3). Pharaoh is an illustration of this. He was unboundedly proud; and "pride," says Muller, "is the basest and most glaring form that selfishness can assume." It is an egoistic sin; a sin of the will more than of the affections; a sin rooted in the centre of the personality. But Pharaoh was more than proud; he was God-defying. He had consciously and wilfully hardened himself against the Almighty, under most terrible displays of his omnipotence. Driven to bay in such a contest, it was not to be expected that he would be much influenced by the thought of the suffering he was bringing upon others. Egypt might be destroyed, but Pharaoh recked little of that, or, possibly, still tried to persuade himself that the worst might be averted. The remonstrance of his courtiers produced a momentary wavering, but defiance breaks out again in ver. 10 in stronger terms than ever.
II. A RENEWED ATTEMPT AT COMPROMISE (vers. 8-12). Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron, and asks who they are that are to go to sacrifice (ver. 8): the reply was decisive; "we will go with our young and with our old," etc. (ver. 9). At this Pharaoh is transported with ungovernable rage. He accuses the Hebrew brothers of desiring to take an evil advantage of his permission, and practically challenges Jehovah to do his worst against him (ver. 10). He will consent to the men going to serve the Lord, but to nothing more (ver. 11). Moses and Aaron were then "driven" from his presence. We are reminded here of the transports of Saul, and his malicious rage at David (1 Samuel 19.). Notice on this,
1. Wicked men distrust God. Pharaoh had no reason to question Jehovah's sincerity. God had proved his sincerity by his previous dealings with him. And had God actually demanded - what ultimately would have been required - the entire departure of the people from the land, what right had he, their oppressor, to object?
2. Wicked men would fain compound with God. They will give up something, if God will let them retain the rest. There is a sweetness to a proud nature in being able to get even part of its own way.
3. The thing wicked men will not do is to concede the whole demand which God makes on them. What God requires supremely is the surrender of the will, and this the recalcitrant heart will not stoop to yield. Part it will surrender, but not the whole. Outward vices, pleasures, worldly possessions, friendships, these, at a pinch, may be given up; but not the heart's love and obedience, which is the thing chiefly asked for; not the" little ones" of the heart's secret sins, or the "flocks and herds" for the pure inward sacrifice (see Pusey on Micah 6:6-9).
III. THE LOCUST JUDGMENT (ver. 12-16). The predicted plague was accordingly brought upon the land. It was the second of what we may call the greater plagues - the plagues that were to be laid upon the king's "heart" (Exodus 9:14). They were plagues of a character to appal and overwhelm; to lay hold of the nature on the side on which it is susceptible of impressions from the awful and terrific; to awaken into intense activity its slumbering sense of the infinite; to rouse in the soul the apprehension of present Deity. The first was the plague of hail, thunderings, and lightnings; the second was this plague of locusts. The points on which stress is laid in this second plague are -
1. The supernatural character of the visitation.
2. The appalling numbers of the enemy.
3. The havoc wrought by them.
We may compare the language here with the description of the locusts in Joel 2., and it may be concluded that the effects described as following from the latter visitation were more than paralleled by the terror and anguish created by the descent of this scourge on Egypt. "Before their face the people would be much pained; all faces would gather blackness" (Joel 2:6). It would seem as if the earth quaked before them; as if the heavens trembled; as if sun and moon had become dark, and the stars had withdrawn their shining (ver. 10)! The devastation was rapid and complete. "The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness (ver. 3). Had the plague not speedily been removed Egypt verily would have been destroyed. How mighty is Jehovah! How universal his empire! These locusts were brought from afar (ver. 13). All agents in nature serve him; winds (cast and west), locusts (cf. Joel 2:11), as well as hail and thunder. He has but to speak the word, and all we have will be taken from us (ver. 15).
IV. PHARAOH'S PITIABLE PLIGHT AND FURTHER HARDENING (vers. 16-21). What we have here is a specimen of one of those violent contrasts in Pharaoh's later moods to which reference has been made above. Nothing could be more humiliating, more abject, more truly painful, in its self-effacement than this new appeal of the king to Moses. He had sinned, shined both against God, and against Moses and Aaron; would they forgive him this once, only this once, and entreat God that he would take away from him this death only? (vers. 16, 17.) Contrast this with ver. 10, or with ver. 28, and it can hardly be believed that we are looking on the same man. Pharaoh had never humbled himself so far before. He beseeches for mercy; almost cringes before Moses and Aaron in his anxiety to have this dreadful plague removed. Yet there is no real change of heart. The moment the locusts are gone pride reasserts its sway, and he hardens himself as formerly. Learn -
1. That false repentance may be connected with other than superficial states of feeling. Pharaoh was here in real terror, in mortal anguish of spirit. The pains of hell had truly got hold on him (Psalm 116:3). Yet his repentance was a false one.
2. That false repentance may ape every outward symptom of real repentance. Who that saw Pharaoh in that bath of anguish, and heard him pouring out those impassioned entreaties and confessions, but would have supposed that the hard heart had at length been subdued? The confession of sin is unreserved and unqualified. The submission is absolute. Pharaoh was aware of how little he deserved to be further trusted, and pied to be tried again, only this once," Yet the repentance was through and through a false one - the product of mere natural terror - the repentance of a heart, not one fibre of which was altered in its moral quality.
3. That false repentance may not be consciously insincere. There is no reason to question that Pharaoh was for the time sincere enough in the promises he' made. They were wrung from him, but he meant to give effect to them. But the momentary willingness he felt to purchase exemption from trouble by granting Jehovah's demand had quite disappeared by the time the plague was removed. The repentance was false.
4. The test of a repentance being false or true is the fruits yielded by it. The test is not the depth of our convictions, the anguish of our minds, the profuseness of our confessions, the apparent sincerity of our vows, it is the kind of deeds which follow (Matthew 3:8). We have need in this matter of repentance to distrust ourselves, to beware of being imposed on by others, and to be careful in public instruction that the real nature of repentance is lucidly expounded. - J.O.
I. GOD'S JUDGMENT.
1. Though restrained for a time, it will surely fall. It is no argument that the threatening is vain, because, while the servants of God try to persuade, there is no token of the coming judgment.
2. When it does come, it is not less than was foretold (14, 15). God's deed is his comment on his Word, and reveals the terror whose shadow lay in it. The flood was not less than Noah's warnings painted it, nor Jerusalem's judgment than the prophecies which predicted it. Nor shall the woes coming upon the nations, nor the end of sin, be less than God's Word has said.
II. PHARAOH'S CRY. It was sincere, both in confession and entreaty. He saw his folly, he desired relief, he purposed amendment. Good visits him, but it will not abide with him. The self-delusion of repentance born of the visitation of God and the need of heart-searching.
III. PHARAOH'S HEART HARDENED THROUGH DELIVERANCE. With the outward blessing we need inward grace. If we wait upon the Lord he will increase fear, and zeal, and tenderness of heart, but if we still keep far from him we are reserved only for heavier punishment. Instead of forsaking evil we shall build upon God's readiness to forgive, and repentance itself will become impossible through the soul's deep insincerity. Have we received no warnings which have been forgotten? Have we made no vows as yet unfulfilled? God's word says, "Flee from the wrath to come." Sin cries, "Tarry, there is no danger; wait for a more convenient season." - U.
I. CONSIDER THE PLAGUE ITSELF. As with the plagues of the gnats and of the boils and blains, so with this plague - there is no record of any formal intimation of its coming. If such an intimation was absent, we feel that there was good reason for the absence. Though Pharaoh had abased himself in great fear and consternation, so that he might get rid of the locusts, yet the moment they were gone all his stubbornness returned in full force. What use was it, then, any longer to hold threatenings over a man of this sort? Indeed, the proper way of considering this ninth plague seems to be to regard it chiefly as a stepping-stone to the last and decisive visitation. An announcement beforehand would not have been wanting, if at all likely to make any serious difference in Pharaoh's conduct. With respect to the plague itself, four points are noticeable - the kind of it, the degree, the duration, and the customary exemption of the Israelites.
1. The kind of it. It was a plague of darkness. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. He is light, and light continually streams forth from him; and without him the minds of men are in dense darkness as to all that is best in knowledge and most substantial in hope for the time to come. When we consider how much is said about spiritual light and spiritual darkness in the Scriptures, it will be seen how appropriate it was that before Jehovah closed his earthly dealings with Pharaoh he should bring his land under this impenetrable cloud. It was a fitting scourge to come upon a king and people whose minds were so darkened to the perception of God. The light and truth which break forth from God vainly struggled to shine through into Pharaoh's heart. This plague was a sort of approach to the primal chaos, a movement towards dissolving the cosmos into the formless, unillumined mass from which it sprang. God's first great Word in making order was to say, "Let there be light"; now we almost imagine a corresponding word, "Let there be darkness." The sun, though it may pass over Egypt as usual, no longer rules the day; not a ray penetrates to accommodate and cheer the bewildered land.
2. The degree of this darkness. Jehovah tells Moses it will be a darkness which may be felt. Not that it was literally palpable, but rather that the darkness was so dense, so utterly beyond all experience, that it could not possibly be described by language taken from the use of the sense of vision. It was not enough to say, as with respect to the hail and the locusts, that there had been no such experience in Egypt since it became a nation. A new sort of darkness required a new mode of expression to indicate it; and thus by a bold figure the darkness is introduced as affecting not only the usual sense of sight, but the sense of touch as well. The privation of light was in the highest conceivable degree. And here it is surely well to dismiss from our minds all attempts, however well intended, to find a natural basis for this plague. That Jehovah might have made a darkness, and a very terrible one, by increasing and intensifying natural elements and causes is quite true; but somehow, such a view of this plague does not satisfy the demands of the strong terms which are used. Far better is it to suppose that in some mysterious way light lost its radiating power when it came into the Egyptian atmosphere. Doubtless even artificial lights proved useless. If the sun could not pierce into Egypt, little lamps and earth-lights were not likely to succeed.
3. The duration of it. It lasted for three days. In this duration lay its peculiar severity. Even a darkness that might be felt would not be much if it was a momentary visitation. But when it extended for three days, disarranging and paralyzing all work, then the magnitude of the visitation would fully appear. It was indeed a plague more terrible in reality than in threatening, and in continuance than in its first embrace. In itself it was not a painful thing; it did not irritate like the frogs, the gnats, and the flies; it did not destroy like the murrain, the hail, and the locusts. It simply settled down on the land, and while it lasted made one of the most informing and gladdening of the senses utterly useless. Even these who loved the darkness because their deeds were evil, would feel, after three days of it, that they were having too much of a good thing. It was just the kind of plague that by the very continuance of it would grow in horror, and at last precipitate a panic. Darkness is the time favourable to all terrifying imaginations.
4. The exemption of the Israelites. The district where they dwelt had light in their dwellings. Here was, indeed, a more impressive and significant separation than any Jehovah had yet made; and that he should thus separate between Israel and Egypt, as between light and the deepest darkness, was a thing to be expected, considering how soon the Israelites were to go out of the land altogether.
II. CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENT PROPOSITION BY PHARAOH AND THE RECEPTION OF IT BY MOSES. After three days of the darkness that might be felt, Pharaoh is again brought to his knees, suing for mercy, and, as usual, he offers something which formerly he had refused. Only a little while ago he had set his face against liberating the little ones of Israel. Now he has got so far as to say all the people may depart - all the human beings - but the flocks and herds must stay behind; and these, of course, were the very substance of Israel's wealth (Genesis 46:31; Genesis 47:6). And not only so, but at present they would look all the more considerable in comparison with the murrain-swept flocks and herds of Egypt. If Pharaoh can only get this request, he thinks he will both serve his dignity and do something to retrieve his fortunes. What a difference between this last interview with Moses and the first! Pharaoh, who began with refusing to yield anything, nay, who by way of answer made the existing bondage even more oppressive, is now, after a course of nine plagues, willing to yield everything - everything but the property of Israel. This, indeed, has been a great way to bring him, but it has all been done by a kind of main force. Pharaoh's ignorance of Jehovah's character and demands remains unabated, amid all his experience of Jehovah's power. He cannot yet understand that Jehovah is not to be bargained with. He wants the flocks and herds, as if it were a small matter to keep them back, whereas just one reason why the flocks and herds are so abundant is that there may be enough for sacrifice. Jehovah had a use and place for every Israelite, the oldest and the youngest, and all their belongings. It was an answer of Moses, profoundly suitable to the occasion, when he said, "We know not with what we must serve the Lord, until we come thither." He had been sent to Pharaoh to demand all, and he could take nothing less. Interesting questions arise here, but there is no information by which we can answer them. Pharaoh called to Moses (ver. 24) - but how came they together in this dense darkness? or was it that Moses waited there in the darkness these three days? Then when Pharaoh spoke, did the darkness at once begin to pass away? We must almost assume that it did, the purpose of its coming having been served the moment Pharaoh is got another step onward in his yielding. But on all these points we have no direct information. Jehovah now hastens the readers of the narrative to the final catastrophe. Where we, in our curiosity, desire particulars, he omits, in order that he may be particular and exact in matters of abiding importance. He is presently to speak of the Passover with great minuteness. Details of future and continuous duty are of more moment than mere picturesque embellishments of a passing judgment on Egypt. Thus we are left to infer that the darkness had vanished when for the last time Pharaoh refused to let Israel go. And it must be admitted that there was everything in the inflexible answer of Moses to make Pharaoh, being such a man as he was, equally inflexible. "There shall not a hoof be left behind." Israel moves altogether, if it moves at all. This was a very exasperating way for a despot to be spoken to, especially one who felt that he had yielded so much. Indeed, it must have been very astonishing to him to reflect how far he had gone in a path where once it would have seemed ridiculous to suppose that he could take a single step. But now once again he says - in the same reasonless, passionate way that has marked him all along - "Not a step further." After nine plagues he is still the same man at heart. The slightest provocation, and his pride is all aflame, more sensitive than gunpowder to the spark. Nay, most marvellous of all, from the depth of nine successive humiliations he beans to threaten Moses with death. Surely this was the very quintessence of passion and blind rage. The only parallel we can find for it is in the furious, final rush of some great, savage brute, maddened by the shots of the hunter, and making recklessly towards him. What gains he by this advance? He simply comes within easy reach, and another shot from the same weapon, held with perfect coolness and control, lays him dead in the dust. The saddest part of the reflection on Pharaoh's career is, that it gives the essence of so many human lives beside. The hand with which God would clear our corruption away - were we only willing for it to be cleared - stirs it up into a more self-destroying energy and efficacy, if we in our perversity and ignorance determine that the corruption should remain. - Y.
I. THE LAST OF THE ADMONITORY PLAGUES (vers. 21-24). The plagues, viewed as trials of Pharaoh's character, end with this one. The death of the first-born was a judgment, and gave Pharaoh no further space for repentance. We may view this last of the nine plagues:
1. As awful in itself. Whatever its natural basis, the preternatural intensity of the darkness now brought upon the land told plainly enough that it was one of the wonders of Jehovah. For three whole days no one human being in Egypt saw another, even artificial light, it would appear, failing them in their necessity. The fearfulness of the plague was heightened to those stricken by it by the fact that the Israelites "had light in their dwellings"; also by the fact that the sun in his different phases was the chief object of their worship. When one reflects on the terrors which accompany darkness in any case; on the singular effect it has in working on the imagination, and in intensifying its alarms, it will be felt how truly this was a plague laid upon the heart (Exodus 9:14). Darkness suddenly descending on a land invariably awakens superstitious fears, fills multitudes with forebodings of calamity, creates apprehensions of the near approach of the day of judgment; what, then, would be the effect on the Egyptians when they "saw their crystal atmosphere and resplendent heavens suddenly compelled to wear an aspect of indescribable terror and appalling gloom"? We may gather how great was the distress from the fact of the king being compelled, after all that had happened, again to send for Moses (ver. 24).
2. As symbolic of a spiritual condition. Egypt was enveloped in the wrath of God. The stroke of that wrath, which might have been averted by timely repentance, was about to descend in the destruction of the first-born. Darkness was in the king's soul. The darkness of doom was weaving itself around his fortunes. Of all this, surely the physical darkness, which, like a dread funeral pall, descended on the land, must be taken as a symbol. When Christ, the sin-bearer, hung on Calvary, a great darkness, in like manner, covered the whole land (Matthew 27:45). The darkness without was but the symbol of a deeper darkness in which Christ's spirit was enveloped. The sinner's condition is one of darkness altogether. He is dark spiritually (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6). He is dark, as under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). God's people are "children of light," but the transgressor's soul is buried in deadliest gloom (Ephesians 5:8). The place of woe is described as "the outer darkness" (Matthew 25:30).
II. PHARAOH'S LAST ATTEMPT (vers. 24-27).
1. It was made under dire compulsion. The darkness had shaken his heart to its foundations. It is noteworthy that each of these three last plagues extorted from him a full or partial consent. The lesser plagues, severe though they were, had not had this effect. He could hold out under two, and in one case under three of them.
2. It was, like the former, an attempt at compromise. He would let the "little ones" go, but the flocks and herds were to be left; an absurd prohibition, when the object was to sacrifice. It is made painfully evident that Pharaoh's judgment has left him; that he has become absolutely reckless; that he is no longer his own master; that he is being driven by his passions in opposition to all right reason and prudence; that the end, accordingly, is very near.
3. It testifies to his increasing hardness.
(1) There is on this occasion no confession of sin.
(2) Neither does Pharaoh concede the whole demand.
(3) He ends the scene with violence, ordering Moses never to appear again before him, under penalty of death.
III. PHARAOH'S REPROBATION (ver. 29). Moses took Pharaoh at his word. "Thou hast spoken well; I will see thy face no more." God's work with this great, bad man was ended, save as the judgment for which he had prepared himself was now to be inflicted upon him. He had not been given up till every conceivable means had been exhausted to bring him to repentance. He had been tried with reason and with threatening; with gentleness and with severity; with mercy and with judgments. He had been reproved, expostulated with, warned, and frequently chastised. His prayers for respite had in every case been heard. He had been trusted in his promises to let Israel go, and when he had broken them was still forborne with and trusted again. Plagues of every kind had been sent upon him. He had suffered incalculable loss, had endured sore bodily pain, had been shaken in his soul with supernatural terrors. His first plea, of ignorance, and his second, of want of evidence, had been completely shattered. He had been made to confess that he had sinned, and that Jehovah was righteous. Yet under all and through all he had gone on hardening himself, till, finally, even God could wring no confession of sin from him, and his mind had become utterly fatuous, and regardless of consequences. What more was to be done with Pharaoh? Even that which must be done with ourselves under like circumstances - he was rejected, reprobated, given over to destruction. "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?" (Luke 13:7). It was the same fate which overtook Israel when the nation became finally corrupt and hardened. - J.O.
Exodus 10:21Exodus 10:21. A darkness which might be felt suggests the existence of a darkness which is not felt. Consider: -
I. THE UNFELT DARKNESS. [Illustration. Stream in summer on sunny day reflects sun, sky, etc. Contrast with condition in winter, hard, dull, icebound; it has hardened and no longer reflects. If it could be conscious, still flowing on, it might not feel much difference, scarcely aware of the strange casing shutting it out from warmth and beauty.] Pharaoh and his people, like the stream, once had light (cf. John 1:9; Romans 1:19, 20). Then "hardened their hearts." So self-conditioned them that beneath God's influence they could not but harden (Exodus 10:1). The hard heart, like the hard ice-coating, shuts out the light and ensures darkness (Romans 1:21), none the less such darkness not felt (cf. Ephesians 4:17, 18). A terrible judgment, moral darkness, usually resulting from man's own fault; little by little it grows and deepens until it shuts out not merely light, but even the memory of vanished light (cf. John 9:39-41). The immediate precursor of ruin, that "quenching of the Spirit," which paves the way for "blasphemy."
II. THE DARKNESS THAT WAS FELT. Pharaoh would not recognise Jehovah. He shut out the light from him and gloried in his moral darkness. Again and again did Jehovah flash home the truth of his existence to hearts which seemed almost judgment proof. Each new judgment was but followed by deeper darkness, the crack through which light seemed to pierce being deliberately blocked up when the fright was over. Self-chosen moral darkness is met by God-sent physical darkness; the darkness of the tempest, the darkness of the locust clouds, lastly, the concentrated darkness of this ninth plague. Through all, the object is to pierce and, if it may be, dispel the moral darkness; a kind of homoeopathic treatment, which, if it do not cure, may kill. [Illustration. The frozen stream. Light fire upon the surface. Clouds and flame shut out the sunlight more than ever, yet heat may melt the ice covering, and, if so, then light can enter. If not, when fire is extinguished, the ash-strewn surface more impervious to light than ever.] Pharaoh at first seemed to be thawing (Exodus 10:24), but he only felt the heat, he did not recognise the light. When the heat passed, darker than ever (27-29). The last chance gone, what left? (Jude 1:13). God still meets this self-chosen moral darkness by similar methods. Judgments which may be felt flash momentary light upon the self-inflicted darkness which is not felt. He wills that all men should come to repentance; if we shut our hearts to the inner voice, he summons us by outer voices, which cannot but attract attention. They may, however, be disregarded; the power of man's self-will in this world seems strong enough to resist anything.
III. LIGHT IN THE DWELLINGS.
1. Physical. Egyptians had made a difference between themselves and Israel, a difference which had driven Israel to seek help from God. Now God confirms that difference. The light, perhaps, not perfect. [If darkness caused by sand-storm from S.W. may have been such light as was obtainable at the fringe of the storm cloud.] Still it was sufficient, a sign of God's care and watchfulness for those who were prepared to receive and recognise it. And this the Israelites were prepared to do, for the light in the dwelling was the type of light in the heart.
2. Moral. They had been "in darkness," the darkness of slavery and idolatry (cf. Joshua 24:14); but the light had dawned upon them, and, however imperfectly, they had recognised and welcomed it. The cry in the darkness (Psalm 130:6) had been heard and answered. By God's help the inner light had been quickened and fostered; and to those who have the inner light, however feeble, he gives help that it may grow brighter. He will not quench the smoking flax, but fan it to a flame (cf. Psalm 18:27-28). Application. There is one who is the Light of the World. The great thing for us is to walk in the light (1 John 1:5-7). If we do not, darkness can but deepen till the night come (John 9:4; cf. Job 18:18). Yet even those in darkness of their own making, God, in his love, still tries to lighten (cf. his dealings with the Egyptians; also our Lord's with the Jews, John 9:39). If the light is still resisted, then cf. Matthew 25:30. If we do walk in the light so far as we know it, then cf. Proverbs 4:18. Even when dark for others, still light for us, Isaiah 60:1, 2; and if the darkness does, as it sometimes will, overshadow us, even so Psalm exit. 4; Isaiah 1:10. - G.