Exodus 5
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I know not Jehovah, etc.: Exodus 5:2. We now come face to face with the king. As the king here becomes very prominent, we will keep him conspicuous in the outlining of this address.

I. AUDIENCE WITH THE KING. This is a convenient moment for introducing Pharaoh as the terrestrial representative of the Sun, as the vicegerent of Deity upon earth. Does it seem wonderful that men should receive a man in this capacity? But millions of professed Christians in this nineteenth century so receive the Pope. We will take the suggestions of the story in the time-order of the narrative. We have -

1. A lesson in courage. The two went to their audience with the king at the peril of their lives. Some might have remembered Moses. Their demand touched the honour and revenues of the king. Courage in facing responsibility is the lesson; leave consequences to our poor selves to God.

2. A suggestion as to the method of evangelic grace. Jehovah here calls himself for the first time in relation to the nation, as distinguished from the man Jacob, "the God of Israel." A crowd was just becoming a State and a Church, when Jehovah calls himself their God. First he is their God: then all possibilities are before them. Their history begins well. So now: first adopted children, and then the obedience of children.

3. A warning against want of catholicity. The tone of Pharaoh is that of the vicegerent of Deity, as against a tutelary god he deigned not to acknowledge. But he was wrong even on the principles of enlightened pagandom, which was forward to acknowledge the gods of all nations. Compare the policy of imperial Rome.

4. Teaching as to gradation in God's demands. Here may be discussed the nature and propriety of the first demand for three days' absence. Looking at things after the events, it may appear to some that here was a demand which concealed the real intention, viz. to return no more. But this would be to impeach the veracity of God! The demand really was for "a whole day's prayer-meeting," with a day to go, a day to return. In the desert, as in consideration of Egyptian feeling; but probably within the frontier, for there were Egyptian garrisons in Forts of the desert of Sinai. A moderate demand! One that Pharaoh might well have complied with. Compliance might have led to further negotiation; and this Pharaoh might have stood out in history as co-operating in the deliverance and formation of the Church of God. Instead of that he set himself against the small demand, and was unready for the greater (Exodus 6:11) when it came. And so we see him through the mist of ages, "moving ghost-like to his doom." It is a picture of the method of God. He asks first for the simple, reasonable, easy etc. etc.

II. ORDERS FROM THE KING. "The very same day!" Such is the restlessness of the tyrant-spirit. The orders were addressed to the "drivers," Egyptians, and to the "clerks" of the works, Hebrews. Note the large employment of "clerks," as evidenced by the monuments. The appointment of these "clerks" would contribute much to the organisation of Israel, and so prepare for the Exodus. As to the orders - explain them. Bricks a government monopoly; witness the royal mark on many to this day. Same number of bricks as before, but people to gather in the corn-fields the straw (in harvest only the ear cut off) previously allowed by the government, chop it, and mix it with the clay. Terrible cruelty of these orders-in-council in such a climate.

III. OBEDIENCE TO THE KING. For the sake of vividly and pictorially bringing up the condition of the people, note the time of straw-collecting: time of harvest - end of April; then a hot pestilential sand-wind often blows over the land of Egypt for fifty days; the effects on health, tone, skin, eyes (in the land of ophthalmia), of so working in blazing sun, in clouds of dust, in hopeless slavery. They return to the horrid brickfields; fail; fierce punishments, as to this day in the same land.

IV. EXPOSTULATION WITH THE KING, The "clerks" of the works constitute a deputation to the king, perhaps by virtue of a "right of petition." The king accuses them of being "idle." To understand this, think of the gigantic public works, the terrific labour, the perishing of thousands, the likelihood that such a taunt would spring to tyrannical lips. The king refuses, perhaps threatens the lives of the "clerks." See ver. 21 - "to put a sword," etc. Here again, that which seemed most against the people made for them. The treatment of the "clerks" brought them into sympathy with their enslaved brethren. Israel closed its ranks. The fellowship of suffering prepared for the companionship of pilgrimage. There was, too, a present blessing. Spiritual feelings were quickened, heaven came nearer, the pitying love of God became more precious. One can imagine such scenes as those in which the slaves of the Southern States, through horrid swamps and over mighty rivers, in the dead of night "stole away to Jesus."

"In that hour, when night is calmest,
Sing they from some Sacred Psalmist,
In a voice so sweet and clear
That I cannot choose but hear.

"And the voice of their devotion
Fills my soul with strange emotion;
For its tones by turns are glad,
Sweetly solemn, wildly sad."

[Adapted from LONGFELLOW.]

V. CONSEQUENCES TO THE AMBASSADORS OF THE KING OF KINGS. Moses and Aaron, somewhere near the palace, were waiting to know the result of the audience of the "clerks" with the king. The "clerks," irritated and angry, turned on the God-given leaders: ver. 21. [Note in the Hebrews the expression "to stink in the eyes," and the fact that pungent odours do affect the eyes! A dreadful trouble to Moses and Aaron! In conclusion, observe -

1. The cruelty that is ever incident to sin. "Man's inhumanity to man" a universal fact. "The dark places of the earth are full," etc.; so places alight with modern civilisation. The incidents of any gin-palace! There is, too, a cruelty of word and manner. Soul-wounds deeper than sword-gashes. No cure save under the sanctifying power of the Cross of self-abnegating love.

2. The pain that attends all emancipations. The first efforts of Moses and Aaron led to nothing but disaster. See 6:9. So with the agony of emancipation in America. So always and everywhere. So with reforms within the Church. So with crises of soul-history.

3. The discouragement that may fall to leaders.

4. The encouragement we all have. Note here -

(1) The appointment of the "clerks;"

(2) The personal danger into which they came;

(3) The uniting all Israel into a fellowship of grief that they might dare the desert. All this came out of the oppression; but tended to salvation. Our darkest experiences rosy be our best friends.

5. Through what sorrow all come to the final emancipation. - R.

Exodus 5:1
The people of Jehovah detained and oppressed by the representative of the prince of this world; no doubt as to the strength of the latter - is it possible for his spoils to be wrested from him? The strong man armed has thus far kept his palace (Luke 11:21), and his goods (cf. Revelation 18:13) have been in peace, so far as outward disturbance is concerned. Now comes one who claims to be the stronger. What may be expected to. happen?


1. The tyrant. Picture the king. Wholly self-satisfied, worshipped as a god, absolute ruler over the lives of thousands. Surrounded by obsequious servants - none to contradict him, none to disobey. Enthroned in palace. Enter -

2. The envoys. Two men - one grown old in slavery, one for forty years a shepherd, looking now at all this pomp as a man who dimly recalls some dream. Does he think of what might have been, perhaps he himself seated upon the throne (cf. Hebrews 11:24)? Greater honour to be the unknown envoy of Jehovah than to be the Pharaoh who receives his message.

3. The message. Strange words for such a king to hear

(1) a command, not a request. The sender of the message speaks as to a servant.

(2) The slaves of Pharaoh claimed as the people of Jehovah; his right denied to the possession of his goods.

4. The reply. The demand met by a contemptuous refusal Who is Jehovah? I know not Jehovah!" If the message is authoritative, yet the envoys are sufficiently humble - they even plead with him that, for the sake of the people, he will grant them permission and opportunity to sacrifice (ver. 3). All to no purpose; the strong man is secure in his possessions and means to keep them in his grasp.

II. HOSTILITIES COMMENCED. - Pharaoh, was not quite so indifferent as he seemed. If there is to be war, he will gain such advantage as may be gained by making the first hostile movement. His slaves at any rate shall be taught that rebellion is not likely to be successful. Effect of his policy: -

1. On people. So long as he had been undisturbed his goods were in peace; now that he is disturbed the miserable peace of his chattels is disturbed too. [Man in prison, treated with greater rigour on the rumour of an attempted rescue.] Early spring, just after the corn has been cut; chopped straw needed to mix with the clay in brickmaking; let these discontented rebels gather their own. Israelites obliged to scatter themselves over the country; all complaints stifled with blows. Result, vers. 20, 21, great discouragement and distrust of Moses and Aaron. "This comes of interfering." Six months' worse tyranny than ever.

2. On himself. Six months to realise the success of his policy; feels more secure than ever; heart is harder; pride greater (cf. Romans 2:4, 5).

3. On Moses. Vers. 22, 23. Disheartened, but only for a little; repulsed by Pharaoh, suspected by the people, he is driven back on God; like the giant who gained strength each time he clasped the ground, so becoming more invincible with each new overthrow, finds God his refuge and his strength also. God is pledged to secure final victory. The slaves must be freed; not because they can win freedom, but because God has promised to free them. Apply, from our Lord's parable, Luke 11:21, 22, Satan the strong man who has many slaves. His power seems at first to increase when moved by the rumour of redemption we attempt to follow the dictates of our Deliverer (cf. Romans 7:9-11). Content with slavery, there is quietude; trying after freedom we find trouble and affliction. [Illustr. A habit, not hard to endure, but hard to break. The chain of sin is easy to wear; they only know how fast it holds who try to struggle free of it.] Cf. again Romans 7. with St. Paul. as with Israel; the bondage seemed worse than ever when the hope of freedom was the most alluring. In either ease the ground of hope, not in the sufferer, but away outside him. God prompts to the struggle against the oppressor, but he does not let victory depend on us; that rests with him. The promise to deliver is contained in the call to freedom. It is not, "I will help you when you are strong," nothing said about our strength at all; confidence rests on the fact that God. is Jehovah, the changeless One (cf. Exodus 6:2; Malachi 3:6). Let Israel obey Moses, and God must redeem them from Pharaoh. Let us obey Christ, and God must redeem us from the power of Satan. - G.

Accompanied by Aaron, Moses passes again through the hails of the Pharaohs from which he has been so long a stranger. Kings, courtiers, and people are different; but all else gates and pillars, courts, corridors, and reception-rooms - how unchanged since first he knew them! The feelings of the quondam prince must have been strangely mingled, as, after forty years of exile, he trod the familiar pavements, and looked upon the old splendours. But the narrative, absorbed in its mightier theme, has no word to spare for the emotions of a Moses. The long contest between Pharaoh and Jehovah is on the eve of its commencement, and the interest centres in its opening scene. It is this which occupies the verses before us.

I. THE REQUEST (vers. 1, 3). Behold Pharaoh on his throne of state, while the brothers stand before him delivering Jehovah's message. The request preferred to him was -

1. Eminently righteous and reasonable. No monarch has a right to deprive a people of the opportunity of worshipping God according to their consciences. If he does, the people have a right to protest against it. Pharaoh could not be expected to understand the modern views of rights of conscience, but even by the light of his own time people were entitled to be permitted to worship their own gods, and to honour them by appropriate festivals. But not only had Pharaoh deprived the Hebrews of their liberty, and ground them to the earth by cruel oppression - both offences against righteousness, but he had taken from them, we may be certain, the opportunity of observing in a proper manner the festivals of their God. Moses and Aaron would have been within their rights, even without Divine command, had they demanded that the whole nation be set at liberty. Much more when they only asked that they be allowed for a brief space to retire into the wilderness, there, unmolested by the Egyptians, to sacrifice to the Lord.

2. Supported by Divine command. "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel." Pharaoh, it is true, could plead that he did not know Jehovah; but when he saw these men's sincerity, and how they dreaded incurring their God's anger (ver. 3), it was his duty to have inquired further. The evil was that he did not care to know. He treated the whole matter with impious and disdainful contempt.

3. Unaccompanied by signs. Moses and Aaron had no occasion to exhibit signs. Pharaoh was not in a mood to pay the slightest attention to them. He did not even dispute that this was a bona fide message from Jehovah, but took the ground of simple refusal to obey it. Yet there may have been a reason for working no miracles at the opening of the conflict. God proceeds with men step by step. The first appeal is to be made, not to the king's fears, but to his sense of fairness, his humanity, and feeling of religion. He must be convicted on this lower ground before sterner measures are used to coerce him to submission. It might be true that purely moral considerations would have little effect upon him; but if so, this had to be made manifest. God deals with men first of all in the open court of conscience, and it is there - in the region of ordinary morals - that hardening usually begins.

II. PHARAOH'S REPLY (ver. 2). It was, as already stated, a haughty and angry refusal, showing total disregard of the rights and wishes of the Hebrews, and setting Jehovah at defiance. The king's disposition, as brought to light in it, is seen to be -

1. Proud. He probably regarded the request of the brothers as an instance of astounding audacity. Who were they, two slave-born men, that they should presume to ask from him, the lord of mighty Egypt, that the people be allowed to rest from their labours? His pride may have blinded him to the righteousness of their demand; but it could not lessen his responsibility. We are judged, not according to the impression which righteous and merciful appeals make upon us - that may be his - but by the inherent righteousness of the appeals, and by the effects which they ought to have produced.

2. Headstrong. Before venturing so defiantly to scout Jehovah and his message, it would surely have been well for Pharaoh to have inquired a little further into the character and powers of this Being of whom the Hebrews stood so much in awe. He had not the excuse which many moderns would plead, that he did not believe in gods or in the supernatural in any shape. Pharaoh had no right, from his own point of view, to scout the possibility of "the God of the Hebrews" having met with them; and neither, so far as appears from the narrative, did he, though he chose to regard the story as a fiction. Many reject the Gospel, never having given its claims their serious attention; but this will not excuse them. They cannot plead that, had they believed it to be true, they would have acted otherwise. Their sin is that in their headstrongness they will not trouble themselves to inquire whether it is true.

3. Profane. After all, what Pharaoh's reply amounted to was this, that, let Jehovah be who or what he might, he (Pharaoh) set him at naught - would not obey him. The message might or might not come from a God, he did not care. Thus he "set his mouth against the heavens" (Psalm 73:9), and "exalted himself above all that is called God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4) - not an uncommon phase of pride. But the presumptuously wicked will do well to remember that, if Pharaoh thus exalted himself, it was to his own destruction. His very pride was a challenge to Jehovah to destroy him. - J.O.


1. Its modesty. They merely ask liberty to depart on a three days' journey into the wilderness.

2. It was asked in good faith; it was not a cover for escape. God would give deliverance; but that was left in God's hand; and meanwhile they asked only for liberty to worship him.

3. Its reasonableness: they could not sacrifice the sacred animals of the Egyptians before their faces.

4. Its necessity. Pharaoh might not know Jehovah, but they knew him, and must serve him, "lest he fall upon us with the pestilence or the sword." The demand of the Church still is liberty to serve God in his own appointed way. It must be had. Luther's "God help me; I can do no other! We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).


1. Its presumption. He did not know Jehovah, and therefore the message was a lie! Unbelief makes the bounds of its knowledge the bounds of truth and possibility. The pretensions of modern agnosticism.

2. It was a refusal of justice; it was a resolve to continue oppression. Unbelief is the brother and helper of wrong-doing.

3. It was made with reproach and insult. They were encouraging idleness and sedition: "Get ye to your burdens" "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also."

4. The rage of the wicked is often the best commendation of God's servants. It is a testimony to their faithfulness. - U.

Moses and Aaron, somehow or other, have found their way into Pharaoh's presence. All things, so far, have happened as God said they would happen. The very brevity and compactness of the record at the end of ch. 4. is an instructive comment on the way in which Moses had mistaken comparative shadows for substantial difficulties. The actual meeting of Moses with Israel is dismissed in a few satisfactory and significant words; as much as to say that enough space had already been occupied in detailing the difficulties started by Moses in his ignorance and alarm. It is when Moses and Pharaoh meet that the tug of war really begins. Moses addresses to Pharaoh the commanded request, and is met, as was to be expected, with a prompt and contemptuous defiance. Observe -

I. PHARAOH, IN HIS REJOINDER TO MOSES, PUTS A QUESTION WHICH GOD ALONE CAN PROPERLY ANSWER. "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go?" This was evidently in Pharaoh's opinion a question which needed no answer at all. It had nothing interrogative about it, except the form. Taking the form of a question, it served to express more forcibly Pharaoh's defiant spirit. There was, in his opinion, really no need to consider or confer at all. "Am I not the great Pharaoh, successor to many great Pharaohs before me? Is not my power accepted and undisputed far and wide?" He could not so much as comprehend any danger unless it took the form of physical force; and not only so, but a form plainly visible - near, threatening, overwhelming. If only some great king had been approaching - strong with the strength of a large and victorious army - to demand the liberation of Israel, Pharaoh would not so have spoken. To him the invisible was as the unreal. Pharaoh listens to Moses, and what does he hear? - a claim that seems to dispute his supremacy, from this new deity, whose image he has never seen, whose name mayhap his priests have told him is not that of any deity worshipped in Canaan of which they have ever heard. Certainly it looks a large claim upon the first presentation of it, small as it is in comparison with what is to follow. This, then, is what he hears, and the audacity and presumption of it are not diminished by what he sees. There stand Moses and Aaron, completely devoid in person and surroundings of anything to impress the king with the peril of refusing their request. Surely if the men who say they are sent look so contemptible, the unseen being from whom they say they come may be safely neglected. Such is the reasoning, silently powerful, if not openly expressed, of those who despise and reject the claims of God. Christ is judged of, not as he is in himself, but by the superficial aspect of Christians. Because they are often low in station, or inconsistent in life, or lacking in disposition and ability to make much outward show, the world thinks that there is little or nothing behind them. It' is the folly of only too many to take Pharaoh's stand. For the right reception of the things of God we need all possible humility and ]PGBR> openmindedness; what then is to be done, if upon the very first approach of religion, we pooh-pooh it as mere superstition, folly, and delusion?

2. This was a question to which Moses could have given a very effective and alarming answer if only he had been allowed opportunity. Moses, fresh from the revelations and sanctities of Horeb, could have told Pharaoh such a story of the workings of Jehovah as would have been enough, and more than enough, to guide the steps of a right-minded listener. Not only his own personal experience; not only the sight of the burning bush, the rod transformed, the leprous hand, the blood where water ought to be; but also the fulness, the terrible fulness of Jehovah's power in the earlier days of the world, were within his reach to speak about. He could have told Pharaoh very admonitory things concerning Sodom and the Deluge if only he had been willing to listen. We may well believe that the effect of Pharaoh's defiant attitude would be to send Moses away striving to refresh and sustain his mind with the evidences, so available and so abundant, that in spite of this proud king's contempt, Jehovah, in his vast power and resources, was indeed no vain imagination. When the proud and self-sufficient ask this Pharaoh-question, it is for us to make such answer as may be reassuring to ourselves; not to doubt our own eyesight because others are blind, our own heating because others are deaf.

How few sometimes may know, when thousands err. The truth which we may not be able to make even probable to others, we must strive so to grasp and penetrate, that more and more it may be felt as certain and satisfying to ourselves.

3. Thus we see how the Lord himself needed to deal with this question. Knowledge of God is of many kinds, according to the disposition of the person who is to be taught, and according to the use which God purposes to make of him. Pharaoh was evidently not going to be a docile scholar in God's school - one who comes to it willing and eager, thirsting for a refreshing knowledge of the living God. But still he had to be a scholar, willingly or not. He had to learn this much at least, that he was transgressing on the peculiar possessions of God when he sported with Israel in his despotic caprice. It is for no man to say that his present real ignorance gives assurance that he will never come to some knowledge of God. It may be as pitifully true of the atheist as it is encouragingly true of the godly, that what he knows not now, he will know hereafter. Now he knows not God, but in due time he will know him; not dubiously, not distantly, but in the most practical and it may be most painful and humiliating manner. Pharaoh says, with a sneer on his face, and derision in his voice, "Who is Jehovah?" That question is duly answered by Jehovah in signs and plagues, and the last answer we hear anything about on earth comes unmistakable and sublime, amid the roll of the Red Sea's returning waters.

II. But Pharaoh not only puts this defiant question; HE UTTERS A MOST DETERMINED RESOLUTION WHICH GOD ALONE CAN ALTER. "Neither will I let Israel go." What then are Israel's chances for the future? There was every certainty that, if left to himself, Pharaoh would go on, tyrannous and oppressive as ever. From a human point of view he had everything to help him in sticking to his resolution. His fears, if he had any - the wealth which he and his people had gained from the incessant toils of Israel - the great dislocations and changes which would have been produced by even a temporary withdrawal of Israel - all these things helped to a firm maintenance of the resolution. It was a resolution which had strong and active support in all the baser feelings of his own breast. It is just in the firmness and haughtiness of such a resolution, revealing as it does the spirit of the man, that we get the reason for such an accumulation of calamities as came upon his land. Here is another significant illustration of the manifold power of God, that he could break down so much proud determination. There was no change in Pharaoh's feeling; no conversion to an equitable and compassionate mind; he simply yielded, because he could not help himself, to continuous and increasing pressure, and God alone was able to exert that pressure. Pharaoh here is but the visible and unconscious exponent of that dark Power which is behind all evil men and cruel and selfish policies. That Power, holding men in all sorts of bitter disappointments and degrading miseries, virtually says, "I will not let them go." Our confidence ought ever to be, that though we can do nothing to break this bitter bondage, God, who forced the foe of Israel to relax his voracious grasp, will by his own means force freedom for us from every interference of our spiritual foe. It was Pharaoh's sad prerogative to shut his own heart, to shut it persistently, to shut it for ever, against the authority and benedictions of Jehovah. But no one, though he be as mighty and arrogant as a thousand Pharaohs, can fasten us up from God, if so be we are willing to go to him, from whom alone we can gain a pure and eternal life. - Y.

View Pharaoh's conduct as illustrative -

I. OF THE VIEW WHICH A WORLDLY MAN TAXES OF RELIGION. "Ye are idle" (ver. 8). This way of putting the matter was partly a pretext - a tyrant's excuse for adding to burdens already sufficiently heavy; but it had so far a ground in Pharaoh's real way of viewing things, that he doubtless regarded the desire to go and sacrifice as an idle, foolish notion, one which would not have come into the people's heads had they been worked hard enough, and which it was his interest to drive out again as soon as possible. Observe in this -

1. A total incapacity to understand the origin of religious aspirations. Pharaoh had no better account to give of them than that they sprang from idleness. They were the fruit of a roving, unsettled disposition. The cure for them was harder work. This is precisely how the world looks on religion. It is the unpractical dream of people whose working faculties are not in sufficiently vigorous exercise. Of a true thirsting of the soul for God the world has not the slightest comprehension.

2. A total want of sympathy with these aspirations. Indulgence in them would be idling - a foolish and profitless waste of time. It is not idling to watch the markets, to speculate on stock, to read novels, to attend the Derby, to run to theatres, to spend evenings in the ball-room, to hunt, fish, shoot, or travel on the Continent, to waste hours in society gossip; but it would be idling to pray, or worship God, or engage in Christian work, or attend to the interests of the soul. To snatch an hour from business to attend a prayer-meeting would be reckoned egregious folly, and as little are the hours at one's disposal when business is over to be spent in such "foolishness." Even the Sabbath, so far as it cannot be utilised for pleasure, is deemed a day "wasted " - a weariness (Amos 8:6; Malachi 2:13).

3. A total disregard of the rights of others in connection with these aspirations. Thoroughgoing men of the world neither take pains to conceal their own contempt for religion ("vain words," ver. 9), nor trouble themselves with any scruples as to the rights of others. They will, without hesitation, take from the religiously-disposed their opportunities of serving God, if these stand in the way of their own interests. Gladly, had they the power, would they turn the Sabbath into a work-day for the many that it might become (as on the Continent) a play-day for the few. Their own domestics and workpeople are over-driven, and unscrupulously deprived of Sabbath and sanctuary privileges. Where even the plea of humanity is disregarded, the plea of religion is not likely to be allowed much weight.

II. OF THE ALARMS FELT BY A TYRANT AT THE UPRISING OF FREE ASPIRATIONS IN THE SUBJECTS OF HIS TYRANNY. Pharaoh shrewdly foresaw the consequences of a further spread of these new-fangled ideas among the people. The request to go and sacrifice would not be long in being followed by a demand for freedom. Despotism and the spirit of liberty cannot coalesce. The tyrant knows that his power is put in peril the moment people begin to think for themselves - to cherish dreams of freedom - to be moved by religious enthusiasms. His rule can only be maintained at the cost of the extinction in his subjects of the last vestige of mental and spiritual independence. If a spiritual movement like this which sprang up in Israel begins to show itself, it must be stamped out at once, and at whatever cost of suffering and bloodshed. Whatever tends to produce such movements is looked on with hostility. This applies to all kinds of despotisms - civil, ecclesiastical, industrial, social. Hence, under despotic governments, the gagging of the press, suppression of free institutions, restriction of liberty of speech, ostracism of men of public spirit, and opposition to progress and to liberal ideas generally. Hence the antagonism of the Roman Church to learning and science, with the baleful effects which have followed from that antagonism in countries where her influence is supreme (see Laveleye on 'Protestantism and Catholicism in their Bearings upon the Liberty and Prosperity of Nations'; and histories of the Reformation in Spain and Italy). "It has been wittily said, that in Madrid, provided you avoid saying anything concerning government, or religion, or politics, or morals, or statesmen, or bodies of reputation, or the opera, or any other public amusement, or any one who is engaged in any business, you may print what you please, under correction of two or three censors' (McCrie). Hence the antipathy of the slave-drivers of industry - those who grind the faces of the poor, making their profit out of their poverty and helplessness - to the diffusion of intelligence among the masses. Hence, in slave-holding countries, the laws against teaching slaves to read, etc. The-slave-holder cannot afford to encourage the spread of intelligence, of anything which will enable his slave to realise his manhood. But tyranny of this kind is self-condemned.

1. As unnatural. It requires the extinction and suppression of everything noble and good in human nature. It sets itself in opposition to intelligence, freedom, progress, religion, and all holy and spiritual aspirations.

2. As inhuman. In consolidating its dominion, it stoops to perpetrate the grossest cruelties. Think of the work of the Inquisition! Think of the blood that has been shed on the shrine of civil liberty! Think of the George Harrises of slavery! "What business had his slave to be marching round the country, inventing machines, and holding up his head among gentlemen? He'd soon put a stop to it. He'd take him back, and put him to hoeing and digging, and see if he'd step about so smart?" ('Uncle Tom's Cabin.') See also,

3. Its weakness. Tyranny of this kind cannot endure. Under the influence of ideas from without, a mental and moral awakening is certain to come some day, and the tyrant's power is doomed.

III. OF THE PITILESS CRUELTY OF WHICH MEN GET TO BE CAPABLE IN THE PURSUIT OF INIQUITOUS ENDS: vers. 6-9. Pharaoh was determined to keep the Hebrews in slavery; and so, to suppress this new spirit of discontent which had broken out among them, he must heat their furnace sevenfold, and heap cruelty on cruelty. He may have urged the plea of state necessity, and justified himself by the reflection that less severe measures would not have served his purpose - that he was driven to cruelty by the logic of events. A vain plea in any case, and one which only a heart rendered callous by a long course of inhumanity could have brought itself to entertain. Yet Pharaoh was thus far right, that, once a career of iniquity has been entered upon, events take the matter out of the sinner's hands, and leave him no alternative but either to abandon his evil courses, or be driven on from one cruelty to a worse. And, contemporaneously with the movement of events, there is going on a hardening of the heart, which makes the cruelty possible. It is wonderful what pitiless deeds men get to be capable of, who have others in their power, and who acknowledge no higher law than their own interests. We have only to recall the iniquities of the slave-trade, connived at by many of our most respectable merchants; the inhumanities attendant on the employment of women and young children in mines and factories, as brought to light by Parliamentary Commissions; the former semi-brutal condition of agricultural labourers; the underpaying of needle-women; the horrors of the "sweating system;" the instances of cruelty and rapacity exhibited in the emigration trade, which are described as "among the most atrocious that have ever disgraced human nature" (Chambers's 'Encyc.'); the reckless disregard of the lives of sailors in their being sent to sea in heavily laden and untrustworthy ships (Plimsoll) - to see how far, even in a civilised country, the thirst of gain will carry men, under circumstances where they can count upon impunity, and evade the censure of public opinion. A Pharaoh could hardly do worse. "Small manufacturers, working with insufficient capital, and in times of depression not having the wherewith to meet their engagements, are often obliged to become dependants on the wholesale houses with which they deal; and are then cruelly taken advantage of ... He (the manufacturer) is obliged to work at the wholesaler's terms, and ruin almost certainly follows ... As was said to us by one of the larger silk-hosiers, who had watched the destruction of many of his smaller brethren - 'They may be spared for a while as a cat spares a mouse; but they are sure to be eaten up in the end ... "We read that in Hindostan, the ryots, when crops fall short, borrow from the Jews to buy seed, and once in their clutches are doomed. It seems that our commercial world can furnish parallels" (H. Spencer). Learn:

1. To avoid the beginning of a course of injustice.

2. To guard against the hardening of the heart by cruelty.

3. To have an open ear to the cry of the oppressed, and a readiness to support every righteous measure for their protection and relief.

4. See in Pharaoh's tyranny an image of the pitiless tyranny of Satan. He, too, is absolutely merciless in the power he obtains over us. His service is one which grows increasingly more rigorous. He, too, would have us make bricks without straw, driving us on by our lusts and passions in pursuit of ends impossible (in his service) of attainment. More acute than Pharaoh, be gets the sinner himself to believe that it is "idle" to sacrifice to God, and by this means lures him to his service, where he soon binds him in chains more terrible and galling than any which earthly tyrant ever put upon his slaves. - J.O.

Pharaoh has given a proud verbal refusal to the request of Moses: but he is not contented to stop with words. The first result, discouraging and discrediting of Moses' application, is still further to increase burdens and hardships already scarcely tolerable.

I. CONSIDER HOW THIS ADDITIONAL SEVERITY TO ISRAEL ORIGINATED - that is, how it originated as far as Pharaoh's part in it was concerned. It came through his utterly mistaken notions as to Moses and Israel. Pharaoh, as an alert politician, was bound to inquire how it was that Moses had been led to prefer this request; and he came to the conclusion that the people had too much leisure time - did their work far too easily - and thus left an opportunity for the success of any designing demagogue, such as he judged Moses to be. And, indeed, Pharaoh's conjecture showed a very plausible appearance of shrewd insight into human nature. All such readers of this narrative as utterly disbelieve the reality of Divine intervention and supremacy in human affairs, will say that Pharaoh was not far wrong; whereas he was utterly wrong. Moses went into the presence of Pharaoh because the power of God constrained him. He would have gone anywhere to escape the task, if only he could have done it with safety and self-respect. Pharaoh little knew what a profound sense of unworthiness dwelt in the breast of Moses. Other feelings might come and go, mount to flow and sink to ebb; that remained, more penetrating and subduing the more he had to do with God, and the more he had to do with Israel Pharaoh was also utterly mistaken as to the people. The request for liberty had not come from them. They of their own accord and carnal judgment would never have thought of such a request. As soon might the helpless victim of a raging beast of prey turn to it with a real expectation of mercy. The prisoner may devise many plans of escape: but he would reckon it a mere provocative of more painful and stringent captivity, if he addressed to his gaoler a formal request for liberty. Pharaoh then, in his ignorance of God, proved ignorant and mistaken in the whole of his policy. Every view is mistaken, egregiously mistaken, that leaves out the thought of God as a living, intimate, ever-watchful Power.

II. CONSIDER THAT ALL THIS CRUEL TREATMENT DID NOTHING AT ALL FOR PHARAOH. If it had done anything, however little, to delay the final disaster, it would have been something to say: but it did nothing at all He treated Moses as a mere politician, and Israel as being only in a state of incipient insurrection. If such had been the reality of things, then his policy, however damnable for its cruelty, would have merited at least this admission, that there was a real adaptation of means to ends. But Pharaoh was as yet utterly unconscious of his real enemy. His mind was in a state of darkness, deep as that outward darkness which later overspread his land. All his efforts, summed up and stated in the largest way, simply came to this - that he was making very bitter the temporal life of a fleeting generation. But he himself had not arrested by a single step the advance of a righteous and omnipotent God. Struggling against the visible Moses and the visible Israel, he knew nothing of how to resist the invisible God. A man may rage about, putting out all candles and lamps, leaving us for awhile in darkness, but he has not retarded the sunrise by even the minutest fragment of time. This is our glory and our comfort, if we have the spirit of Christ dwelling in us, that we are contending against one who has only carnal weapons. We are not allowed to take carnal weapons; they are of no use to us; and never should we forget that they are of no use to those who are against us. Pharaoh did not delay God's liberating work; that work went on in all the majestic ease of its divinity, amid the smitings of the oppressor and the wailings of the oppressed. Making bricks without straw was mere child's-play compared with the enterprise on which Pharaoh was now embarked. He might as well have gone out with the sword and spear against the pestilence and the famine, as against Israel with a mere increase of oppression and cruelty.

III. THIS ADDITIONAL CRUELTY SHOWED THE IMPERATIVE NEED OF DIVINE INTERVENTION. If Pharaoh was powerless to delay the advance of God, he was very powerful to shut out interference from any other quarter. Help in God, sure and sufficient help, but help only in God, was one of the great lessons which all these painful years were meant to teach Israel. Pharaoh had unmistakable power of the human, despotic, might-makes-right sort over Israel. As the inquisitor by an easy nod signifies to give the thumbscrew another turn, so Pharaoh had only to send out his royal wish, and all the taskmasters had Israel at once in fresh agony. And just so we have to be taught by a bitter experience that as Christ is a Saviour from sin, with all its fatal fruits, so he is the only Saviour. The first attempt at a real protest and resistance against sin brings out all its power. Though the sinner's miseries do not begin when Christ the accredited deliverer makes his first approach in deliver, there is nevertheless a distinct accession to them. Christ cannot challenge the power of sin in any of us without rousing up into intense activity the evil already working in our breasts. Pharaoh was not really a more powerful ruler after the visit of Moses than he was before; but the disposition and power then became manifest. The hearts of the generation in the midst of which Christ lived and died were not of exceptional malignity or obduracy. The generation immediately before and the generation immediately after, would have treated him in exactly the same way. But it was necessary for him to draw out sin into a full revelation of its hideous potency, in order that it might be made perfectly clear that none but himself could deal with it. True, Pharaoh was glorying in what was only a fabric of delusions and a refuge of lies; but, frail though it was, no breath of man had strength enough to blow it down. None but God could make the effectual and dissipating storm to descend upon it. - Y.

I. THE DEMANDS OF GOD PROVOKE THE WRATH OF THE UNGODLY. The mad persistence of Pharaoh in his injustice is marked -

1. In his haste: his commands were issued "the same day."

2. In the severity of the decree: they should find their own straw, and yet deliver the same number of bricks.

3. In his determination to have his commands obeyed. It is not meant to be an idle threat: the overseers are "straitly charged." When God's word is resisted the soul is inflamed to greater evil. The unregenerate spirit is the same everywhere. God's claim has only to be pressed home to be repelled in the same fashion.

II. THE WAY TO DELIVERANCE SOMETIMES LIES THROUGH DEEPER TROUBLE. Israel's case was now harder than it was before (vers. 11-14), and solely because God had arisen to fight for them: but it was the last struggle of a doomed foe. It is thus -

1. In the Church's struggle with the world of unbelief: God's message is met with scorn, repression, and opposition of science falsely so called. But these shall vanish away like smoke, and their utterances and deeds will at last be the monuments of their infamy.

2. In the contest with the dominion of sin in the soul. The might of sin is felt most when the Spirit's call is first heard; but God has said, "Let my people go," and the wrath of the enemy will soon be swallowed up in his destruction.

3. In the breaking of the yoke of death. When God's call is heard, "Come up higher," we wrestle in pain and mortal weakness with the dread adversary. He seems to triumph. But the last tie that bound us is broken, and we bid an eternal farewell to the bondage and the grief. - U.

Tyrants seldom lack subordinates, as cruel as themselves, to execute their hateful mandates. Not only are these subordinates generally ready to curry favour with their lord by executing his orders with punctilious rigour, but, when they get to know that particular persons are in disfavour, they find a positive delight in bullying and insulting the unhappy victims, and in subjecting them to every species of vexatious interference. The callous taskmasters entered heartily into Pharaoh's plans - withheld from the Israelites the straw, while requiring of them the full tale of bricks, and then mercilessly beating the officers for failing to get the people to accomplish the impossible. View in their behaviour -

I. A PICTURE OF THE NOT INFREQUENT TREATMENT OF MAN BY HIS FELLOW-MAN. Society abounds in tyrants, who, like Pharaoh's taskmasters -

1. Demand the unreasonable.

2. Expect the impossible. And the unreasonable in extreme cases is one with the impossible.

3. Are insolent and violent in enforcing their unreasonable demands. The workman, e.g., is scolded because he cannot, in a given time, produce work of given quantity and quality, though production to the extent required is shown to involve a physical impossibility. The public servant is abused because he has not wrought miracles in his particular department, though perhaps he has received neither the material nor the moral support to which he was entitled. The clergyman is blamed for deficiency in pulpit power, while endless calls are made upon him for work of other kinds, which dissipate his energies, and eat into his time for study. The wife is rated by her husband, because comforts and luxuries are not forthcoming, which his wasteful expenditure in other directions prevents her from obtaining. With like unreasonableness, buyers in commercial houses are rated because, they cannot buy, and sellers because they cannot sell; and it is broadly hinted to the latter that if means are not discovered for effecting sales, and disposing of perhaps worthless goods, the penalty will be dismissal. And there are worse tyrannies behind. Most iniquitous of all is the system of exacting work from the necessitous, which imposes an unnatural and injurious strain upon their bodily and mental powers, while renumerating it by a pittance barely sufficient to keep soul and body together. The straw of which these bricks are made is the flesh and blood of living human beings - the fibre of despairing hearts. In short, bricks without straw are asked wherever work is required which overtaxes the strength and capability of those from whom it is sought, or where the time, means, or assistance necessary for accomplishing it is denied. To rage, scold, threaten, or punish, because feats which border on the impossible are not accomplished, is simply to play over again the part of Pharaoh's taskmasters.

II. A CONTRAST TO THE TREATMENT WHICH MAN RECEIVES FROM GOD. Unbelief and slothfulness, indeed, would fain persuade us of the opposite. Their voice is, "I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown," etc. (Matthew 25:24). And it may be pleaded in support of this that God's demands in respect of obedience go far beyond the sinner's powers. He inherits a depraved nature, yet he is held guilty for its actings, and the demand stands unchanged, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," etc. (Deuteronomy 6:5). The standard by which he is judged is that of absolute holiness, while yet it is admitted that he is naturally incapable of a single holy thought or resolve. But in this way of putting matters various things are forgotten.

1. The law of duty is a fixed quantity, and even God, by an act of will, cannot remove a sinner from under its obligations.

2. There is an obvious distinction between natural and moral inability. The hardened thief cannot plead his incorrigible thievishness as an excuse for non-fulfilment of the duties of honesty. It is his sin that he is thievish.

3. Depraved beings are condemned for being what they are (evil-disposed, cruel, lustful, selfish, etc.), and for the bad things which they do, not for the good things which they ought to do, but are now incapable of doing. The devil, e.g., is condemned because he is a devil, and acts devilishly; not because it is still expected of him that he will love God with all his heart, etc., and because he fails to do this. But the true answer, as respects God's treatment of mankind, is a very different one. The sinner is not to be allowed to forget that if he has fallen and destroyed himself, God has brought him help. The very God against whom he has sinned desires his recovery, and has provided for it. He has made provision in Christ for the atonement (covering) of his sins. He asks nothing from him of a spiritual nature which his grace is not promised to enable him to accomplish. God presents himself in the Gospel, not as the sinner's exacting taskmaster, but as his friend and Saviour, ready, however multiplied and aggravated his offences - though they be as scarlet and red like crimson - to make them as the snow and wool (Isaiah 1:18). True, the sinner cannot renew his own heart, but surely he is answerable for the response he makes to the outward word, and to the teachings and drawings of the Spirit, who, given his submission, will willingly renew it for him. True also he cannot, even in the gracious state, render perfect obedience, but over and against this is to be put the truth that perfect obedience is not required of any in order to justification, and that, if only he is faithful, his imperfections will, for Christ's sake, be graciously forgiven him. And the same just and gracious principles rule in God's actings with his servants. Service is accepted "according to what a man hath, and not according to that he hath not' (2 Corinthians 8:12). No making bricks without straw here. The servant with the two talents is held only responsible for the two, not for five (Matthew 25:23). Justice, tempered by grace, is the rule for all. - J.O.

Pharaoh's treatment of the officers of the children of Israel, when they appeared before him to expostulate with him on his cruelty, betrays his consciousness of the injustice of his cause.


1. By refusal to listen to reason. The Hebrews had reason on their side, and Pharaoh had not. And because he had not, and knew it, he would not hear them, would not enter into any argument with them. This is the sure mark of a weak cause. People are usually willing enough to defend any of their doings which they think defensible. But when causes are indefensible, and they know this, they do not care to have the light let in upon them. "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (John 3:20).

2. By clutching at flimsy and trumped-up pretexts. "Ye are idle; ye are idle; therefore ye say," etc. (ver. 17). Pharaoh knew as well as any that they were not idle, but it served his purpose to put forward this pretence.

3. By falling back in the end on the right of the strong hand (ver. 16). This is the tyrant's unfailing resort. If he cannot argue, he can compel. If he cannot justify his courses, he can fall back upon his power to enforce submission. His might is his right. Pharaoh had the power, and he meant to use it, so the Israelites might save themselves the trouble of expostulating. This sort of authority, resting on force, without support in righteousness or reason, is necessarily precarious. It can, in the nature of things, only last so long as the power to compel remains with it. No throne is so insecure as that propped up on bayonets.


1. Reacts injuriously upon the moral nature. The refusal to listen to expostulation was a new stage in Pharaoh's hardening. Besides fortifying his determination to brook no interference in his courses, and strengthening the cruelty of his disposition - anew called into action by the increased oppression of the Hebrews - it necessarily reacted to deprive him of a fresh portion of his moral susceptibility. This is the Nemesis of sin; it leaves the sinner less susceptible with each new appeal that is resisted; it darkens while it indurates; not only strengthens him m evil courses, but increasingly disqualifies him for perceiving the truth and reasonableness of the dissuasives that are addressed to him. Pharaoh's hardening still moves in the region of ordinary morals (see on vers. 1-4). The first step in it was the recoil of his pride and wilfulness against what he knew to be the righteous demand of Moses and Aaron. Another step is the rejection of this righteous appeal.

2. Exposes the tyrant to the just judgment of God. The Hebrews were helpless to resist Pharaoh, but there was Another, whose question, "Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?" he would not be able so easily to set aside. God was keeping the account, and for all these things would yet call him to judgment (Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14); while the king's temporary success in his ways, building him up in a presumptuous selfconfidence, and confirming him in his boast of superiority to Jehovah, was a further step in his hardening - a ripening for destruction.

3. Is a fresh call for God to interfere on behalf of the oppressed. This new wrong, instead of leading the Israelites to despair, should only have lent fresh vehemence to their prayers, for it gave them a new plea with which to urge their cause. "For shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry to him day and night, though he bear long with them" (Luke 18:7). - J.O.

I. ISRAEL'S EXPOSTULATION WITH PHARAOH (15-19). They complain to him of the wrongs they suffer; but he who does not hear God will not listen to man.

1. It was reasonable to expect that their remonstrance might lead to redress. Pharaoh's decree might have. been issued under momentary irritation.

2. They came with humility and modesty. They brought no railing accusation. They used no threats. They did not even make. a silent show of their strength. And yet the only outcome of their appeal is deeper grief, more utter hopelessness (19). They who have no hope but in man will find little to sustain them.


1. They spoke truth. The demand, for liberty of worship had been seized by Pharaoh as a pretext for more oppressive measures.

2. They did not speak the whole truth. God and his purpose were kept out of sight. They were counted as nothing. How often is this done in our despondency and murmuring!

3. Their reproaches, though met by silence and grief equal to their own, brought no help to them. There is as little help in upbraiding friends for failure as in spreading their injustice before foes.


1. He "returned to the Lord." He did not seek in unburden his soul even to Aaron. The first step to help is to seek God's presence.

2. The holy boldness of his prayer. The grieved spirit is poured out. There is nothing kept back. God does not complain of our boldness, but of our restraining prayer before him.

3. God's answer (Exodus 6:1).

(1) This very failure shows God's truth (Exodus 4:21).

(2) God shall fight for them: "Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh."

(3) Pharaoh's wrath and power will serve only to make their deliverance perfect. He will "drive them out of his land." Israel found no consolation; Moses does. - U.

This whole chapter particularly abounds in illustrations of human ignorance and error. We have seen in what dense darkness was the mind of Pharaoh; and under what utter misapprehensions he multiplied the sorrows of Israel. Now we are introduced to the leaders of Israel, treating Moses with equal injustice, because they are not able to see the difference between the human instrument and the Divine hand that holds it. No more than Pharaoh can they pierce through Moses to the mighty God behind him. It says in Exodus 4:31, that when the people saw the signs they believed; here is conduct which shows for how little their faith counted. As soon as they were set to make bricks without straw, their faith utterly vanished. Yet surely the truth of God remained. Present human cruelty, let it press ever so hard, cannot alter past manifestations of Divine power. The God who gave his Son the parable of the Sower was prepared for such a lapse into unbelief on the part of his people. His signs were like the seeds which found no depth of earth; when persecution arose because of the message of Moses, the people were straightway offended. Consider -

I. IN WHAT A STATE OF MIND MOSES WOULD BE WHEN THESE OFFICERS ATTACKED HIM. We know from his own language (vers. 22, 23)what his state of mind was after the attack; but even before it he must have been a prey to deep grief and gloomy apprehensions. We may be sure that when these officers came upon him, they did not find proofs of indifference and carelessness in his face. lie must have been very popular just after he had wrought the signs; as popular as Jesus was after he had fed the five thousand. Aaron, doubtless, had been instructed by him to enlarge on the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and bring out into the boldest relief the terms of the Divine promises. Thus the confidence and expectation of the people - a reception altogether beyond his hopes - would lift him also into a confidence and expectation all the more precious because of his previous despondency. And now, as he sees the condition of his brethren, that despondency is more painful than ever. No imagination of ours can exaggerate the perplexity and sadness into which Moses would be thrown.

II. THUS WE ARE CALLED TO NOTICE THE INDIFFERENCE OF MOSES' BRETHREN TO HIS PAINFUL POSITION. He thought a great deal more upon their Sorrows than they did upon his. The grief of selfish people, in the reckless abandonment with which it speaks and acts, furnishes as painful evidence as we can find of the extent to which human nature has fallen from its first estate. It is a greedy, insatiable feeling. It is an awful thing to consider that the very concentration of our thoughts on our own sufferings makes us to increase the sufferings of others. Why, even when others are to blame, we might safely leave them to the observant, unforgetting God, to their own consciences, and to the ultimate harvest which every doer of wrong must reap; and very often they are not to blame at all. If only these smarting Israelites had been able, in a right spirit, to look at the heart of Moses, they would have seen occasion for supporting him with the greatest tenderness, gratitude, and patient endurance. What right had they to complain of Moses? lie had told them a coherent, straightforward story, given them the signs; and they, in return, had believed him for the very works' sake. If there is any time when we should be slow to speak, it is in our sorrow. We do well then to be silent, until such times as God has purged out of our minds all selfish desires and groundless expectations. When all these are gone, and the truth which he alone can plant is also ripened, then we shall be able to say, "It was good for us to be afflicted;' at present Israel said that it was bad - as bad as bad could be - and Moses was the convenient person on whom they could lay the blame.

III. THESE OFFICERS HAD NOT INSIGHT ENOUGH TO LOOK BEYOND FIRST CONSEQUENCES. They could not look through the pain of the present to a future which was only attainable through that present. Thus the disciples spoke in deep perplexity and disappointment concerning their missing Master as if he had vanished like a dream,, of the night. "We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel. So they spoke, not having appreciated his recent word, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone." We shall do well to consider in every enterprise, that first consequences are very deceptive. When they bring hardship we must not, therefore, turn back; when they bring pleasure, we must not therefore conclude that still greater pleasures lie beyond. Israel had no right to make any assumptions whatever as to the first consequences of Moses' visit to Pharaoh. The true and only safe position for Israel to take up was this: "Here are these signs; they are signs that Jehovah has sent Moses, and is with him; let us accept them in full and patient reliance." A man does not dispute the truth of the finger-post which points him into the right road, because soon after he has passed it he comes to a worse bit of travelling than any he has had before. There is a profound and admonitory generalisation in that way of indicating Christian experience which puts the Slough of Despond so early in the pilgrim's journey: and if first consequences that bring hardship are to be mistrusted, surely we must be even more cautious when the first consequences are full of pleasure. Though we be told to remember our Creator in the days of our youth - his claims, his expectations, and his judgment-day - the danger is that we shall only too easily forget all this, and remember only that we are strong, ambitious, able to enjoy, and with abundant opportunities for enjoyment. We must always mistrust the mere pleasure of our senses; the pleasure of tastes and likings. Liking a thing is never a sufficient reason for doing it; disliking never a sufficient reason for refusing to do it. God appeals to our prudence, to our conscience, to our pity, to our fears, but never to our tastes. And. be it ever remembered, that there is one first consequence which never deceives nor disappoints those who put themselves in the way of it. Do that which is right in the sight of God, and there is an immediate and pure pleasure at the heart, which all the waves and. billows of adversity cannot wash away. For instance, we cannot believe for a moment that Moses regretted his compliance with the commands of Jehovah. They had been clear and imperative, steady and unrelaxing in their pressure on his conscience. The pain from the reproaches of Israel was bad enough; but it would have been a far worse pain, if he had sought to flee from the test of the burning bush, and, Jonah-like, bury himself with his sheep in the very depths of the wilderness. - Y.

The Israelites were naturally sorely disappointed at the issue of the interview with Pharaoh; and with the unreasonableness so often seen in those whose expectations have received a check, they turned on Moses and Aaron, and accused these innocent men of being the authors of their misfortune. Moses and Aaron themselves were almost as dumbfounded as their accusers at the turn events had taken; but one of them, at least, behaved with wisdom. The Israelites accused men: Moses took his complaint to God, and opened up to him all the soreness of his heart. This portion of the narrative suggests the following reflections: -

I. GOD'S PROVIDENCE OFTEN ASSUMES AN ASPECT OF GREAT MYSTERY TO US. It did so to Moses and the Israelites (vers. 22, 23). They had concluded that now that God had taken up their cause, their trials and sorrows were at an end; but in entertaining so comfortable a hope, they found they were deceived. The first step on the road to the promised deliverance had plunged them into a worse plight than ever. They had almost felt the breath of liberty on their cheeks, when suddenly their hopes are dashed from them, and the situation darkens till in its pitiless rigour it becomes well-nigh unendurable. So God's providence is often to the godliest a sore and perplexing mystery. It is not merely that things are not going as we wish, or as fast as we expect - this need not surprise us, though oftentimes it does - but that Jehovah seems acting contrary to his own perfections, to his character, to his revealed purpose, to the promise on which he has encouraged us to trust. The wicked prosper; the righteous are afflicted (Psalm 37.; 73.). Prayers seem unanswered, and the hopes we had begun to cherish, the expectations we had built upon his Word, are bitterly disappointed. The race seems to the swift, and the battle to the strong of this world, while "waters of a full cup are wrung out" to the saints whom God has pledged himself to bless and to protect. This is what distresses us, and the distress is not surprising.

II. THE MYSTERY WHICH MEETS US IN GOD'S PROVIDENCE ACTS AS A TEST OF CHARACTER. It drove Moses to prayer, but the multitude to murmurings and reproaches. As this storm burst over Israel, the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed (Luke 2:35). Doubters would curse themselves for trusting to one whom, they would declare, they had always suspected of deceiving them; the timid would be heard reiterating, "We told you it would come to this; we saw it from the first!" while the profane would break out into open blasphemies, and the superficial crowd - those who had been most carried away by the enthusiasm - would groan and weep in utter disconsolateness, and pour out rash accusations against Heaven and against Moses and Aaron, who had brought them into all this trouble. Yet with foolish inconsistency they would call on the God they were mistrusting to judge between them and the men who had brought to them his message (ver. 21). Comp. Christian and Pliable at the Slough of Despond in 'Pilgrim's Progress.' Mystery in God's providence, in itself a moral necessity and inevitable, is thus used by him for important ends in the testing and disciplining of character. It brings to light our weaknesses; sifts the chaff from the wheat; educates us to trust; convinces us of ignorance; disenchants us of illusive hopes; leads us to prayer and wrestling with God. Thus it prepares us for further discoveries of the Divine wisdom when the time comes for the veil being removed, and educates us for higher service.

III. THE MYSTERY WHICH ENSHROUDS GOD'S PROVIDENCE ARISES FROM OUR PARTIAL AND IMPERFECT COMPREHENSION OF HIS PLAN. Had God's purpose been simply to get Israel out of Egypt in the easiest way possible, and with least cost of suffering to the people, the permission of this new cruelty would indeed have been inexplicable. But it is not in this way, or for such ends, or on these terms, that God Conducts the government of his world. The error of Israel lay in looking on this one little bit of an unfinished work, and in judging of it without reference to the whole design of which it was a part. For God's purpose was not merely that the people should be delivered, but that they should be delivered in such a way, and with such accompaniments of power and judgment, as should illustriously glorify his own perfections, and print the memory of his goodness on their hearts for ever; while, as regards Pharaoh, his desire was to glorify his power upon him (Exodus 9:16), and make him an example to all after ages of the folly of resisting the Almighty. This being the end, it was obviously indispensable that events should not be unduly hastened, but allowed, as far as possible, to take a natural course. Time and scope must be given to Pharaoh to develop his real disposition, and the development must not be prematurely interfered with. The people must be led by a way they knew not, and in paths they had not known; the way chosen could not be the absolutely shortest, but must include many turnings and windings, and even seem at times to be bending backwards; but the end would be "to make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight" (Isaiah 42:16). And this is truly the explanation of all our difficulties with regard to Divine providence. It is not God who is at fault, but our own haste and shortsightedness, that perceive not all the ends he has in view, nor how wonderfully he is working towards those ends by the very circumstances which perplex and baffle us. We know but "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12). The thoughts of Infinite Wisdom cannot all be made plain to us. The little that is before us we see, but how much lies beyond which is involved in the hiding of his power! (Habakkuk 3:4.) Our walking must be "by faith;" not "by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). - J.O.

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