Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. As an intensification of the natural plagues of the land.
2. As a proof of the almightiness of Jehovah (see on Exodus 7:17), and of the folly of further contest with him (vers. 10, 22).
3. As a demonstration of the vanity of the idols. The Egyptian gods were utterly powerless to aid their worshippers. There was not the shadow of help to be derived from them. This was the more remarkable that several of the gods were worshipped as protectors from the very classes of plagues which were here brought upon the country. There were fly-gods, to protect against flies, deities to protect against frogs, etc. And the defeat of the idols was remarkable from this other fact, that several of the agents employed as scourges of Egypt were themselves ranked as deities. This was the case with the river, and with many of the creatures, e.g. the beetle, probably included under "flies."
4. The removal of the plagues when Pharaoh showed signs of submission, was a proof of God's mercy, and a token to the monarch of his sincerity in his dealings with him generally. Taken in connection with Pharaoh's behaviour under them, the three plagues read us valuable lessons. They teach -
I. THE SUPREMACY OF GOD in THE KINGDOM OF NATURE. All creatures, all agencies, are under his control. They come and go, march and countermarch, act in separation or combination, at his pleasure. He sent the hornets before the Israelites to drive out the Amorites from their strong castles (Exodus 22:28). He frequently punished Israel by sending armies of locusts to devour the produce of the fields (Joel 1, 2; Amos 4.). Jehovah was at the head of these armies (Joel 2:11), and so was he at the head of the armies of frogs, gnats, flies, and other noxious insects that drove the Egyptians to a state of desperation. This is a striking thought, in as full accordance with a sound philosophy and with the facts presented to us in nature, as with the teaching of Christ, who bids us see the Father's hand even in the fall of a sparrow. What account can be given, e.g., of the minatory instincts of birds, save that suggested by this thought of Jehovah's rule, regulating their motions, and guiding them in their long and perilous journeys (Jeremiah 8:7). He rules. He alone rules. "An idol is nothing"(1 Corinthians 8:4).
II. THE IMPOTENCE OF MAN IN THE HANDS OF JEHOVAH.
1. God's entire control of all things in creation gives him command of exhaustless resources for the punishment of his enemies. When the river was healed at the end of seven days, Pharaoh may have thought that his trouble had blown past - that the plagues were at an end. But lo! a new plague is brought upon him, of which he had never dreamed, a plague of "frogs," also from the river. Then in swift successive strokes came the plagues of gnats, of mixed insects, of murrain of beasts, of boils, etc., each breaking out from some new and totally unexpected quarter. If ever the Egyptians thought, Surely the arrows in the quiver of this mighty god are at length all spent, they were speedily undeceived by the breaking forth upon them of some fresh plague. The Almighty's quiver is not thus easily exhausted. There is at every stage in his chastisements an infinite reserve of power to chastise us further, and in new forms.
2. Natural agents are a frequent means by which God chastises the rebellious. It is really a truer philosophy which sees God behind all action of natural force, and all movements of the irrational creatures, than that which sees only second causes, only laws and instincts, and refuses to recognise the Supreme Orderer in their movements and combinations. There need be no scruple in acknowledging second causes, or even, in a sense, a reign of unvarying law; but the "laws" of nature are one thing, and the "course" of nature another, and this latter the Theist believes to be no more of chance than the former, while the Christian is taught to trace a Divine purpose and end in its minutest ramifications. Hail, snow, fire, and vapour; stormy wind; rain and thunder; insect and reptile life; plague and famine; disease in its myriad forms - all are weapons in the hands of God by which he can fulfil his. righteous will to punish.
3. The minutest forms of life are used by God as his sorest scourges. Thomas Scott acutely remarks that the plagues would have been easier to bear, and would not have been felt to be so humiliating, had the agents in them been lions and tigers, or other animals of the nobler sort; or perhaps foreign enemies. There would at least have been dignity in succumbing to the attacks of hordes of powerful foes. But how intolerably humiliating to be conquered by shoals of frogs or by insignificant and contemptible creatures like lice and flies! Yet Pharaoh could more easily have contended with the former classes of enemies than with these latter. One army can charge another with at least some chance of success; and protection is possible against enemies that are of a size which admits of their being shot, hunted, trapped, or kept out by walls and defences; but nothing of this kind is possible with the minuter creatures. It was impossible to erect defences against locusts; and to this hour, man is helpless against their ravages. A stray Colorado beetle may be put to death; but if that form of life were developed to but a small extent among us, it would be impossible to shield ourselves effectually from its destructive operations. Numbers of diseases have now been traced to the presence of germs in the atmosphere and in our food and drink, and it is the very minuteness of these germs - their microscopic and infinitesimal character - which makes them so deadly and so difficult to cope with. When the potato disease appeared in 1846, nothing could be done to check its spread, and little can be done yet to guard against its assaults! The fungus is of a kind which eludes our efforts to deal with it. Plague and pestilence (Plague of London, Black Death, Cholera, etc.), while depending to a very large extent on material conditions for their development, yet seem connected in their origin with similar organic germs. In this whole wide region, accordingly, God has under his control potent invisible agencies, which ordinarily his providence keeps in check, but which at any hour might be converted into most terrific scourges. He has at command a literally exhaustless array of weapons with which to assail us, if we provoke his chastisements; armies countless in numbers, invisible in form, unseen in their modes of attack, and against which no weapons can be forged likely to secure safety. As knowledge advances, means are discovered for partially protecting ourselves against this or that disorder (sanitary science, vaccination, etc.); but just as, perhaps, we are beginning to think with the Egyptians that the evil day is past, some new plague develops itself (e.g. the potato murrain) of which formerly we had no conception. We are still in God's hands and as helpless as ever. The "last days" will probably be marked by a singular intensification of natural plagues (Luke 21:25; Revelation 16:1-12).
III. THE POSSIBILITIES OF RESISTANCE TO GOD THAT LIE IN HUMAN NATURE. It might have been judged impossible that, after being convinced, as Pharaoh at an early stage in these proceedings must have been, of the reality and power of the Being with whom he was contending - that he was indeed Jehovah, the God of the whole earth - the monarch should still have persevered in his mad resistance. Twice, in the course of this chapter, he is brought to the point of acknowledging the futility of further opposition; yet, immediately on the plague being removed, he reverts to the policy of non-submission. He must have known that he had nothing to gain by it. If he was infatuated enough at first to think that the Almighty, having removed one plague, could not, or would not, send another, he must have been speedily disabused of that impression. It was no longer a question of self-interest with him, for the loss and pain caused by these successive plagues more than counterbalanced any gain he could hope to derive from the retention of the Israelites. Neither had he on his side, in opposition to this command of the Hebrews' God, the least shadow of right or reason, with which to sustain himself. Yet without one conceivable motive save that furnished by his own pride and obstinacy, and by hatred of the Being who was thus coercing him, Pharaoh continued to resist. Conquered for the moment, he returned to his defiant attitude the instant pressure was removed. And this defiant attitude he maintained, with increasing hardness of heart till the very end. Here then we see the possibility of a being finally resisting grace. It appals us to think of the possibilities of resistance to the Almighty thus tying in the constitution of our wills, but the fact is not to be ignored. It is a proof of our original greatness. It reveals to us our immortality. It shows us the possibility of a final loss of the soul. If it be thought that Gospel influences are certain to accomplish that which could not be expected by terrors and judgments, and that changes may be wrought in eternity, which cannot be wrought in time, we have to remember that an even worse hardening is possible under the dispensation of the Son and Spirit than was possible to Pharaoh, and that human nature in the future state is essentially the same as human nature now. No good reason can be shown why a will which resists all that God can do to subdue it here may not from the same motives resist all gracious influences brought to bear on it hereafter. No one, at least, looking to the possibilities of resistance manifested on earth, could guarantee that it will not do so. The tendency to a fixed state of the will in evil as in good, renders the possibility of an ultimate recovery of those who habitually resist light here extremely problematical, even on the grounds of philosophy. If we turn to Scripture, it is difficult to see what warrant we have to expect it. The dream of a future dispensation of grace, and of universal restoration, must find support somewhere else than in its statements. ]f we accept the plain teaching of Christ and the Apostles, there are those who will finally resist, and their number will not be few. The gift of will is a great, but it is also an infinitely perilous one. Even Dr. Farrar says, "I cannot tell whether some souls may not resist God for ever, and therefore may not be for ever shut out from his presence"(Mercy and Judgment, p. 485).
IV. GOD'S READINESS TO BE ENTREATED OF THE SINNER. Though Pharaoh had hardened himself so obstinately, yet, on the first signs of his relenting, mercy was shown to him (ver. 9). There was on God's part, even a hastening to be gracious. Pharaoh was taken at his word. He was trusted. No guarantees were taken from him that he would fulfil his word, save his simple promise. God might have delayed the removal of the plague till the actual order for Israel's departure from the land had been given. But the plague was removed at once, that Pharaoh might be left to his freedom, and that his heart might be won by the exhibition of the divine goodness to him. And this was done, not merely on the first, but on the second occasion of his entreaty, and after his first promise had been broken (ver. 29). So willing is God to do the sinner every justice, and to grant him every opportunity, which may result in his salvation, lie does not wait for complete conversion, but welcomes in man the first signs of a disposition to return to Him. He is as plenteous in mercy as tie is severe in judgment, if mercy is despised.
V. THE EFFECT OF CONTINUED IMPENITENCE IN PRODUCING INCREASED HARDNESS OF HEART. It is obvious from this chapter that Pharaoh was making rapid progress in hardening himself. Going back a stage or two, we can trace that progress in very marked degrees. We find him hardening himself -
1. Against a miracle which was plainly from God, but which he tried to persuade himself was only a work of magic - the conversion of the rod into a serpent.
2. Against a miracle which he knew to be from God, but against the influence of which his obstinacy enabled him to hold out - the turning of the Nile into blood.
3. Against a miracle which he not only knew to be from God, but which convinced him of the hopelessness of further resistance, and which was removed from him at his own request - the plague of frogs.
4. Against his own promise to release the Israelites.
5. Against a miracle which even his magicians failed to imitate, and declared to be the finger of God, (ver. 19) - the plague of lice. Having broken his promise, Pharaoh now felt, probably, that he must brave it out.
6. Against a miracle which showed yet more distinctly that the work was God's by the difference which was put between the Egyptians and the Israelites dwelling in Goshen - the plague of flies (vers. 22, 23). This seems to have produced a powerful impression upon the king, and he again besought the removal of the plague.
7. Against a second solemn promise, and after being expressly warned against deceitful dealing (ver. 29). As the result of all, Pharaoh was acquiring facility in hardening himself, was rapidly losing his susceptibility to truth, was becoming infatuated in his obstinacy, and was strengthening his will in the habit of resistance. Thus fatally does hardening make progress! - J.O.
I. PHARAOH'S HARDNESS UNDER THE FIRST PLAGUE WROUGHT NO ESCAPE, EITHER FROM THE DIVINE COMMAND OR FROM THE DIVINE POWER (ver. 1). He probably thought, now that the river was healed, that he had done with Jehovah's demand, and perhaps congratulated himself that he had succeeded in holding out. But divine commands are not thus to be got rid of. They are not to be got rid of by resistance. They are not to be got rid of even by braving out the penalty. They come back and back to us, and always with the old alternative, obey, or incur new punishment. Our most furious opposition cannot rid us of the obligation of rendering to Jesus in the Gospel "the obedience of faith," nor shall we escape judgment if we refuse.
II. THE SECOND PLAGUE INDUCED A SUBMISSION WHICH THE FIRST FAILED TO EXTORT (ver. 8). It was submission under compulsion, but it testified to a remarkable change in the king's views about Moses and Jehovah. It was not long since he had been erecting himself in his pride in supreme defiance of both. Moses and Aaron he had treated as base-born slaves, and had ordered them back to their burdens (Exodus 5:4). He had scorned the message of their God, and had shown his contempt for it by heaping new insults on Jehovah's worshippers. So impressed was even Moses by his lordly greatness, that he had shrunk from exposing himself to the proud king's despite, lie thought it was useless for him to attempt to go to Pharaoh. Very different were Pharaoh's ideas about Moses and Jehovah now he had been smitten by the invisible hand of this God with these two reeling blows, and already he was on his knees asking for deliverance. The vaunting sinner will change his views of the living God when once he falls into His hands.
III. THE SECOND PLAGUE REVERSED THE RELATIONS OF MOSES AND PHARAOH, MAKING PHARAOH THE SUITOR, AND MOSES THE PERSON SUED TO (ver. 8). What a humiliation to this haughty monarch! How much better for himself had he yielded at first, and with a good grace, to the righteous demand made upon him! Nothing is gained by resistance to God, but ultimate pain and humiliation. As Pharaoh was humbled, so Moses was exalted, lie began to be "a god" to Pharaoh. Like reversals of the positions of the great ones of the world and despised servants of God have frequently been witnessed. Compare Paul and Felix (Acts 24:25); Paul and the centurion, in the shipwreck at Malta (Acts 28.).
IV. THE SECOND PLAGUE RAISED MOSES TO NEW HONOURS BY MAKING HIS INTERCESSION THE MEDIUM OF DELIVERANCE (vers. 9-12). God might have removed the plague at Pharaoh's simple request, conveyed to him by Moses. In point of fact, he made the intercession of Moses the condition and medium of it. The same thing is seen in the history of Elijah (1 Kings 18:41-46). This,
1. Put honour upon Moses.
3. Gave Moses himself a deeper interest in the event.
4. Trained him for the higher function of mediation on behalf of Israel. It would give him confidence in intercession, would enable him to realise the reality of his power with God, would help in developing the faculty of earnest and sustained prayer.
5. It shadowed forth the higher mediation. Pharaoh was so abandoned in evil, so insincere even in his repentance, that his request, as it were, could only become prevailing when taken up by a holier nature and presented as its own. This is the key to all spiritual intercession, and involves the principle which reaches its full expression in the mediation of our Saviour.
V. THE REMOVAL OF THE PLAGUE RESULTED IN PHARAOH'S BREAKING OF HIS PROMISE, AND IN HIS FURTHER HARDENING. The severity of the plague had for the moment unmanned him. His power of further resistance had broken down. But the will to resist was not in the least altered, and when the plague was removed, his obstinate disposition reasserted itself, and produced new rebellion. Rage and pride must at this crisis have overpowered reason, as well as conscience, for Pharaoh could hardly doubt but that his breach of promise would bring new trouble upon him. He did, however, return to his contumacy, and by the act cut down another of the bridges which might have conducted him back to peace with God, and to safety and honour in his kingdom. Terror of any kind, the approach, perhaps, of death, or of what seems to threaten death, often produces quakings of soul, and transient repentances. If these are not followed up on recovery - if recovery or escape is granted - they react to induce a very special hardening. A heart seldom gets the better of vows made in a season of deep sorrow, and afterwards, with the return of health and prosperity, renounced.
VI. MINOR LESSONS.
1. God's visitations are not vague and general. They will find us out in every sphere and department of our lives. His stroke will be felt in everything (vers. 3, 4).
2. The power of God's servants (vers. 5, 6: 12, 13). The stretching out of the rod brought frogs on Egypt. The intercession of Moses removed them. The prayers of a good man are both to be feared and to be desired. Feared, if they are against us; desired, if they are for us. It is lawful to pray, not for the ruin of our enemies' souls, but for the discomfiture of their projects, and the overthrow of their ungodly schemes (Revelation 11:5, 6).
3. The duty of courtesy, and of returning good for evil (vers. 9, 10). Moses, at the very time of his triumph over Pharaoh, treated him with studious respect, and was ready to pray, at his request, for the removal of the plague.
4. The power of life and death as vested in God (vers. 13, 14).
5. Man's abuse of God's kindness (ver. 15). A respite granted; therefore Pharaoh hardened himself (cf. Romans 2:4). - J.O.
I. NOTICE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS SECOND PLAGUE. Hitherto there has been something evidently sublime in God's treatment of Pharaoh. God's treatment is of course always sublime; but up to this point even Pharaoh must have felt that he was being treated as a king ought to be treated. The messengers of Jehovah were only mean men in appearance, but the first plague itself was certainly an impressive one. We may imagine that Pharaoh would even say to himself with a sort of proud satisfaction, "How great my power must be when all the waters of my land are turned to blood in order to coerce me." He would feel flattered by what we may call the dignity of the attack upon him. But now observe how God changes his mode of working, and proceeds to use little things to humiliate Pharaoh. As he uses those who are reckoned the feeble and contemptible among men, so he uses the feeble and contemptible among the lower creation. He sends out frogs all over the land of Egypt. If only it had been an incursion of lions from the desert, roaring through the streets of the city and tearing down the people, or if it had been a host of mighty beasts trampling down his fields, then Pharaoh would have felt there was dignity in such a mode of attack; - but frogs! frogs followed by gnats, and gnats by flies! A plague to be made out of frogs seems almost too absurd to think of; and yet we see from the event that these despised little creatures forced Pharaoh to an appeal which not all the evident sublimity of the first plague could extort. More curses could come out of the river than the conversion of it into blood. This plague of the frogs we may judge to have been felt as inconvenient and irritating rather than dangerous. How ridiculous it must have been to have these agile little animals, millions of them, finding their way everywhere. No place safe from them, not even the well-guarded chambers of Pharaoh himself. Here was a plague that did not wait for the people to make acquaintance with it, as when they went to the streams and pools and found them blood. It forced itself upon them by day and by night, as they sat at their meals and as they lay in their beds. The thing that is constantly inconvenient and troublesome, may bring a man to his knees sooner even than a peril which more closely concerns his life.
II. THUS WE COME TO OBSERVE PHARAOH'S FIRST SIGN OF YIELDING. Notice that as to what will actually have power to produce a certain result, God is a far better judge than we can be. We should have said, "put the frogs first and the blood afterwards; Pharaoh will yield to the blood what he will not yield to the frogs." But when it comes to a trial, it is quite the contrary. The frogs are so tormenting that they must be got rid of, even at a cost of a humiliating promise. Not even the success of the magicians in bringing up frogs, makes the torment more endurable; and so, perhaps somewhat to the astonishment of Moses, who might hardly expect such a sudden change, Pharaoh makes a promise in the most general terms to let the people forth for sacrifice. But mark, the moment Moses begins to press him and fix for a day, he procrastinates. The moment there is any relaxation of pressure upon him, he takes advantage of it. Already he begins to show that he will yield as little as he can. Give him a chance of fixing his time, and he naturally says "to-morrow." Unpleasant things are always put off until to-morrow, either on a supposition that the unpleasantness may be diminished, or on a chance that it may be escaped altogether. And then when to-morrow comes, "to-morrow" is again the cry. Notice that Moses complies with Pharaoh's wish for this slight delay. One day is nothing so far as Israel is concerned. They can easily wait, if only the granting of this one day will make Pharaoh's yielding more agreeable to himself. God never humiliates for the sake of humiliating. He chooses the humiliation of his enemies - as when he sends a plague of frogs, - because it is the most effectual means to his own ends. But the moment there is a profession of repentance, the humiliation stops, and opportunity is given to make the profession a reality. - Y.
I. THIS PLAGUE CAME FROM THE LAND, AS THE TWO FORMER FROM THE RIVER. Aaron "smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice (Kinnim) in man, and in beast"(ver. 17). This was a new blow at Egyptian idolatry, the earth being worshipped as well as the river. The suddenness, extent, and fearfully aggravated character of the plague, and its appearance in immediate connection with Aaron's act in smiting the earth, proved it to be of supernatural origin, while cognate with the phenomena of the country.
1. At the stroke of God's anger, trouble may be made to break forth upon us from any quarter of our existence. Now, the river; again, the dust. The quarter it comes from is not likely to be that from which we are expecting it.
2. Troubles spring not from the dust (Job 5:6); but they may be made to rise so thickly around us that it may almost seem as if they did spring from it.
3. The most insignificant agencies (and circumstances) may be made the means of severe retribution. It is intensely painful to be made to suffer through things which we despise.
4. God's retributions are often such as strike home to our tenderest points. The Egyptians - especially the priestly classes - were extremely cleanly, and this plague, if it was one of vermin, must have been a grievous infliction to them.
II. THE THIRD PLAGUE CAME UNANNOUNCED. We forfeit our claim to warnings by acting presumptuously (Proverbs 29:1).
III. IT LED THE MAGICIANS TO GIVE UP THE CONTEST (ver. 19). We find them still standing before Pharaoh (Exodus 9:11), but from this point we hear of no more attempts at imitation. They may have abandoned the contest -
1. From a sense of shame. The paltriness of their attempts at imitating the miracles of Moses and Aaron was so apparent, that the magicians must almost have blushed at them. They would rather give up the attempt than expose themselves to more humiliations.
2. From astonishment. As experts in magical arts, they knew very well the difference between false miracles and real ones. They are confounded to find men who can work wonders of so stupendous a character, and this, manifestly, by the real assistance of Deity.
3. From fear and pain. They had no interest in courting a continuance of these terrible plagues, which they recognised as true works of God. They were as painful to them as to others, and they dreaded the consequences of perseverance in so unequal a conflict. We see from this
(1) That involuntary testimony to the truth is often extracted from those whose inclinations would lead them to oppose it. There are remarkable examples in the life of Christ, e.g. "Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him," etc. (John 11:47, 48); and in the lives of the Apostles, e.g. Acts 4:16; Acts 16:17. The confessions of the demons in Christ's history are of the same order. Many testimonies of an extraordinary kind have come from unbelievers.
(2) That there are great differences in degree of moral hardihood. Pharaoh held out, but the magicians gave in. They were not converted to the truth, in the sense of becoming servants of Jehovah, but they thought it prudent not to go further in open opposition. Even this degree of submission saved them from being hardened as Pharaoh was subsequently.
IV. THE PLAGUE HAD NO GOOD EFFECT ON PHARAOH (ver. 19). In itself, it was as likely to have produced submission as the previous one, and Pharaoh had now, in addition, the testimony of his own magicians to the reality of the wonder. But to place against this, there was the fact that he had already submitted, and had broken his promise. It was doubly bard to submit again, and stronger means would be required to bring him to the point of a second entreaty. Thus do the influences that work for our good gradually lose their power over us, because so frequently resisted. Every time a vow is made and token, a good resolution formed, and not kept, it is rendered harder to repeat the act. - J.O.
I. CONSIDER THE PLAGUE ITSELF. From the water God comes to the land. He who has power over every drop of water has power over every grain of dust. Everywhere at his touch the inorganic becomes the organic. And he still keeps in the same line of action which has been begun with the frogs. He produces small creatures in immense numbers, rather than larger creatures in fewer numbers; that thus he may the more irritate and humiliate Pharaoh. Individually, the gnats are nothing; their delicate little bodies may be crushed out of existence between thumb and finger. Collectively, they amount to the dimensions of a plague.
II. CONSIDER THE VERDICT OF THE MAGICIANS UPON THIS PLAGUE. The noticeable thing in the plague of the gnats is not so much the new agents of chastisement as the discomfiture of the magicians. Not that they had been really successful before. On any view of their proceedings they were deceivers, for what they did was done either by trickery or by the power of God working through them; whereas they took it all to their own credit and the credit of Egypt's deities. This was not success. No man can be called successful when he has the daily fear that his resources are coming to an end. Much that is reckoned success is only failure after all, ingeniously and impudently delayed. The verdict of the magicians was worthless so far as it seemed to indicate the real state of affairs. They say, "This is the finger of God," but we see only too clearly the motive of their admission. When an admission is extorted, as theirs was, it is deprived of all virtue and grace. That the magicians talked of the finger of God was no proof that the finger of God was present. They talked thus because they had no other way of cloaking their own shame, and accounting for their failure. The finger of God was not more evident in the gnats than in the frogs or in the bloody streams, or in the converted rod. He who could really see the finger of God in one of these, could see it in all the rest. That finger had been pointing all the time just as it pointed now. It was a question of hand rather than finger; and the hand was certainly pressing more heavily. Still, though the magicians took up this way of speaking merely for excuse, we have to thank them for an expressive and appropriate phrase. They, in their blind selfishness, speak of the finger of God, not knowing all they say; but the finger of God is a great and helpful reality to those who will lock for it and be guided by it. It should ever be our business to look for this great finger. In a world of weathercocks, blown about with changing and conflicting opinions, that finger ever points in one direction; and yet while it teaches us to maintain a rigorous adhesion to Christian principles, teaches us at the same time to maintain them in a spirit of wise expediency. He has no true eye for the finger of God who knows not when to bend that he may not break. Pharaoh would not recognise the finger even when his own magicians were compelled to make a show of recognition. When they were defeated he seemed to think they were no longer of any account among his advisers. Thus we have to notice again what poor judges we are of the relative severity of the plagues. Pharaoh was more affected by the frogs than by the gnats. Perhaps he was so disgusted with the failure of the magicians as to be filled with a more rebellious spirit than ever. They said they saw the finger of God; he stubbornly refused to see it. Whether a man will really see this finger depends on what he is looking for. Equally pernicious is it to see Divine power where it is not, and to fail in seeing it where it is. - Y.
Exodus 8:16-19Exodus 8:16-19.
I. THERE IS A LIMIT TO THE DIVINE MERCY. This, like every third plague, came without warning. Opportunity was given twice to avert coming judgment. None is given now. Unannounced it startles them in the midst of their fancied security.
1. When men have baffled the servants of God by unrepentant stubbornness and broken vows the matter is not ended. God who has spoken will also act.
2. God will not always strive. Those who resist mercy pass on to meet sudden destruction.
II. THE JUDGMENT UPON THE IDOLATRY OF EGYPT. In the two first plagues God's hand was laid upon the river which the Egyptians worshipped as the giver of life. In this it was laid upon the land - also an Egyptian god and the giver of their food, etc. God proves that these are his servants, and that they will bless or harm according to his word. The works of God's hands - earth, sea, etc. - are still regarded as bestowing good independently of his will. Let us not need Egypt's chastisements to teach us that all are serving him, both in blessing and in judgment.
III. THE WORLD'S WISDOM TURNED INTO FOOLISHNESS. They who have hitherto contended so proudly with God are confounded before the basest of all the miracles.
1. The wisdom that seeks to rob man's heart of God is brought to nothing before the gospel. With all its vaunted power it could not bring peace to a sinner's heart nor change to his life.
2. Atheistic science, that can see God nowhere, will yet be confounded before his judgments. - U.
I. PHARAOH FINDS AS BEFORE THAT THERE IS NO ESCAPING FROM THE HANDS OF GOD. He is met at the brink of the river, and confronted with the old alternative - "Let my people go else," etc. (vers, 20, 21). The king, when he saw Moses, would have no difficulty in anticipating what was coming. The bitter greeting he would give him would be akin to that of Ahab to Elijah - "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?"(1 Kings 21:20); nor would Moses' reply be very different from that given by the prophet - "I have found thee; because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord." What madness in the king to keep up this foolish, this suicidal contest! But the conflict of every sinner with Jehovah is of the same infatuated character. Stroke after stroke descends, yet impenitence is persevered in. Well may God say, "Why should ye be stricken any more?"(Isaiah 1:5.) His demand, through all, abides unchanged.
II. THE FOURTH PLAGUE SPRINGS FROM THE AIR. The sphere of judgment is widening and extending, taking in constantly new regions - water, earth, air. The voices that summon to repentance are heard from every side. A new demonstration of the universality of Jehovah's rule-of the unlimited sweep of his dominion (ver. 22). Flies are agents which God can employ as a scourge of nations still. We read of singular feats in the way of insect-taming; of flies, bees, and even lice being trained to obey orders, and go through wonderful evolutions. Man's power of control over these minute creatures is but a feeble image of the power exercised over them by God. He enrols them among his battalions, and uses them to execute his commissions.
III. A NEW SIGN IS THIS TIME GIVEN - THE SEVERANCE OF THE LAND OF GOSHEN FROM THE REST OF EGYPT (vers. 22, 23). The Israelites had probably been made fellow-sufferers with the Egyptians, at least in part, in the inconvenience experienced from the first three plagues. This was permitted, at once as a chastisement for their unbelief and murmurings, and as a purifying discipline. Nothing has been said as to the effect produced upon their minds by the outbreak of these terrific plagues; but they must have shown the Israelites the folly of their recent conduct, and wrought them up to a high pitch of expectation in the confidence that the day of their redemption was drawing near. With the production of this change of mind in the dwellers in Goshen, the nell for further inflictions upon them ceased, and a difference was thereafter put between them and the Egyptians. This astonishing separation was as clear a proof as could have been given of Jehovah's absoluteness in the government of the creatures, of the extent of his rule, and of the care he exercised over his chosen people. Possibly, Pharaoh had hitherto been taking encouragement from the fact that Israel was involved in the calamities. He may have been led to question:
1. God's power, seeing that he could not protect his own worshippers. It may have suggested itself to him that Jehovah's power was limited, and therefore might successfully be braved.
2. God's love for Israel. For if he loved them so much, why did he allow them to suffer? And if his interest in them was as weak as facts seemed to show, it was not impossible, if resistance was continued, that he might abandon them altogether.
3. The likelihood of God's proceeding to extremities. God, Pharaoh may have thought, must stop somewhere, else his own people will be destroyed together with mine. The need of protecting them is a safeguard against his proceeding to extremes with me. The severance now effected between Goshen and the rest of Egypt was a cruel blow to all such hopes. Thenceforward it was plain that God did care for Israel, that his power was as great as his/ore, and that whatever happened to Egypt, Israel was as safe as the pavilion of the Divine protection could make it. The fact is not without significance to ourselves. It teaches us that a deep and broad line of demarcation is really being put in God's thoughts between his own people and the rest of mankind, and that, whatever be the nature of his outward providence, he has their interests and well-being continually at heart. Those who encourage themselves in sin because they see that the righteous suffer with the wicked, and judge that this proves an absence of interest or care on the part of God, must submit to a great undeceiving. The last judgment will make a final separation (Matthew 25:31-35).
IV. THE FOURTH PLAGUE BROUGHT PHARAOH A SECOND TIME TO THE POINT OF SUBMISSION TO GOD'S COMMANDS. The separation of the territory of Israel seems greatly to have startled him, and he sent anew for Moses. The unwillingness of his mind to grant the required consent to the departure of the people is apparent from the interview.
1. Pharaoh proposes a compromise (Exodus 5:25). This is a common expedient with those who are hard pushed with questions of religion. It is, however, only a veil for the spirit of disobedience working underneath. The compromise proposed was unhesitatingly rejected by Moses. He had no authority to accept it. It was in its own nature an untenable one (ver. 26). Nothing was to be gained by accepting it. By standing firm to his demand, he was certain to get the whole of what he wanted (ver. 28), why then take a part? Had he accepted the compromise, it would probably only have embeldened Pharaoh to further resistance. God's servants will do well to imitate Moses in this distrust of compromises. Little good ever comes of them. Principle, not expediency, should rule the Christian's conduct. The intrusion of expediency into matters ecclesiastical has been a grievous source of weakness, of scandal, and of loss of spiritual power.
2. He ultimately yields. He concedes the whole demand; qualified only by the injunction not to go far away (ver. 28). The interview leaves on one's mind the impression of sincerity - of a real relenting, of however short a duration, on the part of Pharaoh. Just so much the more fatal to his spiritual life was the subsequent hardening.
V. THOUGH WARNED BY MOSES OF THE PERIL OF ACTING DECEITFULLY, PHARAOH ANEW HARDENED HIS HEART (ver. 32). Hardening, after the experience just described, may be regarded as almost settling Pharaoh's doom. He would soon be, if he was not already, irrecoverable. God had trusted him a second time, and this was the result. Obstinacy was passing into obduracy. - J.O.
I. THIS PROTECTION OF GOSHEN.
1. Note what this protection did for the Israelites. Had they then up to this time been sharers in the inconveniences and perils of the first three plagues? We must conclude that they had been; and that Jehovah only now deemed it fitting to extend special exemption to them. It was well for them to share somewhat of the sufferings of the Egyptians. (And we must bear in mind that however much they shared of these sufferings, yet afterwards, in the wilderness, the recollection of the comforts and delicacies of Egypt rose above all the recollection of the sufferings. Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:4-6.) But now, with the fourth plague, the time has come to make a perceptible difference between Israelite and Egyptian. True, the contest is advancing, but there is still much to be done; and it is well to give Israel timely encouragements. They must wait a while to be liberated from Pharaoh's thraldom, yet surely it must rejoice and comfort their hearts to see themselves, even though in bondage, free from the afflictions which are coming ever more thickly upon Egypt. Though they have not all they want, it is something to have such a clear sign that God has marked them for his own. Even in this world, with all his sufferings, temporal disadvantages, and opportunities of gain missed, because he is a Christian, the Christian has that which makes the world to envy and to fear. For a while we must share in the world's sufferings, but the world cannot share in our joys. Israel has to suffer with Pharaoh in the beginning, but presently it escapes; whereas Pharaoh cannot by any plan extend Goshen among the habitations of his own people. If we would have the comforts of Goshen we must go there, fraternise with them that dwell there, and join ourselves on to them.
2. Note what this protection may have done for the Egyptians. It may have done much in the way of revelation as to the cause of their troubles. Up to this point, most of them, even while they experienced great sufferings, had no knowledge of what caused the sufferings. It is very improbable that the demands of Moses had become known to the great bulk of the people. To national troubles they were doubtless used at times - such troubles as had come to their ancestors in the seven years of famine - but these plagues were altogether beyond precedent, and must have provoked much active enquiry as to what possible cause could produce them. And now when this sharp division is made between Egypt and Goshen, this line evidently not of man's making, the Egyptian people cannot but feel at once that there must be some connection between their sufferings and the state of the Israelites. Hence -
3. It is possible that here we have the real reason why Pharaoh is now driven again into a sort of submission. What if he were more concerned at the absence of the flies from Goshen than at the presence of them among his own people! Might not this extraordinary exemption set his own people thinking too much, and cause his house to be divided against itself?
II. HIS PROPOSITIONS TO MOSES OF COMPROMISE. Pharaoh, on the occasion of his former yielding (ver. 10), proposed to let the people go "to-morrow." Now he varies the terms of compromise. The people shall offer their sacrifices in the land. This offer he seems to have made in complete ignorance of the difficulties which lay in the way from the feelings of his own people. A fine man this, to be the ruler of a great kingdom! One who had to be taught the feelings of his own people by a stranger. Like most despots; he did not understand how vain it was to contend against the strength of custom and popular sentiment, particularly in matters of religion. Not only were the rites of Israelitish worship different from those of Egyptian worship, but one of the animals most frequently used for Israelitish sacrifice, would if so used before the Egyptians, have been viewed by them with the utmost repugnance. It was no visionary peril which Moses indicated. Whately, in his annotated edition of Bacon's Essays (p. 126): speaking on this very subject of the strength of popular custom, illustrates it, curiously enough, from the conduct of the Alexandrian populace at a much later time. "When the Romans took possession of Egypt, the people submitted without the least resistance to have their lives and property at the mercy of a foreign nation: 'but one of the Roman soldiers happening to kill a cat in the streets of Alexandria, they rose on him and tore him limb from limb, and the excitement was so violent, that the generals overlooked the outrage for fear of insurrection."- In the land of Egypt then, says Moses; the sacrifices of Israel cannot be; and of course beyond the sufficient reason stated by Moses, there were others which there was no need to state, and which Pharaoh could not have understood, even if they had been stated. - But Pharaoh is driven from one proviso only to seek refuge in another. If the people go out, they are not to go very far. And yet this offer, conditional as it seemed, was not conditional in reality. It was enough to serve the purpose of Moses, and he could readily accept it. Once a bird is outside of the cage, a very few minutes will take it clear away from the risk of re-capture. If Pharaoh only lets Israel out of his hands, it matters not how far, the rest will settle itself. This promise was enough to justify Moses, in interceding for a withdrawal of the heavy hand of Jehovah; and Jehovah, in granting the request. Thus a second time was Pharaoh taken at his word. God, we see, takes men at their word when they make right resolutions. If they make wrong, selfish resolutions, he would have them alter them. But once they have resolved rightly, he holds them to the resolution, and gives opportunity to carry it out. God withdrew the flies, as he had withdrawn the frogs. There seems even something as miraculous about the withdrawal as about the original infliction. It might have been expected that a few of the flies would remain, just one here and there, but there remained not one. Lastly, notice what is now coming to be the regular result of Pharaoh's temporary yieldings. He gives way a little to pressure, but as soon as the pressure is removed, he returns to his original position. All these yieldings of his are but as the slight appearance of thaw when the sun is at his best on a keen winter's day. Pharaoh was thawed just a little on the surface of his nature. As soon as the heat of the present plague departed, the frost in his proud heart set in with more severity than ever. - Y.
I. THE SUPERSTITION OF EGYPT IS MADE ITS SCOURGE.
1. The land was covered with the sacred beetle. It swarmed upon the ground and in their homes. No movement was possible without crushing or treading under foot the insect they adored. When God overthrows idolatries the very reverence with which the idols have been regarded deepens the chastisement. When the covetous sink under the loss of wealth, they themselves have given its weight to the blow which crushes them.
2. The land was destroyed by it. No prayer or propitiation served to avert the judgment. A land is ever corrupted by its idolatry. With the knowledge and worship of the true God, purity and righteousness and truth are put far from it. The soul is marred and wasted by covetousness.
II. THE SEPARATION BETWEEN GOSHEN AND EGYPT.
1. Hitherto there had been no separation. Up to a certain point the just and the unjust suffer in common.
2. Beyond this, God shields his loved ones. They are alike visited by sorrow, etc.; but while there is darkness and the ministration of death in the abodes of the unrepentant, there is light and the ministration of life in the dwellings of the righteous.
III. THE REJECTED COMPROMISE. Nothing less than God's demand can be accepted. If we are to go free and to obtain the inheritance, we must make no compromise with the world or with sin; we must offer to God the full unfettered worship he demands. There must be full and complete separation between Egypt and Israel, the Church and the world, else it will be impossible to present before God the sacrifices he asks for. A Church unseparated from the world will be a worldly Church.
IV. PHARAOH'S BROKEN FAITH. We have no reason to doubt that he was sincere when he made the promise (ver. 28). How many vows sincerely made in trouble are forgotten in the ease they sought to purchase! Under the pressure of affliction men are ready to sacrifice much to which, when God's hand is removed, they cling as to their life. - U.