And Pharaoh's servants said to him, How long shall this man be a snare to us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God…
Of the two principal terms used to denote "hardening," one means "to strengthen, or make firm," the other, "to make heavy, or obtuse." It is the latter of these (used also in Exodus 8:15, 32; Exodus 9:7) which is used in Exodus 9:34, and Exodus 10:1. The growing obtuseness of Pharaoh's mind is very apparent from the narrative. He is losing the power of right judgment. He began by hardening himself (making his heart strong and firm) against Jehovah, and he is reaping the penalty in a blinded understanding. This obtuseness shows itself in various ways, notably in the want of unity in his conduct. He is like a man at bay, who feels that he is powerless to resist, but cannot bring himself to yield. His power of self-control is leaving him, and his action, in consequence, consists of a succession of mad rushes, now in one direction, now in another. External influences - the remonstrance of courtiers, the terrors occasioned by the plagues - produce immediate effects upon him; but the recoil of pride and rage, which speedily supervenes, carries him further from reason than ever. Now he is suing in pitiable self-humiliation for forgiveness; again he is furious and unrestrained in his defiance. Passion is usurping the place of reason, and drives him to and fro with ungovernable violence. We are reminded of the heathen saying, "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first madden;' but it is not God who is destroying Pharaoh; it is Pharaoh who is destroying himself. If God maddens him, it is by plying him with the influences which ought to have had a directly opposite effect. Pharaoh, like every other sinner, must bear the responsibility of his own ruin.
I. THE INTERVENTION OF PHARAOH'S SERVANTS (ver. 7). These may be the same servants who up to this time had hardened themselves (Exodus 9:34). If so, they now see the folly of further contest. More and more Pharaoh is being left to stand alone. First, his magicians gave in (Exodus 8:19), then a portion of his servants (Exodus 9:20); now, apparently, his courtiers are deserting him in a body. It shows the indomitable stubbornness of the king, that under these circumstances he should still hold out. Observe,
1. The subjects of a government have often a truer perception of what is needed for the safety of a country than their rulers and leaders. Pharaoh's servants saw the full gravity of the situation, to which the monarch was so blind. "Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" Rulers are frequently blinded by their pride, passion, prejudices, and private wishes, to the real necessities of a political situation.
2. Hardening against God makes the heart indifferent to the interests of others. The ungodly mind is at bottom selfish. We have seen already (ch. 5.) to what lengths in cruelty ungodly men will go in pursuit of their personal ends. We have also seen that hardening at the centre of the nature is bound to spread till it embraces the whole man (on Exodus 7:3). Pharaoh is an illustration of this. He was unboundedly proud; and "pride," says Muller, "is the basest and most glaring form that selfishness can assume." It is an egoistic sin; a sin of the will more than of the affections; a sin rooted in the centre of the personality. But Pharaoh was more than proud; he was God-defying. He had consciously and wilfully hardened himself against the Almighty, under most terrible displays of his omnipotence. Driven to bay in such a contest, it was not to be expected that he would be much influenced by the thought of the suffering he was bringing upon others. Egypt might be destroyed, but Pharaoh recked little of that, or, possibly, still tried to persuade himself that the worst might be averted. The remonstrance of his courtiers produced a momentary wavering, but defiance breaks out again in ver. 10 in stronger terms than ever.
II. A RENEWED ATTEMPT AT COMPROMISE (vers. 8-12). Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron, and asks who they are that are to go to sacrifice (ver. 8): the reply was decisive; "we will go with our young and with our old," etc. (ver. 9). At this Pharaoh is transported with ungovernable rage. He accuses the Hebrew brothers of desiring to take an evil advantage of his permission, and practically challenges Jehovah to do his worst against him (ver. 10). He will consent to the men going to serve the Lord, but to nothing more (ver. 11). Moses and Aaron were then "driven" from his presence. We are reminded here of the transports of Saul, and his malicious rage at David (1 Samuel 19.). Notice on this,
1. Wicked men distrust God. Pharaoh had no reason to question Jehovah's sincerity. God had proved his sincerity by his previous dealings with him. And had God actually demanded - what ultimately would have been required - the entire departure of the people from the land, what right had he, their oppressor, to object?
2. Wicked men would fain compound with God. They will give up something, if God will let them retain the rest. There is a sweetness to a proud nature in being able to get even part of its own way.
3. The thing wicked men will not do is to concede the whole demand which God makes on them. What God requires supremely is the surrender of the will, and this the recalcitrant heart will not stoop to yield. Part it will surrender, but not the whole. Outward vices, pleasures, worldly possessions, friendships, these, at a pinch, may be given up; but not the heart's love and obedience, which is the thing chiefly asked for; not the" little ones" of the heart's secret sins, or the "flocks and herds" for the pure inward sacrifice (see Pusey on Micah 6:6-9).
III. THE LOCUST JUDGMENT (ver. 12-16). The predicted plague was accordingly brought upon the land. It was the second of what we may call the greater plagues - the plagues that were to be laid upon the king's "heart" (Exodus 9:14). They were plagues of a character to appal and overwhelm; to lay hold of the nature on the side on which it is susceptible of impressions from the awful and terrific; to awaken into intense activity its slumbering sense of the infinite; to rouse in the soul the apprehension of present Deity. The first was the plague of hail, thunderings, and lightnings; the second was this plague of locusts. The points on which stress is laid in this second plague are -
1. The supernatural character of the visitation.
2. The appalling numbers of the enemy.
3. The havoc wrought by them.
We may compare the language here with the description of the locusts in Joel 2., and it may be concluded that the effects described as following from the latter visitation were more than paralleled by the terror and anguish created by the descent of this scourge on Egypt. "Before their face the people would be much pained; all faces would gather blackness" (Joel 2:6). It would seem as if the earth quaked before them; as if the heavens trembled; as if sun and moon had become dark, and the stars had withdrawn their shining (ver. 10)! The devastation was rapid and complete. "The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness (ver. 3). Had the plague not speedily been removed Egypt verily would have been destroyed. How mighty is Jehovah! How universal his empire! These locusts were brought from afar (ver. 13). All agents in nature serve him; winds (cast and west), locusts (cf. Joel 2:11), as well as hail and thunder. He has but to speak the word, and all we have will be taken from us (ver. 15).
IV. PHARAOH'S PITIABLE PLIGHT AND FURTHER HARDENING (vers. 16-21). What we have here is a specimen of one of those violent contrasts in Pharaoh's later moods to which reference has been made above. Nothing could be more humiliating, more abject, more truly painful, in its self-effacement than this new appeal of the king to Moses. He had sinned, shined both against God, and against Moses and Aaron; would they forgive him this once, only this once, and entreat God that he would take away from him this death only? (vers. 16, 17.) Contrast this with ver. 10, or with ver. 28, and it can hardly be believed that we are looking on the same man. Pharaoh had never humbled himself so far before. He beseeches for mercy; almost cringes before Moses and Aaron in his anxiety to have this dreadful plague removed. Yet there is no real change of heart. The moment the locusts are gone pride reasserts its sway, and he hardens himself as formerly. Learn -
1. That false repentance may be connected with other than superficial states of feeling. Pharaoh was here in real terror, in mortal anguish of spirit. The pains of hell had truly got hold on him (Psalm 116:3). Yet his repentance was a false one.
2. That false repentance may ape every outward symptom of real repentance. Who that saw Pharaoh in that bath of anguish, and heard him pouring out those impassioned entreaties and confessions, but would have supposed that the hard heart had at length been subdued? The confession of sin is unreserved and unqualified. The submission is absolute. Pharaoh was aware of how little he deserved to be further trusted, and pied to be tried again, only this once," Yet the repentance was through and through a false one - the product of mere natural terror - the repentance of a heart, not one fibre of which was altered in its moral quality.
3. That false repentance may not be consciously insincere. There is no reason to question that Pharaoh was for the time sincere enough in the promises he' made. They were wrung from him, but he meant to give effect to them. But the momentary willingness he felt to purchase exemption from trouble by granting Jehovah's demand had quite disappeared by the time the plague was removed. The repentance was false.
4. The test of a repentance being false or true is the fruits yielded by it. The test is not the depth of our convictions, the anguish of our minds, the profuseness of our confessions, the apparent sincerity of our vows, it is the kind of deeds which follow (Matthew 3:8). We have need in this matter of repentance to distrust ourselves, to beware of being imposed on by others, and to be careful in public instruction that the real nature of repentance is lucidly expounded. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Pharaoh's servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?