And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task.