Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that darkness will spread over the land of Egypt--a palpable darkness."
I. THE LAST OF THE ADMONITORY PLAGUES (vers. 21-24). The plagues, viewed as trials of Pharaoh's character, end with this one. The death of the first-born was a judgment, and gave Pharaoh no further space for repentance. We may view this last of the nine plagues:
1. As awful in itself. Whatever its natural basis, the preternatural intensity of the darkness now brought upon the land told plainly enough that it was one of the wonders of Jehovah. For three whole days no one human being in Egypt saw another, even artificial light, it would appear, failing them in their necessity. The fearfulness of the plague was heightened to those stricken by it by the fact that the Israelites "had light in their dwellings"; also by the fact that the sun in his different phases was the chief object of their worship. When one reflects on the terrors which accompany darkness in any case; on the singular effect it has in working on the imagination, and in intensifying its alarms, it will be felt how truly this was a plague laid upon the heart (Exodus 9:14). Darkness suddenly descending on a land invariably awakens superstitious fears, fills multitudes with forebodings of calamity, creates apprehensions of the near approach of the day of judgment; what, then, would be the effect on the Egyptians when they "saw their crystal atmosphere and resplendent heavens suddenly compelled to wear an aspect of indescribable terror and appalling gloom"? We may gather how great was the distress from the fact of the king being compelled, after all that had happened, again to send for Moses (ver. 24).
2. As symbolic of a spiritual condition. Egypt was enveloped in the wrath of God. The stroke of that wrath, which might have been averted by timely repentance, was about to descend in the destruction of the first-born. Darkness was in the king's soul. The darkness of doom was weaving itself around his fortunes. Of all this, surely the physical darkness, which, like a dread funeral pall, descended on the land, must be taken as a symbol. When Christ, the sin-bearer, hung on Calvary, a great darkness, in like manner, covered the whole land (Matthew 27:45). The darkness without was but the symbol of a deeper darkness in which Christ's spirit was enveloped. The sinner's condition is one of darkness altogether. He is dark spiritually (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6). He is dark, as under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). God's people are "children of light," but the transgressor's soul is buried in deadliest gloom (Ephesians 5:8). The place of woe is described as "the outer darkness" (Matthew 25:30).
II. PHARAOH'S LAST ATTEMPT (vers. 24-27).
1. It was made under dire compulsion. The darkness had shaken his heart to its foundations. It is noteworthy that each of these three last plagues extorted from him a full or partial consent. The lesser plagues, severe though they were, had not had this effect. He could hold out under two, and in one case under three of them.
2. It was, like the former, an attempt at compromise. He would let the "little ones" go, but the flocks and herds were to be left; an absurd prohibition, when the object was to sacrifice. It is made painfully evident that Pharaoh's judgment has left him; that he has become absolutely reckless; that he is no longer his own master; that he is being driven by his passions in opposition to all right reason and prudence; that the end, accordingly, is very near.
3. It testifies to his increasing hardness.
(1) There is on this occasion no confession of sin.
(2) Neither does Pharaoh concede the whole demand.
(3) He ends the scene with violence, ordering Moses never to appear again before him, under penalty of death.
III. PHARAOH'S REPROBATION (ver. 29). Moses took Pharaoh at his word. "Thou hast spoken well; I will see thy face no more." God's work with this great, bad man was ended, save as the judgment for which he had prepared himself was now to be inflicted upon him. He had not been given up till every conceivable means had been exhausted to bring him to repentance. He had been tried with reason and with threatening; with gentleness and with severity; with mercy and with judgments. He had been reproved, expostulated with, warned, and frequently chastised. His prayers for respite had in every case been heard. He had been trusted in his promises to let Israel go, and when he had broken them was still forborne with and trusted again. Plagues of every kind had been sent upon him. He had suffered incalculable loss, had endured sore bodily pain, had been shaken in his soul with supernatural terrors. His first plea, of ignorance, and his second, of want of evidence, had been completely shattered. He had been made to confess that he had sinned, and that Jehovah was righteous. Yet under all and through all he had gone on hardening himself, till, finally, even God could wring no confession of sin from him, and his mind had become utterly fatuous, and regardless of consequences. What more was to be done with Pharaoh? Even that which must be done with ourselves under like circumstances - he was rejected, reprobated, given over to destruction. "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?" (Luke 13:7). It was the same fate which overtook Israel when the nation became finally corrupt and hardened. - J.O.
I. THAT UNREGENERATE HUMANITY IS IN A CONDITION OF MORAL DARKNESS.
1. Obedience to God's signal commands must be given by His servants.
Darkness over the land of Egypt.1. God falls upon sinners without warning where they deal falsely with Him.
2. The same signal God may command for several uses.
3. God's word determines the end unto which all signals are appointed.
4. Men's hands lifted up to heaven God may make use of to bring evils on the earth.
5. It is God's word to make a kingdom the land of darkness.
6. Palpable darkness is a judgment of God's own making (ver. 21).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
2. Signal obedience by God's ministers is not in vain. God giveth the effect.
3. Horrid darkness can God send upon souls darkened through sin.
4. Egyptian darkness is God's exemplary vengeance to the world.
5. The place and duration of darkness are at God's appointment (ver. 22).
6. Dismal darkness is that which takes from men the use of sense and motion.
7. Chains of darkness can God make to hold fast sinners in prison.
8. God executes His judgments on the world with discrimination to His people.
9. Egypt's darkness is Israel's light (ver. 23).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Ignorant — of God as Father, Christ as Saviour, Holy Ghost as Comforter, and glories of moral universe.
2. Miserable. Groping in darkness to an awful destiny of woe.
3. In danger. Under condemnation of Heaven.
II. THAT UNREGENERATE HUMANITY IS IN MORAL DARKNESS THROUGH SIN. No light but from the Cross.
III. THAT UNRENEWED HUMANITY IS IN GREAT STRAITS THROUGH, AND HAS NO ARTIFICIAL ALLEVIATION OF, ITS MORAL DARKNESS.
1. The moral vision of humanity is impeded.
2. The moral activity of humanity is suspended. Soul-darkness can only be removed by Christ.Lessons:
1. To seek to relieve the woe of those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
2. To see the effect of sin.
3. To seek light from the Cross of Christ.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
II. IN THE DWELLINGS OF THE GOOD THERE IS THE LIGHT OF PROVIDENTIAL GUIDANCE.
III. IN THE DWELLINGS OF THE GOOD THERE IS THE LIGHT OF MORAL CHARACTER.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
I. THERE IS SUPERNATURAL LIGHT IN THE DWELLINGS OF GOD'S PEOPLE. There is a light brighter than the light of the sun. God's people dwell in it. The light of the glory of God has shone in upon them. No creations of worldly wisdom, wealth, or philosophy can give this heavenly light.
II. THAT THIS LIGHT IS THE SOURCE OF MANIFOLD BLESSINGS. Comfort under trial; strength in weakness; peace in disquietude; lessons of resignation, patience, and fortitude: sanctification of affliction; sympathy with the suffering members of the household; preservation in calamitous times; sustaining trust in God under perplexing circumstances; hope of eternal felicity.
III. THAT THIS LIGHT IS A FOREGLEAMING OF THAT GLORY WHICH WILL RE ENJOYED BY GOD'S PEOPLE FOR EVER. God's love in Christ is the light of every true Israelite's dwelling on earth, and that is the light of heaven. Christian homes ought to be "spangles of celestial brightness on this darksome earth." The light here is sometimes dimmed. Heaven is its native sphere. It suffers there no eclipse. Our vision too will be clearer.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)I. EGYPT IN ITS DARKNESS WAS A TYPE OF THE WORLD. It was so also in other particulars. In its tyrannical dominion by the despotical Pharaoh; — in its diversified idolatry; but particularly in the darkness which enshrouded it.
1. Darkness is an emblem of ignorance and error, and the world is involved in these.
2. Darkness is an emblem of guilt, and the world is involved in this.
3. Darkness is an emblem of peril, and in this the world is involved. It is to be the scene of the Divine vengeance. It is to be renovated by fire (2 Peter 3:10).
4. Darkness is the emblem of misery, and in this the world is involved. Now the misery of the men of the world arises from three things.(1) From the accusations of guilt, the cause of their condemnation.(2) From the unsatisfying nature of their portion. They want happiness, but cannot find it.(3) Their gloomy fears as to the future.
II. THE ISRAELITES WITH LIGHT IN THEIR DWELLINGS WERE A TYPE OF THE CHURCH.
1. They have the light of saving knowledge.
2. They have the light of the Divine approbation.
3. They have the light of holiness. In applying this subject we behold the contrast between those who are of the world and the people of God, in several conditions of life.(1) See them in adversity. The wicked have an addition of darkness. No solace, — no ray to cheer them; hence how often they sink into despair and rush into eternity. The Christian feels, but he recognizes God's hand.(2) See them in sickness. No light. Painful, restless, and an overwhelming anxiety, The sick chamber is as dark as Egypt. But the righteous have light in their dwellings. The serene countenance, the pious resignation, the cheering hope, show the difference.(3) See them in death. With the wicked it is a leap in the dark. But the righteous have light in death — often the celestial beams of glory.
(J. Burns, D. D.)Deuteronomy 28:27-29). Blindness was the punishment inflicted upon Elymas the sorcerer; and these Egyptians were famous for their sorceries. The darkness may therefore have been of this kind, a painful but temporary loss of eyesight. Darkness, such as is here described, may have been occasioned by a thick cloud resting upon the earth, and pervading all the lower regions of the atmosphere: this would enfold the people so as "to be felt," and would intercept the sun's rays effectually by its density. God is often described as manifesting His displeasure in a cloud. Joel speaks of the day of God's vengeance as "a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness" (Joel 2:2); and Zephaniah employs nearly the same language (Zephaniah 1:15). The pillar that went before the Israelites, and gave them light, was to the Egyptians "a cloud and darkness" (Exodus 14:20). Such a cloud would be even more terrible in Egypt, sunny Egypt, than in other countries; for there, as we have already seen, the sky is almost always clear, and heavy rains unknown. But in any place, and under any conditions, it must have been full of horror and misery. Nothing could represent this more forcibly than the short sentence, "Neither rose any from his place for three days." It was an horror of great darkness; it rested on them like a pall; they knew not what dangers might be around them, what judgment was next to happen. If there be any truth in the traditions of the Jews on this subject, there were yet greater alarms under this canopy of darkness, this palpable obscurity, than any which would naturally arise out of the physical infliction. Darkness is a type of Satan's kingdom; and Satan had some liberty in Egypt to walk up and down upon the land, and to go to and fro in it. The Jewish Rabbis tell us that the devil and his angels were let loose during these three dreadful days; that they had a wider range and greater liberty than usual for working mischief. They describe these evil spirits going among the wretched people, glued to their seats as they were with terror; frightening them with fearful apparitions; piercing their ears with hideous shrieks and groans; driving them almost to madness with the intensity of their fears; making their flesh creep, and the hair of their head to stand on end. Such a climax seems to be referred to by the Psalmist, "He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and indignation and trouble, by sending evil angels among them" (Psalm 78:49). The sun was, during the continuance of the plague of darkness, blotted out from the Egyptian sky: either their chief God had forsaken them, and turned against his vicegerent upon earth, or the God of Moses had prevailed against them both. In the intensity of their darkness, unrelieved by any artificial light, the people would bethink themselves of the brilliant illumination they had been in the habit of making in honour of their god, as described by Herodotus, "At the sacrifice solemnized at Sais the assembly is held by night: they suspend before their houses in the open air lamps, which are filled with oil mixed with salt: a wick floats on the top, which wilt burn all night: the feast is called the feast of lamps. Such of the Egyptians as do not attend the ceremony burn lamps in like manner before their houses, so that on this night, not Sais only, but all Egypt illuminated. A religious motive is assigned for the festival itself, and for the illumination by which it is distinguished" (Herod. 2:62). Night, being supposed to divide the empire of the heavens with day, received also its share of diving honors. Darkness existed before light; and therefore darkness was revered as the most ancient of all deities. Among the verses usually ascribed to Orpheus is a hymn addressed to Night, beginning — "Night, parent of gods and men!" (Hymn. ad Noct. 5:1.) Plutarch says — "The Egyptians reverence the blind mouse, because they consider darkness to be more ancient than light" (Sympos. 1. 4. qu. 5). Thus, again, the vanity of the religious practices of Egypt was plainly shown. Where were now their gods? Let them pray to the sun; let them intreat their lord and king Osiris; he would not look on them, nor give them one ray of his comfort. Let them implore the darkness; it would not listen to them, nor depart from them. The Israelites, on the contrary, who had never, as a nation, bowed the knee to these creatures, nor had been attracted by their glory to give them the homage due to God alone, were filled with light and warmth. The Lord of heaven and earth sent down his blessing upon their houses, singling them out wherever they might be, and made even the darkness to be light about them. And now, perhaps, they would better understand the worth and excellency of that daily gift of God which men enjoy too generally without much thought of Him whose word created and whose mercy sends it. Looking upon the walls of blackness which were drawn around the houses of the Egyptians, they would learn to prize the glorious light and sunshine which still prevailed in all their dwellings: they would compare their own condition, even as slaves and bondsmen, with the misery of those who had their habitations in the fairest palaces of Egypt — fair no longer now, but dark and desolate; and so they would doubtless look upward with gratitude to their almighty God, and confess the security and happiness of those who trust in Him.
(T. S. Millington.)
(H. O. Mackey.)
(Sword and Trowel.)
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