Exodus 8:15


On the precise character of these three plagues, see the exposition. They are to be viewed in their relation to the Egyptians. -

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.







When Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart.
I. I observe, that when God issues out His terrible threatenings against sinners, HE IS WONT TO SUSPEND OR STAY THE FULL EXECUTION OF HIS SENTENCE, AND GIVE THEM MANY AN INTERVAL FOR REPENTANCE. A criminal shut up in the condemned cell, is said to be respited when, by a royal grant, his punishment is put off from the day appointed. This practice in the administration of human laws, may serve the purpose of illustrating the dispensations of Providence, or the dealings of God with men. The stubborn rebel is often admonished ere he meets the stern arrest of justice; and the guilty soul is often respited before the sentence is carried into execution. It seems to me, that this procedure of the great Judge in the mysterious ways of Providence is a bright display of mercy, blended even with the tokens of His displeasure. Each interval between successive warnings and judgments is a space given for repentance. But the final term of forbearance is not far distant; and with some of you it may be now the very last reprieve.

II. I observe, THAT IT PROVES A STATE OF MOST DREADFUL DEPRAVITY, WHEN MEN TAKE OCCASION, FROM THE VERY COMPASSIONS AND MERCIES OF GOD, TO HARDEN THEMSELVES IN SIN. The goodness of God is designed to lead you to repentance; but if you either do not know, or will not consider this, then the most lovely and attractive of all the Divine perfections is shamefully abused and contemned by you. But can you hope to escape? Is it possible to evade the eye of Omniscience, or resist the hand of Omnipotence? Where can you find an asylum for your souls, when the only Refuge which God has prepared, is scorned and set at nought?

III. I observe, THAT GOD PERFECTLY KNOWS ALL THE DEEDS OF WICKED MEN BEFORE THEY ARE DONE, AND ALL THEIR DESIGNS BEFORE THEY ARE CONCEIVED.

IV. Do you now ask, WHAT ARE THE SIGNS BY WHICH IT MAY BE KNOWN, THAT ANY MAN IS GIVEN UP TO HARDNESS OF HEART?

1. It is a dark sign that the heart is desperately hardened, when men sin on knowingly and deliberately. A crime is deeply aggravated, which is committed with the full consent of the will, in defiance of the clearest dictates of the understanding and the conscience.

2. It is a dark sign that the heart is desperately hardened, when men hate and shun those who faithfully warn and reprove them, and affectionately labour to reclaim them.

3. It is a dark sign that the heart is desperately hardened, when the very intervals and opportunities which mercy gives for repentance, are perverted to the purpose of adding sin to sin. Are there not some of you, who have been brought under the scourge of God's afflicting hand? Remember, it is written, "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall be suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy."

(John Thornton.)

The constrained and pretended penitence of Pharaoh, with the compassion and prayer of Moses, teach us valuable lessons. The penitence of Pharaoh shows us that we ought not to put off our repentance until the hour of sickness, trial, and death; for the seeming conversions which take place at such times may be hypocritical and short-lived, like that of Pharaoh. Is this sincere? The sick man thinks that it is; but if he recover will he not be the same as before? Will he not forget, as Pharaoh did, his promises, humiliation, confessions of sin, and seeming conversion? From the example of Moses we may also obtain important instruction. He had, truly, very many reasons for not putting much faith in the word of the king. Pharaoh had already shown much pride, obstinacy, and deceit; nevertheless, Moses did not repulse him; he knew that God can convert a soul even at the last hour. Pharaoh made promises, and "charity hopeth all things." It is God alone who can judge the heart. We ought, therefore, always to be ready to console, and help with our prayers, even persons who have been most hostile, opposed, and contemptuous to us. There was a worthy pastor of the Canton de Vaud in Switzerland, who, during a time of persecution, had to suffer much because he preached the gospel faithfully. He was even obliged to leave his parish, and to go and settle in another. Some time afterwards, one of the men who had behaved most wickedly to him was converted to the Lord. He immediately determined to go to his former pastor to tell him this good news. "How surprised he will be," thought he as he walked along. He arrived at the village; he rung the bell at the minister's house; the pastor himself opened the door. "I am come to tell you that I am converted; I, who have done you so much harm." "I am not astonished at it," answered the pastor, "for I have prayed for you all these seven years."

(Prof. Gaussen.)

Though the course of sin may be repelled for a season by the dispensation of the law, yet the spring and fountain of it is not dried up thereby. Though it withdraws and hides itself for season, it is but to shift out of a storm, and then to return again. As a traveller in his way meeting with a violent storm of thunder and rain, immediately turns out of his way to some house or tree for his shelter, but yet this causes him not to give over his journey, as soon as the storm is over he returns to his way and progress again; so it is with men in bondage unto sin. They are in a course of pursuing their lusts; the law meets with them in a storm of thunder and lightning from heaven, terrifies and hinders them in their way. This turns them for a season out of their course; they will run to prayer or amendment of life, for some shelter from the storm of wrath which is feared coming upon their consciences. But is their course stopped? are their principles altered? Not at all; so soon as the storm is over, so that they begin to wear out that sense and the terror that was upon them, they return to their former course in the service of sin again. This was the state with Pharaoh once and again. In such seasons sin is not conquered, but diverted. When it seems to fall under the power of the law, indeed it is only turned into new channel; it is not dried up. If you go and set a dam against the streams of a river, so that you suffer no water to pass in the old course and channel, but it breaks out another way, and turns all its streams in a new course, you will not say you have dried up that river, though some that come and look into the old channel may think, perhaps, that the waters are utterly gone. So is it in this case. The streams of sin, it may be, run in open sensuality and profaneness, in drunkenness and viciousness; the preaching of the law sets a dam against these causes; conscience is terrified, and the man dares not walk in the ways wherein he has been formerly engaged. His companions in sin, not finding him in his old ways, begin to laugh at him, as one that is converted and growing precise; professors themselves begin to be persuaded that the work of God is upon his heart, because they see his old streams dried up; but if there has been only a work of the law upon him, there in a dam put to his course, but the spring of sin is not dried up, only the streams of it are turned another way. It may be the man is fallen upon other more secret or more spiritual sins; or if he be beat from them also, the whole strength of lust and sin will take up its residence in self-righteousness, and pour out thereby as filthy streams as in any other way whatever. So that, notwithstanding the whole work of the law upon the souls of men, indwelling sin will keep alive in them still.

( J. Owen, D. D.)

As a horse that is good at hand, but nought at length, so is the hypocrite; free and fiery for a spurt, but he jades and tires in a journey. The faith, repentance, reformation, obedience, joy, sorrow, zeal, and other graces and affections of hypocrites, have their first motion and issue from false and erroneous grounds, as shame, fear, hope, and such respects. And it thence comes to pass that, where these respects cease to give them motion, the graces themselves can no more stand than a house can stand when the foundation is taken from under it. The boy that goes to his book no longer than the master holds the rod over him; the master's back once turned, away goes the book, and he to play: so is it with the hypocrite. Take away the rod from Pharaoh; and he will be old Pharaoh still. Now, then, here is a wide difference between the hypocrite and the godly man: the one does all by fits and starts, by sudden motions and flashes; whereas the other goes on fairly and soberly in a settled, constant, regular course of humiliation and obedience.

(Bp. Sanderson.)

Many persons who appear to repent, are like sailors who throw their goods overboard in a storm, and wish for them again as soon as it becomes calm.

How easy it is to mistake mercy for weakness! This was Pharaoh's mistake. The moment the Lord lifted His heavy hand from the Egyptian king, Pharaoh began to forget his oath, and vow, and promise, and to harden his heart, — saying, in effect, "He can do no more; the God of the Israelites has exhausted Himself; now that He has removed His hand He has confessed His weakness rather than demonstrated His pity." We are committing the same mistake every day: whilst the plague is in the house we are ready to do anything to get rid of it! we will say prayers morning, noon and night, and send for the holy man who has been anointed as God's minister, and will read nothing but solid and most impressive books, listen to no frivolous conversation, and touch nothing that could dissipate or enfeeble the mind. How long will the plague be removed before the elasticity will return to the man and the old self reassert its sovereignty? Not a day need pass. We begin to feel that the worst is past: we say it is darkest before it is dawn, "hope springs eternal in the human breast"; and so easily do we fall back into the old swing between self-indulgence and nominal homage to God. We think we have felt all the Lord can do, and we say, "His sword is no longer; it cannot reach us now that we have removed away this little distance from its range; now and here we may do what we please, and judgment cannot fall upon us." Thus we play old Pharaoh's part day by day. He is a mirror in which we may see ourselves. There is nothing mysterious in this part of the solemn reading. However we may endeavour to escape from the line when it becomes supernatural or romantic, we are brought swiftly and surely back to it when we see these repetitions of obduracy and these renewed challenges of Divine anger and judgment.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Manton says, "Many a time a brabble falleth out between a man and his lusts; but he delayeth, and all cometh to nothing. In a heat we bid a naughty servant begone; but he lingereth and before the next morning all is cool and quiet, and he is again in favour." Ungodly men have their quarrels with their favourite sins on various accounts, but these are like children's pets with one another, soon over because they come of passion, and not from principle. An unholy person will fall out with sin because it has injured his health or his credit, or has brought him into difficulty with his neighbours; but when these temporary results are ended he falls in love again with the same iniquity. Thus we have seen the drunkard loathing his cups when his eyes were red and his head was aching; but ere the sun went down the quarrel was ended, and he and Bacchus were rolling in the gutter together. ("Flowers from a Puritan's Garden.")

Pharaoh's professions of repentance and promises of amendment were like those of the child under the rod of chastisement, they were designed to mitigate the infliction, and when the punishment was over they went for nothing. Now, this is always the case when fear alone predominates over the soul. Ah! how much of our penitence is like this of Pharaoh; how many are saints on a sick-bed, but as wicked as ever when they recover! During an epidemic of cholera in the village where I first laboured as a minister, the churches were filled to overflowing by suppliants who had never before entered them; but when it had passed, they relapsed into worse carelessness than ever: and there may be some here to-night who, when they were dangerously ill, or when they were laying a dear little one's body in the grave, vowed to God that they would yield themselves to Him; while now they are as far from His service as ever. Let me beseech such hardened ones to beware.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Lorenzo de Medici lies dying in the city of Florence: in the terrors of death he has sent for the one man who never had yielded to his threats or caresses — the brave Savonarola. Lorenzo confesses that he has heavy on his soul three crimes: the cruel sack of Volterra, the theft of the public dower of young girls, by which many were driven to a wicked life, and the blood shed after the conspiracy of Pazzi. He is greatly agitated, and Savon-arola, to keep him quiet, keeps repeating, "God is merciful," "God is good." "But," he added, "there is need of three things." "And what are they, father?" "First, you must have a great and living faith in the mercy of God." "This I have — the greatest." "Second, you must restore that which you have wrongfully taken, or require your children to restore it for you." Lorenzo looked surprised and troubled; but he forces himself to compliance, and nods his head in sign of assent. Then Savonarola rises to his feet, and stands over the dying prince. "Last, you must give back their liberties to the people of Florence." Lorenzo, summoning up all his remaining strength, disdainfully turns his back, and, without uttering another word, Savonarola departs without giving him absolution.

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