Then the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning, stand before Pharaoh, and tell him that this is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: 'Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.
Jonah 4.). At the same time, God's sovereignty is seen in the way in which he utilizes the wicked man whose persistence in his wickedness is foreseen by him. "God might have caused Pharaoh to be born in a cabin, where his proud obstinacy would have been displayed with no less self-will, but without any historical consequence; on the other hand, he might have placed on the throne of Egypt at that time a weak, easy-going man, who would have yielded at the first shock. What would have happened? Pharaoh in his obscure position would not have been less arrogant and perverse, but Israel would have gone forth from Egypt without eclat... God did not therefore create the indomitable pride of Pharaoh as it were to gain a point of resistance, and reflect his glory; he was content to use it for this purpose" (Godet on Romans 4:17, 18). Notice -
I. THE TERRIBLE RAISING UP (ver. 16). We are taught,
1. That God can find a use even for the wicked (Proverbs 16:4).
2. That God places wicked men in positions in which their true character is manifested, and his own power and righteousness are glorified in their judgment.
3. That this is not the primary desire of God in relation to any wicked man. He would prefer his conversion. If it be urged that the situations in which men are placed are not always those most favourable to their conversion, this may be conceded. But they are not placed in these positions arbitrarily, but under a system of administration which regards each individual, not simply as an end in himself, but as a means to a yet higher end, the carrying forward of the world purpose as a whole. God cannot deal with the individual as if there were no such thing as history, or as if that individual constituted the sum-total of humanity, or as if his salvation were the only and the all-ruling consideration in the arrangement of the world. God disposes of the evil of the world, decrees the lines and directions of its developments, the persons in whom, and the situations under which, it will be permitted to reveal and concentrate itself, but he neither creates the evil, nor delights in it, and is all the while working for its final and effectual overthrow. No situation in which God places man nessitates him to be evil.
4. That the sinner's evil, accordingly, is his own, and his ruin self-wrought. This is shown - and notably in the case of Pharaoh - by the fact that God's dealings with him are fitted to change him if he will be changed (Matthew 23:37).
II. A PLAGUE WITH APPALLING ATTENDANT CIRCUMSTANCES (verse 18:23-26). This plague, like many of its predecessors, was,
1. Severe in its character (ver. 24).
2. Destructive in its effects (ver. 25).
3. Distinguishing in its range. It spared the land of Goshen (ver. 26). But the peculiar circumstance connected with it - that which marked it as the first of a new order of plagues - was,
4. Its combination of terror with sublimity, its power to appal as well as to punish. A last attempt was to be made to break down the opposition of the monarch by displays of God's majesty and omnipotence which should shake his very heart (ver. 14). Instead of frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, and boils on man and beast, Pharaoh was now to be made to hear "voices of God" in the thunder (ver. 28, Hebrews); was to see dreadful lightnings, masses of fire, descending from the sky, and rolling in balls of fire along the ground (ver. 23); was to witness his land smitten with terrific hail "very grievous," the like of which had never been seen in Egypt "since it became a nation" (ver. 24). A thunderstorm is at all times terrible, and when very severe, inspires an awe which few natures can resist. Accompanied by preternatural terrors, its effect would be simply overwhelming. This was the intention here. The strokes of God were to go to the king's heart. They were to convince him that there was "none like Jehovah in all the earth" (ver. 14). They were to be plagues, as Calvin says, "that would not only strike the head and arms, but penetrate the very heart, and inflict a mortal wound." The thunder is introduced as being "the mightiest manifestation of the omnipotence of God, which speaks therein to men (Revelation 10:3, 4), and warns them of the terrors of judgment" (Keil). On the peculiar effect of the thunderstorm in awakening the religious nature, see a paper on "God in Nature and History," Expositor, March, 1881. To the superstitious minds of the heathen these unexampled terrors would seem of awful significance.
III. TWOFOLD EFFECTS OF WARNINGS (vers. 20, 21).
1. God's judgments, like his overtures of grace, are seldom wholly ineffectual. If the king was hardened, there were at least some in Egypt who had become alive to the gravity of the situation, "who feared the word of the Lord." Such were to be found even among the servants of Pharaoh, in the palace itself. The preaching of the Gospel, even under the most unpropitious circumstances, will seldom fail of some fruit. There were "certain men" which "clave" to Paul, "and believed" at Athens; "among the which was Dionysius, the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them" (Acts 17:34). There were "saints" - mirabile dictu - even in Nero's palace (Philippians 4:22).
2. The division of men, in their relation to the Word of God, is a very simple one. There are those who fear and regard it, and there are those who disregard and disobey it. Paul speaks of those to whom Gospel-preaching is a savour of death unto death, and of those to whom it is a savour of life unto life (2 Corinthians 2:16). Between the two classes there is no third. The effects of his own preaching are thus summed up, "And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not" (Acts 28:24).
3. Faith reveals itself in obedience. He that feared God's word brought in his cattle; he that disregarded it left them in the fields.
4. The wisdom of regarding God, and the folly of disregarding him, were made manifest by the result.
IV. PHARAOH'S CAPITULATION (vers. 27, 28). The supernatural concomitants of this appalling visitation so unnerved the king that he was induced again to send for Moses. He did not yield till the plague was actually on the land, and only then, because he could not help it. The terms in which he makes his submission show,
1. His undisguised terror.
2. His thorough conviction that he was in the hands of the God of the whole earth. Pharaoh had by this time had a course of instruction in the "evidences," which left no room for further doubt. The most striking feature in his submission, however, is,
3. His confession of sin. "I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked" (ver. 27). It was good that Pharaoh should be brought to see that it was a righteous demand he was resisting, and that he was inexcusable in resisting it. This much at least the plagues had forced him to acknowledge, and it gave his hardening a yet graver character when subsequently he retracted his word given. But the superficiality of the repentance is very obvious. "I have sinned this time;" there is here no adequate sense of the sin he had been guilty of. False repentances have their root in superficial views of sin. They may be produced by terror, under compulsion; but they are accompanied by no real change of heart; and renewed hardening is the only possible outcome of them. "As for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord God"(ver. 30).
V. JUDGMENT TEMPERED WITH MERCY. God's mercy in connection with this plague is conspicuous -
1. In giving the warning, so that those who regarded his word had the opportunity of removing their servants and cattle (vers. 20, 21).
2. In sparing the wheat and rye (vers. 31, 32).
3. In removing the plague at the request of Pharaoh, presented through Moses (vers. 28, 29).
VI. HARDENING NOTWITHSTANDING.
1. Pharaoh hardened himself (vers. 34, 35). We ask, in surprise, how was such a thing possible? Pride, hate, anger, obstinacy furnish the explanation, though it is truly difficult to conceive how they could so madden a mind as to make it capable of persevering in a course of resistance. There is the fact, however, and it is full of terrible warning to us. The hardening was obviously now of the most serious possible kind. Pharaoh's nature had been thoroughly awakened. He was no loner sinning in ignorance, but against clear light and conviction. He had confessed his sin, and promised to obey. Hardening, under these circumstances, was as nearly "sin against the Holy Ghost" as was then possible (John 9:41).
2. His servants hardened themselves (vers. 34). This is a fact which should be well pondered. It might have been thought that only a Pharaoh was capable of such fatuousness. We learn here that there were natures among his servants as susceptible of hardening as his own. We do not need to be Pharaohs to be capable of hardening our hearts against God. Persons in obscure positions can do it as readily as those on the pinnacles of greatness. The king's influence, however, had doubtless much to do with his servants' conduct. They took their cue from their lord. Had he submitted himself, they would have done so also. Because he hardened himself, they must follow suit. What folly! to destroy themselves for the sake of being like a king - of being in the fashion. Learn also the potency of example. Those in high positions have a powerful influence over those dependent upon them. Well for them if they use that influence for God's glory, and not to ruin souls! - J.O.
I. FROM THE HISTORY OF PHARAOH WE SEE THAT IT IS NOT THE WAY OF GOD TO REMOVE A WICKED SOUL BY THE IMMEDIATE STROKE OF POWER. The mercy of the Divine name is declared in the prolonged life of the sinner.
To show in thee My power.I. CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Wonders. Filled men with astonishment and awe.
2. Signs. Instructive. Showed the power and anger of Jehovah. "This, the finger," etc.
3. Punitive also. They punished the oppressor, while they opened the doors of the house of bondage.
4. Emblematical of the mission and career of Moses. Thunders of Sinai resounded through them all.
5. Various. Attacked both nature and man; animate and inanimate objects; mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms.
6. Numerous. Ten. Indeed more, for there was the undoing as well as the doing.
1. To overthrow the deities of Egypt. Jehovah the only true God — Lord of lords.
2. To punish the oppressor. Those who long years had made the life of Israel bitter, now taste a worse bitterness than they had inflicted.
3. To confound the pride of Pharaoh. Though he was master in the land. Had need to be taught that there was One by whom kings rule.
4. To effect the deliverance of the captives. They gradually paved the way, and ultimately secured this.
1. Upon Pharaoh. Hardened his heart. In proportion as he set himself against the manifest will of God. So even the glorious gospel of the blessed God is, to some men, the savour of death unto death. At last even Pharaoh's resistance was broken.
2. Upon the Egyptians. They were gradually subdued, till at length they entreated Pharaoh to let Israel go, as earnestly as ever Moses and Aaron did.
3. Upon Israel. They had dwelt secure while these terrors were abroad. God had hidden them in the chambers of His love and mercy. Their confidence restored. They organize their flight. They see the time is at hand. And at last wait for the final word.Learn —
1. To stand in awe of the great God and sin not.
2. To admire the resources of infinite wisdom and power.
3. To take heed lest the gospel be a source of condemnation.
4. To expect no miracles, but turn to the sure word of prophecy.
5. To rejoice in our great deliverer, Jesus Christ.
(J. C. Gray.)
II. FROM THE HISTORY OF PHARAOH, WE SEE THAT IT IS THE WAY OF GOD TO SURROUND THE WICKED SOUL BY MANY MINISTRIES OF SALVATION.
III. FROM THE HISTORY OF PHARAOH, WE SEE THAT IT IS THE WAY OF GOD TO FOLLOW THE WICKED SOUL WITH CONTINUED JUDGMENTS. The sorrows of the wicked are not fortuitous or casual, but divinely arranged and continuous. Hence in the life of the sinner is seen the power of the Divine hand. Lessons:
1. That God permits wicked men to live in the universe, notwithstanding the continued rebellion against Him.
2. That a life of sin is a life of judgment.
3. That the sovereignty, mercy, power, and justice of God are seen in His dealings with men.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Christian Age.In listening to a great organ, played by the hand of a master, there is often an undertone that controls the whole piece. Sometimes it is scarcely audible, and a careless listener would miss it altogether. The lighter play goes on, ebbing and flowing, rising and sinking, now softly gliding on the gentler stops, and now swelling out to the full power of the great organ. But amid all the changes and transpositions this undertone may be heard, steadily pursuing its own thought. The careless listener thinks the lighter play the main thing; but he that can appreciate musical ideas, as well as sounds, follows the quiet undertone of the piece, and finds in it the leading thought of the artist. So men see the outward events of life, the actions, the words, the wars, famines, sins; but underneath all God is carrying out His own plans, and compelling all outward things to aid the music He would make in this world.
(J. H. Norton, D. D.)I. I am to show THAT GOD DID DESTROY PHARAOH. The Deity threatened to cut him off from the earth, which plainly implied something more than barely putting an end to his life, Had He permitted him to die by old age, or by sickness, or even by what is commonly called accident, we should have had no right to conclude from the manner of his dying that he was really destroyed. But there were two circumstances attending his death, which may be justly considered as denoting his destruction. He was cut off in the midst of his wickedness. And another is, that he died by the immediate hand of Divine justice. As God opened the Red Sea in mercy to Israel, so He shut it again in judgment to Pharaoh, whom He had threatened to destroy.
II. I am to show THAT GOD RAISED UP PHARAOH TO FIT HIM FOR DESTRUCTION. God worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. He never does anything without a previous design. If He destroyed Pharaoh in the manner which has been represented, there can be no doubt but that He previously intended to destroy him in such a manner. But the Divine declarations supersede the necessity of reasoning upon this head. God made known, from time to time, His purpose of destroying Pharaoh. Now, if we look into the history of God's conduct towards Pharaoh, we shall find that He used all the proper and necessary means to form him a vessel of wrath, and fit him for that miserable end to which he was appointed.
1. He raised him up from nothing into being. He gave him a rational and immortal existence.
2. He raised him up to the throne of Egypt. In this splendid situation he was surrounded with everything that could please his taste, flatter his vanity, and inflame his ambition. And this was a natural and necessary step to prepare him for his final fate. For it is a Divine maxim, that "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
3. God not only raised Pharaoh to the pinnacle of human glory, but also removed from him outward restraints. Besides giving him the power of an unlimited monarch, was virtually setting him above all legal influence and control. But besides this, God removed Moses from his presence and kingdom, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, and thoroughly acquainted with all the arts and intrigues of a court.
4. God endured this vessel of wrath with much long-suffering and forbearance. Instead of treating him according to his deserts, He waited long to be .gracious. He used a variety of means to bring him to repentance. But mercies, as well as judgments, conspired to increase his stupidity and hardness of heart, which prepared him for a more unexpected .and more aggravated doom.
5. God hardened his heart. All other methods, without this, would have failed of fitting him for destruction. It is now time to make it appear, if possible —
III. THAT GOD IS TO BE JUSTIFIED IN HIS TREATMENT OF PHARAOH. We must proceed upon the supposition that God did treat him in the manner which has been represented; and especially that He did, among other things, actually harden his heart.
1. That better judges than we can pretend to be, have approved of God's treatment of Pharaoh. We find his own testimony in favour of God and against himself. "Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." This Pharaoh said after God had raised him up, after He had taken off restraints from his mind, after He had sent severe judgments upon him, after He had hardened his heart, and after He had told him that He had raised him up to destroy him. By this time Pharaoh was nearly ripened for ruin, and properly prepared to judge whether God had injured him, or whether he had injured God. And he freely acknowledges that he was wicked, and had injured God, and that God was righteous, and had never injured him.
2. The sovereignty and justice of God allowed Him to treat Pharaoh in the manner which has just been described. The Deity had a sovereign right to bring Pharaoh into existence, to give him the powers and faculties of a moral agent, to place him at the head of a kingdom, and to operate upon his heart in the same manner in which He operates upon the hearts of other men. And when Pharaoh, under such circumstances, became extremely haughty, cruel, malevolent and obstinate, He had a right, in point of justice, to cut him off from the earth, and send him to endless perdition.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)Romans 9:15-18), it would appear that a paraphrase like this might represent the truth: "I selected thee for a strong and illustrious example of human insolence in power, its capabilities for wickedness, and the certainty of its final doom; and this I did in order that I might prove My own supremacy over the creatures of My hand, and thus declare My name in all the ages of the world."
1. Observe here that this king was perfectly intelligent concerning what Jehovah asked of him: "Let My people go, that they may serve Me." That was the demand. Does any one say he could not let them go, if he tried? It was a simple measure of political economy; he would lose an unreckoned number of valuable slaves. So he made up his mind that the conflict must come on; he would not let them go. But there was in the struggle more than mere political economy; from the beginning it is an undenied fact that he knew it was God with whom he was contending; he was bracing himself for a fight which meant life or death. Why, then, did Menephtah take his stand in defiance of all? The real reason must be found in his wish to try his gods against Israel's God; the issue, at first only economic, at last became only spiritual. Those who exercise their sympathy so extensively about this monstrous despot, steeped in conceit and superstition, and who claim that he was treated unfairly and had no chance, ought not to forget that Menephtah was permitted to choose his own forms of contending with Moses. Their weapons were miracles, and the orders of the Hebrew leader were issued in such slow details that for a while the king was able with his magicians to meet the demands of a very respectable rebellion in show. But enough of this.
2. It is more to the point now that we enter on an explanation of this expression about Pharaoh's being" raised up" as an exhibition of God's power and supremacy. For years of injustice in administration of the government, of tyranny in treatment of the Israelite working-people, and of superstitious idolatry in his worship, it is clear that Menephtah had been known and read of all men. Just then it pleased God to teach Israel, His chosen people, a lesson of dependence upon Himself; He determined to show His complete and irresistible supremacy over any one and every one else who was in a position to defy Him. The government of Israel was a theocracy; that is to say, God in person was the King of it, and Moses was the earthly representative before the people. He therefore needed a conspicuous antagonist. Menephtah was chosen. God might have selected the king of the Philistine nation or the Amorite; it is likely both were as bad as Pharaoh. What He did do was to choose this king of Egypt, the descendant of some awful generations of miscreant tyrants — himself as wicked as the worst. This king, Menephtah, the Lord took when he was at the height of his power. He kept him alive; He endured his defiance; He preserved a balance in His mind so that he should not go insane; He gave him an unbroken season of health; He guarded against any useless or unhelpful insurrection in his realm; He patiently bore with his blasphemy. Then, as the conflict grew more malignant, instead of cutting this rebel off in the midst of his daring impiety, God kept giving him more and harder disciplines — all calculated, mind you, to do him good, if he would only accept and improve them to good; thus kindling anew his passions with fresh fuel. The purpose seems to have been just to draw this one man out, to exhaust his tremendous powers and capabilities to the very utmost, so as to have the Hebrews understand that no king, not even at the highest conception of force and tyranny, was or could be a match for the great Jehovah who was their King and their God. In this sense Pharaoh was "raised up," so as to become a recognized sinner for times and races in the unborn future, a shining shame before the world.
3. "As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him; as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him." Menephtah does not stand alone in history, by any means. Cain, Saul, the king of Israel, Sihon, Belshazzar, Judas Iscariot, had a similar trial of human will against the Divine. These men were conspicuous; not all men are as much so; but all have the same human nature. Indeed, most of us are distinctly conscious of being perfectly unconstrained in all of our moral decisions. We should say, each one of us, if the inquiry were raised, that there never was a moment in all this man's career in which if he had turned and repented, he might not have been saved, no matter how far on in his guilt he might have advanced: so it seems now to ourselves. There is a theological doctrine called reprobation; the truth appears to be that at some period in the controversy with a human soul, God does judicially withdraw His Spirit, and then there is a solemn crisis reached for the experience of hardness; it looks as if a man could not repent, could not be saved, beyond that line of defiance and despair. Now, everything the Lord does to save a good man, if done to this reprobate, only makes him worse. How can that be helped? The free will is kept up, and the sovereignty does not yield. There is no defence, so far as can be discovered, against the power of an unrighteous man to make a vicious perversion of God's most generous dealings.
4. There is a reprobation before death. The sentiment is not accurately true as some persons sing it: it is not always sure that "while the lamp holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return." For in his heart there may be a hardness that will hinder him for ever from coming to ask for a pardon through Jesus Christ, and that is essential. After this point is reached, however, God goes right on doing as He did before. God never does anything to any soul with the intention of hardening it. He never "raises up" any man for the sake of casting him down again into hell. He has a right to choose as much as we have in any case. He chose Moses instead of Menephtah, and Israel instead of Egypt; He had mercy on whom He would have mercy. The ancient Thracian emblem of the Deity was a sun with three of its broadest beams proceeding from it: of these, one rested upon a sea of ice and was melting it; another, on a cliff of rock, and was causing it to flow; the third, on a dead man's body, and was rousing it to life. Now, just imagine each one of these, or any one of these, was so free-willed as to be able, and so spiteful as to wish, to resist, so a new chill went into the ice, and a fresh hardness into the rock, and a deeper corruption sunk into the dead body; would the warmth-giving and life-giving sun be to blame, if it still went on shining as before?
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
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